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Should I include that on my resume?

One of the most frequently-asked questions I get is, should I include X on my resume? Where X equals something with the potential to be controversial or polarizing. The short answer is, it depends. And the long answer is also, it depends. Let’s explore.

By the time you receive your Full Grown Adult Card, you have likely learned the hard way that some topics are controversial and polarizing. Many of us now have a sad tale to tell about a relative or longtime friend with whom we suddenly came to an impasse over politics. And with social issues such as LGBTQ rights or abortion becoming ever more politicized, we are increasingly likely to dig our heels in over issues that didn’t used to prompt such heated exchanges.

As a resume writer, I apply my craft in this context. I want you to have a resume that invites the hiring manager to learn about your unique background and assess your potential to be a great fit for their team. One way to set you apart from the other candidates is to include “differentiators” – tidbits about you that accent and highlight your qualifications, humanize you, and present you as an interesting person.

Let’s say you have a passion for supporting LGBTQ rights, and you spend a lot of time volunteering for an organization whose mission supports your interest. Or, maybe you volunteered on a high-profile political campaign last year. Perhaps you are active in lay leadership of your church. Or back in college, you were a member of a fraternity or sorority, or an affinity group on campus for your religion or your race.

On the one hand, anyone who spends time in support of any passion should be applauded. And what if you were a leader? Perhaps you sat on a board or held office or led a committee or raised significant money in support of your cause. These are things to be proud of and activities that helped you build skills that support your qualification for a job posting. 

On the other hand, these things have the potential to polarize, either because they reveal information that places you in a protected class, or because of social opinions formed by the media or popular opinion. In listing them, you may prompt the hiring manager’s implicit bias or even discrimination – both hard to prove, but the outcome is the same: You don’t end up with a job you’re otherwise qualified for.

So, should you include such information on your resume? It depends.

If you can’t imagine working for a company whose beliefs preclude your passions, then you have nothing to lose. You wouldn’t want to work for them anyway. But if you want your prospective employer to focus on your work-based skills and background, then you may be better off leaving those kinds of activities off your resume. Sometimes, such differentiators work in your favor, and other times, they open a can of worms that’s better left sealed.

There’s no one right answer here, so you need to be thoughtful about how to proceed. Consider your own convictions, the company you’re applying to work for, and make your decision accordingly.  

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