What Your Name Means To Your Chances Of Landing A Job

Would you hire someone with an impossible-to-pronounce name? We might like to think we're above such biases, but research shows they're judgements that, unfortunately, come naturally.

Two resumes reach your desk: One from Kevin Jones, and the other from Yevgeni Dherzhinsky. Their qualifications are identical. Which candidate do you hire?

According to a recent study, pronounceability correlates with trustworthiness—at least in the mind of the person struggling to put too many consonants together. Which is why you probably sent Yevgeni a rejection letter.

The research, published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE, cites the concept of truthiness, a word coined by Stephen Colbert to describe the gut feeling “because it feels right.” Even more wobbly than intuition, which can be weighed against bias, truthiness is the sense that something is right just because it’s right.

The researchers put together surnames and first names from newspapers in 18 different countries, to create 218 new name combinations—some easy to say, like Marciano Larrosa, and others more difficult, such as Mahbobeh Mir-Ma’soum. They then asked volunteers to rank the names by pronounceability.

Then, things got interesting: They told a separate group that these made-up “international students” provided trivia statements (Marciano Larrosa said, “Giraffes are the only mammals that cannot jump.”) and were asked to label them as true or false. As expected, easy-to-pronounce names were proven more trustworthy than the difficult ones, regardless of the statement’s actual truth.

Hard to pronounce names feel more risky, the researchers said. “Imagine you are a tourist looking for a tour guide,” they told volunteers. “You are not feeling very well on the day of your tour and want to avoid the tour leaders who are too risky and adventurous.” They chose the easy names as their guides.

What does this mean for you?

If you relate more to Dherzhinsky than Jones, it means you’ll have to work even harder to beat those unfounded biases. We’re not suggesting you Westernize your name—as immigrants have done since the forming of modern America, according to another study—but awareness of these findings can't hurt your chances.

Giving more information about yourself than a flat list of credentials can give you an edge of trustworthiness.

“Indeed, the more that people can rely on other diagnostic information—their past experience or general knowledge—to inform their judgments, the less inclined they are to rely on an experience of fluency,” the name-game researchers say.

But the real lesson here is for those doing the hiring. Checking your biases, and relying less on "truthiness," could land you the best person for the job. Don’t miss out on a stellar employee because their name happens to be outside of your cultural comfort zone.

“Although pronounceability is tangential to decisions about safety, risk, and value,” the researchers say, “we know that people nonetheless can turn to tangential cues when making judgments,” that are often unfair. True that.

Hat tip: Salon

[Image: Flickr user THOR]

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2 Comments

  • Butool Abbas

    A completely new perspective . Interesting article samantha and also scary ! i guess it would be could to be good to say one should try to come across as human as possible to avoid these default biases to take over .Ofcourse we are disregarding deliberate bias.

  • Samantha, a fantastic article shedding light on an unintentional habit of bias. It is for this reason that I founded Vame (Voice + Name) earlier this year (www.vame.me) - Quickly and freely record the personal pronunciation of your name and add it to your email signature, CV and online profiles. It is a Sydney start-up and we are excitingly gaining international traction with people voicing their names from Australia and around the globe www.vame.me/search