An Atheist Applying for a Job… April 5, 2011

An Atheist Applying for a Job…

One of the downsides to being a student activist is that your activism might come back to haunt you when you’re looking for a job post-college.

Reader Alyssa is concerned because she’s an atheist who wants to become a teacher and sent me this email:

I’m worried that being too open about my atheism (or even mentioning secular involvements on my resume) will jeopardize my chances of finding a permanent position, or isolate myself after I have been hired, especially since I will be a new teacher.

That’s a tough position to be in, and it’s one I found myself in a few years ago when I had to apply for teaching positions. So let me offer my suggestions in two parts: Getting hired and keeping your job.

First, I wanted to keep the attention on my skills as a math teacher. That meant purging all the mentions of atheism from my resume. You never know what other people will think and you don’t want someone to throw your application away because they disagree with your beliefs.

So here’s what I did with my resume:

I removed any mention of the atheist group I led for two years (and helped create). I removed mentions of the scholarships I won because of my activism. I removed references to atheist groups I had interned with or served as a board member. When it came to I Sold My Soul on eBay, I just vaguely referred to the fact that I wrote a book published by a division of Random House, because I thought that sounded cool without giving away the religion aspect of it.

It was frustrating because my resume was basically cut in half. The most interesting things about me were gone. I knew that if I had volunteered with my church, or gone on a mission trip, or helped lead a national Christian organization, those things would’ve helped me secure the job. Instead, I had to play it safe. But I had a few other things I was involved with in college that I could fall back on. I volunteered in a professor’s lab, I was a member of my school’s College Bowl (trivia) team, I tutored students, I had a part-time job, etc.

It helped that I had a strong background in math and a lot of prior teaching experience (I had worked for a test-prep company for years). I think I answered the barrage of interview questions pretty well. And, hopefully, my personality came through in discussions with the math chair and the principal. (I’m sure it didn’t hurt that they were looking for a lot of new teachers that year… or that I’m Indian.)

Incidentally, the topic of religion never came up in the interviews — as it shouldn’t have. They did, however, ask about my book and I just told them it was about how I had never gone to a Christian church in the past, but I was curious, and I ended up visiting a number of churches across the country and writing about it. Which is all true. The principal thought that was an interesting premise. And then we moved on to other topics of discussion.

So will Alyssa’s atheism hurt her in getting a teaching job? Not necessarily, but I would still leave that issue off the table. Focus on other things in the resume and keep the atheism off your profile.

What happens after Alyssa gets a teaching job?

Then the hard part is over in regards to the atheism. Keep your beliefs separate from your teaching, and everything should be ok. I can’t really keep this website a secret, so I don’t try to. But if a student asks about it, I don’t discuss it. It helps that I teach math — religion doesn’t really come up. But even if you teach science, it shouldn’t matter.

What happens if a parent complains about your atheist activism? Hopefully, you’ll have good administrators who know the right response is to say, “Why does it matter?”

I do everything in my power to make sure my atheism doesn’t get in the way of my teaching. If a student brings up the website, I shut the conversation down. If (in another subject) someone’s faith contradicted what I was teaching, I would try to make clear that I’m teaching the subject as the experts know it and I’m not here to teach someone’s religion to them.

As for my colleagues, it’s not like anyone’s spending time proselytizing to anyone else in the office. And if religion does come up during lunchtime conversation, then we discuss it respectfully. I definitely don’t feel isolated at work because of my beliefs, but I’m also not surrounded by die-hard conservatives.

Ok. Those are the first thoughts that came to my mind.

To the other teachers out there, how would you advise Alyssa?

To the non-teachers, did your atheism affect how you applied for your job? Does it now affect your life in the workplace?

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  • I don’t have an answer (still in grad school myself) but I do have a question. What about newspaper articles? I’ve worked hard to control my web presence but a few pages of a Google search in the news articles start to show up. My activism has always been of the “friendly atheist” nature, without vitriol, but I am unsure of how to respond if a prospective (or current) employer finds them and brings it up. What should I say to get/keep a job yet not deny who I am?

  • Nordog

    I’m of the mind that what was once said of the dinner table should be said of the work place: Don’t discuss sex, politics, or religion.

    Now obviously there are exceptions, such as teachers who sponser student groups, secular or otherwise.

    Also, geography is an important consideration. Applying to be a teacher in a place like Grand Saline, TX, it would likely be prudent to keep one’s atheist activism under the radar. On the other hand, 200 miles away in Austin, TX it might actually help to share such information.

    But this all misses the bigger question imo. I think everyone is better served if they seek out, to the best that they can, opportunities in which they can champion the things the matter most to them, not hide them like an embarrassing crazy aunt.

  • Ash

    Granted I don’t have a college degree nor am I in a teaching position so this comment might serve as pointless but I had an experience like this when I worked at a hotel. One of my co-workers were talking about how alone I felt in a city where I don’t know anyone while my husband is deployed and she invited me to come to her church with her. I told her I appreciate it but no thank you. I had my bouts in the past with churches thus leading me to where I am now and I can get through this deployment without church. She laughed and asked me if I was an atheist and I told her yes. She started to preach to me and I cut her off and told her that I respect what she has to say on her views and I would appreciate it if she would respect mine. I’m not going to tell her she’s wrong for what she believes and I expect the same respect. The next day when I came into work everyone treated me different. I use to get polite hello’s and how are you? and sometimes how’s your husband? but instead I got dark stares. I finally asked what I did and I got “you don’t beleive in god, that’s not right Ashley.” From that point on I got stuck with pointless errands to keep me away from guests (as if they thought I was passing my belief onto the guests)and anything I did ended up somehow being wrong and I got scolded for it.
    Now I do understand that working at a hotel is very much different than being a teacher. I would like to think that teachers would have more respect for their fellow co-workers and their beliefs. Good luck Alyssa.

  • OhThatStevie

    I work as a teacher for the Girl Scouts, but I also served as a substitute in the “real” classroom. Nowhere did I mention my atheism in getting either job, but it tends to come up, mostly from my students. In that respect, I’d agree with Hemant: don’t bring it up.

    The most frequent times religion comes up is when I ask my students how certain scientific phenomena happen. Someone (emphasize one) will suggest God did it. (These are elementary-aged kids in the South, mind you.) I typically say very diplomatically, “That’s not the answer I’m looking for, but try again.” It hasn’t ruffled feathers yet, and I’m not openly dismissive of my students. But it IS hard to keep my mouth shut 😉

    Very rarely the students will ask what I believe, and that’s when I shut the conversation down with a “That’s not relevant right now.” (which normally works) or “What does it matter?” Last year around Easter my co-worker asked the girls who celebrated Easter; pretty much all the hands went up. Not wanting to exclude anyone, I asked if anyone doesn’t celebrate Easter and raised my hand to encourage anyone else. The girls turned on me for about a second, but no one else raised a hand.

    Because I work for the Girl Scouts, the Girl Scout Promise tends to come up…including a line about “serving God and my country”. I’m not sure if it’s a written fact or not, but I heard that Scouts can replace “God” with whatever they believe. I tend to say “my community” if I do say it, but most of the time I avoid the whole thing and not do it at all 😉 Same with the Pledge; I deliberately leave out “under God”, which has gotten me a few looks, but most of the time no one cares.

    tl;dr: I’d keep it to myself if I were you and try to steer conversations away from it when possible. Be what I call a “2D” teacher: what they see is what they get…and nothing more.

  • I have to wonder if the worry that atheist activism will count against you in the professional world might be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more of us that are open about our atheism, the more accepted it will be in society. I seldom see people omit church group activities from their resumes – why should we be any different?

    If I were in Alyssa’s situation, I’d probably be afraid it would count against me too, but we’re never going to make progress if we don’t take those kinds of risks.

  • phira

    I’m not in the same exact boat; I did not participate in atheism groups throughout high school and college (in fact, I was a Hillel board member in college for a while). However, I have been in a slightly similar situation. Although I studied biology in college, I spent almost all of my extracurricular time working in groups that focused on reproductive rights, sexual assault prevention and education, and sexual health. I also studied Women’s Studies as well.

    Part of the reason I have my current job as a technician is that I was passionate about those things and didn’t hide them on my resume. I’m careful not to talk too much about sex and gender at work, mostly because I know where my coworkers stand, and I’m really the only one in my camp in that regard.

    And part of the reason I was accepted to the PhD program I’m attending this fall (YAY!) is that I was so focused on sex and gender issues. One of the professors who’s offered to have me for a rotation studies sexual dimorphism, and the admissions committee member I interviewed with was very interested in all the work I’d done with sexual violence prevention. And again, this is a biology program.

    So my advice is to feature it on your resume and emphasize the leadership/teaching abilities you’ve learned from your experiences. When you write your cover letters, leave out the atheism-specifics, but otherwise definitely emphasize the teaching experience you gained from it. And in interviews, if it comes up, make it clear that you’re not looking to argue personal beliefs with anyone, etc.

    Don’t hide who you are, especially if it’ll bolster your resume!

  • Jon

    I’m in a similar position. I’ll be graduating later this year and will be looking for a position teaching science. A simple google search on my full name brings up a number of activist blogs and articles. Keeping things off my resume is easy, it’s the concern that anyone can find it this stuff easily: school administration, parents, or students. All I can do is hope that if it comes up, I can convince them that I see no reason to bring up or debate religion in my class. It’s not the right time or place.

  • Daniel

    I only lost about 1/5 of my resume due to Atheism related jobs I took off, so it wasn’t that big of a deal.

    As an English teacher, religion comes up pretty regularly. The American Lit textbook starts off with some Native American stories and then dives straight into Puratin lit, segments of Pilgrim’s Progress, and some early sermons. European lit has all kinds of stuff from the crusades, poetry that will occasionally praise God’s creation, etc. (There is also a lot of Enlightenment Era stuff that does not, a segment of Origin of Species, and a lot of poets who sound decidedly new age-y by today’s standards)

    I tend to leave it at a “some people believe X” and always try to throw in examples from multiple religions and mention that some people don’t believe in any of the above.

    As an English teacher, I seem to be the go-to teacher for the question, “What is the difference between Christian and Catholic?”, which I get around a dozen times a year and feel like I really should answer as it’s a vocabulary question. My stock response is, “As an English teacher, I go with the traditional definition that Christian is any religion that says it follows Jesus, and that Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant are the three main subsets of that group. A religious leader might tell you that some groups or other aren’t really Christian and shouldn’t be called that, but I am not a theology teacher, I’m an English teacher, so for the purposes of defining the word, I assume everyone who called themselves Christian is so.”

    The first month or two of the year, (and in early March, when they cover evolution in science) I get a few questions about my personal religious views. I refer interested students to come by after school and ask if they are really curious. (this is the last I hear of it from 95% of them) The 5% who show up, I tell that I’ve never really had a pull towards any religion, might someday, but for all practical purposes, am not religious.

    Interestingly, the 5% who show up are almost always atheist or agnostic.

    But generally, I either keep it out entirely, or if it relates to the reading always go with a “some people believe X” and if I have information about other religions “and in a related issue, others believe Y, Z, or nothing at all”

  • Oh, and I guess I ought to answer the questions Hemant asked at the end:

    I’m not a teacher, and I’m an employee at a state university (which, as far as workplaces go, is about as secular-friendly as one can get). My co-workers know that I’m an atheist, just as I know that most of them are devout Christians and one is a devout Hindu. I suppose we’re fortunate that our differences don’t cause friction – any questions we have for one another are intended to gain understanding, not to attack or alienate.

    I wasn’t an “out” atheist when I applied for the job; I considered myself an agnostic at the time, and didn’t consider that fact to be anyone’s business.

    I realized that I really was an atheist and outed myself around the time I started reading this blog, after I’d already been working here for a year. I was already a Facebook friend of most of my co-workers, and one day I posted a note discussing how one could be moral without religion. My co-workers of course saw the note and commented on it, and took it surprisingly well.

    I know my experience is certainly not typical, and I know not every atheist out there can be “out” in the workplace without repercussions, but the respect my co-workers have shown gives me hope for the rest of society.

  • I’m in the same position: looking for a full-time teaching job. I feel like location is important to consider; there are counties I know of that I would be perfectly happy applying to with an uncensored résumé. Unfortunately, I think that my odds are better in most places if I leave that stuff out.

    I find, while I’m subbing, the times when it is most difficult to keep my mouth shut are when students make religious declarations that have nothing to do with teaching material but are discriminatory and unethical (I heard “homos are wrong” last week from a 7th grader). I think the line will be more clearly drawn when I have a job and can make sure I understand the administration’s position on what things I can address with their backup.

    I’m not too scared about interviews though, because nothing of that sort should ever come up. I’ve thought ahead of time about what to say if a question is asked that shouldn’t be, but that’s all I feel like I need to do.

    Good luck, Alyssa.

  • Lana

    I am not currently working (turns out the company I was working for was highly unethical and engaging in illegal activities that are currently under investigation), but for about 6 months I worked for a timeshare-resale company. (I didn’t know they were timeshare-resale when I was hired on; they posited themselves as a “real estate investment” company to incoming employees.)

    Anyway, during my orientation, HR kept stressing that this company was a “Christian company.” I’m embarrassed to say, this was the first thing that made me suspicious of their ethics. It seems to me that “I’m a Christian,” is meant as social shorthand for, “I’m a good person,” and is meant to be accepted at face value. As such, I naturally distrust people and corporations who make this claim, rather than waiting for me to examine their actions/ choices and determine their morality/ ethics on that basis.

    Due to this fact, I started making a lot of excuses the longer I worked there, because I was afraid my negative bias against Christianity was creating a situation where I was looking for information that confirmed my ethical concerns.

    Anyway, I was bothered by them stating they were a Christian company during the orientation, but I figured it wouldn’t impact my job, so I shrugged it off. Over the next six months, I worked in an atmosphere that:

    – Pressured employees to attend a company christmas party where prayers and scriptures were read as part of the “festivities.”

    – Had scriptures posted in cubicles.

    – Quoted scriptures in the bosses e-mail signature.

    – Let supervisors take paid time off for weekly bible study and church groups.

    Obviously, I didn’t discuss my atheism with anyone. Combined with my growing concerns regarding their illegal and fraudulent activities, I was afraid if people discovered I was atheist, they would assume I was nitpicking their company over a religious dispute.

    In the end, I brought my ethical concerns to my supervisor and was fired. That being said, I would have been fired the first week if I had just spoken up and said I was an atheist. A girl at the company had a Cthulhu bumper sticker on her car. One day as I was walking in from lunch, I heard the boss commenting on the funny “squid” sticker, and her aide explained it wasn’t a squid, it was Cthulhu. Presumably she also had to explain who/ what Cthulhu is. Long story short, the Cthulhu car and it’s owner no longer came to work after that.

  • Roxane

    Ah, for those good old days when nobody talked about sex, money, politics or religion! On the other hand, I’m old enough to remember a lot of boring conversations.

    I just wanted to give mad props to the teachers who have posted up wise, forthright and respectful answers to some of the questions they get. Like Matt Foss, I am encouraged.

  • Is it a reflection of the seriousness with which this is taken in the USA? We would not even query the publication of a résumé that included secular pursuits here in the UK. It would be illegal for any aspect of belief or reason to be considered at interview or shortlisting in any case.

    Unless you were applying for a position in a ‘Faith School’ the question would be left unasked, statements unspoken and atheism tolerated without complaint if successful.

    I know we are far from ‘there’ yet but it amazes me to hear that the problem is so frightening and life affecting for your students.

  • Maybe I’m just a deluded idealist, but unless you are applying for a teaching position at an ultraconservative religious school, I don’t see why you’d be concerned about giving them your complete resume. Again, maybe I am wrong, but to my knowledge, most atheist/secular organizations are geared towards spreading the seemingly radical ideas of rational and critical thinking, utilizing such bizarre concepts like logic and scientific method, plus many also endorse equality and human rights, versus having a mission statement like, oh, I dunno, calling for the complete and utter destruction of all organizations, believers, and documents that don’t comply to their beliefs.

    Besides, would you really want to make a career in an environment openly hostile to your core being and beliefs..?

  • Shawn

    @Matt Foss

    I seldom see people omit church group activities from their resumes

    How do you know this? This seems akin to Argument by Selective Observation.

    I’ve reviewed a few dozen resumes in my current position. I only ever recall seeing religion mentioned once (missionary work). I don’t ever recall seeing anything to do with atheism or secularism. This was in Canada, and the jobs were programming positions, so that might skew things a bit. 🙂

  • Non-Litigious Atheist

    I removed any mention of the atheist group I led for two years (and helped create). I removed mentions of the scholarships I won because of my activism. I removed references to atheist groups I had interned with or served as a board member. When it came to I Sold My Soul on eBay, I just vaguely referred to the fact that I wrote a book published by a division of Random House, because I thought that sounded cool without giving away the religion aspect of it.

    So you only advocate the Out Campaign when it’s other people’s jobs that are on the line?

    I always thought you were supposed to be either out or not out – not that you could be out when it’s a meaningless jesture, but closeted when it really counts.

    Is asking questions like this too off message?

    It seems kind of hypocritical to pressure people into outing themselves when there are times when you would prefer to stay closeted.

    I mean, if it’s OK for you to say you can closet yourself to land a job, why isn’t it OK for anyone else to say you can closet yourself after getting a job to avoid creating a hostile work environment like Ash’s? Or to avoid the ire of your religious neighbors?

    And from there you might ask why come out at all? It just doesn’t seem consistent with the Out Campaign. If these job hunting tips are right then the Out Campaign is wrong.

  • Michelle

    @Gwydion Frost. Just as often as Christians are surprised when they find out one of us is an Atheist, it can be surprising how conservative school environments really are.
    It is nice to pretend one can pick and choose, but right now we (in the U.S. especially) are losing even more ground for public sector workers making getting that work harder, not easier. I am a substitute and will continue to be because I enjoy it. I respect teachers greatly and am glad to make sure they can come back to a class that was not in total upheaval and have a reliable aide when the regular one can not be there; but I also know to listen more than I talk, especially about religion. Even so, it has not escaped their attention that I skip the pledge and moment of silence. It is an unfortunate reality, that in order to make a career anywhere in the teaching field you have to start where you can and work your way up in years and education. I wish your vision was closer to the reality, until then, we will have to continue with the small but sure steps.

  • I would in no way consider myself an activist or even a very “out” atheist. But, when I was interviewing for my current job, my now boss pulled me aside and said “I’m not sure how to ask this or bring it up…” which I thought was going to be the outdated “is you husband joining you” question. He then mentioned that he had Google searched me and found my profile on Atheist Nexus. I thought I had locked my online life tight, but Ning aggregates all your profiles under one email, and when he found my (appropriate, important and active) profile on a museum professionals site, he also found the Atheist Nexus one.

    I was lucky, as the major question he had was about the site, as he is also an atheist. (WHEW) BUt, I was terrified after it happened. And then angry, because I hire a LOT of people, and at least half feel free to share their involvement with synagogues, Knights of Columbus, their experience as a church school teacher, or mission work. I don’t make decisions based on that, but it angers me that showing a positive religious association is acceptable, but showing activism in what is perceived as an anti-religious organization is not.

    It sucks, but I wouldn’t draw attention to it. At this point in my career, I’d be comfortable putting atheist activism (should I do any) on my resume. I’m also adding my time as a gay rights lobbyist and activist. But as a young professional in this economy? Not a chance.

    Closets suck, but I’ve got bills and a family, and I wouldn’t risk it.

  • Kim A

    @non litigious atheist – I feel that many times, it’s much more important to have a job than to uphold your ethics (i.e. being open about atheism). I work for my town’s economic development commission, because I need the money to pay for gas. I disagree with pretty much everything the EDC does, but I need the money more than the ethics. The same thing goes for people who work at Christian companies, that are atheists – they need the money and can’t afford to uphold their ethics for it, unfortunately.

  • cat

    It is a personal judgment call, but, I am of the mind that any place that would not accept me knowing what I am is not a place where I would want to be. Granted, issues of gender, sexuality, politics, and disability come to the forefront far more often (go to an interview walking with a visible limp as a genderqueer who gets read as a hard butch-watch the fun begin!), but I know I am not suddenly going to be conforming and silent after I am in either. Yes, I am that person who made my law school admissions essay all about me being a queer, included SDS in the list of student orgs I was in, and had a lesbian womens studies professor write one of my recommendations (I was a philosophy major 😉 ). But I am in law school, so I suppose it worked out well enough.

  • Joad

    I strongly suggest Alyssa keep her Atheism to herself, at least initially. Where I’m now is not bad, the majority of people know I’m an Atheist and although they may discuss it, mainly because it is so alien to them, for the most part the conversation is courteous. A previous company was significantly different. I took a senior position on a large project and the first week I was there, the spouse of the owner asked me during the work day what religion I was and what Church I attended. When I explained that I did not attend Church and was an Atheist, she physically backed away and stated “oh, but you seem so nice and act like you have morales.” Things did not improve. I found another position four months later. This position and the project were high-profile in the community I live in and it still leads to awkward questions as to why I would leave. If I were to do it over again, I doubt I would be so honest. It’s not right and it’s not fair but it is life in a red state.

  • walkamungus

    Last year, we had to pull an undergraduate’s senior thesis (on images of female eroticism in Elizabethan poetry, or something like that) from an online repository, because she was going on the job market as a middle-school teacher and was concerned how the topic might look to potential employers if someone Googled her.

    You’d hope, of course, that any hiring body would look at your academic credentials, your enthusiasm, your skills acquired through extracurricular work, your gushing recommendations, and your willingness to accept a lousy salary (depending on where you’re interviewing), and not worry about the other stuff, like your atheism or an interest in Elizabethan poetry. And a lot of employers would not, in fact, care one whit.

    For teaching jobs, though, especially K-8, I think it’s better to err on the side of caution. Because you’re not working with the hiring body: You’re working with people’s *kids*. And people get really weird about “protecting” their kids. And the hiring body does not want to piss off the kids’ parents.

    Bear in mind that it is illegal for potential employers to ask about your religion, sexual orientation, health, etc. Be prepared with a neutral, polite but firm response in case a question like that does get asked.

  • anon

    “I mean, if it’s OK for you to say you can closet yourself to land a job, why isn’t it OK for anyone else to say you can closet yourself after getting a job to avoid creating a hostile work environment like Ash’s? Or to avoid the ire of your religious neighbors?”

    From the impression I get from this site (or, at least, from Ask Richard specifically) – yes, it IS ok to do all those things.

    “And from there you might ask why come out at all? ”

    Two reasons – one, because it helps you be honest, and two because it helps the atheist movement as a whole if more of us are out.

    “It just doesn’t seem consistent with the Out Campaign. If these job hunting tips are right then the Out Campaign is wrong.”

    Both are right. One is saying that it may be disadvantageous to you to out yourself as an atheist. The other is saying that you should be open about your atheism. Neither is trying to make blanket statements about how being Out or Not is ALWAYS the right decision.

    It would be nice if we were all in situations where we can afford to out ourselves, consequences be damned. We’re not, though.

  • Erp

    Because I work for the Girl Scouts, the Girl Scout Promise tends to come up…including a line about “serving God and my country”. I’m not sure if it’s a written fact or not, but I heard that Scouts can replace “God” with whatever they believe. I tend to say “my community” if I do say it, but most of the time I avoid the whole thing and not do it at all 😉 Same with the Pledge; I deliberately leave out “under God”, which has gotten me a few looks, but most of the time no one cares

    It is official that a Girl Scout (in the US) can substitute a word they feel more appropriate for ‘God’ to describe their ‘spiritual’ views. This dates from 1993 and has gotten them tarred by conservative religious folk as too liberal. One might have an interesting discussion on what words could be substituted (spiritual being delightfully vague in meaning). (The wikipedia article on Girl Scouts of the USA has some references to the actual approval permitting this.)

  • John Small Berries

    I’m not a teacher, but the last time I was on the job market, I was faced with the prospect of “sanitizing” my personal website or leaving it as is; ultimately, I decided that the sort of company that would reject my application based on what they saw on my website – including my stance on religion – was not the sort of company I wanted to be employed by.

    When I was given a job interview shortly thereafter, my prospective boss said he’d seen my website… and that it had influenced his decision to offer me the position. While he didn’t mention anything specific, a check of my referrer logs told me that he had looked at some of the atheism-related pages, among other things.

    He turned out to be one of the best bosses I’ve ever had – he treated his team like people instead of corporate assets – so I certainly don’t regret the decision.

  • Welcome to my world! Over I’m not sure of the exact figures but somewhere between 50 and 70% of second level schools in Ireland are Religious schools (the majority of which are Catholic) and are all state funded. The management of these schools are legally entitled to discriminate on the grounds of religion and terminate an employees contract if their lifestyle is in conflict with the religious ethos of the school. Which occurred in the case of Eileen Flynn who was fired on the basis that she was living with a separated man and was having his son. While this occurred in 1982, a report by Marguerite Bolger suggests that firing someone on these grounds still remains legal to this day.

  • M1n

    I’m a professor at a local university, and I didn’t answer anything I wasn’t asked.
    They didn’t ask me about my religion nor anything related since it’s illegal here (although I’ve known some companies that still ask).
    My husband and I are both atheist and professors and never had any kind of issue with the administration because of it.
    However, I have had some problems with my students.
    At first I didn’t know how to draw a line between my profession and my beliefs. So at the beginning by the end of the semester when I gave the final results, a lot of students usually say “Thank you, god bless you” and my answer was always the same “No problem and no thank you” which confused them and the ones who were brave enough to ask, I ended up in a discussion whether god existed or not.
    Now I just limit myself to respond “No problem” and cut it off right away. I just tend to ignore the god stuff in every single conversation (including my mother’s). I take them as their own way to express gratitude or something…
    I don’t feel the need to explain them why they’re wrong and just accept the fact that everyone is in entitled to believe whatever they want to believe, as long as they don’t interfere with my own decisions (i.e. “never get an abortion because you’ll go to hell”).

  • Annie

    This is such a tricky call. I also find it ironic that rational thinkers have to hide their own thoughts and beliefs (or non-beliefs) when people talk freely about believing in an all-powerful being that lives in the sky.

    I’m a K-5 science teacher, and work at a private school (no religious affiliation). I have never hid my atheism, but I also don’t bring it up. I didn’t have any atheist-related experience to considering hiding on my resume, but potential employers were always creeped out by my activity and volunteer positions for the local herpetological society. After the second potential employer thought it was a group for people with herpes, I considered omitting it, but then realized that was just plain silly.

    You never know what about you will turn a potential employer off, and you also don’t know what will pique their interest in you as an employee. If it were me, I would keep any activities that demonstrate my expertise for the position I’m applying for. If some of those activities happened to be for an atheist organization, I wouldn’t hide it.

  • The Other Tom


    I advise you to strongly consider that you should be looking for work in a part of the country that would be more supportive of an atheist in general – someplace better educated, quite possibly a blue state. If you’re looking for your first job in your profession, why not position yourself to be in a place where you’ll be more accepted in general and be happier because you’ll be able to be a more welcome part of the community?

    Best wishes for your new career.

  • If I got a resumé here (UK) with overt Christian tendencies, and if it were a good candidate, I would certainly give it a long hard think as to whether I could have someone who accepted fairy stories be someone I placed my trust in.

    And would Alyssa be happy in a place where these things were the norm?

    You are a funny country.

  • beckster

    I think it is a good general rule to leave political and religious groups/activities off of your resume unless you are applying to a job that specifically would want to see those things. You never know what opinions the person reading your resume has on issues so it is best to stick with just the things that are specific to the job.

  • JustAGuy

    Currently hiring for a position in a firm at a fortune 500 company. We would never ask about religion. We would never use religion to make a hiring decision. Period. End of discussion. I believe one would be terminated if it came out that religion played a role in the hiring decision.

    I can also say that of the nearly 200 applications we got for the role, I saw no mention of any religious orientation – one way or another.

  • @Non-Litigious Atheist — I don’t think it’s hypocritical to be “out” in my personal life but keep it to myself at work (where those beliefs shouldn’t matter). I absolutely encourage people to be out to their friends and family, but I completely understand why someone wouldn’t want that to be a hirer’s first impression of them.

    You can always try to change the stereotype after you’re hired, but you don’t want to be punished for their ignorance before they get a chance to know you.

    For what it’s worth, my colleagues and bosses are aware of my atheism. But I don’t regret not wearing it on my sleeve when I was trying to get a job.

  • Daniel

    Were the economy better and teachers hadn’t become some sort of scapegoat for all the ills of the education system, I’d be far more likely to be open with my views.

    At the end of the day, the school board is who hires me, and as we have seen almost every time science text books are up for renewal, school boards are often skewed Christian.

    The school district I worked for in ’99 had voted to ban Harry Potter books in Middle School. Clearly, I was not about to mention atheism to a school board that would do that.

  • Jeff Asselin

    Or she could move to Canada, which is a more secular country and where being an atheist is more the norm than the exception, and she wouldn’t have to hide her true self so she could have a job.

  • Angry Vince

    Having worked for a Christian company (didn’t know it at the time I accepted the role), I’ve been there, done that and got the scars.
    Morning meetings were mandatory and turned out to be prayer sessions. I attended the first two and then refused to go. my boss advised that this was a requirement of my contract and I pointed out that 1. I had been misled about the nature of the meetings and 2. nothing in my contract signed away my civil rights.

    That particular matter was left behind, but I still had to put up with all sorts of nonsense, arguments and conversation
    -was told by given a book from a manager on how the fall of every civilization was due to homosexuality.
    -was told by another manager that albinos go to hell because they are mutants and therefore have no soul.
    -was presented a prayer book as a gift and so on.

    I was the only manager in the entire company who was an atheist.
    But, I was there for two and half years because I was good at my job, NZ law prevents discrimination on religious (or just about any other grounds) and also because I am stubborn son a bitch.
    And as atheists, we all need to be stubborns sons of bitches: we don’t have a pope or a god, there is just us.

  • @Shawn:

    How do you know this? This seems akin to Argument by Selective Observation.

    Touché. Actually, it’s more like Argument from Insufficient Sample Size. I’ve only seen a handful of other people’s resumes (and mostly in the context of helping friends/colleagues edit them, not reviewing them as a hiring supervisor), so I guess I can’t speak for the general population. Though how would we know that someone is omitting an activity without previously knowing they had participated in said activity?

  • Chelsea

    I was just put in this position myself, but for a volunteer job. I have applied for a volunteer position at my University’s sexual assault centre. On the application, it asked the usual questions of work and volunteer experiences, references, why do you want to volunteer for us, etc. At the bottom was a question, “Please list any clubs or organizations you are a part of.” I hesitated- the only club I’m currently in is my campus atheist group, which is primarily a social group- so is it even relevant at all? But the question was worded so black and white- if you’re part of any groups, list them. So, I ended up putting it down. I did get e-mailed to come in for an interview, and the interview is tomorrow. Will it come up? We shall see.

    The website of the SAC specified that you need to be open to helping people of all cultures, beliefs, genders, and orientations and equally support all options of abortion, adoption, and parenting. If anything, I think atheism helps in that regard. So as long as I show I’m accepting of all different people and their beliefs, I think I’ll be ok.

  • Charon

    I worked for a while as an adjunct professor at a Catholic college. I was sitting in my office one day reading The God Delusion when the department chair walked in… I must have looked a little guilty, because he said, “It’s okay, anyone in this department would be likely to read that.”

    So you may not be as alone as you think. Even in a place where there’s a crucifix on the wall of the classroom you teach in…

  • Charon

    Although I suppose I should add that this Catholic college 1) was a good school that did not require any religious test or behavior for its faculty, and 2) was located in a sizable, liberal, coastal city. And I was in a physical sciences department.


  • Alex

    I’d say don’t mention it on a resume and don’t bring it up in the interview unless called for: If they don’t care, then you shouldn’t either. As far as googling goes, if you have to publish something, you don’t necessarily have to use your full name, and when required, use a pen name: It’s a fairly common practice. In other words, stating “no, I don’t believe in a god” if someone inquires is being honest; shouting “Hey, look at me, I’m an atheist!” on the other hand, is just being a dick.

    Somehow, I am a pretty open atheist (without the “dick” part — well, hopefully), and manage to live in a conservative town in a red state and work in a church for several years now, without much of a problem. In my experience, people tend to mind their own damn business even when somewhat preachy.

    P.S.: Besides, I second above comments regarding “you might not be alone”. Some of our congregation members are definitely in the “questioning” category at least, and I wouldn’t call it a very liberal church, either. At least not the minister.

  • Alex

    Angry Vince:

    I’m afraid there’s always the magical phrases “I’m sorry, but we’ve found a better candidate” and “you’re just not a team player,” among other things. Prove that your dismissal would be religious discrimination, right.

    The best response I see in that situation is to look for a normal place to work, sans the bullshit.

  • Catherine

    Sys Admin here, and everyone in the IT team I work in is an atheist. We’re about to get a new manager, so we’ll need to tune down the off-hand blaspheming til we know how he feels about it. I remember when we found out two years ago that everyone was an atheist, there was a bit of religious uproar in my city at the time, and someone one day sighed “why does it matter, it’s not like god even exists!”. We all glanced around to see how everyone else reacted to this statement – “damn right” was the first response, and it was followed by a chorus of agreement. Then again, we’re Australian, and in general I think of most Aussies as agnostic until proven otherwise.

  • @Sarah, I was similarly shocked to find my Atheist Nexus page popping up prominently in google searches when beginning a recent job search. Not only had I opted for the most private settings, but had assumed that an atheist site run by a former southern minister would be rather sensitive to the fact that not everybody can be open about their atheism.

    I went through all of their channels to make them aware of this and ask how to fix it, and separately emailed their founder as well, and never got a response.

    You can close out your Atheist Nexus profile, but then it will still show up on google with your name, only the link will go to a blank page. But once you’ve removed your profile, you can then make a request for google to remove the page from their searches on the grounds that “The page has changed and I want the outdated information removed”. I did this, and it disappeared a month or two later.

    In light of all this, I’d sadly have to recommend not using Atheist Nexus, or at least not using your real and full name there if you do use it, as it’s a difficult thing to undo.

  • Matt H.

    I have no past anecdotes to share, but I’d be honest about my atheism. I’d highlight atheist-related activities on my resume if they demonstrated leadership or other qualities/skills I wanted to highlight. Who knows, it might help get you hired. Any place that wouldn’t hire me based on such religious affiliations would not be a place I’d be able to stand for long.

  • I’d rather work in a place that would hire me, not 1/2 of me, but then…

    …jobs are hard to come by right now!

  • I’m not sure but I think that US degrees count towards qualifications in some European countries. Get qualified and leave the United Theocracy of America to teach abroad. We might wonder why you had all these secular and atheist activities when hardly anyone cares about religion but the point is that you can organise and you worked hard.

    We could do with more or better teachers in the UK. Join us. You’d have to learn English though.

  • emily

    I actually work at a faith-based organization, and I wonder if I would have been hired if they had known during the interview process that I was atheist. Now, I am completely open about my lack of religion and no one seems to mind (though they think it’s amusing that I’m working so hard for little heavenly return). I never even considered though, that my religion (lack of) would be an issue.

    In terms of teaching, I think it can be beneficial to not take pains to obscure your religious background. For some kids, you may be the only example of atheism they come across. My friend teaches in East LA and has answered direct questions about the issue from his very catholic, Mexican-American and immigrant students- to very interesting returns!

  • Anonymous

    My thoughts are similar to hoverfrog’s. She should leave the US and come to teach in the UK.

  • Brit

    I’m still not a teacher (due to the lack of openings), I debated with myself about what I wanted to have on my resume. I figured that if I was worried about putting College Democrats on my resume, I should also be worried about putting anything related to atheism on it.

    I just stuck to things that focused on me as a teacher.

    Just don’t try to get a job in a Christian school if you intend on telling the truth. I tried getting a job at one (because my sister worked there and the administrators were already familiar with me), but when the question, “Do you follow the teachings of your church?” came up, I answered honestly (“I don’t belong to a church, but the positive morals I was taught I still follow”), and that cost me the job.

  • I am not working in a teaching job, and not actively atheist. However, in my job it became a topic (I read your site during a break at work). I told people who asked about it that I indeed have no idea whether there is anything out there and thus lack belief – that was basically it (OTOH, these coworkers are all EUropeans and thus with a lower probability fundies).

  • Verity Khat

    Hoverfrog, if all of us left the US for friendlier climes, then we’d be abandoning those who might eventually come to a rational conclusion to the fundies, and that just ain’t cool. The battle for America isn’t lost just yet, so I feel that we should stay and fight for a better tomorrow.

  • As author of a book for activists (The Lifelong Activist), and also of a free ebook on job searching ( I think it’s a mistake to focus so much on what you perceive to be one’s “deficits” in the hiring process. Yes, be strategic about what you present to potential hirers, but mostly focus on pitching yourself as the strongest possible candidate for the job. Some of this comes down to having the right experience (including volunteer) and references, and some of it to “framing.” Most people don’t take these steps – they just cough up their qualifications like a hairball (sorry!) and expect employers to embrace them. Most employers are not ideological, and those who are you probably don’t work for anyway. I agree that schools could be more ideological, but I think it could be a serious strategic mistake to assume that one’s atheist or other activism could be more of a problem than it actually is.

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