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Careers: Name Change and Applications

I recently saw this post on tumblr. To sum it up, the poster was asking about submitting resumes and applying for jobs, mid-transition. I happen to be in that situation myself: I am less than a year into T, only recently changed my name (legally), while preparing to graduate from law school, and sending out applications for my first job in the legal profession. I’ve had to juggle the name-change on my resumes and applications, and worry about presentation and disclosure in interviews. So, I thought I would write a bit about my experiences, in case we’re not the only ones in this situation.

Name Changes and Applications

The general rule of thumb here is to apply under the name that is on your legal identification (SS card, license, passport, or anything else you use). You shouldn’t apply under your chosen name until you have a court order, or other legal name change document in hand. There are a number of legal reasons behind this: background checks, tax documents, health insurance, etc.

So, what if you have a court date, or your name change in just around the corner? Personally, I chose to apply under my legal name; then, when the name change was legal, I called or emailed my potential employers and asked to amend my application. This happens more often than you think: some people move, others get married, or some people forget to add jobs on their resume. Nevertheless, amending an application is not unheard of. Often, they will ask you what, specifically, you are changing. Inform them that you need to change your name, as you recently obtained the full, legal, name change. In my cases, the employer just asked for a new resume, indicating my new name; a few asked for a new application.

Another option, to ease the transition to a new name, is to apply as if your chosen name is a nick-name, like this: Jane “Billy” Doe. Put your chosen name in quotes, after your first name. So, when you call to say that you’ve legally changed your name, your potential employer will already have warning. And, if you get the job before the name change, you can request people use your chosen name.

Past Jobs/References after Transition

This is a sticky situation, and no real “one good way” to handle this (in my opinion). For instance, for two years I worked in a police department, which was not the most Trans-friendly place. I can’t exactly call them up and say “hey, I used to work there, and I’m now going by Mason and I’m transitioning to male.” That’s not an option. However, I list them on my resume, and I run the risk of my potential employer reaching out to them for a reference. So, what to do?

First, I don’t list a phone number or address for any of my past jobs on my resume. If they want to reach out, they’re going to work for it – and be less likely to do so. Also, at the bottom of my resume, I explicitly state: references available upon request. This tells employers “I will give you the names and numbers of references, please don’t just call anyone.”

If you feel comfortable, I would tell prior employers about your transition and name change, if you think it will come up. If it’s very awkward, and will cause you more pain or stress to do this, then don’t. But, if you know someone who works there, you left on really friendly terms, or you know that the people with your prior employer are really Trans-friendly, than I would say it’s better to be safe than sorry. Tell them, so that when your potential employer calls, you don’t have to worry (as much).

If your potential employer asks for references, think hard about this: who will give you a good reference? Who is most likely to use the right pronouns/name? Who do you feel comfortable talking to about your transition? Remember this: NEVER list a reference without talking to that person first. It’s just application etiquette. And, when you’re asking to list them as a reference, you may tell them “by the way, I’ve recently changed my name and my pronouns, would you feel comfortable using those?”

Are you having trouble finding a reference you think might work with your gender identity and name change? Start looking at more creative places for references: people you may have pet, house, or babysat for, blogs you wrote for, internships, friendly teachers or professors, etc.

Disclosure

I’ve talked a little about disclosure during an interview in this past post, but you may consider disclosure either before or after the interview, as well. If you have some concerns about references, you may want to disclose about your identity and/or past names. For instance, if your potential employer asks for references, you may say something like “you may want to know, I recently changed my name, and employer XYZ knows me under my former name.” If they asked why you changed your name, you can choose to disclose the reason, or simply state “for personal reasons.” If they push, you can say you’re not comfortable discussing it; although, for the most part, many employers will stop pushing with the “personal reasons” explanation.

Considerations for Transmen

Well, this was a pretty  trans*-centric post, so the considerations for transmen is going to be shorter than usual, and more on a personal note:

Remember to always have a positive attitude when discussing your identity with employers. If you decide to disclose your identity at some point in the hiring process, do so positively: you should NEVER be ashamed of your identity, and no employer has any right to make you feel shame or doubt about your identity. Ever.

A lot of disclosure comes with “feeling out the situation.” I can’t explain it, other than to say there is a gut feeling we get with people we meet. Sometimes you can tell when someone will be welcoming about your identity, and when they will not. Go with your gut.

Things aren’t always going to turn out right. That’s true for all job applications, trans* or not. But keep that positive attitude I mentioned, and something will come along. The market (here in the US) is getting better, jobs are coming around: just stay positive, and positive things will happen. Remember, people are always more ready to hire, when you have a smile on your face, and a good attitude.

Cheers – Mason

Careers: The Interview

As a third-year law student, I have recently found myself in job interviews on a more regular basis. Of course, I put a great deal of thought into my presentation, attire, and general attitude going into an interview, and I figured I would put my thoughts to paper (or keyboard). As always, if you, good reader, have any thoughts, don’t hesitate to contact me. At the end, you will find interview considerations for Transmen…

Attire

I believe the default attire for any interview is a suit (tie and jacket included). That being said, there are exceptions to this rule; but generally, stick with a suit. Of course, there is a great deal of diversity in choosing a suit, as well as the manner in which to wear the suit. Overall, the best advice I ever received in interview attire is this: you NEVER want to be better dressed than the person interviewing you. So leave the solid gold tie chain, expensive tie, or $500 shoes at home.

For most interviews, I would advise to dress conservatively. Plain white or muted color shirt, blue, black or grey suit, minimally patterned tie, belt and shoes to match, and of course, appropriately colored socks. Some people opt for a pocket square; personally, I leave it at home. Although classy, I like to make my resume and personality do the talking, and not my attire. Make sure your shoes are well shined (seriously, the care one puts into their shoes speaks highly of their attention to detail and over-all social competence). My wife often gives me a glance over before I walk out the door to any interview: this isn’t just an endearing gesture either. If you have a friend, spouse or family member available, ask them to give you a glance over before your interview – they may see things that you missed, like a loose thread on the back of your suit, or a tie slightly askew.

Grooming

I know you’re probably nervous and stressed, but put care into your grooming before going on an interview. Personally, I have a little pre-interview grooming ritual; this helps keep me calm, focused and centered on the task ahead.

Like your suit, keep your hair conservative. Yeah, I like to spike my hair up on my days off, but for an interview, brush it down. Consider getting a cut a few days before your interview. I say a few days BEFORE for a few reasons: 1. For me, those little clipped hairs end up everywhere, and I would hate to go into an interview with hair in my ears from my haircut; 2. You don’t want it to be too obvious that you’ve just had a haircut; and 3. Personally, I like the way my hair lays a few days, even a week, after the cut, rather than the day of or day after the cut. Don’t try something new before an interview either. Don’t try a new part in your hair, or a new haircut style, even if you think it will look good. Go with what you know, and it will give you one less distraction for the interview.

As for facial hair, the same “new” rule applies: don’t try something new that you’ve never done before. If you are clean shaven, make sure to shave before your interview. If you have a goatee or mustache, make sure you are well trimmed. It seems like this would go without saying, but you would be surprised to know I’ve seen many guys going into an interview with substantial stubble. Like your shoes, your grooming speaks highly of your attention to detail and social awareness.

Also, if you use cologne, don’t overdo it for the interview.

Accessories and Preparation

If you have a briefcase (in good condition), bring it. If not, leave the backpack at home, and opt for a portfolio, like this:

No matter what, make sure to have a pad of paper with you at the table during your interview. Before the interview, write down three (or more) questions for your interviewer on the first page of your pad of paper. ALWAYS go in to an interview with questions. Personally, I also like to do research before my interview, about the company I am interviewing with: what is their company mission statement look like, do they value diversity in the workplace, how many locations do they have, etc. You can use some of this information in your interview questions (Ex “I see that you’re mission statement talks about XYZ, can you tell me more about that?”). Also, bring a copy of your resume with you, as well as business cards, if you have them. You never know when your interviewer may lose your resume, or ask you about a particular element. It’s just good to make sure you bring it with you. If you have multiple interviewers, make sure to bring a copy for each.

Of course, make sure your cell phone is on silent.

During the Interview

Smile…seriously. You may not feel like smiling, but it shows you are comfortable, competent, and approachable. And really, that’s what we’re going for here, isn’t it? Go into this confident, knowing that these people want to hire you, and the interview is just a chance to show them WHY they want to hire you. Be polite, don’t interrupt your interviewer. Sit up straight, but be comfortable (not stiff). Also, go into the interview with your suit jacket buttoned, but make sure you un-button it when you sit down.

And lastly…breathe. Relax. Like I said, these people want to hire you, they just don’t know it yet.

Considerations for Transmen

If you’re early into your transition (or even if you’re not) the issue of disclosure is something to think about. Naturally, a lot of this depends on whom you are interviewing with: for instance, disclosure during an interview with an LGBT organization may not be a big deal. Personally, I have disclosed my Trans-identity in a number of interviews, because that it what I felt comfortable with. You may not, and I fully understand that. If you decide you want to disclose, here are a few things I have learned:

  1. Be comfortable with your identity and talking about it. If you’re comfortable and happy in your identity, it will show, and your interviewer will be put at ease, even if they wouldn’t normally be.
  2. Don’t lead with your identity. Introducing yourself as “Hi, I’m So-and-So and I’m Trans” is probably not going to come off right.
  3. Time it well. Don’t interject your identity awkwardly into the conversation. For me, because I have worked with various Trans groups, professionally, I usually bring it up when talking about my prior work. Like so: “You may see that I’ve worked with XYZ-Trans Group. I want to let you know I am transgender-identified. If you have any professional questions about that, I would be happy to answer them.”
  4. Don’t over disclose. If your interviewer asks about surgeries, you have the right to decline to answer. Questions about the status of your genitalia are never appropriate. During an interview I have been asked if I planned to have surgery. My response was something like: “I don’t believe my future medical plans will have any negative effects on my job performance.” And, honestly, I don’t want to work for a company that thinks it has a right to peek into my pants, if that makes sense.

There are a lot of thoughts and considerations that go into disclosure. In the end, the decision to disclose is yours. You may think, going into the interview, that you will disclose, but then, when you talk to the interviewer, realize that you no longer feel comfortable doing so. Go with your gut; if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.

These are simply cursory observations and considerations. If you have any questions about specifics, please don’t hesitate to ask. Good luck, out there. Remember, they want you hire you, and the interview is a chance to show them why.

Cheers – Mason


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