February 24, 2014

Can people of color win jobs using Ask The Headhunter?

Filed under: Job Search, Q&A

In the February 25, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks about racial challenges:

I was on the PBS NewsHour.org site and discovered your advice columns. I liked your disruptive advice so I went to your website, read several pages, signed up for the newsletter and bought Fearless Book 3. As an immigrant female POC [Person of Color] I think some of your advice is too much because our communities lack those ties, and the Anglo community is largely biased and resistant to sharing.

I also think that POC [People of Color] would be taken to task harder if they implemented some of your more radical advice. That is, they’d be seen as scary rather than persistent. Overall, however, I did enjoy your advice and I think it would be be interesting to hear specifically from POC that followed your process, so please consider a series of posts, and please consider addressing bias and ways to overcome it. Thank you.

Nick’s Reply

Thanks for your note — you’re raising an important topic. I’ve grappled with questions about discrimination since I started publishing Ask The Headhunter. I think there are two clear options, and a bunch of tricks.

people-of-colorThe first option is to sue the company that discriminates. Like it or not, that can be costly, but it’s the main remedy available under the law. You can also file complaints with regulatory agencies. But these approaches won’t help you land a job.

The second option is to make your value to the employer a higher priority than the company’s biases against you. This takes a bit of work, but I think it’s a better plan. I won’t get into details about how to do this here, because virtually all of Ask The Headhunter addresses the “how to.”

Option one forces the employer to comply; option two convinces the employer that hiring you is the best thing to do. Of course, success does not mean the employer will stop discriminating otherwise.

Then there are the tricks: Avoid letting the employer see your skin color or guess your race until you get the interview. Color your hair to remove the grey. Use an initial for your first name to avoid disclosing you are female. Change your last name to hide your origins. When you finally face a bigot in the interview, you’re still toast — except you’ve wasted your time, too. None of this will really help you.

I don’t agree that the methods I teach are “too much” or that POC communities lack ties that help their members get ahead. (Don’t say, “I don’t know anybody.” That’s bunk.) Nor do I agree that the Anglo community is largely biased and resistant to sharing – that’s like saying POC are largely one way or another. In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Attention there’s a section titled “Don’t walk blind on the job hunt” where I offer this important suggestion:

Know who you’re calling, or don’t call them. If you don’t know the person you want to call, first call someone who does and get introduced.

I think the only way to be successful at job hunting is to take everyone and every situation individually and personally, and to make judgments and choices accordingly. Lean to live like an exception.

Of course, discrimination is real, and so are cultural and personal attitudes. You’re showing a bit of bias against Anglos, and I’m sure some people have revealed their biases to you. I’m not in a position to change any of that, except to tell people to stop doing it.

To me, the fundamental truth is that our society tends to favor productivity and people who can produce what others need and are willing to pay for. (See Hiring Manager: HR is the problem, you are the solution.) The path to a career and a life based on that is fraught with problems and challenges. There’s nothing easy about it. You’ll be ignored and rejected even if you’re quite productive. But it’s even less likely that you’ll be hired (or start a business) and become successful if you are not highly productive.

So learn to show how you will be productive for the employer in question. Lead with that. Don’t lead with your past, don’t lead with a chip on your shoulder. (If the chip is big, then sue the bastards.)

stand-outNot all people start out equally in their efforts to be productive and successful. Some must surmount incredible obstacles, including racism, discrimination, sexism, ageism, and more isms than we can count. But in the end, our society craves and rewards productivity and profit. (What did you pull off?) If you can take something and add your skills, acumen, insights, hard work and persistence, you’ve got a chance at success. That’s what I try to teach with Ask The Headhunter, and it’s what we discuss on the blog every day: How to do it.

You seem to like the ATH approach, but you doubt it can work for you and other people of color. All I can suggest is that you bend and shape some of these methods into something you think you can try on your own. This is not “all or nothing.” And your good judgment must temper it to suit your goals.

Now let’s get to your final request: How have people of color — and people who are discriminated against for other characteristics — used Ask The Headhunter effectively? How has ATH failed them? What’s the best way to use these methods? These are questions for this community, and my guess is there are some great ideas and tips forthcoming.

How have you used Ask The Headhunter to overcome discrimination? Or, maybe you tried and it didn’t work. If you’re a manager, and you’ve been a bit biased, did anyone ever overwhelm you with reasons to hire them anyway? (You may post using a screen name — no one will hunt you down.)

: :

31 Comments on “Can people of color win jobs using Ask The Headhunter?”
By Carole
February 25, 2014 at 3:49 am

Love, love, LOVE this column! As a woman with a visible physical disability, I couldn’t agree more with you, Nick. Yes, discrimination exists, yes it sucks, but the best thing I can do is rise above it and prove my worth.

Among other symptoms, I have a speech impediment, which, I feel (rightly or not), means that anyone who first meets me might assume that my disability is mental as well as physical. It is not; I have a degree in Computer Science and have spent most of my adult life working. I have run into discrimination, both while looking for a job and in my everyday life. It’s frustrating when it happens and I always feel the injustice of it, but that doesn’t change what I know I have to offer. I could share experiences where discrimination occurred, but I could also share experiences where I saw an attitude shift in the other person because of how I acted.

One thing that I’ve started doing after reading ATH and similar material is attend more local meetups where other techies are. I really feel that participating in these groups enables people to get to know me and what I’m capable of. Before that, I was spending my time applying to online job openings. I still have a long way to go to be the expert job hunter. I haven’t figured out how to master targeting companies, but I think that ATH is on to something.

One final note: even though I am conscious of the fact that anybody might characterize my disability as mental, I don’t think it happens most of the time. I’ve attended many events where I meet someone new and we’re instantly equals, or better yet friends. So while discrimination happens, it isn’t *everyone*. This might be due to fortune–maybe I am lucky enough to live in an open and accepting part of the country (Seattle). I also think my chosen career has been beneficial. Being able to say I have a CS degree and know how to program is a nice shortcut to, “hey, I’m intelligent.” It does happen, but don’t get caught up thinking everyone you’ve ever met discriminated against you.

By VP Sales
February 25, 2014 at 8:56 am

Self -advocating without sound preachy or belligerent is an art, and relevant for all people of all colors.

If there is one tactic that one should study, one that I taught my kids at age 10, it is, IMHO , ” disclose feelings/Colombo”

Bad: “I think you asking me for my salary information is illegal and I’m not going to respond”

DFC: I’m uncomfortable discussing salary information since it’s covered under my employers Confidentiality agreement. Can you help me understand how your company treats such information?

By Jacob
February 25, 2014 at 9:18 am

This is probably the best response to on the job racial bias I have read. The problem will not be solved soon, and it still leaves POC with a tremendous amount of work to do, but the right people with the right attitude will get the jobs they want.

By woman over 40
February 25, 2014 at 9:18 am

I’ve tried to take Nick’s advice and worked through my personal contacts to find a job….and it has never worked. The only way I have ever gotten a job is via placement/consulting agencies.

It’s not that I don’t know anybody. It’s that people always had me in their head as the role where they knew me (a mom, a musician-you know all musician’s are supposedly flighty – which I am NOT). and there was no way in their head I was going to break out of that role. The bias was based on my age, my gender, and my hobbies – and frankly, my individuality.

Once I got into a company as a consultant, everybody loved me and I proved my worth. But now – they won’t make my job permanent. So, no benefits and the agreement that I can be let go at any moment for no reason. This is the new way companies are getting their work done…they are NOT hiring. They bring in contractors for a few months at a time. With me, though, they keep me and ask me back over and over again, but no permanent job.

By Bob Lewis
February 25, 2014 at 9:32 am

Most bias isn’t bigotry. It’s unconscious. For example, I ran across a bit of research showing that within-group facial recognition starts with features, but out-of-group recognition starts with skin color.

That is, whether I like it or not, when I meet another Caucasian I see their face, but when I meet someone whose origins are primarily African I first see their skin color … their classification, if you like … and only start to see their individual face after that.

This actually strengthens the point Nick made about doing everything possible to make your ethnicity and ancestry irrelevant to the conversation. I just think he might have made it stronger, for example by encouraging his correspondent to improve her English skills, including voice coaching if she can find it to minimize any strong accent she might have.

I’d bet, for example, that someone with very dark skin who has a firm dry handshake and an English accent would fare far better in an interview with most American managers than someone with a limp, moist handshake, incorrect grammar, and a for-us-difficult-to-understand accent, regardless of their ability to do the actual job.

By Peter
February 25, 2014 at 9:40 am

Nick,

Great response to what can be a sticky topic.

The one thing I would add is something I’ve learned over time is that everyone should focus on moving forward and simply walk past people who try to limit me as an individual. I truly believe that only you can truly limit yourself in life, if you choose to allow others to dictate what you’re capable of.

My recommendation for this individual is to first stop labeling herself (She did so three times, we got it the first time) and focus on exactly what you suggested, that she make sure she focuses on the job/position and that she demonstrates how she is the best candidate for the job and how she will bring profit/efficiency to the company.

I feel people, who choose to label themselves or allow others to label them, are the only ones truly limiting themselves in work and their lives. There is no need to waste one’s time with ignorant individuals, because there is always a small % who fit that in one form or another IMO.

Best wishes on her success and thanks Nick for ATH. I never overlook an opportunity to recommend this site.

By Peter
February 25, 2014 at 9:45 am

Jacob,

I totally agree.

Attitude is a huge key to one’s success, both at work and in life.

Well said.

By Lynne
February 25, 2014 at 9:57 am

My mother-in-law lost her fiance in WW2 and when faced with sudden lack of plans, decided to join her father and brother and study medicine. Many medical schools didn’t admit women. The medical school at University of Nebraska admitted women, but didn’t allow female students to work on male cadavers. The year that MIL applied, 2 female cadavers were donated, the school admitted 2 female students and she became one of them. She went on to practice her career at a university health center in a large city. She most definitely had challenges with some colleagues and patients. Patients that were uncomfortable with her were always cheerfully referred to another doctor – she never argued or tried to change attitudes. She was an excellent doctor, didn’t lack for patients, and in her mind – had nothing to prove. You could say she controlled the parts of her work life that she could control to make them as pleasant as possible…and she could because of her high-value profession. She didn’t want every moment of every day to be a struggle – she enjoyed her work life as much as she could. Her choice was a valid one – certainly not right for everyone – but the sort of choice we don’t hear advocated often now.

I know quite a few women (some of color) in technical professions, and many change jobs repeatedly until they find a work environment that mostly fits and offers advancement opportunities. Others change professions or decide to start a business and build the work environment they want to work in. Think of the reoccurring costs to all those companies of hiring and losing talented staff who chose not to stay because of perceived discrimation!

By Saphronia Young
February 25, 2014 at 10:29 am

As an employer myself, I interviewed a black woman who was truly a very impressive candidate. I did not know that she was black until the interview, but she dressed well, had obviously gracious social skills, and was the top candidate by the end of the interview. I did not hire her only because the position required writing, and in spite of three separate requests, she never submitted a writing sample. She gave only an outline, and I very reluctantly advised her she would not get the job. First things first…then worry about your “other” issues.

By Anon
February 25, 2014 at 11:42 am

I am African Amercan, female and over 40. I’ve just secured a new job after 3 1/2 years in a role that was very limiting and ultimately broken . However, during my job search over the last 8 months, I followed much of Nick’s advice. I ultimately secured a position that increased my base salary by 17%; and I did not settle until I secured a position in the industry I was interested in. I never focused on or indulged the idea if someone was being biased toward me . That is time wasted and too much energy to over analyze certain situations. My new boss and I share the same values and work ethic and the company was wiling to take a chance on me even without all the relevant experience. If you are diligent, positive, and do not settle for less, you can and will find a great job opportunity with the right employer. You can not control anyone’s perception and bias; you can only control yourself and seek out the companies and jobs for which you are most compatible. It’s ultimately all about human relating and navigating interactions and relationships successfully. ATH has been great for me in this regard. THANKS NICK!

By Nick Corcodilos
February 25, 2014 at 11:49 am

@Carole: You bring up some very interesting and useful points. Not everyone discriminates, and even people who do – consciously or unconsciously – tend not to discriminate against people they know personally. They see the rest of the person, beyond one characteristic, and they are attracted. That’s why going to those events is so important – to meet people, to share experiences, to show who you are and what you can do, to make friends. It’s what “mastering” job search is all about. My compliments! Thanks for posting!

By Nick Corcodilos
February 25, 2014 at 12:00 pm

@By woman over 40: You said, “It’s not that I don’t know anybody. It’s that people always had me in their head as the role where they knew me”

What you’re saying is you were limiting yourself to contacts that know you, so of course they will pigeon-hole you. The point is to stretch your horizon and meet new people, which is apparently what you did. Good for you!

The problem of companies hiring contractors rather than employees is a separate issue.

By Phillip C
February 25, 2014 at 12:21 pm

I completely agree with you Nick!

First: I am not an “Anglo” but I also do not refer to myself as a person of color. Anglos have color, we are all human beings.

Second: I have been using your advice for years and it is not “too much” and definitely not “Radical”. I wouldn’t really call it disruptive either except to say it is necessarily outside the normal process for most people, but the normal process has been largely broken of rears!

I have worked in the very diverse IT filed for many years. I’ve worked all over the country and actually all over the world & I disagree that the Anglo community is biased any more than any other. It’s human nature.
As far as I’ve seen any community or race that stays narrow-minded makes themselves biased. The answer is to treat everyone as a common human.

By Dave
February 25, 2014 at 1:28 pm

We’re always going to have bigots out there. Unfortunately, even if the law is on your side, it will be a long and costly battle that you may not have a good shot at winning. It may devolve into a he said/she said rather quick.

Anyone that is open to Nick’s advice on the employer side will not care about whether you’re black, white or come from Mars. In other words, any company that isn’t open to Nick’s ideas may have deeper problems, and that may include bigotry – and no one would want to work there anyways.

Regarding the “being taken to task” issue… Again, any employer that is adverse to persistence is going to be that way regardless of skin color.

In the end, you have control over yourself only. I think, as Pete alluded to, that you should loose the label. If a company wants to not hire you because you’re black, I guarantee they will find a problem with the next person that walks through the door, no matter how stupid it is.

By Larry Kaplan
February 25, 2014 at 1:28 pm

I worked in the diversity field for a couple of years. It is a complex, challenging and absolutely fascinating issue. The advice and insights so far are great, but let me add one for people to consider AFTER they get the job:

Does the culture of the organization provide an open-minded, nurturing, respectful and productive environment for POC’s? If you get the job but the organizational culture is unwelcoming and discriminatory, it doesn’t matter how good the product is or how productive you are, you will be unhappy.

I cannot tell you how many times I have seen organizations that focus on diversity in hiring, and actually do a decent job of it, but once they get people on board, they fail to retain them because they fail to create a good work environment. So POC’s should be sure to examine that when considering a job offer.

By Workplace 21c
February 25, 2014 at 2:01 pm

My grandmother had a word that she would use as an expletive: not one of the ones that our media-run society has become accustomed to hearing: “Mercy!” she would say.

First, I applaud Nick’s effort to deal with the issue raised which does exist. On the other hand, however, I have time today and you’re in for it …

#1 – There should be no term POC “person of colour” in American slang in the 21c. IF I have the ability to upload a fish picture to illustrate I would have dozens of colours on the “inside” and “outside”

#2 – People who are still trapped in legacy thinking, in my opinion, no you are not going to be “successful” with Nick’s networking approaches because it appears that you are still waiting to be “accepted” by the “them” that you feel alludes you for whatever reason …
- This is about maturity
- It is about self-awareness
- It is about self-sovereignty and the ability to create and be responsible for your own identity

In my opinion, you have to be your own person to be successful at a basic, human, level to acknowledge and nourish your potential.

Therefore, “surface-level” thinking will get you nowhere except into your comfort zone where not many opportunities will exist.
You have to be more than what you see in the mirror. [This is the true meaning of 99% … it is about the perception of reality beyond the surface 1%, in mysticism and eastern philosophy like Taoism, Zen and Kabbalah.]

#3 – If you could morph yourself externally, emotionally, spiritually into a state that you would be “accepted” into a group that you have identified as having discriminatory practices: Would you really want to be there? There are so many forward-thinking companies who have or are embracing the reality of diversity.

You have to take responsibility and define who you are: know who you are because if you are walking into a pond of diverse fish, if you are thinking realistically (and acknowledging each of them as an individual), that you, unfortunately, chose to perceive to be monochrome and saying, “I’m a diversity candidate.” Well, what kind of impression are you making?

Get over your issues so you can help them to get over theirs and should them how you can contribute to making the company more successful in our shared 21c reality of diversity and global opportunities.

By Workplace 21c
February 25, 2014 at 2:10 pm

Corrections:
alludes should be “eludes”
and in the last paragraph should them needs to be “show them”

By EDR
February 25, 2014 at 3:07 pm

I am of European ancestry, but certainly not “Anglo.” “Anglo” is short for “Anglo-Saxon” and refers to British people. Not all Americans of European ancestry are British! (Not that there is anything wrong with being British.) “Anglo” is sometimes used to refer to English speakers. My ancestors did not speak English; they had to learn it when they moved to the USA 100 yrs ago. Europe is culturally and linguistically very diverse and “non-Anglo” Europeans are often proud of their ancestry and do not like this label any more than people from Latin American would like to all be labeled “Mexican” or “Spanish” regardless of their ancestry / language / country of residence. “Anglo” is a misnomer like calling Native Americans “Indians” as was once common. Just an FYI, as some European-Americans do not identify with the “Anglo” label and may even take offense. Euro-American or Caucasian is the safest way to refer to “whites” in general. That said, I do think Nick’s advice applies to everybody. Discrimination is certainly a very real problem, but I take offense at stereotyping MOST as “largely biased and resistant to sharing.” (!!!) Perhaps “Anglos” aren’t the only ones with bias here?! At any rate, regarding those who actually are biased and resistant to sharing, forget them. They are not worth your time. Not all Americans are like them. Seek out people who show mutual respect and an open-mind. They are the ones who will be willing to offer real opportunities. I am female, working in the physical sciences, and am 40+ yrs old, so I understand bias. I worked at a few places that did not hire women for certain well-paying and prestigious jobs. They were not worth working for and I regret wasting time and energy there.

By Workplace 21c
February 25, 2014 at 4:54 pm

@EDR
I understand what you a trying to say (I saw that in the initial post; I didn’t go there …) We’re hearing/seeing that a lot in society and

media today, unfortunately …

Anglos are the “white ones” with the riches, power, and looks. It makes no sense. Actually, Anglo means Anglo only: the Saxons have

their own life and mode of thinking) of German extraction) …

It seems that politial and cultural geography were dropped as courses in American education, at some point. Of course, the news media

and television don’t help much.

We were taught about the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Celts, Britons, etc. in 3rd grade. Some of it is that lack of literature training, too. Anyone

who has read Shakespeare’s Richard II and Richard III knows about the artificial creation of “all England” out of the ancient tribes.

Personally, I have no interest in complexion. In refering to people, I think f them as individuals and if they share infrmation about their heritiage of ethnicity which I would never try to guess, I respect it. [By the way, Caucasian doesn't mean much ...] These social constructs like race do nothing but add to the perception of separation. Certainly, labels do not help us with the bias that persists based on … whatever.

By Workplace 21c
February 25, 2014 at 4:55 pm

@EDR
I understand what you a trying to say (I saw that in the initial post; I didn’t go there …) We’re hearing/seeing that a lot in society and media today, unfortunately …

Actually, Anglo means Anglo only: the Saxons have their own life and mode of thinking) of German extraction) …

It seems that politial and cultural geography were dropped as courses in American education, at some point. Of course, the news media and television don’t help much.

We were taught about the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Celts, Britons, etc. in 3rd grade. Some of it is that lack of literature training, too. Anyone who has read Shakespeare’s Richard II and Richard III knows about the artificial creation of “all England” out of the ancient tribes.

Personally, I have no interest in complexion. In refering to people, I think f them as individuals and if they share infrmation about their heritiage of ethnicity which I would never try to guess, I respect it. [By the way, Caucasian doesn't mean much ...] These social constructs like race do nothing but add to the perception of separation. Certainly, labels do not help us with the bias that persists based on … whatever.

By jljarvis
February 25, 2014 at 8:21 pm

During a period of “unpaid employment” I served as executive director of The Professional Service Group, a division of the NJ DOL. On my watch, we helped over 100 people leave us for productive employment. Me, too, eventually.

I have worked on every continent north of the equator, and seen biases relating to skin color in many forms. In today’s marketplace, however, I have to believe that the ability to demonstrate clear committment and clear ability to contribute to the bottom line will prevail.

Demonstrating that is not easy work. But serious global companies will respond to serious applicants, and can easily respond to cultural differences.

I suspect the problem is that we tend to be anchored in geography, thereby limited in our searches, and subject to regional biases.
Not to mention all the issues with HR that Corcodillos has laid out.

Now, I’m an old white guy, so I don’t have first hand feeling for the reaction of people of color, when presented with challenges. But consider that it ain’t that easy to do when you’re 70, either, even if you’re well qualified and can whip the youngsters in a race around the barn.

So buck up, focus on bottom line contribution and team play, and recognize that any company that doesn’t value those things isn’t worth working for.

Via con Dios,

By marybeth
February 25, 2014 at 11:19 pm

This is one of the best responses to questions re how to deal with the race issue in employment I have ever read. Nick is right. The letter writer (LW) cannot control how others view her, and she does have three strikes against her (race, gender, immigrant). What she can do is focus on HER abilities, on what she can do for and bring to a prospective employer. The question should be the same regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, age, etc.: how can you show the employer that you can do the job profitably for him, or, if profit is not the main issue (such in non-profit sector), then how can you the employer that you can do the job effectively for him? If you can demonstrate that, then race, gender, ethnicity, religion, etc. shouldn’t matter.

True, to some employers, it will matter. That is where you have to walk away because you can’t control what he thinks about people who don’t look like him. You don’t own his prejudices either. As Nick wrote, filing a lawsuit is an option, but it doesn’t help you get a job, and think about it–do you really want to work for an employer who judges you on the color of your skin, on your sex, on your religion, on your ethnicity? A lawsuit to force someone to hire you has the likelihood of turning out as well as a shotgun wedding. You have a bridegroom going to the wedding who is kicking and screaming and pushing you away. He’s got to want you as much as you want him. And today, most employers have gotten savvy–enough to know that if they decide NOT to hire someone, they don’t say it is because you’re a POC, or female, or Jewish, or Indian. They say they hired a more qualified candidate.

The LW shouldn’t have to hide who she is. Demonstrate how she’d do the job profitably for the employer. If he still doesn’t want her after that, that is his loss. It doesn’t mean it is easy to convince them, especially since “fitting in” is also part of the equation when it comes to hiring. And don’t discount the important of language and communication skills. I couldn’t tell if the LW is a native English speaker or not. In my last job, I was on a search committee for a staff job vacancy. We winnowed down the number applicants to the few we wanted to interview. The one who was the most qualified on paper was a Chinese national who spoke English, but she had a very heavy accent, and was difficult to understand. The job would have entailed being on the phone with prospective students, current students, alumni, faculty, staff, and other university employees. We ultimately decided NOT to hire her and the main reason was her poor to middling English language skills. If the LW speaks English but has a heavy accent, that could be part of the problem, but this is something that is fixable, but she has to do it, not expect the employer to accommodate her (I am assuming that the job would be dealing with people–if not, then so long as she can understand what the job duties are, what is expected of her, and can communicate back, maybe not perfectly but sufficiently to be understood by her bosses and colleagues, then it should be enough).

In my current job, only last month were we dealing with a variation of this issue. A student needed help with mock interviews, and had gotten too comfortable with advisers, faculty, and other students, so the professor asked us (the library) if we would mock interview her and critique her. Like the LW, the student was a POC, but not an immigrant. But her spoken English was so bad for a native speaker that all of us who participated commented on it, and suggested that she speak in clear, standard English, in complete sentences with a subject and verb (that agree), and no slang–professional. One of the other librarians was kind in how she critiqued her, but honest, which wasn’t what the student wanted to hear, and she complained about racism and discrimination. At that point, we threw up our hands and said that how she speaks is an impediment for her, and it will continue to be one until she changes it. That’s up to her. She didn’t understand that we weren’t trying to change her, make her deny her family, her race, her neighborhood, etc. but that if she wants to get a job outside of the ‘hood, then she has to speak differently. How she talks to her family, friends, and neighbors wasn’t our concern. How she talks to a prospective employer….different matter. Changing her speech for an employer doesn’t mean giving up who she is. She was mad when she left, and I haven’t seen her professor to ask her whether the student took any of the critiques to heart.

By Anon
February 26, 2014 at 5:22 am

@Marybeth. I am an African American female and I very much relate to your recent experience with the student. I’ve mentored young Black, White, and Latino students and one of the most common issues to wrangle is the social communication they use with their peers. I’ve explained countless times and given feedback on the very same issue that you had with the student who did not want to accept critique. Some if the mentees would see my advice for what it was—- a lesson in professional development and business acumen in the workplace. My other mentees would sometimes have the same reaction as your young lady, and not take critique well. I would try to convey to them that basic tenets of workplace professionalism (including the way one speaks or communicates) is not about changing who they are or being discriminatory or biased in any way. I think their inability to accept criticism may be part of a bigger issue of insecurity or low esteem which may prevent them from seeing critique for what it is; an opportunity to learn and excel.

By Dave
February 26, 2014 at 9:09 am

@marybeth and @Anon

Well spoken. If you can’t do the job, I don’t care what color, age, sex, religion you are. Being able to communicate effectively is usually a job requirement and in some jobs, more important than others.

I think we need to move past labels at @Peter says. The letter writer needs to drop the labels and focus on what will make her a better employee.

For example, I had two job interviews with two different companies in the last month where I did not get the job. I got feedback from one of them – the HR person called me *gasp* to deliver the bad news. I know now why I failed at that interview – I presented myself well but they went with someone with more experience. I could see that based on how the interview went. It was for a programming job, and I haven’t used that language much in the past few years so I was a bit rusty. They probably got some hot shot recent grad who had the language beaten into them in the last 2-4 years so it was fresh in their mind. No problems, I know what I need to address now. I am hoping to take a class and/or get a certification in the language. The HR person did say I could re-apply after a certain amount of time.

By Donna
February 26, 2014 at 10:13 am

Nick, I’m glad you didn’t attempt to sugar-coat the issue of racism or discrimination, but instead gave practical advise that allows the individual to exercise control over their own life. Thank you!
It seems some of your readers took offense to the person identifying herself as a person of color, which to me seems a bit silly. This is the world we live it and pretending that we are not different is not being genuine. I am female, POC, over 40 and proud of it all; it’s who I am. I don’t need announce any of those attributes, you see them (except the over 40 part of course)when you see me. When I see others, I see their skin color, their height, body size etc. But I don’t limit anyone to their physical aspects, I simply see them as part of the potpourri of humanity. I do see differences, and I don’t ignore them because I appreciate them.
Relating to job search, I’ve experienced blatant discrimination and believe that that will always exist. It can be frustrating, or even painful; however, I have come to the conclusion that it is a blessing for me not to have had those jobs! If someone is uncomfortable with the package I come in, it’s their issue, not mine. I also don’t assume that everyone I meet will discriminate, I see those individuals as the exceptions rather than the norm. Bottom line, I know what I have to offer,and know not to limit myself based on anyone’s preconceived notion of whom I am. I am determine to show up and do my job well; all while being happy and content with my wrapping!

By Larry
February 26, 2014 at 1:41 pm

Donna’s comment is the most on point of them all. The interesting part is I am a white senior adult and at my last contract employment I was a project manager in south Los Angeles during the 92 riots. I was called me the “old white guy”, my response was “you can call me white just don’t call me old”. EVERYONE was identified by color and then gender by and to each other as a way of identifying of whom they were speaking, there were 99% black, brown, asian and maybe 1% white. Getting the gig was not easy and I was asked about being white in the interview BUT I did get it and doing the job was very rewarding and satisfying. Unknowingly to me because ATH was not around then I had applied Nicks approach. I knew the one person who was to interview me but the interview at the last moment turned out to be a panel of four (surprises do happen), three I did not know at all. I had to read their personalities (hispanic and black)and demonstrate the ability and desire to do the job in what became a high risk situation.
Nicks approach is the way to take control of your job hunting.

By Nick Corcodilos
February 26, 2014 at 3:01 pm

@Donna: Thanks for making the point so clearly. When bigots reveal themselves, you can see them.

That’s why in-person interviews are so important. The candidate gets to assess and judge the employer, too — and decides whether to “hire” them.

Of course, this is the third (and missing) option in my column. You can walk out the door and never look back. This may seem a difficult option. Please read this related article I wrote long ago about my own experience when I had to walk out the door (of a job I already had):

Learning To Move On
http://www.asktheheadhunter.com/hamoveon.htm

It’s not about discrimination. It’s about being honest with yourself, cutting the cord without rancor, and saving your soul from unnecessary anguish and distraction. It’s about getting away from people you should not waste time on – aka, jerks. The next step is into the big wide world, where you can do anything. Why burden yourself with someone else’s problems or bigotry?

(This is not to say a crusader shouldn’t take action. But it’s important to make your choice clearly and not get stuck in the middle, where you can get squeezed to death by your own uncertainty.)

By Nick Corcodilos
February 26, 2014 at 3:03 pm

@Anon:

“I would try to convey to them that basic tenets of workplace professionalism (including the way one speaks or communicates) is not about changing who they are or being discriminatory or biased in any way.”

Wow — what a great lesson to teach young workers.

By marybeth
February 27, 2014 at 3:14 pm

@Dave and Pete: I’m with you. LW should drop the labels. I respectfully disagree with Donna, who thought that some of us took offense because the LW identified herself as a POC. I didn’t read any of the comments that way, but rather that the LW, by focusing on immutable characteristics, is doing herself a disservice. That isn’t to say that racism, bigotry, and discrimination don’t exist–they certainly do, and perhaps, because she is a POC, she is more sensitive to the undercurrents of it than I am. I’m Caucasian, so while I can sympathize and empathize how awful it must be to face racism and the discrimination that goes along with, I’m not going to pick up on it the same way the LW will. But as Nick and many of us have noted, the LW can’t control what others think of her based on her color. What she can do is try the old smoke and mirrors act–mis-direct them by getting them to focus on what is really important, which is how well she can do the job, what she will bring to the company, etc. If she can do that, perhaps they’ll be less likely to pay attention to the color of her skin.

At my last job, I had frequent, routine dealings with another dept. on campus–the Graduate School. Several years ago they had hired a new employee, and when I’d called for guidance or help, I was directed to her. She was so knowledgeable, so professional, so competent, such a wonderful resource. She’s a POC. None of that mattered one bit to me, and

By marybeth
February 27, 2014 at 3:58 pm

when I had a problem or question that fell into her scope of duties and expertise, I knew that she’d be able to help me. I never thought of her color first–she was just Claudia, the best person who can help me. Yes, people notice, as Donna and Anon wrote, but if you’re intelligent, capable, qualified, competent, and professional, then color isn’t an issue. The Graduate School is lucky to have her.

Claudia also spoke professionally (clearly, used standard English, full sentences, etc.). If the student my current colleagues and I had mock-interviewed and Claudia were at the same institution, I’d probably have held up Claudia as a model to the student–look at and listen to her–she is who you should be emulating in your speech, mannerisms, dress, behavior. It wasn’t apparent in the LW’s question (I thought her written English was pretty good, but many non-native speakers can write English better than they can speak it, and of course I have no way of knowing whether Nick did some editing of her letter for purposes of this week’s advice and discussion), but I think speech and overall communication matter a great deal and having mastery of them can go a long way to helping people in the job hunt. In the case of the student at my current job, her poor spoken English, despite being born in the US to US born and English speaking parents, is holding her back, just as I think having poor spoken English and communication skills would hold back candidates who are Caucasian, Asian, non-immigrant, etc.

@Anon: thanks for mentoring young minority students. You’re doing them a great service, even if some of them don’t understand that now. I had not thought of it (the student’s reaction) as being due to insecurity or low self-esteem. When we gave her our feedback, we were polite but we pointed out what we thought she needed to do differently, she didn’t want to hear it, became surly, called us racists and that we were discriminating against her. Um….these were MOCK interviews, we weren’t hiring her for anything or even considering her for anything. She was very upset and took our critiques as personal, racist, discriminatory attacks against her. She’s young (I deal with surly teenagers every day), and I suspect that she hasn’t had any experience outside of her neighborhood. I now work at an inner city community college in the third largest city in MA. The majority of the students are minorities–African American, Hispanic, but all of the library staff are white (mostly older women, but we do have three men on our staff). None of us treat the minority students any differently than white students–if you’re here, then we’ll help you, guide you to resources, but you have to do the work. Most of the students are poor. I’d put down her reaction not so much to insecurity and low self-esteem but to her age (ah, youth!) and to her background/socio-economic class. If she’s trying to make a better life for herself and is the first one in her family and/or neighborhood to go to community college, it is possible that she’s getting push back from family and friends. And it’s scary–you’re leaving the familiar for the unknown, which can be exciting if you have the right support, terrifying if you don’t. I don’t know–maybe I’m reading too much into it as well. I didn’t think any of us were “mean” in our critiques, but then again, I’m part of a racial majority, so maybe there are vibes I’m not picking up. Then I think of Claudia, and there was a student in my former program at my last job who also spoke clear, standard English and came across intelligently. Carmen, too, was a POC. Again, there is a difference in the ages–both Claudia and Carmen were older (by more than a couple of decades in the case of one of them, and by at least 15 years in the other case), both had already completed college, both were in graduate programs (Claudia was also getting a master’s degree while she worked in the grad school), and held professional jobs. I suspect that both had also come from middle to upper middle class family backgrounds, which may also make a difference. The student could have learned a lot from Claudia and Carmen…or even us older white women if she gets out of her own way and takes the critiques as opportunities to learn and to improve rather than personal attacks. It doesn’t mean she has to let go of who she is, and she can still speak using slang and poor English at home or with her friends. But for job interviews, if she wants to get offers, she’ll have to make changes.

By Citizen X
March 1, 2014 at 12:21 pm

I never know which way this blog is going to roll, which is why I try to revisit them from time to time, just to see which way they are going.

The momentum of this roll is going in a very good direction.

I have two WOC’s (women of color) who are my personal heroes. (I’m an OWG—old white guy)

One is a woman around my daughter’s age, the other just a couple of years my senior. Both have brilliant smiles, strong life forces, and refuse to be defeated by anything.

If I had half their gumption, I’d probably be ruling a large sector of the planet by now.

I am currently working a survival job in a place that could be considered an employer of last resort. I’ve never really had time to eyeball the color content of the workforce, but my bet would be that there are more tattoos here than in a biker bar.

Ink was my only bias before working here, and I’m proud to report that I no longer pre-judge people by the pictures or symbols on their bodies (though I am still skittish when I see a swastika).

My wife is a full-blooded Samurai, and I joke that my daughter is half-Samurai and 120% American. (I advise you not to mess with her—she’s also licensed to practice law.)

I’ve been fortunate to have friends of many colors, nationalities, and languages.

One thing I can tell you is that no country has a monopoly on classy people, or silly ones. The distribution is about the same no matter where you go.

I am particularly interested in the mentoring that was mentioned, because I’m way overdue taking responsibility in that department.

Thank you for reminding me.

Post a comment