March 21, 2011

Wearing Your Values on Your Sleeve

I was talking with a college career counselor the other day and learned something I think will be useful to me: Tact.

She was describing a common occurrence on her exuberantly Christian campus, which was a student’s penchant for ending job search letters with a religious sentiment. In this case, the student was saying something like “In Christ’s service” where one might more frequently see “Sincerely.” In other cases, she told me, students incorporate a Bible verse into their email signatures, or otherwise declare their faith.

Her tactful response to these situations includes just the right balance of respect and common sense: “I love your values, and I want you to keep honoring them. But these are business letters and they demonstrate to the interviewers how you would handle their business correspondence. So you need to use the accepted business customs in these letters.”

Whew. I’m going to remember that. Because my first thought is to be more direct: “You’re scaring people. Stop that!” Not that being religious should frighten employers. But when they perceive that you will express your faith in their workplace or to their customers, alarms go off. Most companies can’t risk hiring someone who could offend others, no matter how unintentional the offense would be.

The exception would be organizations that specifically align themselves with a particular faith. Likewise, if you’re primarily interested in religious careers, then professing your faith in your job search correspondence may indeed be appropriate. As an example, I just finished helping a woman write her resume with a Professional Summary that incorporated the sentence, “Committed to working in organizations where a focus on education and Catholic traditions are essential parts of the mission.” She has built a career in Catholic schools and plans to continue on that path, so it makes sense to define that goal in her job search documents.

If you have doubts about when to display your faith, here’s the clearest rule I can provide: If it’s in the employer’s best interest, go ahead. If it’s only in your interest, don’t. So if you can imagine the employer wants and needs someone from a particular faith tradition, by all means make it part of your sales pitch. But if the only person served by the declaration is you, then keep the focus where it belongs: On what the employer needs that you can do for him or her.

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