With only 97 days, fourteen weeks and three months left until I graduate from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, I have been pruning my resume for weeks. After leaving the workforce for ten months, riding out the recession, my resume is the ticket into a plum job that hopefully will lead to an even better career.

Last week, when I was removing bullet points and adding indents, my best friend peered over my shoulder shocked to find that I had listed National Association of Black Journalists. She asked, “Why would you want to be black on your resume? They’ll never hire you.”

Wait a minute! What? And here I thought newsrooms were looking to diversify. I had to investigate.

Michelle* graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from an esteemed university in New York City four years ago. After sending out over forty resumes to prospective employers, she only received two calls for interviews. Michelle was smart. She was the President of the school’s Black Student Union, a member of a historically black sorority and had graduated cum laude.

Perplexed by the lack of calls (mind you, this is pre-recession), Michelle sat in front of her computer screen. A friend suggested she make a few changes: get rid of any organizations that scream, “I’m black”. Delete “Black Student Union” and delete “Delta Sigma Theta.” So she did. And after another round of emailing resumes to prospective employers, Michelle was pleased with the response: 12 interviews and a number of immediate job offers.

Michelle is one of many black women who have decided to dial back their blackness in order to excel in corporate America. Whether the threat is real or conjured, black women feel that they must assimilate and appear agreeable in order to obtain a position or be promoted in competitive companies.

“When you’re a person of color, I feel like it’s even harder to get in the door,” Michelle said. “There’s already a lot of competition…and now, there’s the economy.”

The economy has had a dire impact on hiring for all Americans but especially for blacks. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for black men is twice as much as white men. And overall, 15.7 percent of blacks are unemployed, compared to 8 percent of whites. The bureau cites discrimination as the primary factor in the discrepancy.

After nearly fifty years since “affirmative action” entered our lexicons thanks to President John F. Kennedy’s executive order, blacks still navigate corporate America in a unique way. Unlike their white cohorts, black must strategize and decide if being black is an advantage or a disadvantage. While some may advise not to appear black on a resume, human resources professionals give alternative advice.

“Companies are looking for a diverse pool of top notch candidates,” said Nicole Williams, a former human resource assistant at Discovery Communications in Silver Spring, Md. “It can only be seen as an asset in most industries.”

Despite the perceived adversity, most companies have invested in recruiting and hiring people of color. Many companies, large and small, recruit at historically black colleges and universities as well as within black professional organizations such as the Black Business Association and the National Society of Black Engineers. Still, at the end of the day a person’s skills are the ticket into any organization. If you’re skill set does not meet the needs of the company then you won’t get hired.

“What most recruiters are looking for is the right match up of experience, skill set and education when deciding which resumes to send to hiring managers,” explained Williams. “I have not seen a recruiter say, ‘Oh, this applicant has all of the requirements for the job but is a member of a black sorority or fraternity so we can’t interview them.’”

Despite Michelle’s experience, and the experience of many other prospective employees who are African-American, could it be that removing blackness from one’s resume to level the playing field is an old wives tale? And could it be that the more we’re concerned about discrimination based on race, the more susceptible we are to it?

There’s no doubt that blacks living in America are discriminated against. The statistics show it and the U.S. Bureau of Labor confirmed it. Still, that doesn’t take away from the fact that if you’re not qualified, you won’t get the job. Instead of focusing on strategizing ways to fiddle with your resume, focus on building concrete skills that make you look more appealing to a company. Take a workshop in team building, social media or HTML to make your resume stand out. With skills like these, recruiters and companies will find it hard to keep your foot out of the door.

For the record, I kept National Association of Black Journalists on my resume.

* Name has been changed because this sister has a job and she plans to keep it.

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  • Jay. Rachelle

    Interesting read and something I haven’t thought about. My resume includes alot of different opportunistic and screams African American Christian Educator. I haven’t stopped to consider whether it helps or hurts me because like it or not, it is who I am… But then again I am in the education field so perhaps it is different? Comparing across fields would be another great read JMMM =)