Dealing with Potential Job Search Landmines: Sex, Politics and Religion
Many legitimate extracurricular activities such as political activism, being involved in church, or being engaged in clubs which address sexuality are extremely beneficial to developing individuality and acquiring an expanded world view. However, many of these activities are also potentially controversial. Many job seekers are left wondering how much, if anything, they should share when it comes to their job search.
Ironically, some of the most active students are also the ones who are most frustrated when it comes to the job search process."Do I mention organizing a sit-in on my resume?" "Should I talk about recruiting new church members?" In a politically correct world, even hinting that someone suppress "who they are" is viewed as encouraging the nasty habit of conformity. Also, acting like someone you're not is rarely a good idea. Yet, the question remains, how do you present "the real you" which is personal and unique in a process which is often impersonal and perhaps biased. Thankfully, there is an answer and it lies in the realm of men's fashion.
In men's formal wear there is what is known as "the rule of the big three." Of the 3 major elements of men's formal wear, the (1) shirt, (2) tie and (3) jacket, one should always be solid and muted. Got a great new plaid sport coat and matching tie? Make sure the shirt is a light colored and solid. Love that paisley tie with your favorite checkered shirt? The coat had better be one color and preferably dark. (As an aside, for more information on what to wear while on the job search (male or female), visit our Interview Attire section.) The beauty of the rule of the big three is that it embraces expressing yourself by promoting individuality, yet maintains balance and the appearance of being well put together. Ideally, this is exactly how you want to be perceived as a potential new hire. You're unique and proactive but also someone who can be part of the organization.
So, how do you apply the rule of the big three to an actual job search? Here's a fairly common example:
Paul is an active Berkeley student who has participated in numerous rallies and even spent his summers working for grassroots organizations committed to liberal issues. Now in his senior year with graduation approaching, he's starting his job search in earnest and taking advantage of such Career Center resources as registering for On-Campus Recruiting and getting ready to attend the Berkeley's premier Cal Career Fair which takes place in the fall.
However, Paul is seeking a job in marketing, not liberal activism (Paul was dismayed to learn that activism is not a lucrative profession). Paul is now wondering if his past experiences will be considered a touchy topic or worse yet, held against him when he applies for jobs. If he decides to eliminate this aspect of his life, he will have nothing on his resume and nothing to talk about in the job interview. On the other hand, if he takes the militant route and shares everything on his resume and then shows up to the interview (assuming he gets that far) wearing a shirt proclaiming "Drunk frat boy drives country into ditch," this would be over the top.
Enter the rule of the big three. On both the resume and in the interview Paul should share his history (the flashy tie) but he should take care to tone it down (the blue button-down shirt) by focusing on his personal skills, knowledge and abilities and not his specific political views. By not focusing on the politics (the potentially offensive elements) and putting the spotlight on his abilities, he achieves a positive sense of balance. So when Paul is asked any of the common interview questions like, tell me about yourself, what are your strengths and weaknesses, when have you worked in a group, etc., he shares his bright individuality by alluding to his extracurricular involvements (his passionate, proactive nature) but he tones it down by focusing on the personal qualifications he has developed through these experiences. Paul is just one example. This strategy applies to anyone who has been involved in "controversial" work.
So it's okay to talk about your past, just be sure to focus on what you have to offer. And besides taking job search cues from men's fashion, whenever you have a job search question, take the time to visit a Career Center counselor.