Q: I’m updating my resume and LinkedIn for networking opportunities and future job searches. I’m only five years out of undergrad, but I want to show that I’ve held leadership roles in some capacity, even if I’m not as advanced in my career as others. The problem is that these leadership roles have almost all been in social and volunteer groups that very clearly give away my religious affiliation and political beliefs, which are usually deemed off limits for resumes. Is it a bad idea to include them?
A: Being able to show leadership roles is always valuable in the job search. Networking contacts and hiring managers want the 360 degree view of who you are, and part of showcasing your many valuable attributes often means divulging religious or political leanings via the activities, memberships, and community or volunteer experiences you have.
Most often you will be discouraged from including an abundance of information about religion, politics, or other personal beliefs—if they are incendiary. For example, if you’re a member of an explicitly racist, sexist, or other hate group, it will rightfully be condemned and isn’t ever something you would want to bring to light or discuss. Things that are considered mainstream are acceptable, and things that are considered way out of the ordinary are most often not going to serve you well if highlighted. Were you the president of the Young Republicans club in college or leader of a youth group at your church, temple, or mosque? Those are fine! Did you organize a violent protest as a member of a fringe group? You probably aren’t reading this, so do not include this. Evaluate each experience individually, asking yourself, “Is the value of my leadership role in this group more positive than the negative it brings by making a statement that could be considered offensive or impact my ability to get a job?” If it brings more damage than advantage to your resume, leave it off. People do make judgments, so be prepared.
All information on your resume brings judgment, and you risk being eliminated based on assumptions about you or what you bring to the table. Are you applying for a job at the American Humane Association but list your role in a collegiate hunting group on your resume? If the hiring organization represents a very strong social, religious, or political view and the activities on your resume show a view that opposes their mission and values, they’ll likely look at your resume and think “This person isn’t going to fit into our culture.” Use your affiliations strategically. Check company websites—what do they do for philanthropy? What else are they involved with? What are their stated values? If you’re aligned with the organization’s mission or social stance, definitely include relevant groups or activities. Showing that cultural alignment with a potential employer can be a huge advantage.
When including your mainstream social or volunteer groups on a resume, focus on the leadership skills that you used in positive ways. Don’t let these affiliations be the bulk of what you put in and don’t go into great detail about the organizations—it’s more about the skills you developed and exhibited and less about the actual nature of the groups. You want everything on your resume to speak to your value to the employer, so let your professional leadership skills take center stage, not your personal beliefs.