How to Come Out in a Job Interview
Your resume is polished. You don your best smile. And hope desperately that the interviewer will like you. Why? Because in these tough economic times, your livelihood depends on it, and this interview could make or break your plans for the next few years (or more) of your life.
How on earth will you answer certain benign questions such as “What brought you to this city?” or “Are you married?” when the answers involve revealing this one particular detail: You’re a lesbian?
Coming out during a job interview can definitely be beneficial in terms of long-term productivity and job satisfaction, but is a choice that should really be based on one’s own comfort level, experts say. And as part of that decision-making process, there are certain questions that job seekers can—and should—ask to be better informed.
Do your homework
The first step in deciding whether to come out is to get to know your potential employer and any relevant legal protections in your state. Ask these questions:
What are the state’s regulations regarding discrimination?
There is no federal law protecting job seekers from discrimination based on sexual orientation, and it still remains legal to fire someone based on sexual orientation in 30 states, says Deena Fidas, manager of the Workplace Project for the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. Though not a deal breaker, it’s certainly food for thought and helpful to know whether there is added legal protection should you need it down the road, she says.
What is the employer’s commitment to diversity?
There are several ways in which an employer can show a commitment to diversity. Ask these questions before the interview or find a way to weave them into the conversation:
• Is sexual orientation included in the non-discrimination policy or equal employment opportunity statement? Job seekers can often find this information on the employer’s Web site or employment application, says Fidas. If not, consider asking an HR representative to provide you with a copy of the employee manual, she adds.
• Does the employer offer diversity training? “Are they really translating their policy into practice and teaching their workforce about their standards of fairness?” she adds.
• Are there same-sex domestic partner benefits, such as health, dental, and vision coverage? Does the employer extend its bereavement policy to same-sex partners or offer employee discounts to those individuals?
• Is there an employee resource group (ERG) that advocates for LGBT inclusion? ERGs are commonly listed on employer Web sites and oftentimes include a contact person. “A potential job applicant can get in touch with the group and learn about potential LGBT inclusion in the work environment,” says Fidas.
Has the employer been formally recognized as LGBT friendly?
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) offers on its web site a Corporate Equality Index that rates nearly 600 employers according to LGBT inclusive policies and benefits. HRC also offers an employer search database that features several hundred employers, colleges, and universities.
“[Offering inclusive policies and benefits] is increasingly the norm across businesses, but particularly among the most successful businesses in this country,” says Fidas. Eighty-five percent of Fortune 500 companies have non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation and 57 percent offer domestic partner benefits.
Another resource is the HOT (Hiring Out Talent) list, which is published by OUT for Work—an organization that hosts an annual career and job fair to assist LGBT students in their career search. The list, which includes companies that appear in HRC’s Corporate Equality Index as well as on collegegrad.com, rates employers offering entry-level positions based on whether they have LGBT inclusive policies, says Riley Folds, director.
Other resources include the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, which includes a network of local affiliates nationwide, says Folds. Sometimes a good barometer is to simply check and see which companies sponsor local gay pride events or other LGBT-related gatherings.
Beware the power of the Internet
One point to keep in mind is that although the Internet can be helpful, it can also provide a wealth of information for employers regarding potential candidates.
Don’t let the Internet out you before you can make the decision yourself, Folds warns. Job seekers should be aware that potential employers can easily dig up information about candidates using social media and other Internet-based tools, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, and Twitter.
“If you’re projecting something on your resume and something else on your Facebook, you better be careful. That could cast doubt on a candidate,” says Folds.
However, social networking tools such as LinkedIn can also be used in a positive way to connect with other LGBT professionals.
“Never underestimate the power of networking within the LGBT community,” says Folds. “If you’re looking for a job or organization that’s LGBT friendly, a logical step to take is to network within the community to see where these individuals are working.”
Give credit where credit is due
The most important point to keep in mind is that employers generally value—and seek—talented individuals regardless of their sexual orientation, experts say. And as part of showcasing these talents, many job seekers must make the decision to come out on their resume—and long before they set foot in front of an interviewer.
“There are ways that a person can come out on their resume that are very relevant to the job to which they are applying,” says Fidas. “We see students taking leadership roles in their colleges and university groups. This is a way for job applicants to demonstrate leadership, organization, communication, and time management skills. These are very relevant to an employer,” she adds.
For Jessica Lee, a senior at Purdue University and president of the queer student union, the decision to out herself on paper was an easy one because she wanted to highlight her plethora of skills and abilities. “If you took all of the gay organizations off my resume, I think it would look empty and lacking in diversity and leadership skills,” says the political science major who also belongs to the National Organization for Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals and the Purdue Ally Association.
Employers often look at volunteer work and other community involvement to find evidence of a variety of skills, says Folds. “If you’re leaving those attributes off [your resume], then you’re really not selling your total self,” he says.
If you’re not comfortable listing specific organizations, consider using something more generic such as ‘diversity group’ or an acronym instead, says Folds. However, keep in mind that if you feel the need to hide who you are, it might not be a good fit in the long-run, he adds. “Do you really want to work at a place where you’re not even comfortable during the interview? How are you going to go to work every day?”