TeViecia "Viece" Kuykendall struggled to find a job for three years and says she suspects her hard-to-pronounce name was part of the reason. "I felt like it was a struggle to get people to my résumé," she explains. "And the worst part is that I have to put my full name, TeViecia, on application forms, even though [my nickname] Viece is what's on my résumé, and that's somewhat easier. All the good stuff is on my résumé. I started spelling my name phonetically in parentheses, and that's when I started to get phone calls."
Kuykendall - whose name is pronounced Te-vee-cee-ah Kirk-ken-dahl - eventually got a job working as a school teacher at an alternative campus in Angleton, Texas. And her story isn't an anomaly. Job seekers want to stand out, but not feel ostracized, and if your name is what stands out, because it's unusual and/or because your gender is ambiguous, then you too might feel it's impacting your search.
There's no way to be certain that this is true, but here are a few pointers for making the intended, positive impression on a hiring manager despite your name.
[Quiz: Urban Myths on Your Career.]
For Saoirses, Quvenzhanés and Chiwetels. If you have any worries that your unusual name is thwarting your interview invitations, then your first hurdle is ensuring hiring managers and recruiters don't have to second guess the pronunciation. Using parentheses to phonetically spell your name is an option, but some experts say they fear it could confuse or even offend the résumé reader. "There's not a lot you can do to change how your name strikes somebody, but if you put a phonetic spelling in parentheses it could read cumbersome and make the reader feel stupid," says Andrea Kay, career consultant and author of "This is How to Get Your Next Job: An Inside Look at What Employers Really Want."
A less confusing option would be to use the website Audioname.com to make a recording of your name that you could append to your LinkedIn profile and your email signature. "It helps to take away any awkwardness of pronouncing the name incorrectly, so if there's anything job seekers can do to eliminate that awkwardness upfront, they should do it," says Rich Jones, a recruiter, writer and career consultant.
For Camerons, Rileys and Morgans. Your greatest struggle is constantly having to correct potential employers and clients about your gender. This is unavoidable, but placing strategic context clues in preliminary correspondence could help. For instance, if your name is Ryan and you're female, consider what an asset it could be to join the National Association of Professional Women, and then, to include that information in your cover letter and résumé. Including a link to your Twitter and LinkedIn profiles - so a potential employer might quickly click the link and see your gender by looking at your photo - might also help you out and lessen awkwardness.
For Mike Smiths, and Jennifer Lopezes. A 2013 CareerBuilder survey found 43 percent of more than 2,100 hiring managers admitted to researching job candidates on social media. If you have a name that's especially common, then a hiring manager's Web search for you might result in him or her mistaking your identity for someone else. If your common name is one you share with a public figure, then finding the real you online might take longer than a hiring manager wants to spend.
If this sounds like it might happen to you, then learn as much about your name and personal branding as possible. Google yourself to see who else shares your name and what his or her digital presence may be. If possible, buy your domain name (like MikeSmith.com) to prevent someone else from snatching it up first. Then make sure to use your job materials and social media presence - including LinkedIn - to emphasize your distinctive skills. According to Jones, you need to "get ahead of the game" by making it clear who you are and what skills you possess. "Do this on any document or website that an employer may use to find you," he says.
Also put these general tips into practice, no matter what name challenge you're facing in your job hunt:
1. Have a sense of humor. If you're a male Jamie you can't avoid dealing with business clients who mistake you for a woman. If your name is Jennifer Lopez someone is going to make a "Jenny From the Block" joke. Even though the jokes will get old and annoying, you should still have a light-hearted response at the ready. "Yes, you've heard the joke before, and you're sick of it. But the interviewer probably hasn't heard the joke repeatedly," Kay says. "So be polite, don't roll your eyes and be a good sport. Then as quickly as possible get back to your qualifications."
2. Use initials and middle names. Using your full name on résumés might clear up confusion for the interviewer if you have a gender-neutral name. If your first name is hard to pronounce, then a simpler second name might make a good nickname to use professionally. Lastly, middle names or initials might make you more distinct from all the other George Bushes and Jennifer Lopezes also on the Internet.
3. Be consistent. Your professional name is the name you should use on all job materials and on all social media outlets, whether it's a nickname, a middle name or even your harder-to-pronounce first name. In other words, don't offer up simpler variations simply for the purpose of securing an interview, only to switch things up once your first foot is in the door. "The last thing you want an interviewer to say is, 'I'm confused, what is your name?'" Kay says.
4. Build a strong network. The more people who know of you and your qualifications, the better off you'll be. Then potential employers will reach out to you based on reputation, regardless of your name. "If you're out there talking to people - doing your networking - people are deciding to meet you and potentially consider you for employment because someone has referred you," Kay says. "Your name is not the thing that stands out or matters. Your credentials as a person and professional, which someone is vouching for, are what matter."
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