Faith and the Job Hunt

Faith and the Job Hunt Illustration

Illustration by Eshiemomoh Osilama

In a recent article for Religion News Service, journalist Cathy Grossman expounded on some discouraging statistics regarding applying for jobs with faith-based experience on your resume. The piece, titled “Got religion on campus? Leave it off your resume,” explains how mentioning involvement with a campus religious group on an application can be detrimental towards job prospects.

Now, this study can be scrutinized for a wide variety of reasons, ranging from how Grossman measured a job prospect disadvantage to how one’s faith was actually presented in a resume during the study. Yet in spite of these flaws, this article prompted me to think about how a committed Christian ought to approach the job hunt. This is particularly relevant in light of my own situation as a senior in the midst of applications, recruitment events, and interviews this fall. Should I change my resume, which currently lists my involvement and leadership experience in my campus Christian fellowship to better my chances of garnering an interview? During interviews, should I stick to more politically correct answers and intentionally limit my sharing to non-religious activities?

These questions find their roots in a deeper question that reaches beyond the scope of job hunting: does being a faithful Christian depend on me revealing myself as a Christian to others I encounter in life? In addressing this question, I will look at what Scripture has to say, draw principles from Scripture, and contextualize these principles into the world of finding a job through my own experiences.

Let us consider the extremes of how one might possibly respond to this situation with the Bible in mind. To one extreme, I could immediately declare myself to be a Christian the moment that I meet a person, who in the context of searching for a job is either the one reading my resume or my interviewer. Indeed, Jesus does tell us that whoever “denies me here on earth, [Jesus] will also deny before [God] in heaven.” To the other extreme, I could wipe myself of any signs of or connections with my faith, both in person and on paper. The idea here would be that after I am hired (which may not happen if I immediately come out with my faith), my colleagues could come to know my faith through personal interactions that may eventually lead them to Jesus. This might seem more appropriate in the context of following Paul’s counsel of becoming “like a Jew [to the Jews] to win the Jews” as per his First Letter to the Corinthians. However, an important point, perhaps in some ways a preliminary point, is that neither of these options is done with selfish gain in mind. While this point may appear somewhat obvious, it is still worth remembering that however we choose to reveal ourselves as Christians, our number one priority should never be prioritizing ourselves before God.

So does the Bible espouse two separate ways of expressing our faith publically? I would say no. The Bible actually presents far more than merely two ways of expressing our faith to others. Latent throughout its pages, Scripture provides cultural and relational context that reveals different ways of relating and reaching specific audiences. These contexts range from the inclusion of Old Testament metaphors presented in the New Testament book of Hebrews for a culturally Jewish audience to Paul referencing Greek poetry while in Athens for a culturally Greek audience. It even can be seen when the Holy Spirit empowered the disciples to speak different languages at Pentecost for a hugely diverse audience. A primary principle that may be drawn out from this is that God seeks for the message of His love to be translated in many ways to reach different types of people. This translation, if you will, requires a wide variety of ambassadors that can employ different methods depending on whom they are loving and serving. In the same way that God met us where we were and challenged us to follow Him, we should be seeking to meet and communicate with people where they are. From there, we can then challenge them to follow the Lord as we follow Him. Also in the same way, we should avoid communicating or behaving in ways that would cause our neighbors to stumble or lead them into a false perception of who God is and who His followers are.

Now that we are armed with the knowledge of cultural and relational translation, it is paramount to understand how one might apply these to different parts of the job hunt. Here, I will share my personal experience with resumes and interviews, adding commentary based on what I have shared above.

Faith and the Resume:

The key purpose of a resume is to show your relevant experience and, in some cases, your personal interests. For me, my relevant work experience, skills, and education are largely technology-based and therefore my resume does not explicitly specify my faith. However, I also include leadership experience and interests. One of my primary leadership positions on campus was as the President of my Christian fellowship. I don’t go into great detail about what I do or what the organization does due to space constraints, but it is still included. My interests section also includes “Christian theology and ministry” listed among “juggling,” “NY Yankees,” and “music.”

Here, we can consider two primary principles regarding the collision between faith and the job hunt. These can be summarized in question format: how can I communicate how this contributes to me as a person and as a potential employee? From this question, it is clear that my initial thought is about my audience. The person reading this piece of paper is presumably a recruiter working for the company to which I am applying. From what I know, recruiters tend to gloss over resumes extremely quickly, generally searching for surface level keywords rather than plumbing the depths of what your extra-curricular activities might say about you. At the same time, key words will certainly shape the direction of the review. If the recruiter simply sees “Christian” or “_________ Church / Ministry,” then he or she is simply left to his or her devices on how to interpret those words. Crucial guidance and direction is missing here.

The following are ways that I work to overcome this issue on my resume. In listing my specific role in my Christian ministry, we see that I am demonstrating my leadership ability (President). In specifically defining my interests within Christianity, I convey to the reader of my resume that I have experience in thinking within a complex framework (theology) and both the ability and desire to work with and serve others (ministry). Again, the principle here is to avoid throwing vague terms relating to your faith onto the resume, and instead to provide your reader guidance on how your experiences and attributes might benefit them as your potential employer. Needless to say, this will look different for each person depending on his or her roles and interests, but it is a vital part of how faith and resumes relate.

Faith and the Interview:

This can be some of the toughest ground to maneuver, especially since a much deeper impression is made here relative to a resume. Let’s start out with this question: “Tell me about yourself.” To be completely honest, I have several times pondered whether I should share my testimony about Jesus with my interviewer. That would certainly pertain to “myself.” Is this the correct response?

Translation from their language into yours plays a key role here; what question are they really asking? Is this question asking you for your life’s story? Is it asking you to share about the things most important to you, maybe your family and your dog? Most likely not. Rather, it is “interview-speak” for asking you to explain your relevant past experience, current situation, and sometimes future goals. This is certainly a time when speaking the language of the culture we are interacting with (but not conforming to) is extremely useful. If someone asked me, “What defines you and gives you your identity?” then I would certainly/hopefully respond with, “A forgiven and adopted son of God because of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection.” But that’s not the question they are really asking with “Tell me about yourself.” Instead, they want to know what you would bring to their company and how well you might fit the job description.

How about in other situations? An example is from one of my interviews, where my interviewer asked me something along the lines of, “Tell me about a time when you led a project and the challenges you encountered during the process.” I certainly have experiences not directly affiliated with faith, but my most immediate thought was a project and challenge I had in my Christian fellowship. Should I stall to try and think of another example? In the end, rather than stalling to think, I took the risk and shared my faith-based example. It seems to me that sometimes it is less so the content of our faith that can affect how an interview goes and more so the awkward manner, or even panic that we display at the thought of sharing. We see this in things as small as our interactions with our friends when they ask us what we did on Sunday, so it makes sense that similar awkwardness could affect our interviews. Therefore, the practical applications here would be to plan and prepare before interviews and share confidently in the moment of the interview.

Quick Summary:

  1. Translation of our faith, beliefs, and actions are paramount for sharing our faiths with others in a public way.
  2. Translation does not mean compromising or conforming, but rather utilizing an understanding of your audience (culturally, linguistically, relationally, etc.) to effectively communicate the Good News.
  3. Find creative ways, both in interviews and on resumes, to show how your faith makes a positive impact on you, your work, your community, and other parts of your life.
  4. Do your best to understand what interviewers are really asking you.
  5. In the moment, try not to overthink or overanalyze. Sharing honestly and simply will often go much farther than we expect.

Talking openly about faith can be daunting, especially as it is a topic that is difficult and not often broached in the public sphere. However, it does not have to be distracting or confrontational, as some people fear it may be, but rather humanizing. It allows people to live more fully because they too can express what they prioritize as first in their lives (or one could say, what they “worship”). It makes workplaces more meaningful, employees more anchored in their company and community, and employers more empathetic and understanding of one another. So next time when you are editing your resume or preparing for an internship interview, remember these few principles of how your faith connects with your job hunt.