Protecting or Disclosing Personal or Sensitive Information

(Medical Condition, Gender Identity, Sexual Orientation, Religious Affiliation, Political Association, Association With an Organization that Some View as Controversial, Etc.)

During the process of securing employment, it is important to focus on sharing relevant information that potential employers need to evaluate you for positions. Generally, this information relates to character traits (i.e. honesty, dependability, etc.), depth of knowledge, skills, company and position fit factors, and the likelihood of becoming a long-term employee. Since employers also want to know about the experiences where knowledge and skills were developed, this sometimes creates a dilemma about whether or not to share certain information. This material was developed to help individuals that have questions about sharing personal or sensitive information with prospective employers. It is your decision to protect or disclose any information regarding your identity or beliefs as you begin the job search process.

Job applicants and employees are protected from discrimination based on race, ethnicity, sex, pregnancy, color, religion, national origin, physical or mental disability, age (40 and over), marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information, status as a U.S. veteran (disabled, Vietnam, or other), or any other status protected by university policy or local, state, or federal law. To lessen the potential for unlawful discrimination, recruiters, hiring managers and supervisors are prohibited from asking questions that would cause an individual to reveal information about themselves that relates to a protected trait. Examples of illegal questions can be found here.

Most employers prefer to keep protected or sensitive information out of the employment process even when the applicant or employee is willing to discuss. The exception to this being U.S. Veterans and individuals in underrepresented groups when an employer has an affirmative action program or when a disability accommodation is required. In these cases, an invitation to self-identify as a member of a target class is usually extended during the online application process, and the information is kept confidential by the HR department. It is not a factor in hiring decisions, but the data is needed to evaluate and document an employer’s diversity efforts.

Successful organizations understand that teams composed of individuals with different backgrounds and experiences have more synergy, and are generally more innovative, productive, and gratified with their work environment. As a result, many organizations have made it a high-level goal to embrace diversity and create an inclusive environment. However, research has shown that everyone has biases to some degree, so it is often best to be selective in what information is shared with potential employers.

Determining what information to share and when to share it is a highly individualized process, and you will need to decide which approach will work best for your situation. Consider the following potential positions. Depending on your unique position, you may choose to share and/or prioritize parts of your identity during different steps of the employment process.

  • “I am who I am and it is important to me that my co-workers know me and accept me for who I am.”
  • “This is only a part of what defines me and I am selective with whom I share the information. It is unlikely to affect my success and happiness within an organization.”
  • “My situation is private and will not affect my choice in a position or employer.”

Researching employers to identify those that you want to work for is an extremely important part of the job search process for every candidate. Look for employers that share your values, have a need for your skills, align with your preferences, and will allow you to pursue your passions. Keep in mind, the more restrictive the requirements, the smaller the pool of potential employers will be, and more effort will need to go into identifying and connecting with these employers.

A few ways to help identify employers that are committed to inclusiveness include:

In addition to our resume advice in the Engineering Prep Resource in Canvas, here are a few additional tips to consider if you choose to sharing personal information:

  • Focus on skills development and accomplishments through support of an organization, as opposed to the cause itself.
  • When applying to a job where certain associations, beliefs, and experiences will provide an advantage, be sure to highlight the organization in addition to the skills gained and accomplishments. You may want to have two resumes, one that includes the certain associations and one that does not.

As mentioned in the introduction, to lessen the potential for unlawful discrimination, interviewers are prohibited from asking questions that would cause an individual to reveal information about themselves that relates to a protected trait. The interviewer’s primary interest is to identify the job applicant who will complete the work that they need done with a high level of quality, will work well with the rest of their team, and has the potential to become a long-term employee. Information unrelated to these interests should be excluded from the interview process.

During an interview, you should be prepared to discuss your qualifications, skills, knowledge, and other factors that make you a strong candidate for the position. You can also choose to disclose any additional information you want the employer to know about. An interview can also be a chance for you to ask more about the company’s culture and inclusivity initiatives.

Overall, it is your decision to protect or disclose any information regarding your identity or beliefs as you begin the job search process. If you want to discuss these or other career-related issues further, make an appointment with an ECS Advisor through your CyHire account. We are here to support you!