Monday, November 01, 2010

How to Talk About Diversity in Your Resume, Cover Letter, or Job Interview

Should you tell an employer upfront in your resume, cover letter, or job interview about your race, gender, sexual preference, cultural upbringing, age, mental illness, or physical disability? Could it kill your job application or might it bring you closer to a job offer?

Given how diverse the workplace is, would it help a job candidate to tout his diversity training or his experience managing and working with diverse groups of people?

For insight into how and when to address issues of diversity in the job search, I asked neurodiversity counselor, Jan Johnston-Tyler, the following questions:
  1. Why would an employer welcome a job candidate's diversity training / experience?
  2. What are some tips for talking about differences appropriately, in writing and in the interview?
  3. Do you have some advice for heading off prejudice if a job seeker believes he or she might be a target of discrimination for being "non-American"?
  4. To improve the US workplace, what areas of diversity awareness need the most attention?
  5. How important is it for a job seeker to mention that she has had diversity training?
  6. Can you give some examples of when it might be useful to mention one's personal "diversity status" on a resume?

How to Address Diversity in Your Resume and Job Search

Answers by Jan Johnston-Tyler
1. Why would an employer welcome a job candidate's diversity training / experience?
Smart employers always want employees with broad training and experience – these employees can be depended on to help smooth over group issues, mediate informally, and lend an elder statesperson's voice to a sometimes chaotic and reactive workplace. This has little to do with age, and everything to do with world or real life experience.
2. It's not easy to talk about differences, whether those differences are your own or someone else's. What are some tips for doing so appropriately in writing and in the interview?

This is a very tough question because some diversity is visible, and some is not. For example, a job seeker might be devoutly religious, and be uncomfortable in a workplace where swearing, blue comments, and a 'rock and roll' attitude prevail – this is a matter of corporate culture fit. Other types of diversity, such as disability, become very difficult to discuss, because most employers are not well-versed in ADA laws of what can and cannot be asked, and because disability frequently makes people uncomfortable. In both cases, the wise job seeker – and employer – will be upfront about these matters. Employers should be upfront about corporate culture – "We’re a bit wild here, sort of a typical teenager of a company" – and about what the expectations of the employee might be – "I’ve never hired a person who is blind, so please forgive my ignorance. Can you tell me what sort of accommodations you might need to do this job?" In short, it makes no sense to not talk about potential challenges.

For potential employees, disclosure is a very personal thing. Again, some diversity is obvious, such as wearing a burka or being blind. In these cases, if there is a possibility of a challenge in the workplace or the need for special accommodations, the potential employee should bring it up first, with a solution already prepared – "In the past, I've used software such as Dragon Speaking Naturally to do all my email – I have a copy, and will gladly use it in my job." This takes the question out of the interviewer's mind about "what might I need to provide for this employee?"

For hidden disabilities, such as Asperger’s Syndrome or bipolar disorder, it is a different story. Despite the incredibly high prevalence of 'mental illness' (one in five Americans have a diagnosable mental illness), most employers are frankly scared. In this case, it is generally better to wait until hired, and in need of accommodations before bringing it up. While employers may not appreciate this, it is legal and moreover, frequently the most appropriate choice for the employee because disclosure prior to an offer is likely going to lose the employee the job.

3. Are employers becoming more hesitant to hire job seekers who are not first-generation Americans to avoid government monitoring of their businesses? Do you have some advice for heading off prejudices if a job seeker believes he or she might be a target of such discrimination?

I do think that this is an issue, but not because of governmental oversight. I believe it is because the economy is so poor, immigration is such a hot issue, and so many people seem to be reactive to 'others' taking American jobs (even if the job seeker is American!). Right or wrong, there is evidence that recent immigrants or those here on Visas have a better chance of being hired if they have acculturated to American ways, and if they have minimal accents. In short, it’s less about color, culture, or religion, and more about assuring an employer that they "fit in" to an American workforce.
4. To improve the US workplace, what areas of diversity awareness need the most attention? How can a job seeker make a difference, even if he or she isn't involved directly in diversity awareness training?

Two areas need continual attention: first, that of racial, religious and cultural discrimination, and the second is the education of American employers and human resource workers about the realities of hidden disabilities such as depression, autism, and schizophrenia.

We all are aware that in the next 20 years we will have a shortage of educated/trained workers as the baby boomers retire. As employers, we must open our eyes to the excellent employees we may have overlooked before because of color, religion, or differing abilities.
5. How important is it for a job seeker to mention on her resume that she has had diversity training? Is there a bottom line benefit to the employer if a job seeker has had such training?

I urge everyone to include all corporate or business-related training on their resume. If it is extensive, you can group them into different types, such as financial, managerial, program management, etc. Diversity training today is a bit like sexual harassment training in the 80s – it is frequently a corporate mandate for managers in larger, more progressive companies. For individual contributors, it shows that the employee cares enough about his/her career to take the opportunity to learn and develop managerial talent.

6. Can you give some examples of when it might be useful to mention one's personal "diversity" status on a resume?

Personally, I never recommend directly including personal information of any sort on a resume because it may appear as being "overly associated" with a particular group. Remember, managers want employees who fit in to their company’s culture. However, one can include organizations and affiliations they have done volunteer work with – which can be a "back door" way of noting ethnicity, religion, etc.

The other place where diversity may be noted is in the cover letter or the resume's objective or statement section if it directly applies to the job. Some examples include:

"As a Latina student studying law, I have extensive experience working with Spanish-speaking clientele, and wish to use these skills…"

"As a person with Bipolar Disorder, I am well-aware of the challenges these individuals face in terms of securing adequate public housing…"

"Although blind since birth, I have become an exceptional reader of people, and use that skill to my advantage as an HR generalist…."
My thanks to Jan Johnston-Tyler of EvoLibri for this interview. To see another Job Lounge post with Jan's advice, please read Counselor For Job Seekers With Autism.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Susan, very interesting points re: diversity awareness. I'm now wishing the times in the past I was a hiring manager that someone would have addressed the subject with me before interviewing candidates.