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Job hunt: Should I mention my minority status?

(MoneyWatch)Dear Evil HR Lady,

I am a 23-year-old recent Ivy graduate. I also happen to be half Native American and an enrolled tribal member, however, nobody would really be able to guess that unless I told them explicitly (my father's side is white as the new-fallen snow and my mother took his name). Now, aside from some admittedly fascinating questions on race perception and privilege, that fact doesn't really come up a lot in everyday life since I left home. However today it led me to a question I was hoping you could help me with.

When an employer states in a job listing, that they are an "affirmative action/equal opportunity employer[,] MINORITIES ARE ESPECIALLY ENCOURAGED TO APPLY", is there a good way to indicate that I am a minority I am otherwise qualified for the position, and after six months of preparing cover letters and tailored resumes I would like to take advantage of any edge that I can. On the other hand, I'm also worried about how that may look. I do have some project work for the tribe through the Bureau of Indian Affairs that I could list on my resume, but it is not, strictly speaking, related to the job in question and at any rate it doesn't necessarily say to an employer that I myself am Native American.

Is there any way to do this tactfully? If not, I'd rather err on the side of caution, but I thought if there was a way, you'd be the one to think of it!

The statement that minorities are especially encouraged to apply doesn't mean that minorities will get preferential treatment (although there are certainly places where this is true). It just means that the business is showing that it is complying with federal regulations. What generally happens is that there will be a box that you check that indicates your race, but that information is stored separately from your resume and application.

Sendouts recruiting software expert Natosha J. McIntyre explained how this works in the actual job search.

Legislation now requires employers and staffing firms to be EEOC and OFCCP compliant. Meaning they have to be able to report that how (i.e. the searches they have run w/in their internal databases) was not based on criteria such as race, ethnicity, sex or veteran status. This is also tracked when candidates are applying to positions online and then are prompted to "self-identify." This is where you could choose to reveal your minority affiliations. This data cannot be housed internally for their resume or applicant tracking system specifically due to the EEOC and OFFCCP compliance laws. It is however, stored externally so employers/staffing firms can reflect their compliance when audited.

In other words, while the recruiter collects the information, if you don't look like a minority the recruiter and the hiring manager will not know that you are a bona fide Native American. And, in fact, even though they advertise that they are strongly encouraging minorities, they cannot do a search through their resume system asking to exclude white candidates.

Does that mean that your status won't help you? Of course not. Even though it's illegal to consider race when hiring, companies that are subject to affirmative action rules (which most large companies are) have to turn in reports every year stating how many minority employees they have in every job category and compare it to what the number "should" be. How that "should" number is derived is by looking at the number of minority people who are qualified for that type of position and comparing it with the company's actual filled positions. If the numbers are too far off from what the government deems "acceptable" you can bet that the companies will look to hire minorities specifically. They just can't officially search in their resume database for it.

Some places are far more likely to do this than others, of course. If you are applying at a smallish business in the suburbs, they probably won't care. A major corporation will be more interested in boosting it's numbers. And organizations which like to talk about how diverse they are, like universities, are likely to see minority status as a huge plus.

So, marking your status on your application (either paper or online) won't help you because that is immediately separated from your application. You need it to be on your actual resume or in your cover letter. Your work with your tribe, while not explicitly mentioning your tribal status, allows you to bring up the topic in an interview. Don't worry about it not being relative to the job. You're 23. You don't have 20 years of experience that you need to cull down to two pages. You want to show you have real experience outside of school, which this does.

You can also list your tribal membership at the bottom of the resume, but I don't recommend it, because it's not really a qualification. If you're listing other affiliations, then possibly, but it's more likely to elicit a "Why is this here?" response.

Also, keep in mind that while most people will not want to discriminate against minority candidates, there are some people who will, so it could backfire on you.

Personally, I'd like to see everyone considered equally. But, the job market is rotten and I certainly don't fault anyone for attempting to take advantage of every possible connection. After all, what's the difference from getting a boost up for race or gender instead of getting preference because your mom knows the boss?

For further reading:
Why you stop attending diversity training
Is it okay to discriminate against obese people
My racist company fires minorities

Have a workplace dilemma? Send your question to

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