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Put Your Brand Name on Your Resume, Not Your Real Name

Putting your name on your resume is not as simple as it seems. Should you use your nickname or your formal name? Include your middle initial? How about Jr. or III? Your academic credentials?

Resumes used to be very proper and formal. But like our work clothes, they've largely moved into the business-casual realm. What used to be a stuffy document is now a more comfortable and functional marketing tool.

Today's resume is all about introducing your personal brand and helping hiring managers figure out if you'll fit in with their organizations. In other words, there's no longer an absolute rule about how you put your name on your resume. 

The "right" way to identify yourself depends on:

  1. How formal or informal you are as an individual,
  2. Your field (e.g., law is formal; IT is not), and
  3. Your prospective employer's organizational culture.

So, consider how you want to be known at work, and follow these guidelines.

Middle Initial
Leave it out, unless you're someone like Michael J. Fox, whose middle initial is part of his professional name.

Nicknames
If you have strong feelings for or against being referred to by a nickname, it's a good idea to indicate that preference at the earliest opportunity (which may be on your resume) to avoid the embarrassment of having to correct someone who's been calling you by the wrong name.

If your nickname is Bobo, put your proper name on your resume. But if it's Bob, you have a choice. I'll use my fellow Pongo bloggers to illustrate three scenarios:

Rick: Always Uses His Nickname
Rick jokingly threatens bodily harm to those who call him Richard. He can communicate this (gently) on his resume in two possible ways: Rick Saia or Richard ("Rick") Saia. A third option is to use Richard Saia on the resume, but explain early and often that he prefers Rick.

Brianna: Doesn't Care What She's Called
Brianna answers to either Brianna or Bri, no worries. She just writes Brianna Raymond on her resume and, if asked, mentions that Bri is fine, too.

Michael: Always Uses His Given Name
Michael is a Michael, not a Mike. On his resume, he's all set with Michael Neece. If people start calling him Mike, a prompt and polite, "Actually, everyone calls me Michael" can solve the problem.

Jr., Sr., II, III, IV
In general, you can skip generational suffixes on your resume. An employer doesn't need to know whom you're named after. On the other hand, if that suffix is an important part of your identity, or you have a parent who goes by Your Name, Sr. and works in the same company, by all means use it. 

Hard-to-Pronounce Names
You may be a rose of a candidate, but if the name on your resume is hard to decipher, your chances of being hired might not smell as sweet. I have a friend whose last name is Skrzypczak. With a tough name like that, I'd spell out the pronunciation right on the resume: Jane Skrzypczak ("Skrip-zak").

This practice may be unorthodox, but it shows that you can anticipate problems and be proactive in preventing them. It also allows hiring managers to be confident about calling you for an interview. Otherwise, they might avoid making the call, for fear of an awkward moment ("Hello, may I speak to Jane… um… Sk, Skra-zip...?)

Gender-Neutral Names
Same principle as above — don't make them wonder. I always liked the solution they used on The Waltons. The mother was played by Michael Learned. In the show's credits, it simply said "Miss Michael Learned." (OK, that was 1972. "Miss" is no longer acceptable, but you get the idea.)

If you have a name that can be masculine or feminine, consider adding a Mr. or a Ms. in front of it, with or without parentheses: (Mr.) Angel Rodriguez or Ms. Charlie Harrison.

Degrees and Certifications (aka Letters After Your Name)
When it comes to academic degrees, professional designations, licenses, certifications, and such, it's all about relevance. If the credentials support and enhance your qualifications for the job, put the letters after your name. Otherwise, don't. (You're not lying if you omit them; you're just editing irrelevant details.) Here are a few specifics:

  • Undergrad Degrees: Associate's (AA) and Bachelor's (BA or BS) degrees don't usually get mentioned with your name.
  • Medical Designations: These usually do go after your name. If you're an RN or LPN applying for a nursing position, you would absolutely use the letters. But if you're applying to be a cake decorator, they're irrelevant.
  • Advanced Degrees: A master's or doctoral degree can enhance your credibility. Then again, if you're trying to scale back your career to a lower-level position, an MS or PhD on your resume might brand you as overqualified.
  • Certifications and Licensures: Credentials like these can also be helpful, but again, only if they're applicable to the job at hand. For instance, I would put my CPRW designation after my name if I were applying for a career- or resume-related position, but not for a writing job in another field.

Bottom Line: Every aspect of your resume should contribute to one goal: getting you an interview. As you decide how to identify yourself on your resume, remember that the easier you make it for the hiring manager to understand your value, your brand, and your identity, the better your chance of achieving that goal.

We'd love to hear what job seekers and hiring managers have to say about the resume name game. Please add your views to the conversation by leaving a comment!

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