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.

  • dpfavand

    The “brand name” question is something I’ve wondered about myself, especially as it doesn’t really represent my affiliations/leanings any more.

    But as for the news piece, here’s an interesting bit by a scholar (Russell McCutcheon, University of Alabama) who doesn’t find the underlying report all that surprising, or terribly insightful.

  • derbradster

    I’m relieved to see things like the World Journalism Institute out there to prepare Christians for jobs in the otherwise hostile/secular media.

  • Darren Blair

    I’ll have to go back and find the specific article that I read, but if the article I read is accurate then there is reason to question the legitimacy of these results.

    The test involved people claiming to be the head of the campus’ “Student _____ Association”.

    The test involved them putting different religious groups into the blank.

    …except for when they wanted a control, at which they deleted the blank and just put “Student Association”.

    Don’t know about anyone else, but “Campus Student Association President” sounds really, really prominent, as if it’s just shy of “student body president” or something similar. In contrast, by stating “Student _____ Association President”, then people are saying that they were in charge of obviously smaller groups.

    • RedMeg1990

      ^^^This. The researchers could have subbed in some other non-religious student group to be head of for a more accurate control, I would think. You’d have to, of course, try to pick a group that doesn’t carry a whole host of it’s own associations (chess, drama, RPG, etc.) but I’d think you could come up with a hiking club or something comparable that would fill the bil.

      • Darren Blair

        How about, say, “Student Entertainment Association” or “Student Activity Association”?

  • Sabio Lantz

    I think the issue is the power of demographic probabilities.

    I went to a well-known Evangelical College and I know that having it on my resume has helped me get a job. However, when my bigoted Christian employers discovered I was no longer a Christian, I had job problems.

    I also was on the team who decided on who got into our graduate program in medicine (where I was a professor). I quickly learned over the years that key elements on resumes actually did help me predict not only grades but how students will fit in and work with other students.

    Sorry, demographics do give us reliable probabilities (no certainty) about personality types and behavior tendencies. And when you got lots of data, the probability improves.

    It doesn’t matter if it is hobbies (think Medieval reenactment, Star Trek conventions, Knitting, Rock Climbing or Fly Fishing), politics (think Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Marxists, Constitutionalist) or sex (LGBT activist, abortion clinic volunteer) or other demographics.

    Your religion — especially if you loudly embrace it — DOES give us a big help to predict other traits about you as relate to our company or school or marriage.

  • n_coast

    No journalism in my perspective, but I had decades of experience as an engineer depending on my resume to land temporary employment. My objective was to have the shortest resume that would cover my professional experience and qualifications. There was never any room for anything else.

    I think this was what the engineering managers reading my resume would be looking for. It comes down to presenting yourself to the person doing the hiring.

    Actually that flag could have been a banner for my Cursillo.