When to use nicknames, legal names

It’s not as obvious as it seems. Follow this guide on when to use a nickname, your legal name, tie your name to a degree, or even use the phonetic spelling.

You were anointed with a name when you born. But have you considered your “naming strategy” for your job search ? How do you handle a nickname? When do you tether your name to an advanced degree? Do you know whether to use a suffix? Or how to make a long or difficult-to-pronounce name more accessible?

It may seem obvious, but it’s not.

There needs to be a strategy behind everything you do in a job search — including how you expect others to refer to you. This will affect how you send an e-mail, leave a voice message and even what you name your resume file.

Common naming questions

The name on your resume does not necessarily need to be your legal name. I always ask people how their business cards are printed. How do you want people to know you professionally? This is very important. You want people to be comfortable and know what to call you on the first contact. This is part of the social graces that make communication easy. Here are some examples:


  • Some names are hard to pronounce based on the spelling. Chlopowicz can be pronounced Clop’-o-wits or Clawp’-o-witch. So on the resume it can include one phonetic spelling, such as “Nancy Chlopowicz (Clop’-o-witz).”


  • All three of these are suitable, depending on what you want people to call you on a day-to-day basis: Elizabeth Jones; Liz Jones; or Elizabeth (Liz) Jones.


  • If you have a particularly long name, then a similar strategy can be used. For example, Afshinamibaka Mohapatra can become “Afshinamibaka (Afshin) Mohapatra.”


  • Sometimes people use a career transition as an opportunity to change their name. “Bobby” can become “Robert.” I worked for John Smith III. He realized that his father had been gone for a while now, and he would rather just be John Smith. It was an important personal decision for him as a middle-aged man. Remember to reflect on your naming strategy as you make a transition.

Advanced degrees

  • You can include degrees such as MBA, PhD, M.A. or M.S. behind your name if it will strategically help with your job search. You are then “Nancy Smith, MBA.” This is important if many of your professional peers do not have comparable education.
  • It can also be suitable to include licenses and certifications like CPA, PMP, CFA and CIA as long as they are understood by the intended reader. If you were a CPA but have not kept up with the continuing education, it is not appropriate to put it behind your name. However, you can include it at the end of the resume as CPA (inactive) because it shows that you met that industry benchmark at one point. If the CPA is active in another state but you are relocating, the same strategy can be used: Do not put “CPA” behind the name, but do include it at the bottom of the resume as an active out-of-state license.

Now that you’ve got your basic naming strategy underway, here are a few guidelines to make sure it stays consistent in the following media:

  • E-mail
  • Voicemail
  • Filename
  • Social-media profiles


It is very important that your e-mail easily tracks to your name. If not, you take a real chance of your e-correspondence going into spam. For example:

Personal affinities

  • Example: ginnybelle@server.com. Ginny Belle was the name of the dog that belonged to a senior executive I counseled. I told him the doggy needed to stay home from his job search and stick to her hunting.

Family names

  • Example: markandnancy@server.com. Some people may be wary about how private a family e-mail account might be.


  • Example: jjd3@server.com. If your name is John Jacob Doe, I can understand where the e-mail name came from, but if the subject line is not clear, it may seem like spam. Who is “jjd3”? This is a very common mistake.

Clever monikers

  • Example: cutesypie@server.com or soccermom@server.com. These are fine for friends and family but very inappropriate for a job search.

You can get e-mail addresses for no charge at Yahoo, Google, AOL, MSN, SBCglobal and others. But if you get a new address for a job search, be sure to check it frequently!


Your voicemail prompt should mention your name. Again, it seems easy, but many people don’t do so and I wouldn’t leave a confidential message if I’m not 100 percent sure I’ve reached the right person. Though using your current work phone as your contact number is not appropriate, if you are using a home phone as your contact number, make it professional (for example, no dogs barking in the background).

File names

Just like your e-mail address, it is very important to name your resume file clearly. Working with Ladders resume-writing service and other top executives over the past 10 years, I have seen hundreds of resumes that have “My Resume.doc” as the name. That is not helpful for someone managing a large database of candidate resumes. Here are some better examples:

  • Doe_Jane resume October 2009.doc
  • Doe_Jane Bank of America resume October 2009.doc (noting potential employer)

Social-media profiles

Consider the name on your profile. If I can’t find James Smith on LinkedIn because your profile says Jim Smith, that can be a problem during your job search. You want to be consistent so people can find you.

Remember, every part of your job search needs to be strategic. Think about all the ways you present yourself. What do you want people to call you? How can you make it easy for people to understand your name? How do you clearly identify all documents you send to people?

It seems basic, but sometimes the most basic parts of a job search can be overlooked.