I struggled to find a job after college, so I changed my name on my résumé and landed one almost immediately

  • Growing up, Mukhtar Kadiri felt like an outsider because of his Arabic name. 
  • After struggling to land job interviews out of college, he added “Mark” to his résumé and got hired.
  • Kadiri found himself job hunting again years later and refused to reject his real name and identity.

This as-told-to essay is based on a transcribed conversation with Mukhtar Kadiri, 39, from the greater Toronto area, about how he decided to go by a different name in the workplace. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

My dad named me Mukhtar after his friend from high school. It means “chosen one” in Arabic.

I’ve come to really like my name — it feels special and mysterious — but it took me a while to get there.

In 2007, I added an English-sounding name to my résumé in the hopes that it could help me land a job. I don’t know if that’s the reason I landed a role in the end, but I felt I wanted to fit in and not be looked at as an “other.”

I thought using an English-sounding name as an alias would remove barriers between myself and an employer
I was born in Edo State, Nigeria. Although my family is Muslim, I was mostly surrounded by Christian people where I was growing up.

Having an Arabic name signaled to people that I was Muslim. I remember feeling different and being teased by other kids because of my religion.

I moved to the US for college in 2002 and studied petroleum engineering at Texas Tech University.

I continued to feel like a minority at college. In Nigeria, there are certain ways of classifying people, such as by tribe and religion, but in the US, I found people are stereotyped based on their race. People thought I’d fit into the African-American box because of the way I looked, but I didn’t feel like I fit into any category.

Toward the end of my college experience, I started preparing to get a job in petroleum engineering. I attended all the career workshops, worked on my résumé, applied for jobs, and went to interviews.

I noticed some of my American classmates were getting lots of offers, but I was struggling to land an opportunity. I was an international student, and my employer would have to sponsor my H-1B visa. That also made it harder for me to be hired than my American peers.

I struggled to get interviews after graduating from college
I graduated in 2007 without a job, which made me very anxious. During college, I could do some interviews on campus, as companies arranged to interview us through the department, but I noticed I wasn’t landing as many interviews after graduating.

Studies have shown that résumés with English-sounding names get more job callbacks. Some of my Nigerian friends had English names, and it seemed that they could navigate spaces more easily. For example, I felt they might be perceived as less strange and more familiar at social events and have conversations that flowed more easily than mine.

I added the name Mark next to my first name on my résumé, putting it in quotation marks. The name had some of the same letters as Mukhtar — I thought it would create less of a barrier between me and an interviewer if they could call me by an alias that was easier to pronounce.

Shortly after doing that, I landed an interview with an oil and gas service company. I don’t remember exactly how long it took or how many jobs I applied to with the new résumé, but it felt like the opportunity came almost immediately.

The interviewer called me Mark, and eventually, the company offered me a petroleum engineering job.

It’s possible that I would have gotten called for the interview even if I didn’t use Mark, but I think the timing was interesting.

I’d cringe when people called me Mark at work
I started the job in December 2007. My department was developing software for oil and gas companies to use.

I didn’t legally change my name, so the name Mukhtar was still in my work email address, but my boss referred to me as Mark. I introduced myself as Mark, and most of my colleagues initially referred to me using that name.

There was always a part of me that didn’t quite like being called Mark. I’d cringe when people used it. I felt like I was denying my roots or being a bit fake.

No one forced me to change my name, but I felt compelled to do it to avoid being a failure. I really wanted a job.

Over time, I began to transition back to using Mukhtar. A Nigerian colleague who was like a mentor to me started using my real name.

After eight months on the job, I was relocated to Oman, where I stayed for around five years before moving to the UAE. It was an opportunity for me to start afresh.

Since Arabic is widely spoken in the Middle East, I would introduce myself to new people as Mukhtar, not Mark. Most people recognized my name, and some would tell me it was beautiful. This was a huge contrast to people butchering my name in the US and Nigeria. I felt like I belonged and wasn’t strange. I didn’t have to apologize for who I was.

When I was looking for a new job in a new country, I refused to go by an alias again
In Oman, I applied for Canadian permanent residency through a skilled worker program and was granted it in 2015. My visa was tied to my employment in the Middle East; there was always a sense of uncertainty, so I wanted to get PR status in Canada. My family and I relocated to Canada in 2017 because of visa issues in the UAE.

I didn’t really know anyone or have a network in Canada, so I struggled to find a job. Employers in Canada place a lot of emphasis on having local Canadian experience, making it harder for me to land a role.

One of my friends, who had downplayed his native African name to emphasize his English and easy-sounding name, suggested I change my name to help me get a job. A lot of Christian Nigerians will have native and Christian names. So, when they move abroad, they might emphasize their Christian names. It may not necessarily mean changing their name but simply using their middle name as their first name.

His suggestion brought back all those feelings of inauthenticity and guilt I faced when I went by Mark — so I refused.

I didn’t want to relive the same experience again. I wouldn’t erase a core part of me just to get a job.

I kept applying to jobs and networking, and a few months later, I landed two job offers for project manager roles. I started working for a tech company in the healthcare sector and stayed in that role for nearly four years.

I feel like I’m being authentic now that I use my real name at work. I’m proud of the journey I’ve taken to arrive at this place. I’ve learned to like my “otherness.” Nowadays, when I speak to people, I’ll volunteer the meaning of my name without them even asking.

It took me a while to get to a place where I love who I am and where I’m from, but I now embrace my identity.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply