Is Your Resume Too Black?

March 7, 2013  |  


When I first moved to New York, my life was the epitome of struggle. I was living in a two bedroom, mouse-ridden apartment with my cousin and a strange, attractive, but eccentric man who, as far as I could tell, only drank apple juice. Unemployed, I spent everyday in somebody’s library using the free wi-fi to look for a job.

There was a library in the Bronx that had a career counseling center and my cousin suggested we speak to someone. Honestly, I thought I was a bit above it. I’d seen career counselors in college and talked to enough professionals in my field to feel like I knew what I was doing. But often times when you don’t have a job, you inevitably find yourself doing things you once felt were beneath you, out of either boredom or desperation. So, there we were sitting in the career counselor’s office.
Even though, I wasn’t too keen on speaking to a counselor, she made me feel comfortable. She was one of those witty, old black ladies who never realized the Jheri curl phase had ended. With wire-rimmed glasses, fading lipstick and Delta Sigma Theta paraphernalia around her office, she seemed like a woman who had been around, seen a lot and didn’t have time to waste if you weren’t serious. Though she was clearly no nonsense, I could tell that she was genuinely interested in helping us. Before, my cousin and I had said a word, she asked us, in a moment of sheer clairvoyance, whether we were happy with our living situation. Though, it was nice to know that someone cared, I did not want complete strangers to know that we were living in squalor. We had to do something different. And if she was perceptive enough to know our struggle, perhaps she also knew where we could get jobs.

First, she asked what it was that I wanted to do. Then she asked to see my resume.

She didn’t like it…for several reasons. The header was too bold. Not professional. I needed to explain more succinctly and highlight the contributions I’d made at these various organizations. Take this off. Add that. Expand that. She had plenty of suggestions. Some I took with a grain of salt, some I implemented; but one really threw me off.

When she got down to the list of my college activities, she noticed that I’d included National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ). She weighed her words carefully before saying, “Now, I don’t know how you’ll feel about this, but you might want to take this off. You don’t necessarily want people to know your race before you come in for an interview.”  She went on to say that though she was very proud to be a Delta, she didn’t have it on her resume.

At first I was shocked. Then I tried to find a polite way to say there was no way in hell I was going to take that off my resume.

NABJ had meant far too much to me. In high school, my city’s local chapter had selected me to participate in a journalism workshop for high school students. When the piece I wrote won second place, I knew not only what I wanted to do with my life, but that I was good at it. In college, our chapter of NABJ was the very first student organization that welcomed me into its membership. They connected me to people and resources who made it possible for me to maintain my sanity in the highly competitive, immensely stressful, predominately white environment that was my university and the journalism school specifically. As I progressed in college, I decided to serve on our chapter’s executive board, devoting hundreds, if not thousands of hours, working for our members, the way the alumni had worked for me. Beyond the work I put in, members of NABJ became my family on campus. When I questioned, again, whether or not I was pursuing the right major, it was participating NABJ’s Student Projects at the National Convention that let me know that my passion had not changed and neither should my major. When I graduated from college, instead of kicking it at my parent’s house the whole summer, NABJ awarded me a paid internship at MSNBC. I said paid.

The organization had invested entirely too much in me for me to start acting ashamed now. And beyond that, I am black. Even if I hid that fact on my resume, when I walked my black behind in for the interview, the cat would be out the bag. Though many have tried, for centuries, to convince me otherwise, being black is an asset and not a liability. I wasn’t going to remove the blackness from my resume just like I wasn’t going to purchase a wig to cover my afro, as my mother had suggested. That’s a story for another day but the sentiment is the same. I wanted then and I always want to work for companies who not only know, but celebrate the fact that I’m a black woman.

I told her I couldn’t and wouldn’t do that and shortly after, made the decision that I no longer needed her services.

And about two months later, black me with my black resume got a temp job at a “white” company and then later a job at a black one.

What do you think about removing indicators of race from your resume?

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  • TK

    Veronica, I think you pose an excellent question. The same things goes for leadership in LGBTQ, women’s, or other minority professional associations. I say keep it, especially if you were a leader and made an impact on other members. Like you increased membership. Or you mentored people. Or you got awards. In fact, you might even discuss how important it was in an interview and how it impacted your desire to increase diversity in the workplace. Journalism is a place where we need to hear everyone’s voice. If they don’t want you because they think black women aren’t a good fit for their company, they are assholes. I’ve gone through this as well. I’ve been told to remove my professional affiliations with women’s leadership groups, with Asian leadership groups, and with LGBTQ leadership groups. We should no way in hell be ashamed of our leadership. I wish you the best. -TK

  • ConcernedReader

    Please, please, please edit your article. Like the point of the article itself, it’s a signifier, and people make judgements based on it.

  • QueenOfLife

    When I read the I thought “how does one have a resume that is too black?” lol But i kinda see where the counselor was coming from. My first name is what most would define as a “white girl” name, and honestly I feel as though some employers might be secretly surprised when I walk in. I sort of like to have my race unknown before I come in for an interview as well so that they do not have have preconceived notions and feelings before I come in and let them know what I can do and have them speak to me themselves, so i understand. As for her organization, its tough because it means so much to her..

  • MsLadyE

    I would leave race indicators off my resume. It’s not about hiding or being ashamed of who you are. It’s about making sure that you have an equal chance to get the interview (which is the main reason for writing a resume). Besides, you probably included your race and other demographics on your application. So the employer ALREADY knows you’re black.

  • kim

    I have a long and hard to pronounce middle eastern name. I can’t tell you how many calls I received from recruiters who were clearly never interested in me. During this time I went on an interview for a paralegal position, and before I could sit down I was asked about my computer programming skills. The interview lasted less than five minutes! I started using my very non-ethnic nickname on my resume, and the “check the box” calls from companies stopped immediately.

  • Janae

    I don’t think it matters. They are going to find out your race eventually, and if they don’t want to hire a black person then they simply won’t. It doesn’t matter if they make this decision while looking at your résumé or if they make it in the interview process. Either way, you get the same result.

  • DeepestMahogany

    Well…My name is relatively racially ambiguous, but I went to a historically black college, so that little race indicator might be a bit difficult for those who did the same to hide. I know that not all who attend HBCUs are black, but most, of course, are. Besides, if indicating your race will cause a company to toss your resume, why would you want to even be considered by such a company in the first place?

    • mac

      it doesn’t have to be the company as a whole. Resumes are typically looked at by a HR person, who is the “gatekeeper”. If that one person doesn’t like your resume, you don’t get contacted for an interview. The rest of the company could be open minded and accepting, but it all starts with that one HR person.

    • QueenOfLife

      I agree!

  • JB#3

    I went to a predominately white college and the career placement person told me not to put too many “Black-oriented activities” on my resume. Since she was white, I totally disregarded her advice but now I wish I would’ve listened. It’s not about hiding who you are instead it’s about being given a fair shot. People need to be cognizant of this when they give their children names that are hard to spell and pronounce.

  • York

    The counselor has a good point. Your experience can be worded without hinting to your race or ethnicity; many applications even say that you don’t have to list organizations or affiliations that do so.

    It’s the same issue as having a name that’s “too black,” and deciding to use your initials instead on your resume. You want the reader to look at your accomplishments, not subconsciously (or intentionally) play a race guessing game. We SHOULDN’T have to disguise things, but why willfully knock yourself out the game early? For the average person, jobs are too competitive to make a prideful point.

  • sabrina

    I also struggled with this. I work in TV, and one of my gigs included working on a project for a popular black network. I never directly put down that network on my resume, but instead, the production company that it worked under. The project never actually aired, so I felt it wasn’t really a big deal. I also didn’t want to get boxed into only working on certain types of projects. But sometimes I feel…why hide it? They’re going to realize I’m black one way or the other. And if the company has a problem with my race, I wouldn’t want to work there anyway.

  • Toya Sharee

    I struggled with this when I was fresh out of undergrad. I worried my name was too ethnic so I used my initials instead. I don’t think it made much of a difference in the long run. I feel like when you’re applying for jobs unless you really are desperate, you want to work somewhere where you feel comfortable and not for someone who would look at you differently because of your ethnic background or associations. It’s not like you had “Bloods and Crips” on your resume, it was a professional journalism association. You don’t have to wave an African flag over your head, but I choose ot be honest on my resume about the things that strongly contribute to my experience (most of the places I’ve worked for are pro-life, pro-birth control, pro LGBTQ). I wouldn’t want to work for an employer who had a problem with that because those things reflect my values.

    • sabrina

      Don’t you write for MN too? Hey girl! lol

  • Nope

    IMO, leave your blackness off unless maybe your have someone on the inside that is personally going to be looking at your resume and personally making the hiring decision. But it’s rare to have the connect and for both. Your goal is to get a job. Getting the job isn’t going to alter your race, affiliations, or accomplishments. Nobody is their real self and/or their full self during interviews anyway. So just add this to that list.

  • Gigi

    I understand where that particular seasoned sista was coming from. I also understand Ms. Wells’ side of the issue. However, her ethnicity probably worked for her in her situation. I’m positive there are some careers where HR knowing a person’s ethnicity off the bat is not conducive to him or her getting an interview, much less a job. So a job seeker must consider the type of career they are looking for when deciding if to include indicators of their race and/or ethnicity.