Employer Branding Workplace

Can Your Name Cost You a Job?

A few weeks ago, BuzzFeed posted a video on their site that is causing quite a stir. According to the video, José Zamora applied to 50-100 jobs a day on Craig’s List, but received no response. In order to avoid racial discrimination against his ethnic name, he decided to change his first name to Joe. Using the same resume and applying to the same jobs, he continued his job search efforts, and seven days later received numerous responses to his applications.

In the two weeks the video has been posted, to date it has racked up well over a million hits on YouTube. Racism is always a touchy subject for good reason, and when it comes to racial discrimination in the workplace, this certainly isn’t the first instance. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of July 2014, there is still a disproportionate gap in unemployment between races, with a 5.3 percent unemployment rate among white Americans, a 7.8 percent rate among Latino Americans and an 11.4 percent rate among African Americans. Many will argue that discrimination plays a part in the disparate unemployment numbers between races. Sadly, racial discrimination will most likely never be eradicated from the workplace. However, the Buzzfeed video leaves a number of unanswered questions.

The first thing I find interesting is that the video was posted on BuzzFeed. This site is better known for videos of cats falling off windowsills and quizzes telling me which Disney princess I am than for dispensing valuable employment news and information. Racial discrimination isn’t something new. A quick Google search yields numerous articles on name discrimination dating back well over a decade. YouTube videos on the subject of name discrimination are plentiful as well, though none have anywhere near the hits that this one has. A video on such a controversial topic released by a high-traffic website such as BuzzFeed is sure to get a noteworthy response. It does make me wonder if this is an attempt at going viral.

Secondly, I’m curious as to what Mr. Zamora’s skill set includes that makes him qualified for 50-100 jobs a day on Craig’s List. Even if he were applying to positions that required minimal or no previous experience, it appears Mr. Zamora was firing off resumes indiscriminately, and all recruiters know that the “spray and pray” method of job application is not the best choice. Rather, tailoring your resume to the specific position being offered and accompanying it with a cover letter addressed to the hiring manager will almost always yield a better response than a mass-mailing approach. Granted, Mr. Zamora claims to have used the same application method when applying under the name Joe and received a different response from employers, which appears discriminatory. However, there could have been a number of reasons given by employers for not responding to his applications – among them, not being qualified, not following application instructions, etc. At one minute and ten seconds, there is much information this video does not tell us about Mr. Zamora’s approach to job application.

The third element of this video that raises questions is the fact that Mr. Zamora didn’t change his last name. Is the surname Zamora not also of Spanish descent? If employers were so inclined to discriminate against him based on the ethnicity of the name José, wouldn’t they also discriminate against him for the name Zamora? Somehow, the change in first name elicited numerous responses to his job applications, yet a seemingly ethnic last name never gave the same employers pause? Again, the video does not go into detail on such items, but had he changed his name to Joe Smith, his claims of name discrimination would appear more tenable.

Discrimination is an ugly part of society, and when it occurs in the workplace or the hiring process, everyone loses. However, there are other factors working against job seekers right now, in particular, a slow economy and fierce competition in the job market. When job seekers experience rejection over and over again, they may be inclined to misplace the blame. I don’t know if that’s what happened in José Zamora’s case. What I do know is that his video is clearly sparking conversation around an important employment topic. However, we need a little more information from Mr. Zamora regarding his application methods and the nature of the positions to which he applied before we can validate the inflammatory remarks showing up in the comment section of his YouTube video. Recruiters, where do you stand on the issue?

By John Feldmann

John Feldmann is a Senior Communications Specialist for Insperity in Houston, TX. With over a decade of marketing and employment branding experience in the recruiting and human resources industries, John specializes in employment- and HR-related content development for a variety of media types in order to communicate Insperity's brand to both business professionals and job seekers. Follow John on X @John_Feldmann.