Job offers only came to this Nigerian in the US after he changed his name

BY Preta Peace Namasaba May 29, 2024 3:26 PM EDT

Despite having identical resumes, a study conducted in 2023 found that ethnic minorities received 57.4% fewer positive responses compared to applicants with English-sounding names. Another study revealed that applicants with distinctively black names applying to 108 of the largest employers in the U.S., including Fortune 500 companies, encountered systemic illegal discrimination based on their names. Individuals with more traditional Black names often face perceptions of being less professional and encounter greater challenges in their pursuit of employment. As a result, many job seekers choose to alter their names on applications to safeguard themselves against these discriminatory hiring practices.

Nigerian-born engineer Mukhtar Kadiri had to change his name to assimilate into corporate America, he told Business Insider Africa.

Born in Edo State, Nigeria, Kadiri grew up in a Muslim family but was mostly surrounded by Christian people. His father named him Mukhtar, meaning “chosen one” in Arabic after his friend from high school. Kadiri was teased by other children because of his religion as having an Arabic name signaled to people that he was Muslim. He moved to the US for college in 2002 and studied petroleum engineering at Texas Tech University. In preparation for a job in petroleum engineering, he attended career workshops, worked on his resume, applied for jobs, and went to interviews toward the end of his degree.

“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,” Kadiri said about his experience feeling othered.

While Kadiri was struggling to find an opportunity,  he noticed that some of his American classmates were getting a lot of offers. He was an international student, and his employer would have to sponsor his visa which made it harder for him to be hired. He graduated in 2007 without a job. Although he had done some interviews with companies during college, Kadiri was not called to as many after graduating. His Nigerian friends who had English names seemed to navigate spaces more easily and he decided to follow suit. He added the name Mark next to his first name on the resume and put it in quotation marks.

Immediately after making the change, Kadiri landed an interview with an oil and gas service company. The company ended up offering him a job in a department developing software for oil and gas companies to use. Kadiri did not legally change his name and the name Mukhtar remained on his work email address. However, he introduced himself as Mark, and his boss and most of his colleagues referred to him as Mark. No one forced him to change his name although he felt compelled to do it to retain his job and avoid being a failure.

Kadiri felt fake, like he was denying his roots.

He was allowed to start afresh when he relocated to Oman where he stayed for around five years before moving to the UAE. Arabic is widely spoken in the Middle East and Kadiri would introduce himself to new people as Mukhtar, not Mark. They recognized his name and some would tell him it was beautiful, a far cry from his experiences in Nigeria and the US. Kadiri felt like he belonged and did not have to apologize for who he was.

In 2017, Kadiri and his family moved to Canada due to visa issues in the UAE. He did not know anyone or have a network in Canada and struggled to find a job. A friend suggested that Kadiri change his name to an English and easy-sounding one to ease the job search. Kadiri remembered the feelings of inauthenticity and guilt that plagued him when he went by Mark and refused. He continued applying to jobs and networking and landed two job offers for project manager roles a few months later. He worked for a tech company in the healthcare sector and stayed in that role for nearly four years.

“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,” Kadiri explained his decision to maintain his real name.

Kadiri feels authentic using his real name at work today. He is proud of the journey, albeit treacherous that has led him to a place where he can appreciate his name.