By Eve Tahmincioglu
Throughout Shuki Khalili’s career, he suspected his name might be holding him back. When he worked for a Wall Street headhunter, he felt potential clients would blow him off when they heard his name. When he started his own business selling greeting cards, phones sales were initially a bust at first.
“I tried using an American name, ‘Andrew Warner,’ and suddenly I could at least engage them in conversation and sell them some ads so I could build my business,” he said. He now goes by Andrew Warner and runs a successful entrepreneurial resource site called Mixergy.com in Santa Monica, Calif.
Like it or not, your name can make a difference in how seriously you are taken at work and whether you even get your foot in the door for the interview.
One study by researchers at MIT and the University of Chicago found that job applicants with names that sounded African-American got short shrift when it came to the hiring process. The researchers sent out 5,000 fake resumes, and it turned out that resumes with names such as Tyrone and Tamika were less likely to get calls from prospective employers than their Anglo-sounding counterparts, and qualifications seemed to have little impact.
For Larry Whitten, owner of the Whitten Hotel in Taos, N.M., names mattered so much that he ordered a group of Hispanic employees change their names to sound more Anglo Saxon. For example, changing Martin (pronounced Mar-TEEN) to plain-old Martin or Marco to Mark.
At the Taos hotel, Whitten explained, when some workers answered the phones and said their names, customers didn’t understand what they were saying. For example, Mar-TEEN, sounded like “my thing,” he said.
“I am not a racist,” said Whitten, who fired several employees for insubordination. What motivated his decisions, he stressed, was the bottom line.
“I’m not accustomed to Spanish lingo. A lot of people have the same thing,” he said. “If a name is going to prevent me from getting a guest because they hang up or can’t understand it or they get frustrated, I have to do something about it.”
He said he had operated a hotel in Oklahoma where 99 percent of his employees were African American and did a similar thing. “I changed five or six names without any trouble there,” he said. “Latasha to Tasha, to make it easy.”