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How to bring up your activism in an interview

Talking about your experience can be very effective. The trick is to do it the right way. 

How to bring up your activism in an interview
[Photo: Clem Onojeghuo/Unsplash]

Often when we’re given advice on how to perform well in an interview we’re reminded of the importance of conveying our passion. This isn’t hard for people who truly love what they do, since when you feel strongly about something, it’s hard to hide it. Career coaches might encourage you to talk about a project you led that was especially meaningful to you, or to talk about how your hobby made you a better team player. 

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For this reason, talking about your activism in an interview can be very effective. Experience organizing to improve your community speaks to your character and diligence. The trick is to introduce your experience in the right way. We asked several experts to share their best advice on how you can (and should) discuss your activism: 

Talk about life beyond work

Mark Perlmutter, longtime animal welfare activist and CEO and founder of vegan meal subscription service VegReady, says he’s witnessed how activism can come across differently, depending on how an interviewee positions their viewpoint.

You can share your support of something, without bashing other beliefs that don’t fit your personal doctrine. His company is an activism-focused workplace, and they actively seek out those who participate in causes important to them. Still, he says, “I’ve seen fanatical activists turn off moderate colleagues.”

Say you’re a vegan and you feel passionate about showing others the value of reducing their use of animal products. It’s okay to be proud and describe this quality, but if you mention that you refuse to put your lunch in a fridge with meat, that could be seen as too extreme. “I’ve also seen committed activists who show they understand we’re all doing the best we can right now, and they garner immediate respect,” he says.

One of the easiest and most effective ways to seamlessly weave in your efforts is by discussing life beyond work. It isn’t out of left field to explain the sort of causes that you’re passionate about when potential employers ask about your interests or hobbies. Perlmutter says it illustrates who you are as a person and how you may fit into the company culture.

Allow your empathy to shine 

For most people, activism is unpaid work motivated by passion. You care so fiercely about an injustice that you’re willing to volunteer your energy and time (and sometimes your money) to make a difference. At its very core, volunteering time demonstrates empathy, and that’s an attractive quality to most employers, says Elisa Camahort Page, author of Road Map for Revolutionaries: Resistance, Activism, and Advocacy for All. “Volunteerism indicates that you think of the greater good, the big picture, and are a team player,” she says. “Any manager would prefer an employee who really cares over someone who’s apathetic.”

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Be confident

Before Shirley Jefferson was the associate dean for student affairs and diversity at Vermont Law School, she was in the trenches fighting for civil rights. She grew up in Selma and marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in her home city in 1965. In addition to being steadfast in your beliefs, Jefferson encourages candidates to be confident in their responses to interview questions.

Though demonstrating your activism in an interview can be tricky, the higher you hold your head and the stronger you explain why you’re active in your cause, the better the message you send to a potential employer. Explain your viewpoints and why they matter to you, and share your history working on specific causes and how it has shaped your life and career in a meaningful way. 

You want to bring your whole self to the office. “Make sure that you let the potential employer know who you are,” says Jefferson. “[You might say] ‘If you really want me to have this job, I want you to know that I am an outspoken person and will offer my opinions, and we may not agree all the time.'” 

Talk about your relevant skills

There are plenty of hard and soft skills that come into play with activism. If you’re involved within a campaign, you may be hopping on the phone with strangers frequently. If you’re organizing a gala to fight hunger in your town, you know what it’s like to juggle many clients and contracts. 

Though it may not technically be “work experience,” Camahort Page encourages interviewees to talk about relevant skills. “Look at your activism in light of the functions you are performing, and how those can be translated to any job, even if the cause isn’t aligned with your prospective employer on the face of it.” 

Show off your leadership

When you’re an activist, you’re leading a mission. Even if you aren’t the founder or the president of an organization or a movement, your choice to get involved means you are proactive, says activist Jovian Zayne, who is the founder of The International Day of Purpose.

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“By highlighting your examples of activism in and outside of work, you’re showing various leadership skills that matter to many employers. It’s just your job to describe your experience as such,” she says. One way to frame your participation could be: “As a leader of the first employee resource group for LGBTQIA employees at X company, I was able to help us recruit and retain a more diverse staff by 30%.” That’s tangible, impressive, and gets your values across, too.

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