Tuesday, 14 March 2017 16:06

Whitening Your Resumé to Get the Job

Commentary by Hamlin Grange in Toronto

While working as a television journalist with Canada's public broadcaster, CBC, in Toronto, I produced a documentary series on how new immigrants were settling in Canada. It was part of an effort by the CBC to celebrate Pier 21, the point of entry for up to one million immigrants to Canada from 1928 to 1971. Pier 21 was often called the "Gateway to Canada." Today it is a national historic site and museum.

For the series, TV cameras followed a man and his wife on their journey from Shanghai to Canada, and in their early weeks of settlement in Toronto. They had worked as electrical engineers in power plants in China. Now, like all new immigrants, they were starting over.

We were there when they moved into their one-bedroom apartment above a convenience store. We were there when they went to the local job placement office to search for jobs and to update and print off their resumes. And we there when they bumped up against the stark reality of discrimination.

I knew him by his real name, which was, of course, Chinese. His accented English was quite good because he studied English in China. We talked frequently during those weeks, exchanging phone calls to catch up on his efforts to find a job.

Then one day I got a message that “Andrew” had called. I didn’t recognize the name. Once I called back, I recognized his voice right away. He was the same person I’d been talking to all those weeks, except his new name was Andrew. I asked him why he had changed his name. He said that acquaintances in Toronto’s Chinese community had advised him to change his Chinese name to a “Canadian name” if he wanted to get a job. That’s what Chinese immigrants have to do, he was told. Once he changed his name, his phone began to ring.

I recalled that story as I read a Toronto Star story about a new study by University of Toronto researchers. According to the study, 40 per cent of non-white job seekers are “whitening” their resumes in order to get called for job interviews. Names such as the Chinese “Lei” become “Luke”.

That’s not the only change applicants are making to their resumes in their effort to ‘whiten’ their profiles.

Only 10 per cent of African-Canadians who included experience with African-Canadian organizations were invited to interviews, but that rate jumped to 25.5 per cent when they deleted that experience from their resumes.

I can certainly relate to this. When I was recruited by the CBC in the late 80’s, a manager on the hiring panel asked me if I could be “objective” covering the black community because he noticed I had indicated on my resume that I had volunteered with a few black community organizations.

I told him I could be objective and that because of my involvement in that community I had unique access to a community other reporters did not have. I also pointed out that my resume also included my volunteer work with the YMCA and that I am certain I would be able to objectively cover stories about the Y. I got the job.

Sonia Kang, the lead author of “Whitened Resumes, Race and Self-Representation in the Labour Market” says the findings show that job applicants from racial minority groups are fighting back against discrimination.

In our practice at DiversiPro, we have heard these stories over and over. They are not new. We have been told of immigrants changing their names, their accents and their experience to be more acceptable to other Canadians.

We’ve also heard from immigrants from former British or French colonies in the Caribbean and elsewhere whose European names have disguised their race or ethnicities until they turn up for a job interview – only to find the welcome mat withdrawn.

In the current political climate in the United States, and to a lesser degree even in Canada, many individuals are cautious about how they identify themselves. In a time of "travel bans" and screening for "Canadian values", it's no surprise some new immigrants may decide to minimize their differences in order to be accepted.

The encouraging news is that new immigrants and people from racial minority backgrounds are finding ways to adapt and work around a system that is not often based on merit but how well a hiring manager believes a job candidate will “fit” into the organization.

I have no doubt that such short-sightedness has deprived companies of competent, hardworking individuals who could have contributed to the bottom line.

Hamlin Grange is a Diversity and Inclusion specialist and principal consultant with DiversiPro.

Published in Economy
Thursday, 14 May 2015 01:30

People@Work: “Negative References”


Reference checks are a necessary part of the hiring process, but can be make-or-break for jobseekers, particularly newcomers..

Photo Credit: Creative Commons 

Q: My boss recently told me that she gave a bad reference for a former employee, who also happens to be a recent immigrant. She seemed to enjoy the putdown. How do I make sure she does not do the same to me? 

Advice for the Employer - by Tana Turner

Reference checking is usually the last stage of the hiring process. Some companies use reference checks to confirm the hiring decision while some conduct reference checks on all the job candidates they interview and use it in their decision-making process. However it is used, reference checks help organizations reduce legal liability for negligent hiring.

Reference checks can validate the information provided by the candidate (e.g. the candidate's current or last position, job roles and responsibilities) and check the candidate's past job performance, skills, strengths and weaknesses. Organizations should not ask questions about a job candidate's personality or character, as responses can be highly subjective and unrelated to the candidate's ability to do the job. They should also be careful not to ask questions that could lead to a discussion of any of the human rights protected grounds, such as place of origin, family care responsibilities, disability, etc.

Organizations should also check more than one reference because a reference may provide a poor reference because of personality conflicts or other issues unrelated to their skills and abilities to do the job. Checking three references also provides a more complete perspective of the job candidate.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Organizations should not ask questions about a job candidate's personality or character, as responses can be highly subjective and unrelated to the candidate's ability to do the job. - Tana Turner[/quote]

Newcomers may need to provide out-of-country references or references from volunteer positions. While time zones and language differences may create challenges to checking out-of-country references, employers committed to hiring the best person for the job should make the effort to contact these references. 

If the references speak another language, the hiring manager can ask a colleague, someone from a community organization, or an external interpreter to conduct the reference check.

In addition, it is important for employers to understand the cultural context of the newcomer’s country or region. For example, some cultures stress teamwork rather than independent work, so the candidate's reference may not be able to assess how well the person works independently.

Conducting reference checks for newcomers may be more time consuming but it helps the organization hire the best person for the job, while avoiding potential discrimination against newcomers.

Tana Turner is Principal of Turner Consulting Group Inc., an equity, diversity and inclusion consultancy firm in Toronto.

Advice to the Employee – by Fo Niemi

If you’re concerned about your manager giving negative or incorrect references about yourself, there are several ways to address this situation:

  • Have an open discussion with your manager regarding your work performance during which you can delicately raise the question as to whether eventually, if you seek employment elsewhere, he or she will provide you with a reference. If your manager hesitates, you may want to explore the source of this hesitation. If you see more reluctance, don’t push the discussion, as it would be more positive to return to this issue at a later date
  • Get a reference in writing. This will give you a good idea of your manager’s opinions and a written letter of reference can stand the test of time (and a change of heart at a later date from your manager)
  • Have a trusted friend pose as a “reference checker” and contact your former manager. If, by doing so, you realize your former manager is not giving you a positive reference, you may want to contact another supervisor and request a more balanced reference from the company
  • Ask a former colleague instead of your manager
  • Ask former colleagues what your manager says about you. This kind of information gathering is particularly important if you suspect that your manager may give you a negative reference despite what he or she promises you. Based on what you hear, you can develop strategies and ways to either go around these references, or find someone else in the company to provide you with more balanced references.

If you learn that your former manager is giving you references that are incorrect, biased or even defamatory, you may want to write a formal letter to request that the manager provide only objective and correct references about your work and that he or she refrains from comments that may tarnish your personal and professional reputation.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Get a reference in writing. A written letter of reference can stand the test of time and a change of heart at a later date. - Fo Niemi[/quote]

If the references are from your immediate supervisor, you may want to write to a senior manager, or even the president of the company, to request that corrections be made. Always use a professional, polite and constructive tone.

If a future employer insists on a reference from your last manager, and you do not believe that the latter can provide a positive reference, you may want to be frank with the future employer and explain, without going into too much detail, why it would not be feasible to do so, but that you can provide references from other former employers.

Fo Niemi is the executive director of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), a Montreal-based civil rights organization.

The Big Picture - by Hamlin Grange

References are a useful source of information for any prospective employer and an essential part of the recruitment process. However, references can damage a person’s career, especially if they give an inaccurate impression of a person’s ability to do the job.

Employers need to be aware of the power they hold to harm an employee’s professional reputation when they issue a reference that is uncharitable at best and inaccurate at worst.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Employers need to be aware of the power they hold to harm an employee’s professional reputation when they issue a reference that is uncharitable at best and inaccurate at worst. - Hamlin Grange[/quote]

A supervisor who boasts about giving a former employee a bad reference is lacking leadership skills. She or he may even be deliberately using the potential of a bad reference as a way of intimidating current employees or to get even with a former employee.

Either way, this is a poor management style and may even be contravening not only the company’s management standards, but potentially other labour and human rights laws.

Ironically, many HR directors say they get very little insight from references. And references are usually used only to supplement what the prospective employee may have said in the interview.

According to one survey, three in five employers (62 per cent) said that when they contacted a reference listed on an application, the reference didn’t have good things to say about the candidate.

The survey also found that 69 per cent of employers said they have changed their minds about a candidate after speaking with a reference; 47 per cent they had a less favourable opinion and only 23 per cent had a more favourable opinion.

Often, many former employers are uncertain about what they can or cannot say because they have a legal requirement to be fair and accurate so they often just confirm that the person worked for them and say very little more.

However, refusing to provide a letter of reference may constitute an act of bad faith on the part of the employer, especially in cases where the employer has promised that a letter of reference would be provided or if an employer withholds a letter of reference as a negotiating tool in exchange for acceptance of a severance package.

Hamlin Grange is President of DiversiPro Inc. He is a diversity, inclusion and intercultural development trainer and consultant.

Adjusting to a new workplace is often a challenge for new immigrants. This column, People@Work, is intended to help new Canadians navigate occupational challenges and provide advice on how to integrate into the Canadian workplace. Have a workplace dilemma? Send us your questions for our expert panel to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Please note that their responses should not be considered to be legal advice. 

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Published in Commentary
Wednesday, 11 March 2015 04:00

People@Work: “Small Talk”


Published in Economy

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