Job Searching with a Chosen/Preferred Name

Names written on colorful paper.It’s the first thing you type in an application form, the biggest text on your resume, and the first thing a potential employer learns about you: your name. What captures us more succinctly and wholly than our name? It’s more than just a label, and it encompasses so much of who we are. Especially if we chose our name ourselves.

For people using a chosen or preferred name in the job search, what to write down in the application or on the resume can feel like a conundrum. Will HR reject my application if I don’t list my legal name? What will an employer think if I have one name on the resume and another in my email address? Sometimes, we just don’t want to deal with it, and go through a job search process using our legal name even if it’s not the right fit.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way. In short, you can use your chosen or preferred name throughout your job search, as long as you provide your legal name when it comes time for a background check. (If you don’t provide current or prior legal names at that point, it can be seen as lying on the application, and grounds for firing.) How would you like to be addressed during interviews, and how would you like to introduce yourself? Use that name throughout the process.

If you go by a nickname and don’t mind sharing your legal name, you can put this on your resume like these: Xiu Ying “Suzie” Li or Robert “Bobby” Doe. Since a resume is essentially a personal marketing document, and doesn’t require a legal name, the same individuals could simply put Suzie Li or Bobby Doe on their resumes.

Sometimes when deciding whether to list a chosen or preferred name, there are additional considerations. For instance, if you are trans or genderqueer, using a name that does not “match” your gender presentation or gender identity could potentially be an issue during your job search. Perhaps the name on your application would immediately out you to your employer, or using a name you don’t prefer would cause discomfort as you present yourself professionally in a way you wouldn’t prefer to. In these cases, career coaches and trans people who have been through it themselves generally recommend to evaluate your own comfort with using one name or another given where you are in your coming out process or transition, and use your chosen or preferred name during the job search if you plan to use it while on the job. If you are concerned about safety or discrimination, there is nothing wrong with using your old or legal name during the job search, and coming out after being hired. And if you would prefer to not be out at work at all, that is OK too!

If you are interested in changing your name legally, there are resources to help you do so in Colorado. The Colorado Name Change Project assists with background checks, filling out paperwork, and will also soon assist with changing the gender marker on Colorado state-issued ID cards and birth certificates. For help changing documents outside of Colorado, you can check this resource from the National Center for Transgender Equality or contact local organizations in that other state or country.

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

By Kyle Inselman
Kyle Inselman Director, Alumni Career & Professional Development