In the last five years as a career services professional, I have found that approximately 90% of my clients are hell-bent on having their name appear on their resumes as follows:
"George M. Smith" or "Susan W. Dingle"
It ends up on the resume only about 5% of the time. I will, naturally, put any truthful bit of data on the resume as my clients dictate (after all, they are paying me). But first they get my professional opinion, so we go through the following discussion on names.
"So, why do you want your middle initial on the resume?" asks the tough-love career cheerleader.
"Because it's how I sign my checks." "That's the way everyone lists their names on resumes." "Isn't that more formal / professional / impressive?" are the usual responses.
Keep it casual and memorable. First off, a resume is a marketing piece, not a legal document. It should not be confused with any legal document, like a check, job application, last-will-and-testament, to which one would normally sign one's name.
Besides, being formal or doing what everyone else does isn't necessarily the best way to market one's self as a unique individual. The idea here is to get some name recognition going. Adding a middle initial just adds another bit of data to obscure your name. Let's put it another way... would your boss or co-workers know you by your middle initial? They usually call you by an informal first name and your surname, right? The people reviewing your resume should be looking at a name that sounds approachable and similar to other names of co-workers. "Bob Greene" is much just easier to recall and more approachable than "Robert F. Greene."
Is your given name just a bit too common? The John Smiths of the world, all 897,324 of them, might want to add the entire second name to the header for a little pizzazz. Better to add the second name, though, than just the initial, in my opinion. Or go back to first and second initials.
Skip the "Junior" and the "III", "IV", and "V", though. Most recruiters are too overworked to be interested in whether there were two, three, or fifty Vincent Aaron Van Aardvarks in the family tree before you.
Beating sex discrimination in the first cut: If you're a female heading into a male-dominated arena, you might consider using the initials of your first and middle names. That way, a Sally Jo Brown can become S.J. Brown, who might get called before the other similarly qualified Sallies. Other times, you may want to alleviate the discomfort that a potential recruiter may feel when contacting one with a sexually ambiguous name like Pat, Chris, or even Tracy, by using the full given name.
Unfortunately, racial discrimination is still a common phenomenon among hiring professionals. Our names can sometimes reveal or imply revelation of our nationalities. It's perfectly okay to shorten a foreign-sounding name to initials, or even to add a nickname in quotes. However, one's name IS, after, all, one's name. If you are proud of your name and heritage, by all means use it. Perhaps that way you'll find your place in equality-oriented companies with people who tolerate or even embrace diversity.
Age discrimination may also play a role. If you have an old-fashioned sounding name, or present your full formal name, you may be perceived as being older than the "ideal" candidate in some companies, whether you are or not. If you think it is an issue, use initials, informal variants, or nicknames.
You see, those of us who make a profession in career marketing can go on and on over the most minute of details. More harangues on said small stuff to come, stay tuned!