English-sounding names hold edge for job seekers

December 4, 2013 - All News

Special to SAF
Looking for a job? If your name is Panav Singh, expect fewer callbacks than Matthew Wilson, even if your resumés are exactly the same.
Employers in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal “significantly discriminate” against applicants with Chinese and Indian names compared to those with English names, researchers have found.
On average, resumés with English-sounding names received 35 per cent more callbacks, according to a study supported by Metropolis BC, a federally funded immigration and diversity research centre.
Researchers sent out thousands of resumés listing identical experience to online job application sites, changing only the names of the applicants, and measured the response rate from employers.
Recruiters in Toronto and Montreal were 45 per cent more likely to call Alison Johnson over Min Liu, while Vancouverites were 20 per cent more likely to respond to those with English-sounding names.
“The name draws unconditional stereotypes, no matter what else is on the resumé,” said researcher Philip Oreopoulos, a University of Toronto professor.
Fears that people with non-English names would have language troubles prompted recruiters to call Carrie over Xiuying, said the study issued in 2011.
People with Greek names were also less likely to receive callbacks, a surprising result that suggests recruiters put a premium on Anglo-Saxon names rather than a discount on Chinese names, Oreopoulos said.
The study asked why immigrants continue to struggle in the labour market when “virtually all” those who enter Canada on the point system have at least an undergraduate degree.
“A lot of our immigrants are let in based on a desire for them to assimilate into the high-skill labour market, but it’s just not happening,” he said.
Unemployment rates are almost double and wages are nearly halved among recent immigrants when compared with native-born workers, according to the study.
Oreopoulos and his research partner, Diane Dechief, sent the resumés in response to ads for office jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree and four to six years of work experience.
Employers were more likely to overlook those with non-English names even if an applicant explicitly stated his language skills and only had experience in Canadian universities and jobs.
The researchers interviewed recruiters responsible for callback decisions, although “very few” agreed to participate, Oreopoulos said.
“It was clear that there were concerns about language and social skills,” he said.
But the time-pressed recruiters were not actively discriminating against applicants with non-English names; rather, the discrimination seemed to be subconscious or implicit, Oreopoulos explained.
When recruiters see a name, they have an initial first impression of an applicant’s language skills. It’s hard to remove that from their subconscious as they flip through the resumé in 10 seconds or so, even if the resumé includes information that might alleviate their concerns, Oreopoulos said.
Unintentional discrimination means employers could be losing out on contacting the best candidates for the job, he said.
He recommends employers mask names on resumés to get past this seemingly implicit reaction.
“It’s an easy thing to try out to see if hires actually improve from doing so,” he said.
— Torstar News Service