Queer Careers: How to Get a Job and Be Your Whole Self at Work in 2021
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Searching for a job and navigating the workplace is challenging for everyone. LGBTIQ+ job seekers, however, have to deal with a whole other layer of issues and struggles — from biases in the screening and interview processes to day-to-day questions surrounding the disclosure of their identity. Career coaches who understand queer job seekers’ struggles can identify blind spots and help queer applicants find the jobs and success they deserve. Amber’s work is filling an obvious void in hiring and recruitment in regards to queer careers.
We think a lot at Lensa about how to help job seekers find the most diverse and inclusive companies for achieving their career goals. Naturally, we were eager to get Amber’s insights into what these metrics mean and how they can be beacons to attract and retain talent.
Amber opened our eyes and inspired us with some fantastic examples of how to be queer and fearless in one’s life and work.
Q&A With Amber Crow
In this Lensa Q&A session, Amber Crow of The Queer Career Blog and Transperfect shares about her journey as a queer career coach and how she helps job seekers succeed in finding jobs they love where they can be their whole selves. Other highlights: measuring companies for their diversity & inclusion, tips for navigating queer identity in the job application process and workplace, and being unapologetically yourself.
Who is Amber Crow?
Amber Crow is a career coach and the founder of The Queer Career Blog. The blog is a platform for LGBTIQ+ professionals who need help navigating the workforce while not compromising their identity and maintaining their values. If you are queer and job searching, Amber’s blog and services are there to help you find your way.
Lensa: Welcome to Lensa Q&A, Amber. How did you become a career coach?
Amber Crow: The Queer Career Blog was a project that I took on when I was at a crossroads in my own career. I needed a way to process how awful the job search had been and how awful it continued to be for candidates, especially marginalized candidates. As a career woman, that’s a part of my identity. And anywhere I work, I have to consider “Am I going to be safe or not?” That’s another added layer to the job search. So I was working a job that I didn’t love, doing career advising for executives pushing them to purchase career coaching or resume services from other career coaches.
I thought to myself, I have all this knowledge. I have been a career adviser for several years and I may not be certified, but I can at least help my friends and help them get better jobs. And I can do it in a way that’s accessible and kind and has this career lens. That’s always been my mission statement in being a career coach.
I’ve been job searching and I know how it feels to come out at work and have those career activities on my resume. And I have worked at places that didn’t accept me or my identity. So I launched the Queer Career Blog and immediately had six or seven clients reach out to me and a thousand hits on the blog in the first week and started to put together that this is really necessary stuff. Many people are responding to it and it’s needed.
To this day, the business model is that I will do a resumé or LinkedIn 30-minute critique for free for any job searchers. And if they want or need other services, then I provide them at a deeply discounted sliding scale rate compared to larger companies where they don’t necessarily have that same approach or that queer lens. I offer things like resume rewrites, formatting, LinkedIn revisions and search engine optimization – hours of extensive in-depth coaching as opposed to just a 30-minute quick session where we really dig into your journey and process the experience that you’ve had so far.
The blog itself is accessible to anyone for free. It has all of these great pieces of advice like dressing professionally for an interview as a non-binary person or how and when to come out in any job. To date, I’ve had a lot of clients win their dream role, switching industries or getting jobs at companies like Carnegie Hall in NY and in addition to many non-profits and tech startups as well. I help people climb corporate ladders that they originally hadn’t thought possible. And we do it all with this very kind, very humanistic approach to who they are.
Lensa: How do you assess diversity and inclusiveness when you recommend companies to queer job seekers? What metrics do you look for? How do you measure them?
Amber Crow: I am not super big on metrics just because I believe that the job search is a very personal experience. The system that I developed helps my clientele to better assess an organization that they’re looking to join from a personal lens. That’s why I take such a hands-on approach to coaching instead of giving the same rubrics or handouts to everyone that I meet with. It’s a personal decision. You have to decide what support you need from a job, how much being out at work matters to you, that sort of thing.
Fortunately, the Supreme Court decisions in 2020 have made workplaces safer in terms of extending Title VII to include sexual orientation and gender identity, though we all know discrimination still happens and they just label it something else. My method is to look at four important categories when researching a company: visibility, accessibility, employee experience, and the interview process. Visibility is where we’re going to look to see what information the company shares about the LGBTIQ+ community and the resources that they provide to their employees.
Do they have employee resource groups? Do they support queer organizations or fundraisers? For example, at the company that I work for, Transperfect, we do the AIDS walk every year and our company matches the donations that we raise. Is this information available on social media? Is it shared with their clients? Is it on a website? Do they have employees who even work in diversity and inclusion? You do a LinkedIn search.
Accessibility is where we assess how easily we found that information. Was it something we had to go digging for? Was the recruiter or hiring manager able to easily provide an answer? Is the information available on a website? Is it tucked away and it takes several minutes to locate? Then we move on to employee experience.
What other employees feel about the company is very important. Do they feel supported? Like they can bring their whole selves to work? We access this information through company reviews, which can be taken with a grain of salt, but also informational interviews with current employees or former employees and looking at indexes like the HRC rankings and also the information that Lensa provides on companies. You guys are doing some really great work categorizing diversity and inclusion at different companies. And then the final days in the interview process.
I always say go with your gut. Were you asked your pronouns in the interview process? Do they ask about the different career activities on your resume? Do they imply gender or sexuality at any point? All of these can give you insight into the company and what your day-to-day is going to look like, and then you listen to your gut. We’ll work together to develop questions that allow you to better assess the company’s fit for you. That’s my method. Obviously, it’s very personalized for my clients, but it’s been working so far.
Lensa: Do you have advice for job seekers who want to be their whole selves during the application process?
Amber Crow: There are many ways to share your true self during your job search, but again, very personal. We all get to decide how we want to be. You can show your true self as a candidate in a lot of different ways, from the information you provide in your resume to the questions that you ask. I would even add LinkedIn to that.
This is a great way to share some surface-level information about yourself and include your pronouns. You can include web-related activities, like “Oh, I’m in this LGBTQ class softball league” or “I am on the board for AIDS Walk in New York” or “I have this coaching work that I do on my resume.” It’s more surface level, but at least it opens the door. You can talk about this information and present that you support the LGBTQ community at a minimum without giving too much information or putting yourself in an unsafe position. That way recruiters and hiring managers see that information up front.
If they’re discriminating, at least it’s early in the process and you don’t have to go through the soul-crushing experience of finding out at an on-site interview or later on in the process. When you are in an interview, you can offer your pronouns and speak about the work that you’ve done. You can even ask clarifying questions: “Will my benefits be extended to my wife or my partner? What activities or employee resource groups exist for queer people in this organization?” And asking the interviewer if they feel like the company is a safe and supportive environment. All of this is really good entry advice into the conversation, but it’s important to realize that you can do everything right in an interview process and ask all of these questions and still end up somewhere that isn’t as accepting. So if you get a bad vibe, listen to that voice in your head that’s raising a red flag.
Lensa: Is that the difference between coming out versus being out in the workplace, that you get a job, you get hired, you’ve been very open and then you still don’t really feel like you can be your whole self on the job?
Amber Crow: Contrary to popular belief, coming out is not a one-and-done event. We all know as people that it comes up for the rest of your life. Everyone knew that you meet, every new job that you take, every new friend, you come out to them in some way. It’s really up to the job seeker to decide if they want to be out during their job search process and in their new role.
There’s no right way to do it. I’m really fortunate to be able to be not only out and proud at work, but to work for an amazing company called Transperfect where I’m supported and validated in these efforts to increase diversity and inclusion for queer folks. But if someone wants to come out during the application process, they can follow the advice that I’ve already given about sharing information on your resume on LinkedIn and being transparent through the interview process about who they are and the support that they expect. It’s not weird to broach the subject even in the first question that the interviewers ask.
Typically every interview starts with “tell me about yourself” and giving an answer along the lines “I’ve worked in the IT space for a number of years and set up a script engineer. I started my career as a specialist and worked my way up after going to college at UMass Amherst for computer engineering. And my wife and I recently relocated to Brooklyn. And I’m excited to find a new opportunity.” That’s a great way to slip in parts of yourself during the interview process. But coming out doesn’t have to be setting everything aside and interrupting the staff meeting to have this kind of grandiose moment. It can be casually mentioned to minimize feelings of disruption or putting yourself on the spot and even in a new role as well. If you want to have that grandiose moment, by all means do so in a professional way. But at this point, most queer job seekers know that coming out is not just one moment in their career.
Lensa: How can queer job seekers avoid being perceived as the “problem candidate” when they’re up against hundreds or even thousands of other applicants?
Amber Crow: I want to address what we mean when we talk about problem candidates. No one is suggesting that having a queer identity makes you a problem by any means. But something that I work through with a lot of my clients is feeling like they’re asking for special treatment or making issues by simply asking to be properly addressed, by asking questions about benefits or acceptance when there’s so many other candidates who are not making waves. Part of this is that the pandemic hit a lot of people very hard, so the market feels super saturated in some areas. No one wants to make anyone uncomfortable or risk gainful employment just to be themselves. So what I say to those people is advocating for yourself in any capacity is one of the bravest things that you can do. Being unapologetically yourself is one of the bravest things that you can do. If a company can’t recognize that, then there are other places to work. You and your whole identity are more important than any job, and we just let those other experiences go.
Lensa: Where can people find you if they want to learn more?
Amber Crow: You can find me on my website, which is thequeercareerblog.com. On there, you can request coaching services. You can check out some of the blogs that I’ve written. You can contact me via email and you can also connect with me on LinkedIn. Let’s connect and have a conversation. I’m super excited to help everyone with their job search.
Lensa: Thank you so much, Amber!