Monday, January 11, 2010

Should Muhammad Use a Different Name on His Resume?

If you were a job seeker named Muhammad, would you use an American name on your resume for your job search in the United States?

Given the security alert level in the United States and concerns about profiling, how would you approach your job search? You're not a terrorist, you don't have any connection with terrorism, but you fear the name Muhammad may be hampering your job search. What do you do?

Here are some possibilities for dealing with a name such as "Muhammad" on a resume:
  1. Ignore the profiling issue and use your full non-American name proudly.
  2. Legally change your name to an American name, such as Michael.
  3. Substitute a nickname (such as "Mo") for Muhammad on your resume, putting it in quotes to indicate that it's a nickname.
  4. Use simply the initial M instead of spelling out Muhammad.
  5. Type Muhammad, followed by a nickname (for example, "Mike") as a way of saying, "This is what my American friends and co-workers call me."
This is a really sensitive topic. It touches on the fears and predjudices some employers (and employees) are experiencing. It also challenges how we honor and respect each others' cultural backgrounds.

I want to know what YOU think (even if your name isn't Muhammad). Please tell us in the comments section after this post.


Anonymous said...

Ugh. Why would you WANT to work anywhere that would toss your resume due to your name? Wrong, wrong, wrong.

jamiemurphy23 said...

He shouldn't have to, but he might want to.... A similar thing happened to a colleague of mine (not long after 9/11) and the interest in his resume changed considerably.

Ronnie Ann said...

This is a terrific, timely question Susan. I've been consulting for many years to a large New York City university. I can't imagine the name Muhammad even being an issue there - it hasn't been in the past. But that's not to say that would be true everywhere.

Still...I wonder if Muhammad would even want to work in a place where his name and background are an issue. I think the options you offer are great and each person has to decide this for themselves.

Curious what others will say.

Darrell said...

I think it is strictly a personal choice.

Many of my Asian friends "adapt" a more "American sounding" first name just to make it easier for people they do business with. My friend, a university student from China,uses Anne instead of her actual first name of Hong along with her real last name.

betogetherbeurself said...

I think this is terrible. Church and christianity is not the basis when I/ we go to a doctor. If I am hit by a car and end up in operation theatre, I would not ask my surgon...Hey Are you Muslim/Hindu/Jew? Infact in my view, all the true democratic countries should stop or put a ban on faith/religion change because allowing name/faith change is not only against freedom but it is also a form of state-supported-terrorism.

NanWithCollegeKid said...

A few thoughts in addition to those posted:

If the client's name is not easily pronouncable by an English-speaking person, a nickname can help.

Whether to "Americanize" the name, may depend on the industry or company. For example, in the Medical field it may not matter, but trades/manufacturing that tout "Made in the U.S.A." may be (unfairly) sensitive.

Also, a company hiring for a heavy interpersonal communication job (e.g., Customer Service), may question this person's ability to professionally communicate to an American-English speaking client, so an American-sounding name may work best.

Nancy Rosenberg, MBA, MEd

zarifa said...

Absolutely not! It's bad enough that when immigrants and refugees enter this country they are encouraged to adopt "American" names. As the proud recipient of an arabic name I have never encountered a problem with my name nor has the thought crossed my mind that employers would deem me as a terrorist or have a fear of interviewing/hiring me.

Jewels said...

There are those who have to pave the way to enable this type of discrimination to be eradicated. In most cases it's the companies with a forward-thinking culture that do not take issue with ethnicity. Those companies are generally the pacesetters who welcome the experience and knowledge of talent.

Therefore, the way by which Muhammad can get his foot in should be in whatever ways he's most comfortable. What can make the largest impact to this antiquated mindset is his contribution once employed.

Ben Martinez said...

Why don't you ask Muhammad Ali? He seemed to do pretty good for himself.

No really, I don't believe a job seeker should change their name for sake of making an impression. This could get ugly down the road. For example, how would this person feel explaining to the company that they used a fake name in the event they were to caught? Also, if the person is not a security threat then why should they have to worry about changing their name?

Anonymous said...

I still proudly use my full name on my resume which starts from Muhammad though it is just my family name and my friends call/know me by my last name.

Robert Dagnall said...

Personally, I'm embarrassed for my country when someone has to surrender their given name to win acceptance. "Hong" is no harder to pronounce than "Anne". The land of the brave should be willing to sound it out.

adnane said...

i actually have a mohamed, and i can not tell you how many doors have been slammed on my face, not only because i don't have enough experience, but also because my visa status requires sponsorship... i'd say it's the worst combo, but inshallah i hope i can find something.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunatly, social sterotyping has become a large part of who we are as a society. I shudder at the fact that a person would have to change their name in order to be accepted for a position; especially if that person is a qualified individual.

Sumyyah Bilal said...

Hi Susan,

I vsited your blog and found the comments there very informative. As an American convert to al Islam, I suggest a client with these issues must make these decisions for themselves. I would think that NO ONE would change their name for a job, or for any other reason than a very personal one.

A suggestion would be to investigate the culture of the company before applying for a position. An international corporation is not likely to discriminate solely based upon your name.

There is one final issue that many of us tend to forget. There is NO COUNTRY on earth today that offers more freedom of religion than the United States of America. Therefore, discrimination in employment based upon religion is illegal.

Deborah Frangquist said...

Muhammad IS an American name. This particular Muhammad, like any job seeker, should think about how to help prospective employers understand what he offers. Mostly that's about how he presents his skills and experience, and often it helps to get an introduction.

Making it easy may also include a pronouncing guide or a nickname, but that's different from catering to prejudice. (My last name is hard to spell, so I use a variant when making restaurant reservations, but I wouldn't go there if they didn't treat me right.)

Amy said...

I tend to agree with Darrell about this being a matter of personal choice, particularly with regard to what individuals have experienced. To each her own! However, like another poster, I also know many folks who have changed their names to more "American sounding" ones simply because they are tired of their names being mispronounced. Again, I feel this is a personal choice, but I also feel that everyone deserves to have her/his name pronounced correctly and I feel it's a sign of respect to work to do so for others, even if the name is difficult to pronounce or contains sounds unfamiliar to you. Just my $.02!

Peter Jacobs said...

Sounds like a very personal decision that speaks to sometimes opposing questions around personal pride, integrity, and the desire to be “strategic” in one’s search.

The same question may arise when a candidate decides whether or not to put major volunteer or community experiences on his or her resume, such as a Mormon mission, an officer’s role in any given religious or ethnic organization, participation in an LGBT organization, etc.

One thought that comes to mind is whether Mohammed would actually want to work for an organization or manager who would not want to hire him (or anybody else for that matter) because of his religion and/or ethnicity (or any number of other factors irrelevant to one’s ability to perform on the job). Perhaps I’m a bit na├»ve, but I figure that if a man named Barak can land the job of Commander and Chief, somebody named Mohammed is also employable in the United States.

Ideally, if the candidate is conducting an active job search, a least a subset of potential employers will have the opportunity to get to know him as a person – and not simply as a “Mohammed”, “Christine” or “Shlomo” on a (actual or virtual) piece of paper - before the “formal” interviewing process even begins.

That said, I have seen a number of people, particularly Asians, put American nicknames on their resume or actually change their name to make it more pronounceable for English speakers. I generally advise clients to follow the path with which they feel most comfortable.

Anonymous said...
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paulawrites said...

Did Barrack Hussein Obama change his name when he ran for President (or for Senate)? Even at the inauguration, when he was apparently encouraged to drop Hussein, his dreaded middle name, he proudly included it. Eventually we all got used to this name (well, almost all of us) and began judging him on his merits instead of his "un-American" name. To the Irish he became "O'Bama." Latinos styled themselves as "Obamanos."

I'd venture to add that there are many American-born Muslims and others whose names may not sound traditionally "American." That said, here's a different example: I recently worked with a Bank of American loan officer who used the name Al even though I'm sure it wasn't his "real" name. He'd come from Iran as a young man but still quite a strong accent. At some point, he told me he'd given his children American names so they wouldn't encounter the effects of prejudice.

If this candidate feels he must change his name, then the Muhamad "Mike" moniker sounds the most transparent to me. It's still truthful but sends the message that he has an American identity, whereas using the initial alone or in conjunction with "Mike" could cause people to wonder (and/or investigate) what the initial stands for. BTW: Is he a recent immigrant or American-born? Is his English native quality or accented? These can also be factors.

Bottom line: Perhaps this candidate should ask himself if he wants to work with people who hire others based on their names or their qualifications? Even if he does get hired using an altered name, his true name will lurk somewhere in HR and eventually get loose with the potential to cause unspoken fears, rumors, etc. that may haunt him on the job.

Yes, it's tough to be demonized as the "scary other" right now, but do we really want to play into those fears or do we challenge them by being proud of who we are and taking every opportunity to distinguish "true" Islam from the terrible extremism perpetrated in its name? (How about the US drones that kill Afghan civilians in our names?) That's my rant for today!

Paula Wagner, MA, Registered Career Counselor LifeWork Careers

Anonymous said...

The question is ill-phrased, and it took a lot of posts before finally some folks stood up and said that Muhammad IS an American name. The question is better phrased as whether anyone with this name should "Anglicize" their resume.

When asked that way, one wonders why an Anglo ethnicity is any better or more attractive than an Arabian, Indonesian, Pakistani, or other African / Asian / European ethnicity where one would historically find a name like Muhammad.

Ultimately, some of the other posts have said it best - why work for an organization or manager that's tempted to make such decisions based on names?

Kenrick said...

Unfortunately in today's job market when there are more job seekers than available positions, companies are looking for ways to screen people out or hire people they like or who are just like them.

Likewise, you have people facing all kinds of discrimination (age, racial, and so on) under the guise of "Although your credentials were impressive, we decided to select another candidate."

There was an article last month on the NYT in which several African-American job seekers believed race was an issue in their search. Some was even contemplating removing their ethnic names from their resumes. From the comments on this article, several people believed that African-Americans could not perform the job (due to affirmative action) even if they acquired degrees from Ivy League schools. So they wanted to be safe and hire candidates who they expect could do the job.

Likewise, the name change is not a bad idea especially if Muhammad expects his name, culture, or stereotypes to be an issue in his search.

Susan Ireland said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Susan Ireland said...

I agree that I used a poor choice of words in the question. I have now changed it to read "a Different Name," instead of "an American Name."

If I were to rewrite the piece, I would also change "non-American name" in Point #1 to "his real name." I won't, however, because the meaning of these comments would be lost.

My apologies for implying that Muhammad (spelled as Muhammad Ali spells his name) is not American. The United States is a melting pot where all names are and should be considered American.

My point of this post is not to say whether discrimination is right or wrong. Discrimination is clearly wrong.

My goal is to look at how to avoid discrimination on a resume so that every job seeker gets an equal shot at the job interview for which he or she is qualified.

Pete Bennett said...

After you get hired, they send to HR who might think that you lied on your application since you have to give HR your legal name, many companies require that emails use the leggally give name.

Many Muhammads I've worked use Mo,Jah, become J, so and so forth, be upfront or be ready to defend your resume.

Pete Bennett
Northern Califirnia

Pete Bennett said...

Here is another tidbit for all to consider.

So you get past the interview, they like you, you like them . . . you get excited!

Then the real vetting comes ...
You name change doesn't jive with your credit file .. . .
they run the background check . . . questions, questions and questions!

This is real story that I was involved in:

A large Midwest company hired an onsite contractor via a large Midwest agency. This person hired me then hired me to do his work overnight, it was odd but the money flowed at first. His rouge said he consulting contract and lost his programmer. I checked everything, addresses, PayPal but did not do a background check.

When he didn't pay up and stopped answering calls, I started making calls my search led to a large Fortune 50 firm, you could’ve heard a pin drop after I told their VP of Security (a former cop) what I had which was their forecasting database, then I said his contractor hadn’t paid up. Yep, it was Maalox moment for sure.

With more research an indictment surfaced from his last employer and was fired after he was arrested for stealing 125K of product by shipping home using his internal credentials. Their security detail found his scam by checking products at the flea markets, well when you have boxes of brand new underwear at half price you’re bound to raise suspicions. (Duh, the boxes have barcodes) This was guy good, verified PayPal accounts, fake IDs, traceable addresses but one road led to his front door, really dumb.

His key mistake was calling someone 2000 miles away thinking I’d never connect the dots, wrong he was, as MS Exchange Server accounts automatically placed his information in MS Access Properties box. He also burned another programmer as her name was in code comments, she was out 10K, I was out 10K.

Via fake credential he was able to penetrate accounting, fooled the CIO and department head, agencies as well. Yet, his MS Access programming skills were very junior but he got the job.

Companies get burned all the time so misrepresentation of facts are showstoppers. Americanizing your name is fine as long as your resume reflects your true legal name. Even though you might get in the door, as some HR software automatically checks who you are or they send the file to a service who runs it for you. It’s a feature that this Midwest company could have used.

Say it truthfully, clearly and explain issues. The back end procedures will snare you faster than you think.

Here is perfect example of bad employees and why applying at Intel or IBM may drive you crazy.

Just look at what happened with the Galleon mess,
IBM Hardware Chief, Intel VC Exec Arrested in Insider Trading Scam

You think they're going take risk with you? Think again! The bigger the prize the tighter the guidelines but it also means they see background checks as a greater return on investment.

Pete Bennett

We’ve got more tidbits on catching scammers coming soon.

Below is what companies now do in background checks.

A Consumer Report consists of information deemed to have a bearing on job performance, and may
include information from public and private sources, public records, former employers and references.
The scope of the report may include information concerning driving history, civil and criminal court
records, credit, worker’s compensation record, education, credentials, identity, past addresses, social
security number, previous employment and personnel references.

Erica said...

There is research on this, we don't have to rely on speculation or personal anecdotes:
Category cues in resumes DO affect screening decisions. Applicants have to choose how to honestly present themselves and balance these risks.

Erica Klein PhD

Tweeting as EricaKleinPhD on job search topics

Ben Martinez said...


Thanks for taking this conversation to a different level. I'm exciting to see there is research on this topic and plan to read the document you submitted.


Anonymous said...

Good discussion, happy to see most people here strongly believe that people should not change name in fear of descrimination. I am hopeful, that same is the perception by recruiters and hiring managers in the United State of America. (Keep working towards protecting freedom of everyone)

Anonymous said...

I've known ignorant physicians, community leaders, and just people with the highest levels of education that are ironically ignorant when it comes to that name or other religions for that matter. Mohammed is almost exclusively a Muslim name, you give away your religious preference just by writing that name. The practical question still remains,all idealistic beliefs aside, is it a sound job hunting strategy to change your name, legally, to avoid invisible road blocks in the way? How do you know if a company is not "a place you shouldn't work for" if you cannot prove it? Legally, a company can't ask about your religious preference, but what if you voluntary give that away by simply writing your name?

Anonymous said...

My name is Mohammed, and I had similar questions when I moved to America. I furthered my education, got a number of jobs and always used my full unfamiliar name. It never was a problem, and whenever I was job hunting, it didn't cross my mind because it is definitely better to simply put companies that initially reject you for any reason in one list, regardless of the reason they chose to; in other words, in these scenarios, you never really know why you weren't picked. However, if you just feel like getting a new name, well it's America! go for it.

Anonymous said...

After spending years trying to find a job with my "non-English sounding" name, I am considering to change my name - hence my google search and finding this blog.
For the ones who are asking "why would you want to work somewhere where your name or background could be an issue?"... here is my answer:
In an extremely competitive environment such as mine (architecture) especially job agents eliminate your resume much easier if you don't have a white English name. The office that hires the job agent to find an employee doesn't even know that you exist. Most of the time the people that you are going to work with are not the ones that eliminate you.
I am currently dealing with this and trying conceal my first name in my resume and covering letter.