Should You Really Put Protesting On Your Résumé?

Activism can give you invaluable job skills but may also be judged negatively by some hiring managers.
Demonstrators march to the Georgia state Capitol in Atlanta on June 15. Helping to organize protests can translate as a job skill.
Demonstrators march to the Georgia state Capitol in Atlanta on June 15. Helping to organize protests can translate as a job skill.

If you get involved with protests and demonstrations against racism and police brutality in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, you may gain invaluable skills from the experience, such as resilience, project management, self-starting agency and organizational leadership.

These skills are transferable, and you should put them on your résumé when you search for a job, Kyra Leigh Sutton, a human resources expert in the school of management and labor relations at Rutgers University, wrote last week in Business Insider.

Sutton pointed out to HuffPost that leadership in protesting can include activities like starting a fundraiser, making speeches or organizing marching routes. Discounting these kinds of life experiences, she said, is a mistake her students often make: “They think of their experience in terms of ‘what jobs have I had.’”

But leadership work in activism can be “an early indication that you’re interested in developing your leadership experience and you have some experience from which you can draw,” she added.

Tracy Cote, the chief people officer at software company Zenefits, said putting protesting on a résumé would be seen favorably where she works. “In my position and at this company, it would be a positive,” Cote said.

When and where to share protesting experiences and skills depends on what you have learned. Before sharing, decide how the experience is relevant to the job you are applying for. Cote said she would be interested in seeing the leadership experience you gained from protesting over having the activity listed as a personal interest on a résumé.

“If it’s just like, ‘I like to protest,’ that’s not very interesting to me,” Cote said. “If it’s ‘I organized the protest, I led the protest and I organized all of these things,’ those are real-life work-related skills.”

There’s a risk, however, of being unfairly judged as a “troublemaker” or even a “looter.”

Tracy Porter-Stevens, a human resources professional at the enterprise platform Grapevine6, said she would question whether a candidate was a “troublemaker” if they listed protesting on a résumé.

“Protesting is admirable, and I believe in speaking up for a cause you believe in. That being said, as an HR professional, I would need to take in all data points during the recruitment process, and I’m not convinced that I would see protesting as a positive attribute,” she said. “Protesting could be seen as disruptive, challenging, change-making, and in the workplace and corporate world, that can be intimidating.”

“You could run into a hiring manager that absolutely doesn't agree with anyone's participation in the protest. ... But then the question is, do you really want to work for a person that believes in that?”

- Kyra Leigh Sutton, human resources expert

During a job search, you are evaluating the employer as much as they are evaluating you. If your résumé ends up in the rejection pile before you get a chance to explain how your protest activities make you a better candidate or have helped your career, it could be a signal of how your relationship with that employer might go and indicate the implicit biases they operate under.

“You could run into a hiring manager that absolutely doesn’t agree with anyone’s participation in the protest and they don’t see the value in doing so,” Sutton said. “I don’t think that you’ll get a call back. But then the question is, do you really want to work for a person that believes in that?”

Edgar Ndjatou, executive director of the nonprofit Workplace Fairness, said you need to consider the place to which you’re applying. In settings that are more corporate, he advised leaving out protest activity.

“For some corporate positions, even if they are sending out messages supporting Black Lives Matter, they may still say it’s a risk to have someone that has been protesting,” Ndjatou said. He cautioned that you don’t always know who is looking at your résumé and that listing the protests you’ve engaged in could be considered a bold statement: “Unfortunately, for some people, when they hear protester, they think ‘looter.’”

“Even in progressive organizations, they still want some level of ‘Can this person work in a team environment?’ ‘Are they going to just make trouble for us even when there is no trouble to be made?’” Ndjatou said. “Is [that] fair? Completely no, it’s not. ... However, if you’re a well sought-out employer and you’re sifting through thousands of résumé, you’re going to go with a sure bet.”

Decide how much of yourself you feel comfortable sharing.

Weighing what parts of your personal and professional life you want to disclose is always a tricky equation.

Before you do share applicable skills you gained from protesting or organizing, Sutton said, you need to decide how much of your authentic self you want to share. It’s is a question she herself has faced while applying for jobs. Hiring managers have assumed she is white based on her name, Sutton said, and were surprised when she walked into the room. She started noting on her résumé that the school she attended, Spelman College, is a historically Black college.

“I wanted to signal early on that I’m a Black female that is applying for this job, and if that doesn’t work for whatever reason, then that’s fine,” Sutton said.

Cote said you need to consider what your career needs are at this moment before disclosing protesting activities. If you consider the job just a paycheck, “you might want to err on the side of being conservative. If you are going to work because you want a long-term commitment, you want to work at a place where the values match your own, put it on there. You’ll find out pretty soon if it’s a fit or not.”