Nigerian-Born Engineer Changed His Name To Secure A Job After Months Of No Offers But Felt Like A ‘Fake’

One survey found one-fifth of job seekers changed their names on applications to protect themselves against workplace discrimination.

In a Business Insider story, Nigerian-born Mukhtar Kadiri detailed changing his name to something more English-sounding in 2007 in the hopes of landing a job. What was done in the hopes of fitting exacted a heavy emotional toll.

After graduating from Texas Tech University, where he studied petroleum engineering, Kadiri attended career workshops, worked on his résumé, and went on interviews.

But Kadiri noticed how fast his American classmates were getting offers while he struggled.

“I was an international student, and my employer would have to sponsor my H-1B visa,” he said. “That also made it harder for me to be hired than my American peers.”

Kadiri noticed that some of his Nigerian friends adopted English names and moved through the corporate world a lot easier. “I felt they might be perceived as less strange and more familiar at social events and have conversations that flowed more easily than mine,” Kadiri said.

He decided to put the name “Mark” next to his first name in quotation marks since it had some of the same letters as Mukhtar—feeling he wouldn’t have to move through more barriers between him and the interviewer. Shortly after, Kadiri landed an interview with an oil and gas service company.

“The interviewer called me ‘Mark’, and eventually, the company offered me a petroleum engineering job,” he said. “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.”

Mukhtar never legally changed his name, but his boss referred to him as “Mark” and he even introduced himself with that name.

But “I’d cringe when people used it. I felt like I was denying my roots or being a bit fake,” Kadiri said. “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.”

In 2023, hiring software company Greenhouse released a survey that revealed one-fifth of job seekers went to drastic measures to protect themselves against workplace discrimination by changing their names on applications, according to CNBC. Of the respondents who did change their names, 45% did it to sound “less ethnic,” 42% wanted to sound younger, and 22% made the decision to sound like the opposite sex. 

Federal employment laws protect applicants from employment discrimination that may be based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information.

For Kadiri, his days as “Mark” didn’t last too long after a Nigerian colleague started calling him by his real name. Then after moving to UAE, with a predominately Arabic presence, he started to introduce himself as Mukhtar.

After becoming a Canadian permanent citizen in 2015, Kadiri struggled to find a job. A friend suggested another name change, but Kadiri refused. 

“I didn’t want to relive the same experience again,” he said. “I wouldn’t erase a core part of me just to get a job.” He landed at a tech company and stayed there 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,” Kadiri said. “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.”

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