Compared to, say, women or students of color, there has been relatively little written about job search strategies for lesbian, gay and bisexual and transgendered/transsexual students. The truth is that job hunting for LGBT individuals can often be challenging and stressful, requiring difficult personal choices. There are resources, however, available to students when they are looking to enter into or rise in the workforce. Susan Gelberg’s and Joseph Chojnacki’s book, Career and Life Planning with Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Persons, discusses the obstacles faced by LGBT students at all stages of the job search process and gives some excellent tips on how to handle them.
Before you begin: The most important thing at this point is to determine your needs and personal priorities. For some people, coming out is a crucial matter–they feel that they cannot be themselves without being open about their orientation. For others, keeping what they see as their personal and professional lives separate is important. You will have to think carefully about the issue, assessing the factors that matter most to you. Remember, the choice of whether or not to come out on the job is your choice. However, that said, there will always be resources to help you come to a decision. Make an appointment with a Career Counselor at the Career Center; they will be happy to talk it over with you.
Questions to ask yourself: How important is it to me to be out? Why?
Networking and researching: Looking for employers and professions that are well-known as being non-discriminatory in their hiring process and have a friendly and open work environment can be a valuable place to start. If you know the city in which you want to work, check out the local or state-wide LGBT newspaper, which will list gay-owned and gay-positive organizations in the area. There may also be a professional association you could contact for information (e.g., Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychologists). Another valuable contact to make would be LGBT alumni that work in the field in which you are interested. Join online networks such as Gaynet and Binet, which will allow you to talk to LGBT people around the country. No matter which of these strategies you choose to adopt, the keyword here is “network.” There is a hidden job market that is accessible only by contacting various people and organizations, and the more you do this, the better.
Question to ask yourself: How can I find a work environment I am comfortable with?
Coming out on the resume: Many individuals, especially those in college, often occupy positions of leadership in campus LGBT organizations. These experiences provide them with skills they would like to highlight in a resume. However, as with any other potentially controversial affiliation (e.g., political, religious), this brings up important issues to consider. You need to carefully consider the pros and cons of including an LGBT-related experience on your resume. If you do decide to include the experience, make sure you focus on the content of the position (what you did), rather than the organization (where you did it). Along these lines, using a functional resume format would allow you to describe your duties (e.g., organized three annual fundraisers for anti-discrimination group) without mentioning the organization. You must be aware, however, that any experience you mention on the resume, may be touched upon at the interview. Therefore, you will need to practice responding to questions that have to do with your LGBT-related experience.
Questions to ask yourself: Should I come out on the résumé? How? To what extent?
Using the interview to assess a ‘good fit’: The interview is not just a chance for the employer to find out more about you. It is also perhaps the best opportunity you will have to find out whether this is an organization that you want to work at. Keeping this in mind, there are ways to use the interview to assess how good a ‘fit’ the company is for you. First, do your research into the organization, focusing on things like company policy and climate pertaining to sexual orientation. If you didn’t find as much information as you would have liked, it is probably not advisable to begin your interview with such an inquiry. Highlight your position-related qualifications first, and then carefully assess how appropriate it would be to include a question related to sexual orientation. Depending on the answer, you will have to decide whether or not the organization in one at which you see yourself working. On the other hand, you may decide not to raise the subject of sexual orientation at all and focus only on your professional qualifications. Whichever approach you decide on, setting up a mock interview at the Career Center will help you practice handling questions and responding comfortably.
Questions to ask yourself: Should I come out at the interview? How?
Transitioning into the Workplace: Once you are hired on with an organization, the issue of how to come out to your co-workers arises. There is no one way to do this, and it will depend on how open you were in your résumé and during the interview process. A valuable strategy might be to first establish yourself as a professional and to come out once you have made close professional connections. Perhaps you will not need to announce your sexual orientation; you can let your co-workers come to the realization themselves, through causal conversations about personal life. Alternatively, you could “test the waters” by coming out to a close colleague first.
Question to ask yourself: If I choose to, how will I come out on the job?
In times of economic stress, the job search process can be especially challenging. Use the Career Center’s resources to help you identify positions, write résumés and cover letters, prepare for the interview and comfortably transition into the world of work. Good luck!
Gelberg, Susan & Joseph T. Chojnacki. Career and Life Planning with Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Persons. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association, 1996.
Stern, Joyce M. & Langerud, Steven, V. “Sexual Orientation and Decision Making: A Practical Guide for Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Students.” Career Center handout. Available online at http://www.lawrence.edu/dept/student_dean/career/