A reader contacted me today with an important question for consideration: When is it appropriate to wear clothing, jewelry, or other items associated with your religion to an interview or to work? This reader was concerned about being judged in the office for her religious affiliation.
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This is a very tricky and personal question, and it's a very individual choice.
I often think of a job interview much like a dinner party. At a dinner party, you meet many new people who may have different viewpoints from your own. Conversations tend to be high level and centered on pleasant topics, such as the weather. Etiquette experts say that the potentially taboo topics to avoid include politics, religion, and money. This holds true for interviews as well.
Unfortunately, when it comes to getting hired, studies show that managers aren't free of biases. Those biases can influence who lands the job offer. Details as minor as hair and makeup can influence the interviewer's impression of a candidate. Even a candidate's height can make a difference.
Religion, however, is more personal and much more important than hair, makeup, or height. It can be a large part of one's identity. In today's climate, sharing your religious viewpoints with others can cause them to judge you, either positively or negatively. When they judge you negatively, it can potentially hurt your chances of getting hired.
A great organization to share your religious views with is one whose perspective aligns well with yours. For example, some private universities, nonprofits, and corporations are founded on specific religious beliefs.
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A vast majority of organizations, however, are not based upon religious views. They employ people from around the U.S. and the world who have a host of different affiliations. When interviewing at an organization like this, it's important to be aware of how choosing to publicly display your religious affiliation may affect the interviewer's decision.
If you want to minimize the likelihood that someone will unfairly judge you, think of all of the ways in which you may send out cues about your views during the job hunt. Check the volunteer opportunities on your resume. Look at the organizations you follow on LinkedIn. Check your Facebook privacy settings. Consider the pieces of your interview outfit that may signal some personal beliefs to an interviewer.
As I mentioned in the beginning of the column, this is a personal choice. I'm not here to influence you in one direction or another or to discourage you from holding true to your beliefs. That being said, it is wise to consider the positive and negative implications of your decision – and to make a conscious decision based upon what you feel most comfortable with.
After you've landed a job, you have a new choice to make: whether or not you want to share your views with your new coworkers. While it's important to be yourself, remember that you also have to earn your colleagues' respect and trust. Your story will come out over time.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Memphis Daily News.
Angela Copeland is a career coach and CEO at her firm, Copeland Coaching.