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Job search issues and strategies

By Harriet L. Schwartz

“Is this a company where I can be out with my colleagues?”

“Is this a company where being gay or lesbian will influence my ability to get promoted?”

“Should I care about domestic partner benefits even if I don’t have a significant other right now?”

“Will my employment status with this company be vulnerable when my gender transition becomes more obvious?”

These are just a few of the questions that you may be asking if you are a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (GLBT) student and are currently in the midst of your job search. The good news is that each year, more and more companies take steps toward becoming GLBT-friendly, and with significant online resources, you can research companies to ascertain the environment for GLBT employees.

Eric Bloem

Eric Bloem, associate director, The Workplace Project of the Human Rights Campaign

“Increasingly, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students and professionals realize they don’t have to sacrifice who they are to get the job they want,” says Eric Bloem, associate director of The Workplace Project of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest gay political organization. “Companies are doing the best job they can to create environments that are friendly for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees.”

HRC’s Corporate Equality Index (CEI) rated 446 companies on a scale of zero to 100 based on their treatment of GLBT employees; HRC targeted companies listed by Forbes, Fortune, and Standard and Poor’s. Five years ago, only 13 companies scored 100; today, more than 135 companies score 100. While job searchers might expect younger, progressive companies and industries to be more GLBT-friendly than their conservative counterparts, the CEI reveals that companies in conservative industries are also making strides.

“Last year Raytheon was the only member of the aerospace industry to get a perfect score,” according to HRC’s Web site. “This year, however, three of its competitors also earned 100%. Four other industries saw rapid growth in companies achieving the top score. A total of eight law firms, five pharmaceutical companies and five consulting houses all reached 100% for the first time in 2006. And, while in 2005 two major auto companies achieved the top rating, this year, that number doubled to four.”

Do Your Homework—Researching Companies

Researching potential employers is a vital part of the job search process. This research will be even more important to you if you are a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender student.

Along with considering the standard questions about companies—does their primary work interest you, do they have positions available, and where are they located—there are several questions to consider that will help you assess whether companies are GLBT-friendly.

  • Do they have a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation and gender identity and/or gender expression?

  • Do they offer domestic partner benefits?

  • Does their state or city have laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and/or gender expression?

  • Do they have a GLBT employees group?

  • Do they offer diversity training?

  • Are they located in a city or region where there is an active GLBT community?

While the answer to all of these questions may not be “yes,” keep in mind that a non-discrimination policy covering GLBT employees and domestic partner benefits are key indicators of the type of environment you would face if you were employed by the company. “Domestic partner benefits may not seem relevant if you are just out of school and don’t have a partner, but this tells you a lot about how progressive a company is,” Bloem says.

“Even a lot of straight folks look to see whether a company has domestic partner benefits, to see how progressive it is.”

The answer to many of these questions can be found on company Web sites and through HRC resources. The Internet is your most important source of information regarding a company’s stance and environment regarding GLBT employees. This is followed closely by your own personal assessment that you will conduct when you visit the company for your interview. As you walk around the offices, labs or studios, take a good look at employee workspaces. There may be obvious indicators that a company is GLBT-friendly, like a small rainbow flag on someone’s desk, or photos of a same-sex partner. The signs might be much more subtle, however, such as several employees speaking about their personal lives or yours in ways that do not assume heterosexuality.

Finally, as you work through your job search process, remain aware that a company must be a good fit not only regarding GLBT issues, but also in other more broad areas. “Ask yourself if the company itself is right,” says Steve Amerige, senior computer scientist at Adobe in San Jose, Calif. “Is the job challenging, interesting and within your abilities? Is the interaction style of the people you’d work with what you like, are the physical surroundings to your taste, are the hours and working policies (e.g., telecommuting) acceptable, etc? If a person goes to work for a LGBT-friendly employer, but the company itself doesn’t match the prospective employee’s wants and needs, then the employee is bound to be dissatisfied.”

Is GLBT Identity Relevant to Your Job Search?

The above question is fundamental and is best answered by addressing a range of perspectives. One view is that the best strategy is to focus your job search on skills, professional experience, and academic success and to exclude all personal information—including religious affiliation, political involvement, and GLBT identity and activities—from your resume and interview discussion. This view holds that a potential employer should evaluate you solely on professional qualifications and that the employer’s view of you should not be informed by any personal information. This is particularly true in conservative industries and among older, more traditional companies. An additional argument on behalf of this position is that you can research a company’s GLBT policies online and when you interview. By keeping GLBT status (or other personal identity information) outside of the job search, you prohibit an employer from screening you out based on this information. In theory this allows you to assess the company climate on your own terms.

However, if you only want to work for a company with progressive GLBT policies and in a work environment where employees are visibly out, then you may choose to be more out in your job search. By taking this approach you will likely screen out companies whose hiring staff are not entirely comfortable with GLBT visibility. You may be limiting your employability options with this choice. However, that may be your goal.
Whether you decide to keep your GLBT identity separate from your job search or visible, be sure that your decision is thoughtful and intentional.

Are You Gay on Your Resume?

The first manifestation of your decision whether to be out in the job search may arise as you write or update your resume. If you are involved in a GLBT organization, then you will need to decide whether to include that involvement on your resume. The primary reason to include that involvement would be to demonstrate leadership or other skills you developed or used in that organization (e.g. designing fliers, running meetings, maintaining the organization’s budget). An ethical employer will decide whether you are a strong candidate based on your skills and education, regardless of affiliations listed on your resume. However, it is possible the person reading your resume could bypass you based on a perception of GLBT identity.

Eileen C. Buecher

Eileen C. Buecher, director of the career center, The University of North Carolina Asheville

“If you have a lot of leadership and transferable skills [from your GLBT organization experience], and it is a strong value in your life, you want to be an advocate. You shouldn’t hide who you are,” says Eileen Buecher, director of the career center at University of North Carolina-Asheville. “GLBT status shouldn’t be an issue, but we all know that people make judgments.”

Again, if you are certain that you would only work for an employer with whom you could be out, then listing GLBT organizations on your resume will help you screen out employers who are not welcoming of GLBT employees. However, keep in mind that the attitude of one human resource professional may not reflect the attitude of the entire organization.

“You should only provide as much information as you are comfortable with,” Bloem of HRC says. “Each individual understands whether they want to be out at work or not, and that’s a personal decision. A lot of it depends on where you are applying and whether they are progressive or not. Obviously, we (HRC) encourage people to be out at work, but we are a political organization. It is a personal choice.”

A final word about resumes—you don’t want anything to distract potential employers from recognizing and remembering your skills and experience. You want them to remember you as the candidate who had amazing internship experiences, did high-level projects in class, and was a student leader not simply as “the gay candidate.” So your GLBT involvement should not overwhelm the rest of the resume.

“Lead with your major, your skills and your interests, that’s how it should be,” says Buecher who combines this with integrity. “When I see most successful people, I see people who lead with their skills, and also with their values and goals. They have integrity and are following a passion. The other information about identity—whether it’s being gay, lesbian, black or Hispanic—that becomes secondary.”

On to the Interview

Your first interview with a company may be on the telephone, in your college career center, or at the company, if they have a local office. Then as you move forward in the process, if the company is out of town, you will eventually travel and do an on-site interview. Throughout the interview process, the recruiter and other members of the organization are assessing whether you have the skill set, knowledge and professional capabilities to do the job, whether you are a good fit for their company culture. At the same time, the interview process gives you the opportunity to assess whether the job and company would be a good fit for you.

Unless you are interviewing with an agency that works on behalf of GLBT issues, your sexual orientation and gender identity are not likely to be logical topics for interview questions. However, as noted previously, if you have included GLBT leadership and organizations on your resume, then an employer may ask you related questions, e.g. “Tell me about your role as president of the gay/straight alliance.” These questions should focus on your skills and experience and not on your identity, and you should answer in the same way. Answering the previous question, you might talk about the responsibilities you fulfilled as president or about your accomplishments. (e.g. “We increased membership by 20% while I was president.” “We implemented a campus film series under my leadership.”) You can also discuss your professional or organizational challenges. (e.g. “All organization budgets were cut by ten percent, so I had to revise our budget accordingly.”) Even though your leadership relates to your GLBT identity. It is not an invitation to share personal information; this is not the place for coming out stories and other related personal matters.

Key points to convey in an interview:

  • Your skills, knowledge and interests that relate to the central work and mission of the organization.

  • Your knowledge of the specific job and organization and anything in your background that shows an affinity for the organization (e.g. you wrote a paper on one of their projects).

  • Your professional strengths that make you a strong candidate (e.g. good at meeting deadlines, works well under pressure, equally effective working independently and in teams, good writing skills and strong presentation skills).

As noted earlier, the site visit is also an important time for you to assess company culture. Photos, posters and other decorations in people’s workspaces, announcements on company bulletin boards and the nature of social conversation may all provide you with information about the company’s culture.

Additional Considerations

Domestic partner benefits
Most employers offer health insurance and select other benefits to married spouses of employees. “Domestic Partner Benefits” is the blanket term used to identify benefits available to unmarried same-sex or different-sex partners who are in a long-term committed relationship (often confirmed by joint checking account, proof of shared residence, etc.). Employers who do not offer DP benefits are discriminating against gay and lesbian relationships, whereas employers who offer DP benefits are respecting GLBT relationships and thus provision of these benefits might indicate a more friendly work environment.

Employee network groups
Employees at many larger organizations have formed GLBT Employee Network Groups. These groups provide a formal channel in which GLBT employees can raise concerns about the work environment, network with colleagues for mentoring and promotion, and even build a social network.

“At Adobe, being a member of our GLBT employee group simply increases one’s networking potential and social opportunities,” says Amerige, of Adobe. “The group also serves as a resource for funneling information. GLBT legislation can be brought to the attention of the company. Adobe policies can be shared with group members.”

Often your first job out of college will require that you relocate to an unfamiliar city. You can begin to gather information online before you move to learn about the GLBT community. Look for a local GLBT community center to inquire about GLBT-friendly neighborhoods, events, organizations, volunteer opportunities and resources. If you contemplate moving to a smaller or more conservative location where there is not a visible GLBT community, consider whether it is important to you to at least be near a larger or more progressive locale. Or perhaps your salary and paid time off will allow for frequent weekend trips to places where you can find a more relevant social life.

Out in the Workplace
Years ago, job searchers would have hardly ever considered being out in their job search; openness about GLBT organization involvement would have most likely led to discrimination in the job search process. While certain organizations and industries remain conservative, as do specific regions of the country, more and more companies realize that to be competitive they must recruit and retain the best talent, including GLBT employees. A number of companies even post jobs on GLBT-affiliated Web sites (see “Additional Resources”).

There are a few basic things to keep in mind when looking at how your GLBT status impacts your job search. First, research companies to explore whether they will be a good fit for you, given your sexual orientation and gender identity. Domestic partner benefits and non-discrimination policies are the most telling indicators as to whether a company is GLBT-friendly. Second, you must consider to what degree you will disclose your GLBT organizational involvements on your resume and in interviews, as evidence of your leadership and other skills. This decision is significant and will have implications for your job search and future employment. It is important to reflect seriously on the relationship between your identity, work life, career and broader life goals.

Harriet L. Schwartz is an assistant director in the Career Center at Carnegie Mellon. She is also the author of Spirituality 101: The Indispensable Guide to Finding Your Spiritual Life on Campus (Skylight Paths 2004).

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