I use LinkedIn a lot. I’ve been on there for years and love to browse jobs and make connections with professionals in my field. Not long ago, someone sent me a request to connect. I didn’t even view their profile-I just accepted like I always do.
It’s just LinkedIn, not something personal like Instagram and Facebook. Plus, most of my profile is public anyway. Almost immediately after accepting, I got a text from one of my very good friends. She told me that someone she is friends with wants to connect with me about possible job opportunities. Guess who it was? The same person whose connection request on LinkedIn I had just accepted.
He could have just sent me a message on LinkedIn, I thought. I dismissed the uneasy feeling I had and told her she could pass my contact information along. I was not actively looking and it was a few days before I took a ten-day trip but I spoke with him anyway.
Once I chatted with him, I realized he was just trying to fill roles and didn’t really care much to actually listen to my career goals. He was pushy and rude. I told him politely several times the type of role I wanted. I told him that I wanted a full-time position and not a contract fill. I mentioned that I wanted to stay in the tech field, mainly software, and not branch out to other industries. Yet time and time again he kept reaching out about roles that didn’t relate to my background, skill sets nor salary expectations.. This went on for over a month. After ignoring him several times he tried to strike up a conversation one Friday afternoon by saying this:
“No offense but if you have a middle name throw it on your resume instead of last name. It’s not just for the obvious reason of discriminating but other reasons as well.”
Reading that made a knot form in my stomach. I never thought discrimination played a role in any opportunities I applied to because to date I had a pretty solid career with a plethora of companies. What’s wrong with Abdolrazek? I thought.
Those ten letters are a part of my identity. It has been my name my whole life. Abdolrazek is written on my University diploma, on my passports, and IDs. Hoda Mohamed Abdolrazek is the name on my birth certificate. Hoda Mohamed Abdolrazek is not just my name, it is a culmination of all my achievements and downfalls for more than a quarter century; it’s part of who I am as a person. Up until that moment, the thought that I was at a disadvantage because of my name never even crossed my mind.
I was offended to say the least. More so because the person telling me this should understand since his name is pretty similar to mine. He was Muslim-Egyptian-American like me. Part of me wanted to dismiss this whole interaction and block his number and email address and be done. But the fighter in me needed to make a point.
“My middle name is Mohamed. What’s wrong with my last name? I’m not sure I follow. Are you saying my last name is too Muslim?”
He responded almost immediately: “Yea, that and it can be mistaken for an Indian candidate looking for a visa which is very common.”
I had no words after this. It was all I needed to read and the explanation was pathetic in my opinion. I always went by the principle that if a company didn’t want to hire me then I probably didn’t want to work for them either. It’s a two-way relationship between an employee and an employer—you both have to want in.
I had forgotten all about this encounter until a few days later. Someone named Dean that I definitely did know added me on LinkedIn. His last name said Jones but I knew it was definitely not Jones. It was something else entirely and very Middle Eastern. I decided to message him on LinkedIn and ask if he was the same person that I thought I knew and used his Lebanese last name to confirm if he was the same Dean I had met years ago. He responded right away and said that, yes, he was the same Dean but that he decided to legally change his last name because he couldn’t find a single job using his real last name. He went on to tell me about how he sent his identical resume with his Middle Eastern last name and later with his new Americanized last name to the same company and with his credentials only got a call back when he was Dean Jones.
I was in absolute awe. These two situations happening so closely together really blew my mind. Some of the biggest companies in America, let alone the world, are run by foreigners, some from the Middle East, a lot from India, and so many Europeans. America especially has CEO’s from various ethnicities and with citizenships from all around the world. Most companies actually promote diversity and look for those with different backgrounds whether educational or cultural as it brings a new outlook to the organization… And here I was being told by two people with similar backgrounds as me that I was at a disadvantage because of my name.
But knowing who I am and embracing my name is what has gotten me this far in my career
Suddenly it hit me. There was nothing wrong with my name and everything wrong with these two individuals who were insecure about their heritage or implying that I should be insecure about mine. There was a point in my career where I would have believed them. I may have even gone as far as changing my name on documents to see if it would give me an advantage. But knowing who I am and embracing my name is what has gotten me this far in my career and I wouldn’t change these experiences whether incredibly challenging or mind-numbingly boring by manipulating my name and my identity to meet the standards of certain individuals.
If there’s anything I’ve learned in my professional career, it’s that being candid and honest is extremely important. While maintaining a level of professionalism, don’t ever apologize or hide who are just to get ahead. In my humble opinion, lying or cheating your way into a job will provide no baraqa (blessings).