Sam or Samantha? Bill or William? Should you opt for short and friendly, or formal and serious?
Experts say that not only can you use a nickname at work, you should, since doing so could boost your career. According to a study conducted earlier this year by job search site TheLadders, people who go by shorter names tend to earn more money.
From an analysis of nearly 6 million names, the study found that every extra letter in a person's name tended to correlate with a $3,600 drop in annual salary. That was true of names as similar as Sara and Sarah, Michele and Michelle, and Philip and Phillip. Over a 40-year career, the corresponding loss in earnings can amount to nearly $150,000.
LinkedIn discovered a similar correlation between short names and success in 2011, when it analyzed the top CEO names around the world. The site's analysts found that the most popular ones — names like Peter, Jack, and Fred — were either already short names or shortened versions of common first names. Frank Nuessel, a names specialist, told LinkedIn such abbreviated names are often used to "denote a sense of friendliness and openness."
Beyond compensation benefits, experts say nicknames can provide several other advantages. Nicknames can often sound less formal and more approachable. That can be especially valuable if you're in a creative industry, like acting or media, says Vicki Salemi, a career and human resources expert and author of "Big Career in the Big City."
On the other hand, if you're going into a more traditional career in Corporate America or on Wall Street, Salemi says you might want to stick with your full name for the sake of formality. You should also be wary of any nicknames that sound silly or childish, like "Bunny" for Barbara or "Mookie" for Michael.
In general, women are more likely than men to stick with their full names in the workplace, perhaps to portray gravitas. The five top-paid names for women are Lynn, Melissa, Cathy, Dana, and Christine, according to TheLadders, and Christine is the most popular female C-level name. By contrast, Bob is the most common C-level name for men, and four of the five highest-paid male names contain four letters or fewer. According to Nuessel, female CEOs will often use their full names to "project a more professional image."
That said, a nickname can easily become part of your professional brand if you prefer it. As a general rule of thumb, any nickname that is just a shorter version of your given name is fine for the workplace, says Amanda Augustine, career expert at TheLadders. Salemi agrees that you can make a nickname work in any occupation so long as "you own it and you're proud and you're professional."
For that reason, Salemi and Augustine both emphasize that it's important to decide how you want to be known from day one, and then be consistent across all channels. If you use a nickname on your LinkedIn, then you should have the same one on your resume, your Twitter, and any public professional accounts.
"The idea is you're building your brand, no matter what level you are, so you need to be consistent," Salemi says.
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