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Thoughts on Coming Out During Job Interviews

My search for my first full-time job was different than other people’s. As an out gay person in a relationship, I had a few more anxieties on my mind when it came to my future workplace.

Would my orientation cause conflict between myself and my new coworkers? Would I be able to talk openly about my girlfriend? Was it even possible to figure out if a company was safe while interviewing with them?

My job hunt began in my first semester of my senior year since I planned to graduate in the spring and most tech companies start the interviewing process earlier rather than later. After interviewing at a few different companies, I was offered an interview at the Atomic office in Ann Arbor.

Reading the Room

My hands trembled as I stepped into the office. I was not only anxious about the interview, but also looking for any signs that I might not be welcome–perhaps a strange look aimed at my short hair and gender-neutral clothing, or a disapproving glance toward the rainbow bracelet on my wrist.

I was used to looking for these signs whenever I went anywhere new. It had become part of my routine as I searched for a place to begin my professional career. But at Atomic, I found an open office of strangers who smiled when they saw me, gender-neutral bathrooms, and two huskies that ran over to greet me when I walked in. I could tell immediately that this was the kind of office where I would love to work.

Over the course of the interview, I was asked standard interview questions: define the company’s values in my own words, explain why I want to create software, elaborate on what I would bring to the company. But then, I was asked a question that genuinely caught me off-guard.

“Tell me about a time that you were brave.”

I paused for a second before answering, weighing my options. Then I decided that it was better to know what this place would think of me sooner rather than later. I took a deep breath. “Well, I’m gay. And I go to a pretty conservative school. So really, any time I talk about my girlfriend, or walk down the street holding her hand, or even just imply that I am not straight, could be counted as an act of bravery.”

The next words that I heard were unlike anything I’d ever heard from a potential employer.

“You’re safe here.”

I did immediately feel safer, having heard those words. Shortly after the interview, I was offered a position in the Accelerator Program and happily accepted.

A Few Things I’ve Learned

I was fortunate enough to find a workplace that is incredibly accepting and welcoming. I learned a lot while searching for my first job, and here is what I wish I’d known when I started:

Trust your instincts

If you’re comfortable outing yourself early in the interview process, I recommend doing so. It’s better to know what your potential co-workers/employers will think of a core part of your identity. Bringing up my orientation in my interview made it clear that this is a part of who I am, and that if I were to work at this company, people would need to know and respect that.

Of course, don’t feel like you have to out yourself. At the beginning of my job search, I was far less open about my orientation. If you’re not comfortable outing yourself in an interview, there are other ways to try and get a read on how you might be received.

For example, I would ask questions using gender-neutral language just to gauge how members of the company would react. If I asked if significant others were welcome at company parties, and a company representative said I could definitely bring my boyfriend if he wants to come, then I could infer that the culture at that company was likely heteronormative.

Is that a perfect test? Not by any means. But it is at least something to ask, while prioritizing your own safety.

Research to identify company attitudes

It’s a good idea to look into companies beforehand. They might have material posted online discussing their culture. If I’d read up more on Atomic before my interview I might have found these posts discussing Atomic’s efforts to live our whole truth at work. Knowing about this perspective would have made me much more comfortable in the interviewing process.

Some companies won’t care about your orientation, but that is not the same as supporting it. Though this might seem like a small detail, there is a big difference between those attitudes.

Most companies I interviewed with, if I did mention my orientation outright, would give the verbal equivalent of a shrug at my outing. Some members of the LGBTQIA+ community might prefer that attitude, but to me, there was something far more personal in hearing, “You’re safe here,” compared to seeing a blank stare.

The emphasis I received on my own safety regarding my orientation not only told me that I am welcome here, but that I would be welcomed with an acknowledgment of the struggles and dangers that being gay has added to my life.

Make LGBTQIA+ acceptance a priority in your search

I am so much more comfortable here at Atomic than I have been in any other workplace. At previous jobs, I hadn’t felt welcomed or invited to come out. Because of this comfort, my quality of work has improved.

No matter how much you try to leave your personal life at home, you spend at least eight hours a day with your coworkers. Having a mental subroutine constantly working in the background to keep you safely in the closet is just using up mental energy that could be focused on the problems you’re trying to solve and the work you need to get done.

Not only is this distraction harmful to your work, but it’s also harmful to your mental state. How can you truly build relationships with the people around you if you’re constantly wondering how they’ll react should they learn about your identity?

I’m not saying you have to love all of your coworkers, but having the assurance that the people who work around you know and accept this core detail of your identity is incredibly stabilizing, and not worrying about keeping yourself closeted frees up more mental energy than you would expect.

Final Thoughts

Recently, Matt Behrens wrote an incredible post about his experiences coming out at Atomic last year as a bisexual man. It was that post that inspired me to write this one, because everyone’s experiences are different, and the more stories we share, the better. You could come out in your interview like I did, or, like Matt, on your 1,188th day on the job. No matter what stage of your life you’re in, no matter where you work, you deserve to be safe enough to come out.

I realize that I come from a place of privilege, and not every workplace is as welcoming and affirming as Atomic. And it’s hard to balance being out on top of the mountain of concerns and worries that is the transition from college to the workforce.  But it is possible to find a workplace where I can feel comfortable enough to be me. I wish I’d known that when I started my job search, and I want other young members of the LGBTQIA+ community to know that they can find it, too.