On Being A Female Law Student—and Puerto Rican #5 To Identify Or Not To Identify On A Resume, That Is the Question

“To be or not to be, that is the question.” In this over-used-I’m-so-sick-of-it-I’m-going-to-throw-up-but-not-before-I-have-a-second-glass-of-wine soliloquy, Hamlet ponders the dilemma that life might suck but that death by suicide might suck even more. Here, Kristymarie moves from the classroom to the process of applying for a job, starting with crafting a resume. The dilemma she faces is whether on paper she should identify as a woman of color, with the uncertain repercussions that might follow from doing so.

All of us are taught to craft a resume that it will stand out and survive the immediate toss into the trash can or, in today’s world, the delete button. As Kristymarie’s excerpt points out, law firms, especially the big ones are trying to diversify—have a look at my postings about the world of document review. This would suggest that highlighting yourself as a person of color would be a no-brainer.

But maybe not. Let’s just focus on Big Law. First, let’s understand an unassailable, even if a highly frustrating, truth: The big firms won’t give a rat’s ass if you’re a person of color if you don’t make their GPA cut-off, usually about the top ten percent of the class if you’re not at Harvard, Yale or some of the highly-ranked law schools.

So assuming you make that cut, do you, say, highlight that you were heavily involved in Latino groups and activities in law school? If you know the firm is really trying to diversify, of course you would, right? After all, all other things being equal, would a white applicant be able to compete with you? It probably wouldn’t be a good idea for that applicant to highlight his/her whiteness.

The white applicant may well resent that, especially in today’s world where there are too many lawyers and too few jobs. Would that resentment be justifiable? It sure looks like it.

But maybe your identity in this scenario is an asset that your white competitor doesn’t have. Perhaps, because of your life narrative as a person of color, you might bring perspectives to the practice that non-minorities won’t have. That’s bull, many might say. Okay. Question: Does the white applicant have an asset he doesn’t have to list on his resume? “If you’re going to bring up that ‘white privilege thing,’ I don’t want to hear it!” Oookay, then… Why don’t we watch the next episode of Game of Thrones?   You know, the episode where that white blond woman, what’s her name…Daenerys, right, liberates the dark slaves and then mingles with them, inspiring them to lift her up like she’s their rock-like savior in a mosh pit.

Let’s see what Kristymarie has to say about all this. A heads-up: When she mentions “covering” and “reverse covering,” she’s using lingo in Critical Race Theory: Covering is like, putting it crudely, saying to an African American, “You should try hard to act like a white person.” Reverse covering is like saying, “You should emphasize you’re an African American.”

“Should I Tell Them I Am Not White? Racializing the Resume

During law school, it is important to build connections and seek opportunities to stand out. In this process, identifying as a racialized and gendered candidate may be a double-edged sword. Although identifying as a minority may be an asset, highlighting one’s otherness nonetheless reinforces the line between candidates from the dominant culture and racialized and gendered candidates, further isolating them and blurring or erasing other facets of their identity.

Corporations are diversifying their workforces more rapidly than the law firms they hire.  Some clients demand that law firms they contract also strive for more diversity in their promotion practices. For example, Wal-Mart Stores pulled active work from two large firms that did not conform to Wal-Mart’s standards for diversity, even though they were exceeding work product quality expectations. To increase client satisfaction, many law firms are seeking to recruit more minorities.

Hispanics have suddenly become the “hot” minority. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that the Hispanic population of the United States will double by the year 2050, reaching over 106 million. Simultaneously, in part due to the growth in the Hispanic population, Spanish is the most spoken non-English language in the United States. However, not all Hispanic candidates fit the “desirable candidate” mold. Critical race theorist Richard Delgado and critical white studies scholar Jean Stefancic highlight the differential racialization that these shifting hiring priorities may lead to. Different minority groups are racialized differently as the labor market changes. Racial or ethnic markers that may have once been undesirable may quickly become an asset.

Trying to stand out through one’s racial or gender identity may be a double-edge sword because a résumé emphasizing the candidate’s racial or gender identity may quickly relegate the candidate to the “no” pile based on the recruiter’s assumptions regarding her cultural and social capital or competence. Therefore, a Hispanic and bilingual candidate must make a choice. Option one: highlight her identity. Option two: cover throughout her résumé to avoid being rejected because of the recruiter’s assumptions.

Option one may quickly lead to “reverse covering,” signaling or highlighting her otherness. An example of reverse covering is when a woman is required or expected to act or dress in a feminine way. Similarly, a Hispanic candidate is considered desirable if she fulfills the stereotypical expectation: being bilingual.

Option two is perilous. Before choosing to bury her otherness to get the job, the candidate must determine whether she would even like to venture into a workplace where her otherness will render her unqualified without further examination. While the legal market is a different arena, I believe the story of José Zamora is illustrative. Zamora’s story went viral in 2013 after he sent hundreds of résumés each week seeking employment and did not get a single response. Zamora decided to cover by removing the “s” from his first name, and resubmitted his résumé to the same companies for the same positions, now as “Joe Zamora.” A week later the responses started rolling in.”


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