Résumés: When to disclose (and when not)

— Jeanne M. Slattery

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Jeanne Slattery, with her former student, Marissa Beveridge

A student recently turned in his résumé, which included his involvement in the ALLIES drag show. I struggled with how to respond, eventually encouraging him to consider whether and why he might want to include this on his résumé, while leaving the ball in his court about how he wanted to handle this.

Although this is a dilemma that our out LGBT students face, it’s also one that our religious and politically-active students should consider. To what degree do these students want to self-disclose aspects of themselves that a judgmental world might respond to with bias? In what ways? In trying to consider how to respond to this dilemma, I reached out to my Facebook friends, who helped me think this through from various perspectives, and were willing to allow me to share their thoughts here.

Rightly or wrongly, résumés are often rejected based on relatively minor considerations such as spelling errors. First impressions matter when a potential employer is going through a stack of dozens of résumés. If using “to” instead of “too” might prevent an applicant from getting an interview, might not politically-sensitive information also do so? Sean Boileau, a gay colleague working for the federal government, noted “Drag is subversive. Even some LGBT folks aren’t fans. Play it safe unless you KNOW your employer will love it.” As Bob Levy (Theatre) observed, students should feel free to include this information when they are applying for a position with the Human Rights Commission or PFLAG, but should not do so when applying to Hobby Lobby. It seems to me that the same idea applies to political and religious activity.

On the other hand, would my student want to work in a setting where this part of her needed to be hidden or suppressed? Being closeted on a résumé might be a good short-term strategy, but perhaps it wouldn’t be workable long-term. My student might get the position — and experience — but then be unhappy in a position that was a poor match to his interests and goals.

Still, not everything needs to be disclosed. One colleague, Bethany Bracken, argued that such information “is personal, not professional, and could be taken to mean the person isn’t serious about the job.” Another, John Ernissee (retired from Geology), considers “a lot of activities as private and not the business of an employer, unless it clearly interferes with the conduct of the business. As a friend told me…’tell those who have a need to know.'”

One of my favorite responses came from Lisa Osachy, a psychologist in private practice, who wondered “if we leave things off our résumés that represent important aspects of ourselves and our experiences [in order] to fit in with our perception of what an employer will approve… then how do we move forward in promoting and embracing diversity in the workplace?”

In their advice to committees searching for applicants for higher ed administration positions, Whitney and Croteau (2014) suggested, “it is imperative that the committee evaluate LGBT candidates strictly by their qualifications and suitability for the position” (para. 9). This is good advice for search committees, but would Whitney and Croteau give the same advice to applicants? Applicants for entry-level positions? Applicants for positions at conservative companies or universities?

In other words, my student — and students like him — have a lot to consider. Not everyone will draw the same conclusions, but should draw conclusions after considering the company’s culture and their own values and goals. Further, while I believe it is important to support our students’ autonomy rather than telling them what to do, getting them to begin to reflect on difficult questions has value in and of itself and seems to me to be central to what we want our students to get from a strong education.

Note: My student went ahead and created two different résumés, and has decided he will choose which to send out based on the position he’s applying to.

References

Whitney, K. M., & Croteau, J. M. (2014, September 8). Interviewing gay candidates. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2014/09/08/advice-interviewing-gay-candidates-academic-jobs

Thank you to Sean Boileau, Bethany Bracken, John Ernissee, Bob Levy, Lisa Osachy, and all of those people who responded to my query, but I didn’t quote — all of you helped me think about this issue. Thanks to Melissa K. Downes for her help in sharpening my thinking and language.


Jeanne M. Slattery is a professor of psychology at Clarion University. She is interested in thinking about what makes teaching and learning successful, and generally describes herself as a learner-centered teacher. She has written two books, Counseling diverse clients: Bringing context into therapy, and Empathic counseling: Meaning, context, ethics, and skill (with C. Park), and is writing Trauma, meaning, and spirituality: Research and clinical perspectives. She can be contacted at jslattery@clarion.edu

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