10 Things Job Applicants Can Do To Avoid Name and Ethnic Discrimination in Recruitment


Mladen Adamovic is a Research Fellow in Diversity Management at Monash University. His research and workshops are about: 1) Inclusion of cultural minorities in the workplace, 2) cross-cultural management, and 3) social issues in the workplace. He specialises in survey methodology, field experiments, and data analytics.

In the past 50 years, most Western countries became more multicultural and have advanced the integration of ethnic minorities. However, the current Black Lives Matter movement and the reports about the imprisonment rate and deaths of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders show that ethnic discrimination is still a prevalent issue today. In the business and recruitment context, ethnic discrimination is an important issue for human rights and economic reasons. Ethnic discrimination in recruitment violates anti-discrimination laws and moral norms such as social justice norms as well as equal opportunities. The business case argument further states that a country’s economy loses billions of dollars when organisations do not select the best employees for jobs. 

Prior research on name discrimination in recruitment

Previous resume study research provides strong evidence that ethnic minorities suffer from high hiring discrimination in recruitment because of their foreign names. In these resume studies, researchers send out very similar resumes of fictitious job candidates in response to real job advertisements, vary the resumes by different names to indicate membership to different ethnic groups, and compare the positive responses for the different names. For example, there are many studies in Western countries that showed that applicants with Arabic or Chinese names receive around two times fewer positive responses for their job applications than applicants with ethnic majority names (e.g., English names in Australia). This name-based discrimination against ethnic minorities exists in many occupations, industries, and countries.

What can job applicants do to avoid hiring discrimination and to get a job?

To avoid name discrimination and to increase the chances for being invited to a job interview, here is advice for ethnic minority job applicants based on previous research in human resource management, labor market economics, sociology, and organisational psychology.

  1. Changing names:

    A possible, extreme possibility is to change the name. For example, we observe more and more people with a foreign name in Australia who anglicise their name. Strong evidence for the success of changing names has been provided by prior research in different countries. However, changing the name could lead to an identity loss and make the person feel uncomfortable and anxious. Also, in the light of multiculturalism, it is sad to see people changing their names because of a broken recruitment system for which they are not responsible. 

  2. Stating your citizenship, permanent residency, and work rights: 

    It is likely to help to add in the resume or cover letter that you are an Australian citizen or permanent resident. The reason is that many businesses avoid hiring people with a non-English name due to potential visa issues and the necessity for sponsorship. Make it clear in your job application that you have the required work rights, and that no sponsorship is required.

  3. Earning an Australian educational degree:

    It could help to get an Australian university degree or an Australian certificate that is common in your profession, because many Australian employers value domestic education and work experience. However, getting an educational degree can be very expensive in Australia. This is particularly the case for university degrees such as a master’s degree which can cost around $50,000 for international students. Further, the return of investment for university degrees is higher for ethnic majorities than ethnic minorities. This means a university degree improves more strongly the job prospects for ethnic majorities as compared to ethnic minorities.

  4. Applying for volunteering jobs: 

    Volunteering helps to gain Australian work experience and to create a personal network. After that, it is often easier to find a job that corresponds to a person’s skill level. However, no research exists about hiring discrimination for volunteering jobs. It might be that ethnic discrimination also exists in the recruitment of volunteering jobs.

  5. Networking and attending conferences: 

    To create a personal network, it could help to attend conferences, seminars, and workshops in your profession and industry. Some jobs are occupied through networks and are sometimes not even advertised. Also, a personal network is helpful to communicate new and interesting job advertisements. An issue might be for ethnic minorities that a person’s informal network is often composed of people with similar demographics and backgrounds.

  6. Customising job applications and searching for jobs: 

    Some jobseekers apply for as many jobs as they can. This is particularly the case for ethnic minority applicants. Prior research reported that ethnic minority applicants widen their job search because they expect name and ethnic discrimination. They apply for jobs in many more occupational categories and search far more broadly than ethnic majority applicants to compensate the effects of ethnic discrimination. However, customised job applications often work better. Successful jobseekers often focus on the jobs that correspond exactly to their education and skill level. For these jobs, they customise the job application and integrate information from the job advertisement and the company’s website. A final recommendation regarding the job search behaviour is to go through recruitment firms. These firms have a great network with companies and often have recruiters with more professional training and education who are aware about the existence of unconscious bias in recruitment. However, many recruitment firms do not accept job applications from jobseekers who have not at least a permanent residency.

  7. Asking for feedback for your job application: 

    Before you send out your job applications, it is helpful to ask someone from your profession for feedback for your resume and cover letter. Interestingly, many people avoid asking for feedback, because they worry that they will get negative feedback and that they are perceived as being incompetent. However, getting honest and constructive feedback is a great way to improve your job application. Further, it may help to check existing online resume databases of other job applicants. This provides you with a great overview of what is expected in your profession.

  8. Experimenting with job applications: 

    You can conduct your own small field experiment and change the layouts of your resumes and the way you write your job applications to see if these factors influence the likelihood of being successful. This may help you to create the right job application for your profession.

  9. Following up on unsuccessful job interviews and applications:

    It could help to ask for feedback if your job application was rejected. This seems to be in particular a good idea when you also had a job interview. Like asking a colleague or friend for feedback for job applications, many people do not like to ask a recruiter or company for feedback, because they are afraid of negative feedback that reduces their confidence. This is understandable, because many jobseekers are unemployed whose confidence is already very low because of their unemployment status. Nevertheless, getting honest feedback is one of the best ways to improve your job applications and job interviews. This feedback is also helpful to prepare better for future job interviews. There are even examples, when rejected job applicants asked for feedback and still got the job because they showed the recruiter that they are open to feedback and very interested in the job.

  10. LinkedIn and social media in general: 

    Yes, recruiters check your LinkedIn and social media profiles. If you think this might be one reason for being rejected, you can try to hide your social media profiles or photos and see if anything changes. This should not raise any suspicion, because not everyone has a LinkedIn profile, and some employees prefer to hide their profiles or photos. Another short-term option might be to have more “professional” or “business-like” photos on your profiles, while you are applying for jobs.

These propositions can help ethnic minority job applicants to find a job and to reduce the risk of name discrimination in recruitment. However, it is important to state that it should not be the responsibility of individual job applicants to fix a broken recruitment system and labour market. Instead, it should be the responsibility of corporate and political leaders to fix these issues and to reduce name discrimination. Corporate leaders can test anonymous job applications, improve the training of their recruiters, and communicate to its recruiters the advantages of a diverse workforce. Political leaders could conduct stronger law enforcement regarding hiring discrimination, implement higher fines for hiring discrimination, and make it easier for discriminated individuals to conduct a discrimination lawsuit. Finally, in the long term, a reduction of ethnic discrimination requires a change of a country’s education system, values, and beliefs.