Jobs and Judgments
June 20, 2013
Say you're looking for a job. You're a talented, smart, motivated young individual, applying to internships, or looking for your first gig out of college. You've got a list of places you'd like to apply, you're drafting cover letters and tweaking your resume, and suddenly you realize that your leadership experience is all under the heading of your college's CFI group, or SSA group, or humanist group. You pause. You look again at the job descriptions in front of you. They look exciting. They look great. You try to research the history of the organization. They have no record on secularism or church and state issues or religion of any kind. Your state is middle of the road on issues of atheism. You're not Portland, but you're not Texas.
You silently curse to yourself. Your mouse hovers over the entry in your resume highlighting your time as a secular leader. You eye the delete button. Back and forth your mind races: keep it and show off your experience, or lose it and take away the potential of being judged?
It can be incredibly difficult to decide whether you want to include giveaways of your atheism on your resume or in your cover letter. It's entirely possible that an employer will discriminate against you on that basis and will not hire you. This is horrible. It is also true. In addition, it puts you at a disadvantage, because a fair amount of your volunteer work, community building, and leadership may be in the realm of atheist activism. How do you make a decision like this?
Unfortunately, as with most important things, there is no cut and dry answer. There are, however, some things you can do to assess what decision might be right for you. The first thing to consider is how important are the skills that might give away your atheism to the job you're applying for. I am primarily a blogger in the atheist community, and when I was applying to my current position as an administrative assistant, it simply wasn't pertinent. I didn't include it. However if you're applying to a position with CFI and you were the president of your CFI On Campus group...HECK YES! Obviously there is a great deal of gray space here, but it's a helpful beginning point.
A next useful step would be to look into the organization as far as possible to see what their potential opinions on atheism might be. If you're applying to the Salvation Army, well first of all WHAT? And second of all don't add your atheism in as a credential. More often than not you won't be able to find much, but at least taking a browse through their website can be a good idea.
Another question to consider is context. Are you working in a place where religion is considered highly important? Or are you somewhere with active atheist and humanist groups, LGBT support on every street, and the Unitarian Universalists reign supreme? Having some sense of the general climate in your area can help you decide whether you feel comfortable being "out" or not.
From here, it's a lot about personal choice and spin. My parents have often advocated that I stay quiet about my atheism, because they don't want to see bad things happen to me: they want me to get every job I apply for and never have problems, and to them it seems safer to not advertise this particular aspect of myself. I can understand that. You may be in a situation where you're really worried about getting a job, and you want to take every precaution to make sure you are the best possible candidate. For me personally, I want to use my life as the best form of activism I can: I want to be open about who I am and what I am to illustrate to as many people as possible that atheism is acceptable. I am willing to risk jobs that would discriminate against me for my atheism in pursuit of this goal. I don't think I'd want to work at those places anyway.
This is where you have to do a lot of assessing of your values. Your activism might be simply thriving as well as possible in your life. Or your activism might be living as a vocally out atheist. You get to choose. You get to decide how a job and a job search and your attitude at work play into this. Deciding how you market yourself can be a good place to reflect on what you want to prioritize in your life. Take advantage of it.
About the Author: Olivia James
Olivia James is a recent graduate from St. Olaf College who is now navigating the post-college pre-grad school waters. She was a philosophy and religion major and was a member of St. Olaf's SSA. She is also an avid swing dancer, voracious reader, and all around nutjob.
#1 Sarah Kaiser on Thursday June 20, 2013 at 11:17am
I put my student activism on my resume, not just for CFI (obviously:-p), but for my previous job. They even asked me about it in my interview! I basically was very cagey about it though. Our group was the Secular Alliance at IU, so the name didn't explicitly mention atheism. And I didn't put the word atheist anywhere - just said I'd had fundraising experience and communications/web design/social media experience through my work with the group. In the interview I was vague and focused on the skills I learned.
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