With the election season in full swing, I find myself silently repeating the old adage never to talk about religion and politics, especially with people you don’t know. Job seekers know that the people reviewing resumes are seldom familiar. Nothing to worry about there, you might think, because you’ll never talk to that person unless they call for an interview, right? Wrong! Your resume is speaking volumes to that HR representative, and if your resume includes political issues, you are definitely ‘talking politics’ – to someone with a lot of power over whether you get considered for a job.
So what do you do when you are applying for jobs and you have significant experience working on behalf of partisan candidates or issues? On the one hand, you want to display a breadth of skills and experiences. On the other hand, politics has become polarizing – a person could love your resume and then find out you supported a candidate whom they worked to defeat.
I’d like to think that everyone could put politics aside and evaluate a prospective employee based on skills, but the days of across-the-aisle cooperation and respect are pretty much gone. If you are looking for a job in the political or think-tank world, you may be applying to employers who lean in the same political direction as you. But if politics isn’t the focus of the job, you’ve got some thinking to do.
Because you don’t know who is reading your resume, the safest course is to de-politicize it. Remove all volunteer experiences working for candidates or on partisan issues. Should you learn through pre-interview research that you and your interviewer (or the owner of the company) are supporters of the same politicians or causes, then by all means, use those connections in the same way you would with other commonalities (same alma mater, mutual friends, etc.). Otherwise, don’t bring it up unless you have to.
If, however, you worked in politics as a paid job and leaving off that information would create a gap in your work history, include it. I would suggest keeping the explanation of your activities as brief and non-partisan as possible. If you were a field director for a candidate or issue, use plain English, not political punditry. You “worked on a campaign” for a candidate and “helped design her jobs creation plan” (good for a non-political resume) – not you “worked to elect the first female Latina to serve as a councilwoman in a majority white, conservative district (appropriate if you are looking to move up in the campaign world).
The bottom line is that when looking for a job, you need to submit materials that reflect who you are as a professional, not whether you are a donkey or an elephant.