Career Advice Tuesday – “Listing Polarizing Interests on a Resume”

November 30, 2010

Dear Infosecleaders:

Wanted to ask a question about my resume and including my outside of work activities.   Without getting into specifics – I take part in some outside activities that some may consider to be polarizing.  Although I know that this site is anonymous, I would like to keep them to myself – however, for arguments sake, lets say that they fall into categories that would include one of the following:

1) My Political Beliefs

2) My Religious Beliefs

3) My Sexual Preference

4)My Ethnicity

I have followed your advice, and not only am I a member of this group, but I am also a leader.  My group has raised a great deal of money, performed good work in the community, and I am very proud of the work that we have done.   My participation in these groups have enabled me to develop and refine some additional skills that benefit me in my job as an information security professional.

I ultimately would like to list them on my resume, because I believe that they reflect well.  However, I have learned from reading your site that when it comes to employment and selection of candidates - ”beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. 

My fear is that by listing these activities, I will do more harm than good, and  I will close more doors than I will open. 

Do you have any advice? 


“Wanna B. Free”

Dear Wanna:

Your question is a good one and I think that the answer that you are searching for can fall into two categories – 1) Focusing on your Goal  (Getting a Better Job) and 2) Being Honest with Yourself.

If the goal of the resume is to get a better job, I think that you are taking a big risk in featuring your outside activities on your resume, if you believe that they are as polarizing.  By including these items on a resume, you begin to eliminate your audience and you enable people to make prejudgments about you as a person.  Granted if some of the employers share the same interests or beliefs, that may give you a leg up in the process, however since many people will be viewing your resume, you become more likely that you will encounter someone who may disqualify you based exclusively on this activity. 

In addition, today the legal environment in the workplace is more risk adverse than ever.  Granted, companies preach the concept of diversity, however at the same time they try to prevent the work place becoming the “soap box” for the expression of people’s personal beliefs, especially if they may offend others or pose a distraction.   Sometimes no matter how talented the candidate, companies simply do not want to take this risk.  

To compound on this, many times hiring managers will ultimately choose an alternate candidate, simply due to the fact that they may be exposing themselves if they hire someone that may be more of an outlier, as opposed to someone who is viewed as a safer choice.  Remember, they have a job too!

2) Being Honest With Yourself – I think that you have to determine if this outside interest, you bring into the work place.   Many people cannot separate their avocations from their vocations, and their outside interests consume them in all environments.   If you recognize that you fall into this category, my advice would be to list it. 

The reason for this, is that this outside interest speaks to exactly who you are.  And if this is the case, the company should know it, and you should feel comfortable that they are accepting of you (in your totality).   I think that by being honest with yourself- and your employer – you set a strong foundation for a long lasting relationship.  However, if by being honest you repel the employer and are not hired, you may experience short some initial remorse.  However,  in the long run you will benefit for not having to work in an environment that does not embrace you or your extracurricular activities.

In the end, I think that resumes in general are not an ideal form of communication, so I do believe that it would be best to list your interest, but soften it a bit so that it is not viewed as polarizing, but still provides a potential platform for discussion.     If you eventually get selected for an interview, you should figure out if you want to bring this up with members of the interview team during a discussion.  In this form of communication, it may be easier for you to articulate your external interests and demonstrate how they have effected your personal and career development in a positive way.

Thanks for asking the question.  Many people struggle with this.  Hope that the answers are useful to you and to others.

Lee and Mike

Posted by lee | Filed Under Advice, Branding, Career Advice Tuesday, Resume 


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