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Mispronouncing, misspelling & misjudging names will harm your hiring process

People’s names are one of the sweetest sounds that people hear. Best to get it right.

How would you pronounce the last name Wesolowski? Maybe Wahzuhlooski? Even Wazinski? or more accurately Wes-oh-LAU-skee? Maybe for an anglophile like me, this is a little easier ‘chess-toe-HOW-ski’

Mispronouncing, misspelling, misinterpreting or misjudging a person’s name is a surefire way to sour any relationship.

Serena put up with a manager calling her Sabrina for years. She’d point out the error, the manager duly apologised, but the next time he was in town, he’d still call her Sabrina. Whilst they laughed it off, deep down it annoyed her and left her with little respect for her manager.

And it’s not just the sight of foreign names with 15 plus characters, nor letter combinations like ‘Duygu’ or “Lija’ that can easily stump us.

We frequently get, even the simplest of names staggeringly wrong. When can Rhys ever be ‘Rice’ (often according to my friend)? Why would we choose to spell the common version of “Graham” with Graeme or even Grahame? Or feel we should mess with ‘John’ by omitting the ‘h’ to ‘Jon’ or adding a ‘c’ to someone called Jak?

If it’s best to get a person’s name right, then ASK so you don’t get it wrong or TELL so they can get it right.

Always ask, no matter how simple a name, how to say and to spell it.  Seeking the phonetical version can be enormously helpful in ensuring you establish good rapport. Answering a call from a recruiter or addressing an interview panel, correctly pronouncing their names, can give you the all-important edge. 

What about if your name is one which people consistently stumble over. Make it easier by including the phonetic version, in parentheses wherever you sign your name. For example, I prefer this version of my name Yvonne (Ee-von) and literally cringe when I hear (Er-von).

Apply this to your email signature and particularly on your resume. Remember if a recruiter or hiring manger can’t pronounce your name, you risk the real chance of being unfairly overlooked.

If hearing or seeing your name massacred isn’t enough, then think about what others don’t reveal but do infer, about you based solely on your name. (hint – a whole lot of rubbish).

Take the hiring process. Your name, not your resume will largely determine if you get called back for an interview.

In each of these following studies, exactly the same CV was sent to hiring managers with only the name changed. Each measured which candidates were called back for interview.

Conducted in 2016, this study found ethnic names that appeared more ‘white’ got more interviews. Asian applicants were 75% more likely to get a callback for an interview when they used a “whitened” version of their name (e.g., Luke instead of Lei). Black applicants were 160% more likely to get a callback for an interview when they used a “whitened” version of their name (e.g., L. Smith instead of Latisha Smith).

Conducted In 2012 this study found science professors at top universities in the United States, were more likely to find resumes with the name John as more competent, more hireable than the same resume but named Jennifer. They were also more likely to pay John more than Jennifer.

Remember they all had the same resume, just a different name.

“What’s in a name?! For a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet! “

William Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet

According to Wikipedia, this popular reference to William Shakespeare’s play, in which Juliet seems to argue that it does not matter that Romeo is from her family’s rival house of Montague, that is, that he is named “Montague”. 

That was over 400 years ago, but the problem still exists today. And it’s a real problem, affecting 8 out of 10 hiring decisions because we end up rejecting those candidates that our business can’t afford to.

The reference is often used to imply that the names of things do not affect what they really are.

We make all sorts of judgements about people based on their name. We unfairly disadvantage not just women and minorities but even names we associate with a personal bad experience – “I’d never employ someone called ‘Sam’ that was the name of my ex.”

At the very least every CV should have the individuals name hidden or redacted. A good old fashioned texter will do the trick.

If you’re really serious though, do away with the CV. At least during the screening process. Even with the name well disguised it’s not hard to decipher a candidate’s demographics by reading the finer details.

Instead create anonymous skill tests and compare candidate responses. Have candidates explain what they’d do in a range of real-life job scenarios. When you also anonymise personal details, you can be assured you’re measuring their capability having removed the influence of ‘noisy’ irrelevant demographics.(Remipeople is a tool that can help you achieve this more efficiently and effectively)

After all it’s what’s on the inside that counts and in business what counts matters.

Yvonne Bowyer

Yvonne Bowyer is CEO and Co-Founder of the Start Up RemiPeople, Recruiting and Diversity software to fix recruitment. Now in her third career, first as a Dietitian, then in various Executive Leadership positions and now launching her first Start Up. Passionate about driving business performance through diversity and trying ever so hard to balance career and motherhood.

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