Finding that perfect snarky, witty, oh-so-cool nickname to attach to your e-mail address, the one that fits you like your fave jeans, can be a creative coup. But alas, for job-seeking, the hip moniker might be a career killer.
A new study finds that electronic resumes linked to job candidates with quirky and "unprofessional" e-mail names are rated lower by potential employers than those with professional names.
"People want to be creative, but that urge to be creative can be a hindrance if you're looking for jobs," said study author Kevin Tamanini, a doctoral candidate in industrial and organizational psychology at Ohio University.
As is the trend throughout information commerce, millions of job applications that once traveled in hard copy through snail mail now get sent via the Internet. An estimated 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies have career-focused web pages and accept applications online.
With the increasing use of online screening, an applicant's e-mail address could influence whether a resume gets tossed into the cyber-trash or makes it to human resources, Tamanini found.
Studies have shown that gender, race, physical attractiveness and religion can impact evaluations of potential employees, said Tamanini. As a result, some applicants who possess the necessary abilities and applications are not being considered for jobs, he explained. E-mail addresses are another source of information that can turn subjective, he said.
"A person has no control over gender, race or physical attractiveness, but can determine an e-mail name," Tamanini said.
Tamanini collected 200 e-mail monikers from various sources, including university professors. He showed 20 of the e-mail names to each of 200 college students and asked them to rate the names on five criteria--success, ethical caring, popular fun, degree of masculinity and degree of professionalism.
E-mail names deemed unprofessional included: alliecat@, bacardigirl@, bighotdaddy@, drunkensquirl@, foxylady@, gigglez217@.
Those e-mails considered professional received higher ratings of success than unprofessional names, which correlated better with ethical caring, popular fun and masculinity.
Tamanini chose two more professional e-mail names-- mharmon@, jsmith8888@--and two less professional e-mails--drunkensquirl@, HtoTHEhizzy03@--from this study and paired each with a resume, chosen from two high-quality and two low-quality resumes.
Then he asked a group of 90 students to act as if they were entry-level employees who were screening applicants for a managerial job.
The students ranked each applicant on eight criteria--effort, personal discipline, management skills, cognitive ability, conscientiousness, success, social skills and motivation--and decided whether each applicant should get an interview.
Students gave applicants with more professional e-mail names higher rankings for effort, personal responsibility, management skills, success and more motivation than individuals with less professional e-mail names, regardless of whether their resume was of high- or low-quality.
E-mail vs. credentials
Perhaps reassuringly, e-mail type didn't impact whether the applicant scored an interview; instead students were more likely to choose those with stellar resumes for interviews.
"Even if you get people who have very unprofessional e-mail names and they get through that initial screening, if it comes down to them and somebody else and credentials are the same, you look at other things," Tamanini told LiveScience. "This person's e-mail is 'john smith at yahoo,' and this person's was 'drunken squirrel.' Which one am I more likely to pick?"
Tamanini suspects the students gave individuals with quirky monikers and great resumes the benefit of the doubt, particularly because the students were just initial screeners.
"I would think that people in the actual business arena would have an even stronger reaction to unprofessional e-mail names," Tamanini said.
He will present the study results at the annual conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology in New York at the end of April.
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Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.