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English name clear advantage in landing job, researchers find

VANCOUVER – If your name is Alison Johnson or Matthew Wilson, an inventive national study suggests you could do better in the job market than if you go by Min Liu, Samir Sharma or Lukas Minsopoulos.

A comprehensive survey of employers in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto has discovered that job applicants with English-sounding names have a much better chance of receiving a callback than if they have Chinese, Indian or Greek names.

Released Friday, the report, titled “Why do some employers prefer to interview Matthew, but not Samir?” is based on employers’ response rate to thousands of online job applications.

The study, supported by Metropolis B.C., a federally funded diversity-research agency, was conducted to find out why recent immigrants are struggling much more in the Canadian job market than immigrants in the 1970s did.

To test possible discrimination by human resource officials in Canada’s largest and most multi-ethnic cities, researchers sent dozens of employers identical resumes – changing only the name of the applicant.

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On average, University of Toronto researchers Philip Oreopoulos and Diane Decheif found that resumes featuring English names were more than 35 per cent more likely to receive a callback than a resume featuring Chinese, Indian or Greek names.

Of the three cities surveyed in 2010, however, the study discovered Metro Vancouver employers, both large and small, were the least swayed by the ethnicity of applicants’ names.

In Vancouver, resumes featuring English names were just 20 per cent more inclined to get a callback than those with Chinese or Indian names.

The Metropolis B.C. study is the first of its kind to cover ethnic hiring practices in three major Canadian cities, as well as to quiz recruiters about why they make their hiring decisions. It also suggests ways to combat possible bias.

The researchers interviewed time-pressed Canadian employers who told them they were highly concerned that job applicants with foreign backgrounds would have inadequate English-language and social skills for the Canadian marketplace.

But the researchers also suspect many recruiters, who they found fearful of making a “bad hire” in a tough economic climate, were making many decisions based on “subconscious” ethnic discrimination.

“It should not be overlooked that many recruiters are clearly concerned that immigrants may lack critical language skills for performing well on the job,” concluded Oreopoulos and Decheif.

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“It appears that many employers’ unconditional concerns are based on real productivity worries. (However) we cannot rule out that the stated reasons for discrimination belie underlying prejudice.”

The researchers theorized that name-based discrimination may well be a factor in Canada, since recruiters did not seem to improve their callback rates if resumes emphasized that applicants with Chinese, Indian or Greek-sounding names were fluent in English or French and a mother tongue.

The extensive study for Metropolis B.C., whose federal funding will run out this year, was conducted by having researchers respond to online job ads in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. Each sample resume said that the applicant had a bachelor’s degree and four to six years’ experience.

In a related test of Canadian hiring practices involving immigrants, the researchers sent out a series of virtually identical resumes to company recruiters – changing only the country in which the applicant had job experience.

“We find that employers value Canadian experience more than Canadian education when deciding to interview applicants with international backgrounds, suggesting that employers are more interested in internationally born applicants with more Canadian experience,” wrote Oreopoulos and Decheif.

Recognizing the importance employers place on good language and communication skills, the report recommends that recruiters find ways to efficiently assess an applicant’s English or French – including by making quick phone calls to see if an interview would be worthwhile.

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To counter possible ethnic discrimination in hiring, the authors also suggested that hard-pressed recruiters “consider masking names on applications before making initial interview decisions.”