“Whitening the Resume.” That is what the headline of a 2009 New York Times article read. A gripping, three-word phrase that described the tactic of candidates altering elements of their resumes to appear less ethnically diverse: changing a name from “Tahani Tompkins” to “T. S. Tompkins”, scrubbing mentions of HBCUs or historically black colleges and universities, deleting professional organizations or racially-specific clubs from the bottom of a resume.
However, this strategy was nothing new.
In 1963, sociologist Erving Goffman coined the term “covering” to describe how individuals with known stigmatized identities made a “great effort” to alter those identities to be accepted by the mainstream. Fifty years later a Deloitte University study revealed eighty-three percent of LGBTQ individuals, 79 percent of Blacks, 67 percent of women of color, 66 percent of women, and 63 percent of Hispanics admitted to covering. Surprisingly the study exposed that 45 percent of straight White men — who have not been the focus of most inclusion efforts — reported covering.
As the NYTimes article had explored, “whitening” or “covering” had become commonplace among a new generation in the workplace. Some would argue that it is still a must-do for ethnic job seekers. Various studies have confirmed that Black candidates have a harder time than whites. A study published in The American Economic Review titled “Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?” found that applicants with Black-sounding names received 50 percent fewer callbacks than those with white-sounding names. Another study looking just at academic science jobs found that application materials from female candidates received lower rankings and lower starting salaries than male candidates, even when a job application reviewer was female.
However, despite this implicit bias, industry experts contend that employers want job seekers to bring their entire selves to the job. From Glassdoor to GitHub, Pinterest to Proctor & Gamble, creating a diverse company culture has become a top priority. And for Salesforce, it’s not just about diversity—the goal is true equality.
“The word equality really sends a bigger message. We define equality in terms of four pillars: equal pay, equal opportunity, equal advancement and equal rights,” says Cindy Robbins, Executive Vice President of Global Employee Success at Salesforce. “Every leader in the company, every employee, is accountable for diversity and equality at Salesforce.”
The bottom line: As employers seek to find new ways of recruiting and engaging employees, the focus has turned to women and Millennials. With women at half the U.S. population and millennials about one-quarter, addressing the needs of a more diverse workforce is essential for all employers.
With that, how do you best represent your full self in a job application? Here are some things to consider:
1. Don’t Shy Away From Your Diversity
“If you have a foreign-sounding name, don’t assume that this is going to work against you,” advises Elizabeth Garone, contributor to the Wall Street Journal. “Employers are keen to hire minorities in order to satisfy federal requirements and employ a diverse workforce. Business Mentors’ Al Stewart says he encourages his clients to ‘play up’ foreign surnames or maiden names in order to attract more employers. He recently worked with a Latin American client with a very American-sounding married name. Her résumé reflected that name, and she was seeing very little activity in the job market. Stewart encouraged her to include her maiden name. Once she did, her interview activity increased substantially, he says.”
2. Culture Fit Is Not Exclusive
“Don’t get so caught up in tailoring your resume to fit a job posting that you forget to communicate what makes you special,” says Anish Majumdar, CEO of ResumeOrbit.com. “Yes, you should probably have most of the ‘must have’ qualifications mentioned in a job posting to be competitive. But once that’s established, it’s all about winning people over through your unique perspective and value-added skills. If you’re an amazing coach/mentor, or write an influential industry blog, or regularly volunteer your time to help out in the community, highlight them within the resume! It’s this x-factor that can mean the difference between ‘Thanks for coming in’ and ‘When can you start?'”
3. Lying Doesn’t Pay Off
Immigration status and the job search are stressful enough, but lying on an application or resume can spell trouble in the long run. According to the Center for International Education at Loyola University New Orleans, a job seeker should never lie on a resume or application. “Your visa status should not be included on your resume. Your educational background and work history will display that you are an international student. Hiring managers will ask the appropriate questions during the recruitment process.” However, they point out one caveat. “If your name ‘sounds’ international and you are a green card holder or U.S. citizen, you may want to include your visa status on your resume to indicate that you are already legally authorized to work in the U.S.”
4. Include Professional Affiliations and Cultural Organizations
While explicitly listing age, sexual orientation or race on an application may be tricky, you should recognize that companies are excited and encouraged by applications from diverse candidates. Are you a member of a civil rights organization or a volunteer group? “Don’t be shy! Let employers know where your leadership and passions lie,” advises career counselor Shira Concool. “Do you volunteer at your Korean Church or translate Spanish to English at a health clinic? Put that into your Leadership Experience section. Perhaps as a first generation American, you travel back to visit your grandparents in Nigeria every year. You can add that as international travel experience.”
5. Social Media Posts & Photos Matter
With more recruiters and hiring managers browsing Facebook or the social media accounts of applicants, there is a temptation to scrub or sanitize photos that show your identity, sexuality, religion or race. However, there’s a difference between taking down a party pic and hiding who you are. Wardah Khalid, a foreign policy analyst regularly consulted on Middle East issues told Fast Company, “Putting myself out there as a result of wearing the hijab has definitely made me more confident in who I am. Like it or not, when I put it on, I represent a lot of different things. The best thing to do is to own that.” That goes for when you land the job as well. “Walking into the halls of Congress, it’s very white-male dominated. I definitely felt that I stood out,” she said. But over time those feelings of unease were replaced with confidence. “Once I open my mouth, show that I’m competent, and know what I’m talking about,” she explained, “any issues I might have go away.”
6. Highlight The Skills Only You Possess
While protected by law, people with disabilities can face a lot of barriers to employment. However, they can also have skills that able-bodied candidates do not. “Rather than focusing on what you cannot do, focus on what you can do. You learn so many valuable skills from being disabled such as communication, logistics, and adaptability to setbacks,” says visually-impaired Newton Nguyen, Climate Modeling Research Assistant at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “Use these unique skills to your advantage, and do not let your disability be your defining characteristic. Rather, you are a multidimensional person with diverse abilities. You are unique, you have experienced things many people are deathly afraid of and you came out on top. Remember that.”