Can your name keep you from getting hired?

These job seekers think their unusual names are getting in the way of their job search.

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By Jessica Dickler, CNNMoney.com staff writer

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Glenn Miller is tired of fielding jokes about the great American jazz musician.
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colleen_rzucidlo.03.jpg
Colleen Rzucidlo believes her hard-to-pronounce last name turns potential employers off.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- For job hunters, that very first line on your résumé can influence potential employers. Just ask Glenn Miller.

Miller, 56, was out of work for about four months earlier in the year. On every interview he went on, the senior software engineer had to field jokes about his namesake, the great American jazz musician.

"They say, where's your band? And I say, they're all dead."

Even though Miller became adept at responding with witty one-liners, "it changes the tenor of the interview to have that opening dialog ... I think it makes people not take me seriously," he admitted.

For other job seekers, it's no laughing matter.

Colleen Rzucidlo, 27, has been actively looking for a public relations job for about nine months, but believes her hard-to-pronounce surname has hurt her chances of landing a position.

"While I certainly can't prove it, I often wonder if my last name hinders me when it comes to the job search process," she said. "Nobody knows how to say it -- that's a turn off. If they can't say my name they are not going to bother reading my résumé."

Of course, considering someone's name as part of the decision-making process is not only wrong but illegal, says San Diego State University Human Resources Professor Christine Probett. "Discrimination of those sorts are well protected under the law," she said.

But that doesn't mean it's not happening.

For example, résumés with white-sounding names have a 50% greater chance of receiving a callback when compared to those with African American names, according to a study performed for the National Bureau of Economic Research by the University of Chicago's Marianne Bertrand and Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sendhil Mullaina.

Many job seekers agree. Nakores Sameita, 26, believes her ethnic-sounding name works against her. The former credit analyst for Chrysler was laid off in June and recently decided to go back to school for a masters in finance because her job search has been fruitless.

Hiring managers often question her immigration status, Sameita said. "I've had a couple of interviews and the first thing they mention is my name and ask me where I'm from," says the Kansas City resident, originally from Kenya. "Even though I'm a citizen it puts me at a disadvantage," she said.

Recruiters say that an applicant's name has no bearing on their chances of getting hired, and many states require employers to establish and enforce anti-discrimination policies.

"As a recruiter, the name is usually the last thing I look at," said Thad Schiele. "My job is to get the hiring manager the best candidates for a position."

But cynics suggest that if résumés can be scanned for appropriate terms and keywords, then someone's name could also play a role in the initial screening process, whether consciously or unconsciously.

While hiring managers may not intend to discriminate a candidate based on a name or ethnicity, the name could still signal something about the applicant's skills or background that is relevant to the job.

Duram Gallegos, 25, believes that potential employers call him assuming he speaks fluent Spanish because of his name.

Gallegos has been looking for a job near his home in Elgin, Ill. for six months and thinks his last name gives hiring managers a false impression that he can't back up in an interview.

If a job seeker does feel that their first name conveys an image they are uncomfortable with, then they could just use their first initial on a job application or résumé, Probett of San Diego State University suggested. But deemphasizing a last name is obviously not realistic.

Instead, job seekers should focus more on the aspects of their image that they can control, Probett said, like their online presence or the email address they use for correspondence.

"For example, 'PartyDude@BeerU.Com' might project an image of someone who is not too business savvy," she said. To top of page

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