Through a Transgender Lens: 5 Tips for the Higher Education Job Search

Kaeden Thompson

May 1, 2018

There are many aspects of the job search that can be quite stressful. Deciding how to best present one’s self in resumes, cover letters, over the phone, and in person can be particularly trying for folks who identify as transgender. Introducing yourself to a myriad of new people in short, quick interactions can be anxiety inducing. It is unsurprising that someone may be concerned about what others may think of them or how their presentation is being read. A transperson may worry about being outed by a reference or having a previously used or legal name revealed during their interview process. As a transmasculine identifying person, I have struggled with many of these concerns and while everyone should take the approach most comfortable to them, I have explored a few of these issues below. These suggestions were written from my perspective as a transmasculine person however, I invite everyone to contemplate how these measures may apply to you or your peers.

  • Wear what you’re comfortable with

Once you have secured an in-person interview, there may be a level of unease around how to dress. In the LGBTQ community, clothing and personal accessories are an integral part of self-expression and often one of the first ways that some folks are able to explore with gender presentation. There is no need to “tone down” your style per say but aim to put your best self out there. It may seem overly simple to state, but wear something that you are comfortable in! This means items that you feel represent your identity, clothing that you feel confident in, and materials that are comfortable on your skin and climate sensitive. Additionally, as much as possible, wear clothes that are the right size for you and are appropriate for the setting. This does not mean that you need to wear a suit and tie if you are masculine identifying, or a dress if you are femme identifying, or some other “standard” if you identify otherwise. However, it may mean wearing closed toed shoes if you are interviewing in a laboratory setting. 

  • Talk to your references beforehand about names and pronouns

It is always a good idea to communicate with your references before potential employers reach out to them. Ideally, your references are people you feel comfortable discussing your name and pronouns with. If you have not had the opportunity or resources to change your legal name, then having your references use your name as opposed to your legal name can be helpful. This could enforce to your potential employer that this is the name that you use. Additionally, since your pronouns most likely do not appear on your resume or cover letter, having your reference use your correct pronouns will be a signal to your potential employer as well.

  • Not everywhere is liberal/forward thinking

Although higher education is generally a more progressive field, there certainly are institutions that do not have accepting policies. Never assume that a college or university will be completely welcoming of your identity. Take the time to research the institution and learn about what support systems are available for LGBTQ+ identifying people. Often how much a school supports its LGBTQ+ students will give an indication as to how staff are received as well. Additionally, even if the school administration is accepting, the student culture may not be. This is not to say that you should approach every opportunity with your guard up but do your homework and make sure you will be comfortable in the campus environment. 

  • Ask Questions

Be sure to ask lots of questions during your interview and negotiation process! Once the job has chosen you, it is important to know that the job is the right fit for you as well. If it is important to you that your colleagues are accepting of your identity, inquire if there have been LGBTQ+ employees in the past. Find opportunities to meet with others who will be working in the office so that you can gauge how comfortable you are with them. Consider having a conversation with your potential supervisor about what name will be reflected on your email address and in the directory and if you have any control over this. If the office or institution has not had experience with LGBTQ+ employees, they may not have official policies in place. In this situation you may want to ask if there are policies for supporting transgender students as this may have some reflection on how the institution would treat you as an employee. 

  • Advocate for and take care of yourself

In higher education, we often encourage our students to advocate for themselves and in this situation, we need to take our own advice. Interviewing can at times feel like an invasive process and while you should never feel pressure to reveal more than you are comfortable with, it is vital that you are honest with your potential employer so that you can have your needs met. It can be quite intimidating to correct an interviewer if they misgender you, however it is crucial that they get to know YOU and not who they assume you to be. This can be a taxing process so please take time to care for yourself and be around folks who understand and affirm your identity. 

I personally do not want to work somewhere where I cannot bring my whole-self to work. As an educator, I am constantly trying to teach my students to be their most authentic selves and encourage them to stand up for themselves. Because of this, I will never work somewhere where I cannot be out at work and be open about my identity. Please note that this list was compiled with this worldview in mind. I am aware that there are many folks who are unable or reluctant to be open about their identity and I completely affirm that choice. 

As you continue (or start) your job search, remember to keep yourself at the center of the process. Seek out positions that offer you the opportunity to grow and go after jobs that value your identity. 

Kaeden Thompson is a graduate student pursuing an Ed.M. in Higher Education at Boston University. They enjoy cycling, baking, and photography. Follow Kaeden on Instagram at @kaedenthompson.

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