Got religion? Better not put it on your first resume

Day after day, week after week, month after month, religion-beat reporters receive emails from pollsters, academics and think-tank experts promoting new blasts of data about religion, politics, culture or some combination of the above.

Honestly, I think I could write a column a month about the material pouring out of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life without sinking into PR territory.

There is no way to write about all of these surveys. Some, quite frankly, appear to be probing questions so obscure that one wonders if anyone would have asked them, without grant money being involved in the process.

But not all.

The other day, I read a press release about a study probing the impact of religion on hiring practices in this new complex America in which we live. I filed it, hoping to get back to it in a week or so. Yes, guilt-file territory.

Veteran religion reporter Cathy Lynn Grossman — now with Religion News Service — went straight there, with sobering effect. The bottom line: Americans claim to respect religious faith, but there is evidence that they are getting nervous about that. This is especially true when it comes to religions — think Islam — that they think might be bad for business.

Thus, the headline: “Got religion on campus? Leave it off your resume.” Key material here:

Two new sociology studies find new graduates who included a religious mention on a resume were much less likely to hear back from potential employers. The studies used fictitious resumes — with bland names that signaled no particular race or ethnicity. These were sent to employers who posted on the CareerBuilder website to fill entry-level job openings in sales, information technology and other fields suitable for first jobs out of college.

The researchers tested seven religious categories including: Roman Catholic, evangelical Christian, atheist, Jewish, Muslim, pagan, and one faith they just made up, “Wallonian,” to see what would happen compared to people who made no faith reference.

Fewer employers called back the “Wallonians,” as well as the others, reacting to “a fear of the unknown,” said University of Connecticut sociology professor Michael Wallace who led the studies.

Yes, there are regional differences, but some themes stand out. The hurdles facing Muslim job applicants are obvious and exist everywhere. But is there a rising animus against Catholics in the Northeast?

You will need to read it all. This is a case where I really wanted to know more details than could be packed into a wire-service report.

In particular, what was the verdict when it came to businesses in highly secular zip codes scanning the resumes of students with strong, fervent connections to evangelical or, in increasing numbers, Pentecostal Protestantism? My students, mostly from evangelical colleges, are always asking: Will the brand name on our diploma hurt us when we apply to work in mainstream newsrooms?

One of my former students, interviewing for a job in the heart of the Bible Belt, was greeted with a raised eyebrow in the office of a managing editor. The boss said words to this effect: You went to *_*_* College? You’re an evangelical? … Better not mention that in this newsroom.”

Back to the Grossman piece. The big themes stand out:

While the study focused on entry-level jobs for new grads, Wallace said, “the bottom line message is that it is harmful to put it on your resume and this would relate to anybody at any point in their career.

“We have kind of a schizophrenic attitude toward religion in the U.S.,” he said. “We are a fairly religious country. We acknowledge religious freedom and religious diversity but at the same time, we don’t like it when religion is brought into public places such as the workplace or schools.”

Stay tuned.

IMAGE: The flag of Wallonia. No religious icons or images available.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.