You probably already know that bringing up politics at the big family Thanksgiving dinner is a dangerous game. Along similar lines, there are some experiences that you may want to think twice about including on your resume because of how divisive they can be.
So, before you decide to list your volunteer work for a particular cause, experience canvasing for a particular politician, or fundraising efforts for a particular place of worship in your job application materials, here are a couple things to consider.
When You Should List It
First off, let’s be clear that whether an experience would be considered controversial to list on a resume or not doesn’t matter if ultimately it’s so important to your identity that you couldn’t imagine working in a setting in which even one person might judge it in a harsh light. For instance, perhaps you volunteer extensively for an organization that pairs mentors with LGBT teens. Not all would look at this experience favorably, but if the idea of working for someone who is not LGBT friendly is unfathomable for you, then listing this experience might be just the right test for a potential employer.
This is an especially good idea if the experience also shows off some relevant skills, like community building or fundraising. Most experience like this can either be listed under a section titled “Volunteer Experience” or “Community Involvement.” I recommend formatting it as similarly to your work experience as possible so that your resume is easier to skim.
When You Shouldn’t
Now, another way to look at this is that it’s better for you to make the decision about whether or not you would like to work somewhere rather than having that decision made for you by one bad recruiter who’s turned off by, say, the fact that you spent two years working for a liberal Democrat or a traditional religious organization. There are definitely laws that protect job candidates from discrimination, but as an applicant, you’re also not exactly in the position to ensure every company you’re applying to is following the law.
It may make more sense for you to keep experiences that reflect your personal beliefs off your resume to keep the focus on your skills and qualifications rather than experiences that could possibly be inflammatory for the person reviewing your resume.
Of course, that’s not always an option. If you’ve spent several years working for a religious, political, or even health organization that some might take offense to, it’s not really an option to just leave it off. Instead, emphasize your accomplishments and technical abilities in your bullet points in a way that keeps your skills at the center. In other words, give any company or hiring manager, no matter what their belief systems or biases, something to hone in on.
Discrimination is illegal, but it’s awfully hard to prove, so being very thoughtful about what you’re willing to risk and how strongly you feel about your beliefs and causes before you decide to list them on your resume is definitely a good idea. There’s no clear-cut yes or no answer for whether it’s a good idea to include something, let’s say, provocative, on your resume, so ultimately it’s your decision. Each situation is a little different depending on your experience, the company, and the position—it’s up to you to weigh the pros and cons.
Photo of Obama poster courtesy of Juli Hansen / Shutterstock.
Lily Zhang serves as a Manager of Graduate Student Professional Development at the MIT Media Lab where she works with a range of students from AI experts to interaction designers. When she’s not indulging in a new book or video game, she’s thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author