Where does my religion fit into the interview?

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A reader contacted me today with an important question for consideration. She asked when it was appropriate to wear clothing, jewelry, or other items associated with her religion to an interview or to work. Her concern was about being judged in the office for her religious affiliation.

As you can imagine, this is a very tricky and personal question. I will share my thoughts with you, but at the end of the day, 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 than you. Conversations tend to be high level, centered on pleasant topics, such as the weather. Etiquette experts say that the potentially taboo topics to avoid include politics, religion, and money. These hold true in an interview as well.

Unfortunately, when it comes to getting hired, studies show that managers aren’t free of biases. Those biases can influence who’s landing 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 to yours. For example, some private universities, non-profits, and corporations have a foundation that is based on specific beliefs.

A vast majority of organizations however are not based upon these views. Their employees are made up of 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 the choice you decide to make.

If you want to minimize the likelihood that someone may unfairly judge you, think of all of the places you may send out cues to others about your views. Check the volunteer opportunities on your resume. Look at the organizations you follow on LinkedIn. Check your Facebook privacy settings. And, consider the pieces of your interview outfit that may signal 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. But, it is wise to consider the positive and negative implications of your decision – and to make it consciously 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 your story is one to be earned over time through trust.

Angela Copeland is CEO and founder of Copeland Coaching and can be reached at CopelandCoaching.com or on Twitter at @CopelandCoach.

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