Nigerian-Born Engineer Changed His Name To Secure A Job After Months Of No Offers–But Felt Like A ‘Fake’

Mukhtar Kadiri admits to changing his name to something more recognizable on his resume after months of struggling to find a job. 

The Nigerian-born Toronto native said he changed his name to something more  English-sounding in 2007, saying he wanted to fit in and not be seen as an “other.” After graduating from Texas Tech University, studying petroleum engineering, he started to prepare for post-grad life by attending career workshops, working on his résumé, applying for jobs, and going on interviews.

Kadiri started to notice how fast his American classmates were getting offers while he struggled. “I was an international student, and my employer would have to sponsor my H-1B visa,” he said. “That also made it harder for me to be hired than my American peers.” So he did something to change his chances. 

After noticing some of his Nigerian friends adopted English names, it seemed they were moving through the corporate world a lot easier. “I felt they might be perceived as less strange and more familiar at social events and have conversations that flowed more easily than mine,” Kadiri said. He decided to put the name “Mark” next to his first name in quotation marks since it had some of the same letters as Mukhtar — feeling he wouldn’t have to move through more barriers between him and the interviewer.  

Shortly after, Kadiri landed an interview with an oil and gas service company. “The interviewer called me Mark, and eventually, the company offered me a petroleum engineering job,” he said. 

“It’s possible that I would have gotten called for the interview even if I didn’t use Mark, but I think the timing was interesting.”

Mukhtar never legally changed his name as was still used for his work email but his boss referred to him as “Mark” and he found himself introducing himself as the same. However, he remembered never feeling right about it. “I’d cringe when people used it. I felt like I was denying my roots or being a bit fake,” Kadiri said. 

“No one forced me to change my name, but I felt compelled to do it to avoid being a failure. I really wanted a job.”

In 2023, hiring software company Greenhouse released a survey that revealed one-fifth of job seekers went to drastic measures to protect themselves against workplace discrimination by changing their names on applications, according to CNBC. Of the respondents who did change their names, 45% did it to sound “less ethnic”, 42% wanted to sound younger and 22% made the decision to sound like the opposite sex. 

Greenhouse’s head of talent planning and acquisition Ariana Moon called the results “pretty sobering stats” about discrimination people face in the hiring process. 

Federal employment laws protect applicants from employment discrimination that may be based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information. However, regardless of laws in place, issues persist. “I think these statistics signal that there is still tons of opportunity for employers to be thoughtful about how they design their interview processes to not have discriminatory practices and how they train their employees who are acting the part of interviewers,” Moon said. 

For Kadiri, his days as “Mark” didn’t last too long after a Nigerian colleague started calling him by his real name. Then after moving to UAE, with a predominately Arabic presence, he started to introduce himself as Mukhtar — not “Mark.” But after becoming a Canadian permanent citizen in 2015, he went back to struggling with finding a job, so a friend suggested another name change. 

However, after Kadiri said, “feelings of inauthenticity and guilt” crept back up, he refused. “I didn’t want to relive the same experience again,” he said. “I wouldn’t erase a core part of me just to get a job.” He started working for a tech company and stayed there for four years. “I feel like I’m being authentic now that I use my real name at work. I’m proud of the journey I’ve taken to arrive at this place,” Kadiri proudly said. 

“It took me a while to get to a place where I love who I am and where I’m from, but I now embrace my identity.”

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