Few people find the job search to be easy, but for trans or gender-nonconforming job seekers, the task has an extra layer of difficulty.
You may already be familiar with some of the grim metrics around employment for trans people. According to a survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Inequality, 27% of respondents lost a job, were denied a promotion, or experienced some other form of mistreatment at work because of their gender identity status. More than three-quarters of them took steps to avoid mistreatment in the workplace altogether.
In addition to facing a high unemployment rate, interviewing can be a uniquely frustrating experience—how can you know if you didn’t land a job because there was a better candidate, or if discrimination occurred?
Speaking to The Balance Careers, Emily (Femily) Howe, a corporate gender strategist and expert on trans/nonbinary workplace issues, says that people who are nonbinary or visibly transgender “have to take more into consideration when interviewing and working.”
That includes determining a company’s inclusivity practices, dealing with name changes, and potentially inappropriate questions. Here are helpful tips for managing a job search if you are trans or gender-nonconforming.
Seek Trans-Friendly Companies
Whether or not you plan to be out at work, your day-to-day will be more comfortable in a place where you can count on working alongside people who are not prejudiced, and for a company that won’t stand for transphobic statements and behavior.
“I don’t want to be in a workplace where I’d have to conceal my gender history. I want to be in a workplace that is not only aware that trans people exist but is also welcoming and inclusive,” says S.E. Smith, a California-based journalist and editor who has been out for 15 years.
But how can you know a company’s values? Smith recommends starting with a thorough examination of its website, including checking for a diversity and inclusion statement. Career and life coach Kyle Elliott, meanwhile, suggests reviewing the company’s social media as well to see whether and how LGBTQ issues are discussed.
The Human Rights Commission’s Corporate Equality Index is a good place to get a sense of the company’s stance on LGBTQ equality, Elliott notes. Accordingly, Smith recommends reaching out to the people you know who work at a company—or know someone who does—to get a sense of the company’s inclusivity.
Try Job Fairs and Recruiters
Look for job fairs explicitly organized for transgender job seekers—searching for them online reveals options in Los Angeles, Tucson, Sacramento, Charlotte, Philadelphia, and many other cities across the country.
Search Google for the phrase “trans job fair” and your city or state to turn up nearby options.
Employers that attend this type of job fair are taking active steps that are far more meaningful than a statement on the company website—forging a path toward diversity and inclusion.
Also, try reaching out to recruiters who can give you insight into the company, says Ted Keyport, CSP, a senior recruiter who works with manufacturing candidates in Minneapolis. Reassurance about the company can help you feel at ease in the interview process.
Consider Whether You Want to Disclose
As you put in job applications, write cover letters and prepare for phone interviews while considering whether you want to share that you are trans.
“Some job seekers choose to come out on their application form while others prefer to wait until during the interview process or once they begin working at a company,” says Elliott. “Of course, if and when you come out is your choice and your choice alone.”
Depending on the employer and your comfort level, you may want to add your pronouns to your resume, cover letter, or email signature. Above all, Elliott recommends keeping safety—physical, emotional, financial, and career—in mind when making this decision.
Remember: You do not have to disclose if you would prefer not to do so.
Sometimes, the decision to come out can be strategic. For instance, as a journalist, Smith might note being trans while interviewing at a media outlet to highlight areas where the publication’s coverage could be improved.
Keyport suggests that if you do disclose during an interview, it can give you the opportunity to directly ask questions such as, “Are there any other trans employees at the company?” or “How do you think the team would react to working with a trans person?”
Ace the Interview
Going into the interview knowing the company is progressive can help ease nerves. Aside from advanced knowledge of the company, here are some other tips to help you interview successfully:
Plan Your Outfit
As long as you wear a professional, clean, and well put together outfit to your interview, you can opt for whatever clothing, including gender-neutral, you’ll feel most comfortable in.
Remind yourself that you are qualified for this position and would excel at the role—confidence during an interview is essential. You’ll perform better if you’re feeling comfortable and confident.
It’s possible that you’ll be asked awkward or inappropriate questions during your interview—about your former name, your transition status, and so on. You can respond politely if so, by noting that, “XX won’t have a bearing in my performance in the role.” Or, you can respond in a simple, factual way, e.g., “Yes, you’re right that some of my previous employment was under a different name. In 2016, I changed my name.”
Learn About Company Culture
Throughout the interview, keep in mind that it’s a two-way street. A potential employer is learning about you—but you’re also getting to know your potential manager, colleagues, and the company. Interviews are a window into the company culture. Be sure to ask interviewers about the company diversity and inclusion program, since the way it’s discussed can be revealing.
Prep Your References
The best advice for any candidate is to reach out—in advance—to references before sharing their contact information with a prospective employer. This allows you to confirm that the person is available and happy to serve as a reference. It also gives you an opportunity to share some details about the job post, refresh references’ memories about you if it’s been a while, and even suggest some key points you’d like emphasized in a refresh letter or conversation.
For trans people, this is a particularly important step: “Be sure to talk to your references and notify them of the name and pronouns that potential employers will be using,” recommends Elliott. “You do not want any surprises.”
Informing references about changes will help them provide a letter that does not use an incorrect name or misgender you.
Flag Name Changes If Necessary
If you have some work that’s available under a name that you no longer use, and it’s something you want to highlight in the interview, you might want to flag your name change during the interview. You can keep it simple, saying something like, “Since I changed my name in 2019, you’ll find that some of my work is listed under my previous name, First Name Last Name.” If you want, you can include a name change on your resume as well, although that’s not necessary if you would prefer not to disclose it.
Name changes can cause background check confusion, notes Smith. If the background check is outsourced, you can avoid disclosing to the employer and just share details with the company. If it’s in-house, you can tell human resources and request that the name change be kept confidential.
If Doubtful, Hold Off on Accepting an Offer
Pay attention to your instincts. Being unemployed is a bad situation, but so too is being employed at a discriminatory company.
“There can be a temptation to jump for the first job that presents itself,” says Smith—particularly for recent grads or entry-level workers. “But if you’re feeling misgivings, particularly around trans inclusivity, don’t take it. It’s not worth it.”
Not only can it lead to a poor work environment, but it can also lead to problems down the line if you have to use a transphobic former employer as a reference.