Magazine article Workforce Management

Names Could Play a Role in Getting Past the Gatekeeper

Magazine article Workforce Management

Names Could Play a Role in Getting Past the Gatekeeper

Article excerpt

When she was 3 years old, Kerrie Hopkins was bitten by a nursery-school classmate named Amy. Thus began two lifelong habits for Hopkins: an avoidance of girls and women named Amy and a desire to understand names and how they can reveal clues about people's personalities.

After earning a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of California at Los Angeles, she sought to make a career out of deducing personality or character traits based on a person's name. Hopkins won't reveal her methods, which seem more intuitive than scientific. Even so, she says companies use her consulting services to help them decide between top candidates.

"A careful examination of names can reveal clues about a job candidate's prospective success," says Hopkins, who notes that how the name is spelled, as well as whether the candidate uses a nickname, is important to an accurate interpretation. For example, she says women named "Jennifer" project confidence and would interact well with clients. Women who go by "Jen," on the other hand, are, according to Hopkins, bossy and demanding.

While such analysis may arouse skepticism, names can affect perceptions. Studies have shown that recruiters and hiring managers make some judgments based on job candidates' names.

John Cotton, a management professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee, and two colleagues conducted research to examine how people reacted to unusual and ethnic first names. Their article, "The 'Name Game:' Affective and Hiring Reactions to First Names," was published in the Journal of Managerial Psychology in 2008. Cotton, who has a doctorate in psychology, and his colleagues discovered that people with common names were best liked and most likely to be hired.

Candidates with unusual names were least liked and had less chance of getting a job, while those with Russian and African-American names fell somewhere in between but still were much less likely to be hired.

"People like people who are similar to themselves," says Cotton, who advises prospective parents to make careful choices when naming their babies.

An experiment by National Bureau of Economic Research fellows Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan demonstrated that résumés with "white-sounding" names, such as Emily or Greg, yielded 50 percent more callbacks than those with African-American names, such as Lakisha or Jamal. …

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