Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Students
Career Development for LGBTQ Students and Alumni
As a student or alum that identifies as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Queer, you may have questions about your job search that your straight peers may not. Should you come out on your resume? Should you express your identity in an interview by wearing gender non-conforming clothes? While you may face some specific challenges in navigating your career, being well-informed and prepared can make a positive impact. This page offers guidance and resources to help you manage your job search as an LGBTQ candidate. Specifically, it includes:
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Resources within the Columbia University LGBTQ community
- Career Resources
- LGBTQ Fellowships and Research Opportunities
- Local, National and International Resources
- What assets do I have as an LGBTQ candidate?
- How can I start exploring careers?
- Should I come out on a resume or in a cover letter?
- Should I include the name I use or the name on my government-issued ID on my resume and cover letter?
- Should I come out in an interview, and if so, how?
- What should I wear to an interview or networking event which requires “professional attire”?
- How can I evaluate if the future employer will provide a safe and supportive environment?
- Who can/should I talk to about my career planning?
While we will discuss the challenges you may face in the job search as an LGBTQ candidate, perhaps more powerful are the assets and strengths you can bring to your career and the workplace. For instance, LGBTQ employees can bring empathy, respect for diversity, and, sometimes can even become advocates in their own workplaces (i.e. by joining or starting an LGBTQ affinity group). It may help to make a list of the personal qualities and values you’ve gained from being a member of the LGBTQ community- whether through direct involvement in organizations or by nature of your identity. Keep these in mind as you explore careers, build your resume and cover letters, and prepare for interviews.
If you already have some ideas about what field you might like to work in, use our industry exploration pages and talk to people in the field to research if they are a good fit for you. You may wish to start your career exploration with a short assessment, such as those found in the “explore” section of CCE’s career planning guide. These activities will help you to start thinking about your skills, interests, personality traits, values and likes/dislikes as they relate to your career.
Some LGBTQ people may feel behind in their career development relative to their straight peers. College is a time when many individuals explore their gender identity and sexual orientation as well as begin to explore career interests. It is not uncommon to feel that you have not yet had the energy or mental space to devote to your career development. In addition to the resources above, consider making an appointment to speak with a career counselor to help you think through options.
Other considerations include the extent to which you would like your career to incorporate your LGBTQ identity. Do you want your identity to be incorporated in a major role, such as working for an LGBTQ advocacy group, or perhaps in a smaller way, such as getting involved with the LGBTQ affinity group for employees at an organization?
Should you include information on your resume or in a cover letter that directly associates you with the LGBTQ community? For example, you may wonder whether to include LGBTQ-specific awards or scholarships, advocacy work, or involvement in LGBTQ student organizations. Whether or not to come out on a resume or cover letter depends on your own comfort level and interest in sharing your sexuality or gender identity with others. It is a very personal decision to come out at any stage of the job search process. As such, there is no right or wrong answer.
While it is important to some people to be out and visible, others prefer to be more private. Ask yourself: is it important to you to be out at work? Be sure to research your work environment. Is it likely the organization you're applying to will look favorably upon LGBTQ-related experiences and activities? If you're concerned they will not, you can highlight the skills you developed without highlighting the organizations you worked with. It may also help to think about how relevant the particular activity, award or experience is to the job you are applying for. If you are concerned that the organization, or even the individual reading your resume, is not LGBTQ-friendly, and the experience does not demonstrate relevant skills or qualifications, you may choose to leave it off at this point.
Sample Resume Excerpt: Including LGBTQ community involvement
Everyone Allied Against Homophobia, Columbia University New York, NY
Vice President of Events Fall 2013-Present
- Plan and run movie screenings, panel discussions, LGBTQ guest speaker presentations, and other social events by partnering with other queer political activist student groups
- Conduct weekly general body meetings for 20 members
- Organized the annual Student Anti-Homophobia Leadership Summit for 32 East Coast high school students, conducting outreach through Facebook, New York City public schools, and LGBTQ youth organizations
- Created organizational recommendations for high school students on developing sustainable gay-straight alliances
Sample Resume Excerpt: Reducing LGBTQ community involvement
Below, the same experience from above is described in ways that focus attention on the individual's role and accomplishments. If there is concern about the organization name, abbreviations are okay. You may also choose to list it as a diversity, community or minority organization without naming it.
Columbia University EAAH (a political activist student group) New York, NY
Vice President of Events Fall 2013-Present
- Plan and run movie screenings, panel discussions, guest speaker presentations, and other social events by partnering with other student groups
- Conduct weekly general body meetings for 20 members
- Organized the annual leadership summit for 32 East Coast high school students, conducting outreach through Facebook, New York City public schools, and other youth organizations
- Collaborate with local youth organizations to promote social justice through education.
4. Should I include the name I use or the name on my government-issued ID on my resume and cover letter?
Again, this is a very personal decision and as such there is no right or wrong answer. In short, because resumes and cover letters are not legal documents, you are able to write the name you use even if it does not reflect the name on your government-issued ID. For trans and genderqueer people, doing so may help you to communicate your gender identity with your employer
However, documents needed for background checks and social security, tax or insurance paperwork should have your legal name on them.
If you are concerned about a mismatch between your resume and other legal documents you have submitted or will submit, here are a few examples of ways you can address this concern:
- Include your first initial of your legal name, or your full legal name with the name you use in quotes. For example, M. Lydia Robinson or Michael “Lydia” Robinson.
- Use the name on your government-issued ID and disclose your gender identity and name later in the hiring process or after an offer has been made.
- Write the name that you use if you are comfortable coming out early in the hiring process or if you are already acquainted with the hiring manager or recruiter.
Employers can and might ask about your sexuality. In some states it is illegal to make a hiring decision based on your answer; in other states it remains legal to discriminate against people because of their LGBTQ identity (According to the Human Rights Campaign). In New York State, it is illegal for employers to discriminate based on sexual orientation, and in New York City, both sexual orientation and gender identity are protected by state and local laws (according to the New York Attorney General). However, it is important to keep in mind that it is your choice whether to answer the question directly or not — there are many ways to redirect the conversation or dismiss the question as irrelevant to your employment. For example, if asked about your sexual orientation, you can simply ask if it is relevant to the job you are interviewing for.
Conversely, there are ways to bring up your LGBTQ identity in ways that feel natural should you wish to come out to the prospective employer. For example, you may ask questions about affinity groups or employee resources that the employer offers to LGBTQ employees. Or, you may bring up your involvement in LGBTQ-related leadership or advocacy as evidence of skills and knowledge you can bring to the organization. Think about what assets you have as an LGBTQ candidate. Are you more empathetic towards others? Do you bring a perspective that may be lacking in the organization? These may be strengths you wish to share in an interview.
You can build confidence by preparing to answer the questions you are most nervous about and practicing tactfully negotiating questions around your sexuality. Participating in a mock interview with a career counselor is a great way to prepare yourself for an interview.
This can be particularly challenging for queer and trans job seekers. Whether or not to dress according to traditional, cisgender norms or wear clothes that allow you to express your gender identity can be a difficult decision and will likely be impacted by the particular employer or industry in which you are interested. If you are interviewing or networking in a conservative, corporate environment, it may be wise to dress in gender normative attire. For organizations that are more liberal, and particularly those that have shown they are LGBTQ-inclusive, you may feel more comfortable wearing clothes typically associated with the gender with which you identify. Further still, some candidates may choose to dress in gender-neutral, androgynous clothing. Like the decision to come out on a resume or in an interview, this is a personal choice and will be impacted by your own level of comfort as well as your research on the particular employer or field.
While it may be difficult to determine how truly supportive any organization is, the following indicators may provide you with some information regarding their organizational culture:
- Domestic Partner Benefits including health and life insurance, educational grants, access to facilities, etc.
- Non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity/expression
- Trainings that include sensitivity to LGBTQ issues
- Availability of gender-neutral restrooms
- In-house support or employee groups, either formal or informal
- Sponsorship of or participation in LGBTQ community activities
- Participation in recruitment events specific to LGBTQ candidates
- Equal Opportunity Employer (EOE) statement in job description
- Positive statements from people with experience at the company
The Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index is a useful tool for identifying LGBTQ-inclusive employers.
We invite you to discuss your career-related concerns, questions and strategies with a CCE career counselor. Many are Safe Zone trained and all are equipped to help you think through the important decisions involved in your job search. To schedule a career counseling appointment or mock interview, call 212-854-5609. We also encourage you to seek out support from the broader Columbia LGBTQ community- please see below for more information on resources available to you.
Additionally, it is important to inform your references whether or not you are out in your job search, which name and pronouns you will be using in your search, and what information you are comfortable with them disclosing to potential employers. Have this conversation before providing your references’ contact information to employers.
Office of Multicultural Affairs and LGBTQ @ Columbia
The Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) aims to promote an inclusive university climate by acting as an educational resource that prepares students to succeed in a heterogeneous and ever-changing society. The Office provides a supportive environment for intercultural communication, constructive interaction and mutual understanding. OMA aims to strengthen and enhance the richly diverse fabric of the Columbia community by providing and supporting programs and services related to diversity issues. Learn about LGBTQ @ Columbia, which provides advising, advocacy and resources for LGBTQ students.
LGBTQ-affiliated Student Organizations
LGBTQ affiliated student organizations on campus can provide a support network to foster identity development and allow for connections. For a list of Columbia College and SEAS Gender & Sexuality groups, visit the LGBTQ @ Columbia website. GS Alliance is specific to the School of General Studies. An additional group with a pre-professional focus is the Columbia Queer Business Society.
LGBTQ-affiliated Alumni Community
Columbia Pride's mission is to build community among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ) alumni of all schools of Columbia University in the City of New York, to foster a safe environment for Columbia’s LGBTQ students, to strengthen the LGBTQ student community, and to deepen the sense of connection between the LGBTQ alumni and student communities, and between these communities and Alma Mater.
- LionSHARE: Columbia University Internship/Job board for students and alumni
- OUT for Work: OFW’s programs, resources, and services provide assistance to LGBTQ students in the cultivation and enhancement of skills to explore career options, master job search techniques and strategies, and research employment opportunities.
- Out For Undergrad: Dedicated to helping high-achieving lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) undergraduates reach their full potential in their careers. Hosts career conferences in the fields of Business, Marketing, Engineering and Technology.
- Diversity in the Workplace: A magazine highlighting diversity related news, top 50 employers, workplace issues and professional development opportunities.
- Federal GLOBE: A professional LGBTQ group for federal government employees.
- Human Rights Campaign: Employee resources on everything from coming out to addressing workplace discrimination.
- LGBT Career Link: Job posting site highlighting opportunities for LGBTQ people.
- Out and Equal Workplace Advocates: Provides information regarding workplace issues and hosts annual LGBTQ workplace summit
- Out Professionals: Leading LGBT networking site with a fairly extensive LGBT-centered job bank.
These are sample fellowships and research opportunities that are available for Columbia students. Be sure to connect with your faculty advisor and the Office of Fellowships to find out additional opportunities.
- Institute for Research on Women and Gender Queer Studies Prize
- FEA Rainbow Scholarship
- The Point Foundation LGBT Scholarships
- Summer Research Diversity Fellowships in Law and Social Science for Undergraduate Students
- The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center
- The NYC LGBT Chamber of Commerce, Inc
- The National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce
- Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund
- International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association
Last updated: August 2015