Applying for jobs when you have the same name as a skeevy criminal
September 8, 2016 6:07 PM   Subscribe

I have the same first and last name as a US college athlete involved in a rape case that got some national media attention recently. When googling my name, even verbatim or in quotes, the first several pages of hits are news items about the crime, the trial, etc. I'm now applying for jobs and looking for the best way to preemptively make sure I'm not confused with [demonstrably horrible person]. Worries & details below.

Probably 90 seconds of thoughtful, careful googling with my CV nearby would make it clear that I'm not that guy--I'm older, I didn't go to that school, etc. However: THIRTY seconds of googling really might make it seem like I AM him--maybe even after meeting me. We have some physical similarities (coloring, hair), I've lived in the same state as him, some sports-related stuff correctly shows up in my own history (I was a HS+college athlete too, tho a different sport)--and, most significantly, we share a quite uncommon name.* I am worried that an HR person doing a 1st or 2nd level of screening, going through a lot of resumes at once, would run a quick or not-so-quick check, recoil at these news stories (like I do), and drop my application quickly into the "Him?! Oh hell no" pile.

My question is: What's the best way--and the best time in the application/interview process--to bring this up? Stating in my cover letter or resume, "Hey, I'm totally not the guy convicted in that rape case! Isn't it obvious that I'm older and less fit?" is not at all a note I want to hit in my application. Yet I'm having trouble sitting with pracowity's smart & well-stated suggestion in a previous related askme (don't bring it up, "just assume that they know how to use google"), and I'm specifically looking for suggestions on how to address the same-nameness preemptively.

Mefites with HR backgrounds, or with shitty namesakes or doppelgangers--do you have suggestions about this? Relevant experiences? Thank you.

*Note: In looking through previous askmes for guidance, I found this nifty "name frequency estimator", which guesses there'd be 3-4 people per 300 million in the US with the same name as me. So not completely unusual but still uncommon. Also, per previous related askme thread: I do have a google profile page but it doesn't seem to help my name float any higher in all that crap.
posted by BespokePuppet to Work & Money (35 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Middle name? Initials?
posted by Etrigan at 6:12 PM on September 8, 2016 [11 favorites]

I'm on my phone and answering off the cuff here, but can you make sure that the information that shows you AREN'T him be pretty obvious located on your resume? and year graduated from said education at the top? If they Google your name and don't even try to figure out if you're the same guy or not then they aren't doing a very good job. Besides, if that dudes name came up in my applicant pile I'd be so WTF?? interested I'd read every word of the resume to make sure it wasn't him...I wouldn't trust just the name.
posted by MultiFaceted at 6:13 PM on September 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: A footnote on a cover letter and resume/CV saying, "I share a name with a criminal who received national attention. Please be aware of this should you Google me" would be fine. It should be short, clear, and out of the way (but there).

It's unusual, but, it's also an unusual situation, and I think it's fine to get in front of it in the clearest way possible.
posted by entropone at 6:14 PM on September 8, 2016 [42 favorites]

Middle name makes sense. But so does using a different first name. Like "M.A. Nonsense" instead of "Mary Nonsense." I would take the first name out of the equation entirely, because the association alone is bad. Even if they can tell it's not you.
posted by tooloudinhere at 6:15 PM on September 8, 2016 [14 favorites]

I would absolutely use the whole name assuming you do not have the same middle name as this person. Everyone will understand why.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:18 PM on September 8, 2016 [9 favorites]

Bob A. Smith should do it - change all of your online presence to have your middle initial.
posted by k8t at 6:18 PM on September 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Add a middle initial or middle name.

If you're truly concerned, consider adding a note to your cover letter like what was suggested above; "please note that I am not, nor am I associated with, the Joe Criminal who has recently been in the news for criminal activity."

As a hiring manager, that would be enough for me.
posted by samthemander at 6:19 PM on September 8, 2016 [6 favorites]

I don't think I'd bat an eyelash at 'ps I am not the obvious criminal that shows up when you google my name' in a cover letter.

Someone with my name is a pedo creeper, but I have a way stronger online presence, so he only shows up pretty far down the page (thanks anyway, asshole).
posted by so fucking future at 6:26 PM on September 8, 2016

Just throw your middle name or initial in there to trip up the tongue and the eye from making the connection.

Think Michael B. Jordan (much much better problem to have but still has to distinguish himself professionally.)
posted by kapers at 6:45 PM on September 8, 2016

Using your midde name or middle initial professionally is an old trick that actors sometimes use to officially distinguish one actor from another (that's why it's "Anthony Michael Hall" instead of just "Anthony Hall," or "Michael J. Fox" instead of "Michael Fox", because there was another "Anthony Hall" or "Michael Fox" out there first). It "feels" different enough that way.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:01 PM on September 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

So yeah middle initial is the way to go. Make sure your linkedin uses the initial too.

That said, I think you are over-estimating how often HR people google applicants. No really. We're busy. At this point no one I know even googles an applicant, we go to linkedin and search there or go to facebook and search there.

If it is who I think it is then (1) you should remove some of the identifying information from this question because my brain immediately associated a name with your profile and (2) people are going to recognize that name without googling for a while so google isn't even an issue really.
posted by magnetsphere at 7:02 PM on September 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have the same first and last name and middle initial of someone who burned a LOT of bridges in my small city. I found out when I started applying for career-type jobs around here.

Luckily, my first name has about 1,000 believable nicknames. Think like "Elizabeth." I applied as "Betsy Smith" instead of "Elizabeth Smith" and things improved. I have a job I love and am called the name I want.

My husband hires people for his company and I just asked him what he would do. He said "If someone named O.J. Simpson applies for a job, I know which O.J. it's not." So people hiring, even if it's in the same area as your name-sharer lives, know he's not applying for jobs right now. FWIW, my husband Googles everyone he hires.

Good luck!
posted by thewestinggame at 7:09 PM on September 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Frankly I think it's very unlikely anyone actually going to confuse the two of you. Like at all. The first person who sees your name either won't recognize the name or if they do they know why they know the name. That person easily knows that guy's not you. The still-clueless person who googles you will know by the first hit that it's not you. I'm reviewing the hits of the individual you are most likely referring to and there is zero chance someone can think that you are the same person.

The number of bizarre/unfortunate names and people with doppelgangers I encounter in my job continues to astonish me. Your name will be a, "Guys, omg, get a load of this! Poor guy!" and not "Ew ew ew ew! Ew! Monster!"
posted by good lorneing at 7:14 PM on September 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Point being: it's your name. People will know it's common. Just use your name.
posted by good lorneing at 7:14 PM on September 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I just searched a famous rapist's name with a bunch of different middle initials and names, and he still came up on the top no matter what. They don't show up if you search for the exact name with quotes, but there's no guarantee that employers will do that.

I'm thinking entropone's postscript note acknowledging the problem is the best and least fussy solution.
posted by ernielundquist at 7:15 PM on September 8, 2016 [10 favorites]

I am worried that an HR person doing a 1st or 2nd level of screening, going through a lot of resumes at once, would run a quick or not-so-quick check, recoil at these news stories (like I do), and drop my application quickly into the "Him?! Oh hell no" pile.

I think this could *absolutely* happen. (Family member dated a junior HR person/resume screener, met some of their friends/coworkers... #NotallHRpeople, of course, but... I could easily see this kind of error being made. Could even imagine some people coming up with outlandish explanations for the differences. There are a lot of resumes for people to go through, not much time, always, and it's not always the most entertaining job, I hear...) If I were you, I'd use a middle name and make it legal & permanent.

What luck :/
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:32 PM on September 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'd run this by Ask A Manager for a real HR professional's take. My instinct is that it's not going to be a problem and including a sentence in your resume or cover letter would just make it weird.
posted by MsMolly at 7:46 PM on September 8, 2016 [10 favorites]

Unless the doppelgänger's middle name/initial is also commonly known, I would not assume adding a middle name/initial would differentiate you, as much as make it appear the doppelgänger is also trying to get away from their name in google.

I would apply with either your first name changed to a non-silly nick-name or use a first initial-middle name-last name format. So, "O. James Simpson".
posted by saucysault at 7:56 PM on September 8, 2016 [6 favorites]

I don't think a person reviewing a resume would find it weird or inappropriate for you to want to dissociate yourself from that guy, even if it wasn't strictly necessary.

Honestly, if my professional history allowed it, I would seriously consider shifting to using my middle name professionally. The stink of that story is going to persist for a long time. "A. Stephen Smith" (especially with the common last name) will let you dodge the problem of the instinctive negative reaction. By the time they're calling your references and your references are referring to you as "Allen," it will be obvious you're not that guy.
posted by praemunire at 7:58 PM on September 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Rather than just clicking the plus, I wanted to note that while (a) at my company, we would quickly be able to establish that you aren't THAT Brock Doe, (b) a brief, humorless, and directly stated parenthetical to that extent would be absolutely fine. A "B. John Doe" would also be totally fine, it's very common in my part of the country.

15 person tech company with only one screening level so YMMV. Good luck with the search in any case.
posted by ftm at 8:06 PM on September 8, 2016

. The first person who sees your name either won't recognize the name or if they do they know why they know the name.

If this is the nationally famous Brock Doe, then I and all my friends, some of whom work in HR and many of whom read resumes, would recognise the name instantly and know exactly why.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 8:14 PM on September 8, 2016 [13 favorites]

Have you ever noticed how there's no one with the last name "Hitler" anymore? It sucks, but sometimes assholes can literally ruin your good name.

I think that you should start getting yourself comfortable with being B. [MiddleName] Turner (making an assumption for purposes of the example, no need to confirm or deny) in your professional life for the time being.

I'd also remove the sport-related info from your resume/LinkedIn if it's there (I wouldn't bother trying to scrub references that you don't control.)

I'm sorry you have to deal with this. Hopefully, after this job search you can rely more heavily on your network for direct job introductions.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:28 PM on September 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

My vote is to include your middle name or initial.

I work at a large company and our HR outsources their background screening to a third party company. This makes sense financially, but the third party company is dumber than a box of hammers. They do background screenings as their company output, yet can't seem to put two and two together in scenarios such as this. Constantly.

Datapoint: my colleague, who shares the exact same first and last name as a wildly popular, but racially offensive comedian had to send repeated proof to these people that he is indeed not the famous person. Like that famous person would be remotely interested in desk work in a finance department when he has been in a ridulous amount of blockbuster movies and is a multi-millionaire. COME ON.
posted by floweredfish at 8:30 PM on September 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

If you have the interview, it's likely they haven't stumbled across this info yet and made assumptions, or weren't concerned. I believe the only people you need to concern yourself with are those who are being lazy Googlers. So how to deal with them?

1. As mentioned above, make efforts to own search results for your name. In addition to LinkedIn, try and get the domain with your name and set up a blog or resume page.

2. On the domain that is yours, somewhere near the top include the statement that you're not the same guy as the convict. If possible, link to an article that has a photo of the other guy... but make sure a photo is on your page. (I know of at least one con-man who claims he has a common name when people people Google him... what does him in are the articles that match his face to his record).
posted by Unsomnambulist at 8:32 PM on September 8, 2016

One more thing, for the future past this job search... I am not going to tell you how to run your romantic life but if I were in your situation I would add "socially acceptable reason to change my last name to my spouse's" to the "pro" column when considering marriage. (if you're married already... It's still not too late to switch, even if you had to justify to a judge they'd be sympathetic)
posted by sparklemotion at 8:33 PM on September 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

I work for a NYC Staffing company.

Just change your name on the resume. Seriously. Chuck out your first name completely and just use your Middle name as if it were your first. Or you can use a nickname instead.- (as long as it doesn't sound hokey) Example: If your name was Gabriel Thom Labowski, just use: Thom Labowski. Or Gabe Labowski. You get the gist. Once you're asked for ID you can hand it in and point out to them "oh by the way I prefer being called by my middle name" We get people who hate their names ALL the time and it's totally fine if they ask to be called by something else and totally fine if this is reflected on the resume. Or you can just explain your situation if you don't in reality like being called "gabe" (but a company probably won't want to have "marylin Manson" representing one of their clients or dealing with a customer, so you may really want to consider using "manny" instead. you know.)

The people suggesting foot-notes and such are well intentioned, but from experience I can tell you that people who are hiring get so many resumes that it doesn't take much to come up with an excuse to throw yours away and lighten the load. So don't make the person hiring think so hard. Don't make them wonder for a moment. Just slightly alter your name for the hiring process and when it's natural to bring it up, mention your legal name, but don't make a big deal out of it. that will fix the problem.
posted by manderin at 8:48 PM on September 8, 2016 [19 favorites]

I would use the your first initial and middle name and last name. Like A. Brunswick Jinkins instead of Alonzo Jinkins. I don't think Alonzo B. Jinkins is enough of a differentiator. When you get a call for an interview you can tell the person on the phone oh hey my name is Alonzo but I am not that Alonzo and I didn't want to risk anyone thinking I was.

(I do know who you're talking about, and anyone who - like me - knows that name on sight, REALLY hates that guy.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:02 PM on September 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

Yeah unfortunately name changing/shifting as suggested might be a good way to go here, because the immediate first impression I get from that name is hatred, and even though you're not that dude, that first rush of emotion might bias people, even subconsciously, against you. They might not even immediately remember why they feel a wave of dislike when they see your name, and might assume something in the resume is setting them off.

Sorry =(
posted by Cozybee at 11:36 PM on September 8, 2016 [8 favorites]

I would use your initials or first initial middlename lastname.

The hiring process is full of hand-off between recruiters, outsource firms, support staff, hiring managers. It only takes one of them to drop you from the pool. There's some level of subjectivity in the whole process and, well, that criminal is repulsive.

Just avoid it entirely and use something else on your resume.

I'm sorry this is happening to you.
posted by 26.2 at 11:52 PM on September 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

former HR Manager here: we are more sophisticated than you give us credit for 😀

I just looked up that famous college athlete on LinkedIn and there are 8 people with the same name.

Don't worry, recruiters will be able to tell you're not the infamous rapist.
posted by Kwadeng at 2:32 AM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Should have mentioned in original question: I have consistently used my middle initial for most of my life, and I'm still doing so, everywhere I have control over it. However, in my experience in the working/school world, the initial gets ignored more than half of the time. So web listings of roles I've had, groups I've been part of, things I've published, etc., show up just as often "Firstname Lastname," which doesn't fill me with confidence that HR people now will do any better now unless I give them specific direction to do so. Also, as ernielundquist suggests might happen, searching for Firstname MidInit Lastname still brings up mostly the criminal. (Putting "Firstname MidInit Lastname" in quotes does go right to me.) And at this point I'm casting a pretty wide net for jobs, some at huge umbrella companies--where I'm most worried this will happen.

Separately: Responses of "oh hey I know who that is" are the opposite of helpful here. I have considerable anxiety about being associated in anyone's mind with this guy, and anonymity helps allay it. (It's not the Stanford guy, and it's not a household name AFAIK.) My question is about the specifics / acceptability of bringing it up proactively in cover letters and resumes and maybe my linkedin account itself.

Thanks for the suggestions so far. It's been reassuring and helpful. I resent the idea of having to change how I present my name to the world but this is giving me some good ways to think about it.
posted by BespokePuppet at 5:36 AM on September 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

Here's why I recommended the note, by the way:
Assuming that you don't want to change your name (why YOU should change? he's the one who sucks), attempts at obfuscation could look (to a hasty HR person) like the same strategy that the rapist might use.

And yes, most HR people are good enough to get from those 30 seconds of googling to the 90 seconds.

But part of the job of CVs and CLs is to get noticed. And a little, out-of-the-ordinary (but totally professional and reasonable) note gets noticed. It never hurts to get your application materials noticed. And it gets you totally in front of the issue, ENSURING that some careless person facing a stack of resumes doesn't put yours aside because of the mistaken association. It draws the conclusion for the reader, instead of just hoping that from an intial or different online presence they conclude that yes, this is a different dude.
posted by entropone at 6:00 AM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

If this is the nationally famous Brock Doe, then I and all my friends, some of whom work in HR and many of whom read resumes, would recognise the name instantly and know exactly why.

To clarify, my point is exactly that: because you recognize the name and what he's associated with, you immediately go, "Oh, well this guy who has professional experience and a different alma mater - or a degree at all- isn't That Guy." People who look at a ton of names of "regular people" every day almost never assume that the CV of Tom Cruise (I went to school with one), Brock Doe, or Patrick Buchanan actually belongs to the famous one. If OP's name was Rod Blagojevich I would suggest a change, but not Brock Doe.
posted by good lorneing at 9:25 AM on September 9, 2016

People who look at a ton of names of "regular people" every day almost never assume that the CV of Tom Cruise (I went to school with one), Brock Doe, or Patrick Buchanan actually belongs to the famous one.

Tom Cruise isn't likely to be looking for a job. A (former) college athlete who was juuust famous enough to get national media attention but not, like, all the media attention is a lot more likely to be looking for a job, and in the same state that BespokePuppet lives in.

I've changed my names professionally, both first and last. It's annoying at the beginning, but you get used to it. Don't underestimate the ability of HR people and hiring managers and suchlike to be lazy and want to winnow the pile of resumes down a little. Don't give them an easy excuse not to consider you.
posted by Etrigan at 9:39 AM on September 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

This is on a smaller scale than your issue, but it's a relevant case study. Recently, this story got a lot of attention in Silicon Valley. The "villain" in the story has the same name as this guy. I think he smartly addresses it.
posted by Borborygmus at 7:12 AM on September 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

« Older How to use new balcony   |   Help us find this key--or as close to it as... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.