Can people of color win jobs using Ask The Headhunter?

In the February 25, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks about racial challenges:

I was on the PBS site and discovered your advice columns. I liked your disruptive advice so I went to your website, read several pages, signed up for the newsletter and bought Fearless Book 3. As an immigrant female POC [Person of Color] I think some of your advice is too much because our communities lack those ties, and the Anglo community is largely biased and resistant to sharing.

I also think that POC [People of Color] would be taken to task harder if they implemented some of your more radical advice. That is, they’d be seen as scary rather than persistent. Overall, however, I did enjoy your advice and I think it would be be interesting to hear specifically from POC that followed your process, so please consider a series of posts, and please consider addressing bias and ways to overcome it. Thank you.

Nick’s Reply

Thanks for your note — you’re raising an important topic. I’ve grappled with questions about discrimination since I started publishing Ask The Headhunter. I think there are two clear options, and a bunch of tricks.

people-of-colorThe first option is to sue the company that discriminates. Like it or not, that can be costly, but it’s the main remedy available under the law. You can also file complaints with regulatory agencies. But these approaches won’t help you land a job.

The second option is to make your value to the employer a higher priority than the company’s biases against you. This takes a bit of work, but I think it’s a better plan. I won’t get into details about how to do this here, because virtually all of Ask The Headhunter addresses the “how to.”

Option one forces the employer to comply; option two convinces the employer that hiring you is the best thing to do. Of course, success does not mean the employer will stop discriminating otherwise.

Then there are the tricks: Avoid letting the employer see your skin color or guess your race until you get the interview. Color your hair to remove the grey. Use an initial for your first name to avoid disclosing you are female. Change your last name to hide your origins. When you finally face a bigot in the interview, you’re still toast — except you’ve wasted your time, too. None of this will really help you.

I don’t agree that the methods I teach are “too much” or that POC communities lack ties that help their members get ahead. (Don’t say, “I don’t know anybody.” That’s bunk.) Nor do I agree that the Anglo community is largely biased and resistant to sharing – that’s like saying POC are largely one way or another. In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Attention there’s a section titled “Don’t walk blind on the job hunt” where I offer this important suggestion:

Know who you’re calling, or don’t call them. If you don’t know the person you want to call, first call someone who does and get introduced.

I think the only way to be successful at job hunting is to take everyone and every situation individually and personally, and to make judgments and choices accordingly. Lean to live like an exception.

Of course, discrimination is real, and so are cultural and personal attitudes. You’re showing a bit of bias against Anglos, and I’m sure some people have revealed their biases to you. I’m not in a position to change any of that, except to tell people to stop doing it.

To me, the fundamental truth is that our society tends to favor productivity and people who can produce what others need and are willing to pay for. (See Hiring Manager: HR is the problem, you are the solution.) The path to a career and a life based on that is fraught with problems and challenges. There’s nothing easy about it. You’ll be ignored and rejected even if you’re quite productive. But it’s even less likely that you’ll be hired (or start a business) and become successful if you are not highly productive.

So learn to show how you will be productive for the employer in question. Lead with that. Don’t lead with your past, don’t lead with a chip on your shoulder. (If the chip is big, then sue the bastards.)

stand-outNot all people start out equally in their efforts to be productive and successful. Some must surmount incredible obstacles, including racism, discrimination, sexism, ageism, and more isms than we can count. But in the end, our society craves and rewards productivity and profit. (What did you pull off?) If you can take something and add your skills, acumen, insights, hard work and persistence, you’ve got a chance at success. That’s what I try to teach with Ask The Headhunter, and it’s what we discuss on the blog every day: How to do it.

You seem to like the ATH approach, but you doubt it can work for you and other people of color. All I can suggest is that you bend and shape some of these methods into something you think you can try on your own. This is not “all or nothing.” And your good judgment must temper it to suit your goals.

Now let’s get to your final request: How have people of color — and people who are discriminated against for other characteristics — used Ask The Headhunter effectively? How has ATH failed them? What’s the best way to use these methods? These are questions for this community, and my guess is there are some great ideas and tips forthcoming.

How have you used Ask The Headhunter to overcome discrimination? Or, maybe you tried and it didn’t work. If you’re a manager, and you’ve been a bit biased, did anyone ever overwhelm you with reasons to hire them anyway? (You may post using a screen name — no one will hunt you down.)

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