Your Mormon problem

Do all job seekers, academic or otherwise, share Mitt Romney’s “Mormon problem?” Where do you list your religion on your CV? Nowhere. Everywhere.

Not everybody has a conspicuous two-year or eighteen-month gap during their undergrad years, an unusual level of familiarity with an odd corner of the country (or of some other country), or a bachelor’s degree from BYU. But for those of us with all three, there’s no point in trying to scrub all traces of our religion from our biographies. While it’s in poor taste to list religious affiliation on an American résumé, those with eyes to read won’t need to have it spelled out for them. Even for people unfamiliar with the institutions of Mormonism, my religion can become a potentially awkward answer to entirely appropriate and relevant questions, like why I chose my field of study. I’ve resolved to retire the humorous story I used to believe about a computer glitch in my brother’s high school course registration. I am where I am today because of choices and events earlier in my life, and that life is a Mormon life.

I’m happy with the choices I’ve made. I don’t want to be pushy or put personal information where it’s out of place, but I don’t want to hide my religion, either. I want people to know I’m a Mormon.

I also don’t think it matters all that much in an academic job search. Search committees, I believe, are accustomed to receiving applications from real people with human biographies. Mormon lives are human lives, and Mormons aren’t even the only people whose lives include missionary service. There are probably people and places with irrational prejudices against Mormons (or other returned missionaries), but I don’t think it’s actually all that common, or that prejudice against Mormons is over-represented in the world of illogical biases. I can’t prevent someone from seeing BYU on my CV and setting it aside with a sneer, but I can hone the rest of my CV so that the disdain is tempered by regret.

The Mormon problem of the moment is a subspecies of identity management in the Internet age. I choose to blog under my own name. A lot of people advise against that, but I’ve decided that the academic job search is too long, and the outcome too uncertain, to postpone other important things only for its sake. The sad fact is that the job market may not actually be able to bestow that which it threatens to withhold. While it’s waiting to make up its mind about me, I want to take advantage of what time I have to be a Mormon academic. If there are vital, interesting conversations going on that have a bearing on me, I not only want to take part, but I want to participate as an identifiable representative of a particular set of choices and allegiances. I try to be a positive representative of all the people and institutions with whom I am or have been associated, and I think the world is better off without me telling tales out of school, or heaping scorn and slander on other anonymous Internet presences. I am also not overly concerned if I disagree with someone else, or if someone else disagrees with me. I am, after all, seeking a stable home in a profession that entails staking out positions and defending them. Life’s too short to put off telling a couple dozen BYU professors that their book stunk, but I’d also be happy to discuss my position with those same people face to face. (For anyone I may have offended by past criticism, I can point you towards secondary literature that should substantiate to your satisfaction that what goes around, comes around.)

This is my solution to being a Mormon in search of an academic job. People in different situations may find that other strategies better suit their needs. However, no strategy of representation can entirely resolve what is, in the end, a problem of identity.

* * *

This should conclude the series of posts on the academic job market. Thanks to all those who have read and responded. For those of you who will be sending out applications this year: it’s nearly April, the job list will be out soon, and the hiring conference is coming up. (My advice: share a room with a friend or two to cut down on costs and give you a chance to vent; my first visit to MLA turned into a multi-day road trip to New Orleans that cost me all of $200 this way.) Whether you’re ABD or already defended, you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you. Good luck.

59 comments for “Your Mormon problem

  1. Peter LLC
    March 28, 2007 at 5:31 am

    “I also don’t think it matters all that much in an academic job search.”

    I don’t think it matter all that much in any kind of job search. Especially if you apply outside the US where no one is worried about transgressing federal EEO laws, chances are good that your interviewer will just cut to the chase and ask you about your religion.

  2. Naismith
    March 28, 2007 at 7:08 am

    At the university where I work, one department chair has declared that he will never hire a Mormon again. Why? Because at one point he had two bright young Mormon assistant professors, one due to come up for tenure soon. Then BYU-Idaho was created, and both of them jumped ship and headed west.

    In reality, it was a one-time occurence, and more a matter of their wives wanting to be near family than religion per se, but having been burned once, he is leery, and I’m not sure I can blame him.

    I have also heard that at once point the dental school here was considering not accepting BYU graduates because of the high percentage that immediately left our state to practice out west. Why should our state’s tax dollar pay for the creation of dentists who will not be practicing in our state? This was reversed when more grads started staying, and one got very involved in the alumni association.

  3. March 28, 2007 at 7:51 am

    Would you want to work for a boss for whom you had to hide your religion in order to get hired?

  4. March 28, 2007 at 8:17 am

    A few random thoughts.

    1. I, too, have always blogged under my own name. I understand and to a degree respect the arguments different people in different situations make for anonymity, but I see blogging as part of the public communication I do as an academic, like going to conferences or being interviewed by a newspaper. To shelter my identity because I am concerned about the impact my Mormonness might have on my career would be, to my way of thinking, part and parcel of a conviction that I don’t want my Mormonness to have any impact on what I communicate publicly. And I don’t know why any committed member of the church, at least one whose livelihood doesn’t depend upon keep silent, would share that conviction.

    2. As for those who are convinced that their livelihood depends on their keeping their identity under wraps…well, everyone has to make their own choice about survival. But see Seth’s comment #3.

    3. Also, again going off my own experience here…I’m fairly certain that being Mormon cost me at least a couple of job interviews, and possibly an offer, over the years. However, I also have strong very reasons to suspect that I didn’t receive interview and/or job offers at various different institutions over the years because:

    –I’m male
    –I’m white
    –I’m a Christian
    –I’m not a Christian
    –I’m a craven suck-up
    –I’m rude and obnoxious
    –I’m too liberal
    –I’m too conservative
    –I’m anti-feminist
    –I’m a feminist
    –My research is too conventional
    –My research is too unusual
    –I’m not Mormon enough

    In other words, yeah, somebody, somewhere, is going to get after you for being Mormon. Unless your field operates according to unwritten rules utterly unlike those that Jonathan describes, or those I have experienced, then the truth is that any hypothetical “Mormon problem” that exists in the minds of hiring committees will have to stand in line along with a dozen other hypothetical, utterly subjective problems that you similarly have no control over. So really, get over it and go forward.

  5. lamonte
    March 28, 2007 at 8:34 am

    Jonathan – It is an interesting dilemma you cite. I do not work in the academic field but have had various reactions to my religion over the course of my professional career. Although I grew up as a church member in a small Mormon farm town in southern Idaho, I did not serve a mission, and so that issue (the 2 year gap in schooling or work) does not pose a problem for me. My family and I lived in the Salt Lake Valley for the first 11 years of my career and then moved to the east coast 19 years ago. During that time I have found interesting reactions to my religious preference.

    – The last boss I had turned out to be a Mormon basher – not to my face but with comments she made to others when not in my presense. But despite her feelings about the church my resume’, which included my experience in Salt Lake, did not raise a red flag to her about my religion. It was not until after I had informed her of such when she asked me where I was going to attend the wedding of a friend (the temple) that the Mormon bashing started.
    – I have found that many employers I’ve had (and I’ve had more than I care to admit) appreciate the stability of an employee with a Mormon lifestyle even if they sometimes don’t appreciate our “limitations” in social activities and situations.
    – And I have found that once you open up about your religion it is a pleasant surprise to hear a good or great experience your boss or associate has had with Mormons in their past – and often I then wonder if I have been as good of an example as I should have been.
    – A co-worker from a previou job seemed to know ALL the Mormons in the government agency I was working for and would asked me “Why are you Mormons always so nice and so happy?” Of course I would tell her but, to date, it hasn’t caused her to “want to learn more.”

    I have found my religion to be a problem and a blessing and I’m not sure you’ll ever know which it will be until you get there.

  6. TMD
    March 28, 2007 at 9:00 am

    Johnathan: I choose not to reveal my name because, frankly, lots of hiring commiittees are filled with old men (and some old women) who think blogging is a waste of time without professional merit (which thus impugnes my judgment about how I spend my time, in their eyes) more than because I’m LDS. Indeed, I would rank being LDS as at best reason #3–being a republican is much worse in most academic’s eyes.

    Naismith–yes, the mass of dental students have many characteristics of locusts–many of them choose to contribute little, and who then flee back westward as soon as they’re done. Generally, they’re not particularly interesting intellectually, either. At my large midwestern state university, there are as many applicants from Utah as there are from the owning state.

  7. March 28, 2007 at 9:22 am

    When I was on the academic job market last year, I was told by some people that I should scrubb all possible references to Mormonism from my resume. I was told by others not to do this, as it was (a) not really possible, e.g. a degree from BYU and a minor in Korean are kind of give aways, (b) dishonest, and (c) counterproductive as I was likely to be found out and would then look craven and sneaky.

    As it happens, I was questioned about Mormon-related stuff in a couple of interviews. Indeed, one interview consisted of nothing but a discussion of the law of polygamy with a gay libertarian professor and another professor whose African grandfather was a polygamist. It was a lot of fun, and I ended up with a job talk at that school. On the other hand, I think that at one or two schools the Mormon thing was a definite concern. I was also questioned about blogging (including T&S) at a couple of interviews, although those who asked were internet savy enough to know what a blog was and they generally thought it was cool.

    Of course, the real fun for me is the fact that one of my collegues was the head of the AAUP committee that censured BYU for academic freedom concerns, which led to a very interesting dinner party conversation a couple of months ago. However, I don’t think that has had any professional impact at all.

  8. March 28, 2007 at 9:50 am

    One of my duties at one law office was to make the initial sort of candidates for summer associates. We had several hundred applicants (it was a prestigious Las Vegas firm), with opening for perhaps half a dozen, so on the first pass there was no point in a careful evaluation — it was more like looking for any excuse to weed as many as possible. The way missions were described was one of my excuses.

    It didn’t matter whether a candidate listed his mission as “other” information, or as work experience, or whether he called it a mission or humanitarian service or volunteering, or whether he identified the church by name. What mattered to me was how he tried to exploit it for CV value. A straightforward “missionary service in Podunk” was fine. But when candidates went on and on and on, describing their service in terms of management, leadership, and counseling, with adjectives like “extensive” and “professional” and “independent” — especially when they then listed their position as a mere district leader, or else inflated it to “Assistant to the President of the LDS Church” — it was an automatic toss into the trash can.

    People know what missions are, and what Scouting is, and that a two-week spring break humanitarian tour is more a vacation than serious work. Don’t inflate. You’ll look like a fool.

  9. Julie M. Smith
    March 28, 2007 at 9:59 am

    Thank you for this post. I’ve been simply amazed–and disappointed, and ashamed–at the number of LDS grad students who are trying to hide.

  10. Adam Greenwood
    March 28, 2007 at 10:12 am

    I never put “Mormon” on my resume but I put down my mission for the church, the fact that I spoke Spanish, and for a while a church calling I had that involved a significant time commitment with somewhat unusual skills being used. Every interviewer I’ve had was very aware that I was Mormon (one interviewer asked me what my two years in Spain was, and when I explained was embarassed that she hadn’t put that together with my Mormonism and realized what it was on her own, and then was embarassed that she’d figured I was Mormon without asking me). Luckily for the kinds of jobs I’ve applied for, Mormon prejudice is pretty low and maybe even serves as an asset. There is one employer I didn’t apply to because back in the day they were the No Catholics, Jews, or Mormons need apply firm, but in retrospect that was pretty far in the past and I should have applied anyway.

  11. Jonathan Green
    March 28, 2007 at 10:26 am

    Peter, right, the standard German CV includes marital status, children, religion, grade school visited, a picture, etc., etc. Fortunately, in German language and life stories, “zwei freiwillige Jahre im kirchlichen Dienst” actually sounds respectable, almost normal. Ardis, is it just me, or does “two voluntary years of ecclesiastic service” not have quite the same gravitas?

    Re Dentists: The nerve of those people! Someone should charge them money for all those educational services they are consuming. Somebody should suggest to the dean that students from other states should pay higher tuition!

    Julie, I think amazement is sufficient.

  12. Blake
    March 28, 2007 at 10:31 am

    I do Title VII discrimination cases. If someone doing an interview makes a point of your Mormonism, call me or some other Title VII and employment discrimination attorney. That I’m Mormon has no weight in any job decision pro or con unless I apply to work for a Church related entity.

  13. Adam Greenwood
    March 28, 2007 at 10:35 am


    if I knew someone didn’t hire me because I’m Mormon, I wouldn’t call you. Title VII is silly, there’s plenty of other employers out there, and its the bigot’s loss and my gain.

  14. TMD
    March 28, 2007 at 11:44 am

    JG, in re dentists, after a year, in-state tuition; if a spouse works, in-state tuition from the get-go.

  15. manaen
    March 28, 2007 at 11:53 am

    I worked for one of the Japanese auto companies in LA. We had some transplants from Detroit’s big Three who kept pushing us to recruit from their schools: Michigan, Northwestern, Indiana, etc. — places with established ties to the auto industry. In view of limited hiring openings, they also challenged our recruiting at BYU. But then God had his little fun by sending this candidate: grew up working in his family’s dealership of our brand in Utah, served a 2-year mission in Japan and spoke Japanese fluently, went back to Japan for a 1-year fellowship sponsored by our parent company, and now came to us with a joint MBA-JD degree. He also had an affable, assertive personality. I was able for a while to ask why we wasted time recruiting in the Midwest when we had patently better candidates in nearby Utah.

  16. Beijing
    March 28, 2007 at 11:53 am

    What if someone saw BYU, an unusual language skill, and eighteen months of volunteer service abroad on my resume and refused to hire me because they assumed incorrectly that I was currently Mormon? Would Title VII still apply?

  17. March 28, 2007 at 12:26 pm

    Being a Mormon / Boy Scout is a huge plus for certain job application situations – i.e. accounting or security where honesty and integrety are very important or for overseas government service where language fluency is highly desired.

    Shouldn’t LDS have a reputation for hard work and honesty?

  18. March 28, 2007 at 1:09 pm

    I’ve been simply amazed–and disappointed, and ashamed–at the number of LDS grad students who are trying to hide.

    And I’ve been seriously amazed and disappointed at these types of accusations especially in light of you avoiding [ such a large response] .

    Come on, to say it again, it’s not so much that people are trying to “hide” their Mormon-ness as much as it is deciding when, where, how, and with whom it should come up. IMO I’ve rarely seen people try to come off as NOT Mormon as much as I’ve seen people try not to make their Mormon-ness a central factor in a hiring decision. Seriously, if I’m going to be hired to teach American Lit, I don’t think my Mormon-ness should be a deciding factor. In other words, the person I want the hiring committee to know is me, and not their perception of what a “Mormon” is (and let’s face it, the chances are greater that more negative baggage will be brought in). I do not want to be labeled a Mormon scholar, but a scholar who is Mormon. I don’t believe this means I’m supressing my Mormon identity or hiding it, or that I’m ashamed of it, or anything else it sounds like you believe.

    I’m very selective about being upfront with my Mormon identity (in other words, I pick and choose the circumstances I share it and don’t bring it up in every possible opportunity. And, yes, I sometimes avoid the fact that I graduated from BYU). I find that people are more honest about their sharing their feelings without fear of offending a nearby “believer”. Some of the most positive interactions I’ve had are with people whom I’ve known for a semester or more and only then find out that I’m Mormon. Their reactions of “Oh, you’re Mormon!” are meant along the lines of, “you really don’t fit the stereotype I had in mind”.

  19. March 28, 2007 at 1:28 pm

    Also wouldn’t most employers in Utah already be LDS and have a preference to hire LDS employees?

  20. March 28, 2007 at 1:28 pm

    One last stupid question. What the heck is a CV?

  21. Kevin Barney
    March 28, 2007 at 1:36 pm

    I didn’t put my mission on my first post-law school job search resume, but I do have a degree from BYU. Being Mormon would come up in interviews. For me it was always neutral at worst, or positive in some cases. The firm that hired me liked the fact that I had served a mission, as it showed a capacity for discipline and working hard.

  22. glenda
    March 28, 2007 at 1:54 pm

    Six months ago I thought a “blog” was something that you want to avoid on the sidewalk. When I discovered this site and wanted to leave a comment and the requirement said “Name- required” I didn’t know I had a choice not to put in my full name.

    Now take this issue back to the home front and a virtually non-threatening semi-professional environment called “family child care”. Over the period of 30 years I never had an interviewing parent hesitate because of my religion. Since the interviewing was performed in my living room, my beliefs were obvious. As I ventured out in the world when my babies started moving out, and I applied for director positions of child care centers, I found I was held in high esteem for my religious choice. When my husband aplied for his first job after graduating from BYU and being a returned missionary, he was hired on the spot because of his religious convictions. But that was in the early 1970’s. That, also, was when we lived out west. Now I am living far east and just as far south. Cultural religious attitudes (even in the church) are different but I still have the respect of my religious choices on a professional bases. My only set back with any effforts to “spread” the gospel here, has been based on examples of other members.

    (I know this may be kind of off the pure subject matter, but I had to stretch my neck.)

  23. manaen
    March 28, 2007 at 1:59 pm

    18. I agree with SmallAxe about neither hiding nor flaunting Mormonness when seeking jobs for which it should be irrelevant. (I just wrote about a part of life when Mormonness should be irrelevant — something to ponder tonight).

    Some very useful advice about resumes I received was that everything should sparkle — in the eyes of the particular person reading it. Include only +s and avoid both -s and 0s. Avoiding -s is obvious but 0s hurt you because they dilute the effect of the +s. Your goal isn’t to be someone included in the pool of qualified candidates, for which 0s wouldn’t hurt you, but to be the one surpassing candidate chosen from that pool, for which you’ll need an unbroken string of +s. This is why it’s good to tweak your resume for each situation: to bring to each reader’s attention the best you offer for that position.

    Another helpful insight was to have a longer description of qualifications to send with a resume. This includes self comments about management style, descriptions of successful approaches to problem solving, and arranges accomplishments by type. It basically is cherry-picking your best answers to interview questions. This way, your concise resume sparkles *and* you have an added throw-in bonus of the description of qualifications that the reader may choose to read if desired. But just having this well-written added feature, that other candidates likely do not have, helps you be one of the shinier fish in the pond. As a senior financial type with 25+ years experience, my resume’s 3 pages and growing and my description of qualifications is about 8 pages.

  24. March 28, 2007 at 2:42 pm

    I do not blog under my full name for fear of a potential employer digging up my posts and comments. It is not because I am ashamed of them, but because I don’t want my potential employer to think of me as a religious freak who spends all of his free time blogging.

    I always include my mission on my resume because it is an accomplishment I am proud of, and one that my current employer looked at when hiring me. It shows dedication, commitment and good people skills.

  25. Eufemia Pignatelli
    March 28, 2007 at 2:44 pm

    I’m catholic, but I’ve many mormon friends I esteemate very much. They mostly live in Utah.
    There is a special friend living in Smithfield. I met him 15 years ago because he was on a mission in Italy, in my town. We are still in touch and he gives me a great sense of peace when I talk to him by telephone, he inspires me the desire of being for suffering prople as important as he is for me, he makes me the desire of praying and generally the desire of being as active in the catholic church as he is in the LDS church. I think God can talk to us through everyone, not only through people of my same religion.

  26. March 28, 2007 at 2:47 pm

    I joined the Church at the age of 27 hence my CV doesn’t leave any Mormon “clues.” However, several other members have told me that I was lucky that I’m able to hide my religion. (Although I do put my membership in the BYU International Society on there!)

  27. March 28, 2007 at 2:57 pm

    Why would you list your religion on your resume? Believe me, your colleagues who are Catholic, Buddhist, and Muslim don’t. There’s no reason to. Oh, sure, it’ll come up eventually, because it always does with Mormons. It’s like a topic we can’t avoid, because it’s important to many of us to figure out where others “are coming from” and the best/only way we know how to do that is to find out what religion they are. If you went to BYU, it’ll come up. If you mention you have family in Utah or you grew up in Utah, it’ll come up. If you say you spent 18/24 months as a volunteer for your church, it’ll come up.

    From an HR standpoint, though, it is unlawful to ask about a person’s religious affiliation during the interview process. It’s also a question that most companies discourage their employees from asking one another overtly.

    So, again, I ask, what’s the point in putting it on your resume? You want to be hired for your skill set or education background, not because you pay tithing and go to church every Sunday. (Or maybe you do…)

  28. March 28, 2007 at 3:18 pm

    I think the real solution here is for all you people to stop going to BYU. Seriously. The LDS institutes at high profile colleges could really use the kind of BYU grads who are active in the Bloggernacle (esp. at the UC and top-tier CSU schools here in California). Ya’ll need to start talking to your teenage siblings, cousins, nephews and nieces.

    I actually gave a talk about this to the Moraga (Calif.) ward, but most of the smart, rich kids there (i.e. who could have gone pretty much anywhere they wanted except for maybe Harvard and MIT) went off to BYU.

  29. March 28, 2007 at 3:22 pm

    I should add:

    It boggled people’s mind to find out that I was attending a California community college and then transferring to UC Berkeley. I was smart, active in the Church, an RM. What was wrong with me?

    Also: Granted, I didn’t take the doctorate/try to get a tenure-track position route, but in an academic career in the most liberal departments at two of the most liberal colleges in the U.S. and then as an employee of one, my Mormonism has never been an issue.

  30. Ardis Parshall
    March 28, 2007 at 3:32 pm

    #20 — CV is “curriculum vitae” (the course of one’s life) — It’s what academics call the thing the rest of us call a “resume.”

    Not a stupid question at all, and probably one other readers haven’t dared ask.

  31. Chris Grant
    March 28, 2007 at 3:32 pm

    Re #2:

    The rationale that your department chair had for being leery of hiring Mormons is essentially the same rationale often given for being leery of hiring women: They’ll inevitably want to quit to have a family (so the argument goes). It’s an illegal hiring practice: If you can’t bring yourself to fault your chair for being a bigot, fault him for being a lawbreaker. And if BYU-Idaho represents irresistible greener pastures for his department’s faculty, maybe he’s got other problems he should be worrying about!

  32. Veritas
    March 28, 2007 at 3:44 pm

    I don’t think anyone ever answered Roland’s question…CV stands for Curriculum Vitae and is a Resume. Its not a commenly used term in the US.

    Amen William to the answer being go to other schools. I recall Pres. Hinckley saying as much a few years back. I know certain schools have high LDS populations…both Texas A&M and UT have pretty high undergrad LDS enrollment. Between me and my husband we have lots of younger siblings yet to go college and we are always urging them to go somewhere besides BYU but no one ever seems to be interested. It baffles me because when I was graduating BYU seemed about the least desirable place to go. Not just the honor code or homogenous (don’t kill me for spelling) population…but the horrible weather. Ick. I have a younger sister who is starting HS soon who is looking towards USC…the type of option my parents couldn’t afford when I was growing up but can now. And I think ultimatly thats why so many choose BYU…the value. I know when my older siblings graduated in Europe and had no in-state options available, BYU was the only place my parents could afford.

    But I think it would be good for the youth, good for the growth of the church and good for BYU if people would be more open to other options. I can’t tell you how many people I graduated with in Texas that couldn’t get into BYU so went to Utah State or UVSC instead. Makes no sense to me at all when we lived an hour away from A&M, and in the same city as University of Houston which they could have easily gotten in to. I think most of them were looking for a spouse.

  33. Veritas
    March 28, 2007 at 3:46 pm

    Oops Ardis I hadn’t seen your post yet :)

  34. Jonathan Green
    March 28, 2007 at 4:27 pm

    William Morris, you probably already see the difficulty in recommending choosing a school besides BYU to people who graduated from BYU over 10 years ago. I’m sympathetic to the idea that Mormon students can get good educations at a lot of places, but less sympathetic to the notion that we need to make our religion more invisible. We don’t need to stamp “CTR” on our foreheads, but being coy about it won’t help anybody.

    SmallAxe, in case you haven’t dealt with the situation yet, selectively mentioning your degree from BYU will stop being an option once you send out job applications.

    Drew, one thing that I forgot to mention earlier is I assume that any potential employer, as part of their due diligence in considering me, will read the anonymous comments various students have written about me. I’m not hard to find. If a search committee member is going to google me (Hi, search committee member!), blogging under my own name gives me a chance to tell my own story.

  35. March 28, 2007 at 4:46 pm


    My first comment was tongue-in-cheek, of course. I realize that the Bloggernaclites can’t turn back down. What I really want is for all of us to follow the example of Veritas [#32].

    I don’t think we should be coy about our religion — as I mention, it hasn’t been an issue for me, and I’ve been in some of the most liberal institutions around [of course, it just be that the Bay Area is so tolerant and pc that people would be afraid to make it an issue].

    However, what not going to BYU may do is complicate and perhaps short-circuit the initial, knee-jerk prejudice. But my concern is less that and more the need for smarts, faithful LDS kids to contribute to institute programs. When I think about the good that all the Romanian RMs I knew could have done, I honestly think that our contribution would have been in the aggregate better if 80% of us hadn’t gone to BYU after the mission — and I’m not sure that the personal costs of not going to BYU would have been any more or less.

    But who am I to talk? It’s always easier to defend your own life choices, and to be honest my initial decision to go on a mission instead of to BYU was financial.

  36. March 28, 2007 at 5:21 pm

    #2 “…but having been burned once, he is leery, and I’m not sure I can blame him.”

    I can, Naismith. I think a department chair should have enough common sense to be able to identify “…a one-time occurrence, and more a matter of their wives wanting to be near family than religion per se,”

    Seth already answered for me. #3

  37. Chris Grant
    March 28, 2007 at 6:00 pm

    Re #32:

    Let me get this straight: Provo has icky weather, and Houston would be a good alternative!?!?

  38. Veritas
    March 28, 2007 at 6:18 pm

    Yeah, good point. I would still take the humidity and flooding over snow any day.

    Please note I chose neither Texas or Utah however, I opted for the beach in Hawaii.

  39. March 28, 2007 at 6:28 pm

    Ditto to what SmallAxe said in #18–I don’t hide the fact that I’m Mormon, but usually I only bring it up in situations where I feel it’s applicable/necessary/helpful/etc. I can actually easily avoid my Mormon-ness if I so choose. Since I didn’t go to BYU or serve a mission, my CV has no identifiably “Mormon” aspects. It definitely makes things simpler for me.

  40. m&m
    March 28, 2007 at 8:23 pm

    I opted for the beach in Hawaii

    So you get fun critters instead. :)

  41. Jonathan Green
    March 29, 2007 at 2:24 am

    Seraphine, what you and I do in practice is probably identical, or nearly so, at least aside from the anonymous blogging part. Where we differ is that I don’t see how being identifiably Mormon would make life more complicated.

  42. Ben H
    March 29, 2007 at 3:36 am

    Smallaxe (#18) is obviously right that we should use good sense in bringing up our religious persuasion. This means sometimes it just won’t come up, particularly where someone is probably not interested. What belongs on a CV is primarily what will make you attractive to an employer. However, there is a difference between letting it come up, or not, as appropriate, and making an effort to keep it from coming up.

    For someone on the academic job market in fields where the competition is brutal, like in the humanities, it is natural to become hyper-aware of how people may perceive you. In fact, when one has gone without a normal income for long enough to get a PhD and is then entering a brutal job market, I think it is actually pretty normal (though hopefully not the norm) to become a little irrational. It is not uncommon for self-consciousness to bleed over into paranoia. I’ve seen it in friends and a few times in myself. However, it is important to fight this. Pressure can distort your personality and your judgment, and people don’t want to hire someone distorted.

    I think giving in to this paranoia, such as by hiding blog posts, or doctoring one’s CV to obscure one’s religion, reinforces it. And having been on both sides of the interview process within less than a year (!), I can say that confidence and ease are half the battle! Not that confidence and ease can make up for shoddy work or poor preparation, but they help you showcase your strengths, and frankly they just facilitate a real conversation in which interviewers actually get to know you. They have very little to go on in their decisions. They want to actually know who they are hiring. If your
    approach as a candidate is to selectively put forward just certain
    aspects of who you are, that whole stance will interfere with the
    process, and leave them wondering what you are really about. If you
    are the sort of person they should hire, then I say act like it and
    show it! and let the chips fall. If they walk away not sure they have
    a sense of the real you, then they will probably hire someone else
    where they do have that sense.

    If they can tell you are probably a Mormon and they can see that what
    you do with it is pretty innocuous, their concerns will be allayed. If
    they can tell you are probably a Mormon and wonder if that means you are a closet freak, those doubts are more likely to kill you than
    certainty, I say, since the certainty is probably pretty tame. So I think Jonathan’s philosophy is a good one. An internet presence that shows your Mormonness will hopefully show people that your Mormonness is not a problem, putting their concerns to rest.

    In a similar vein, if you think your Mormonness may raise doubts in people’s minds, think of ways to put those doubts to rest in other things you say and do. Unsettle the stereotype you think they may have. Show that you appreciate other perspectives (religious, cultural). Maybe say something that shows you aren’t a lock-step political conservative.

    Above all, I say yes, put your best foot forward, but it should be your best foot. Put forward what you think is best about yourself. Don’t focus on what you think hiring committees want to hear; tell them what you think they should want to hear. Be collegial; don’t just ignore what they are saying and asking, but know what you want to tell them about yourself and use their questions as a chance to say it. In academia, people are looking for someone with their own sense of direction and purpose, someone who has clear goals and is going after them. Worrying about what others think of you is fundamentally contrary to that spirit.

  43. March 29, 2007 at 4:23 am

    Jonathan, you’re probably right that in practice we probably don’t differ much. I’m not sure that I necessarily believe it will make my life complicated for people to know I’m Mormon, though. I think it’s more a combination of

    1) since Mormon-ness doesn’t really apply to my professional life (I’m not in Mormon studies, etc), it doesn’t really naturally come up. And I don’t bring it up since it’s not really applicable professionally. And since I have no mission/BYU attendance on my CV, I’m not easily identifiably Mormon.


    2) just like there are unspoken rules at church, one of the unspoken rules I’ve picked up in my English Depts (both as an undergrad and a grad) is that you have to be very careful when bringing up religion (while I’ve met with very little direct hostility, I have encountered quite a bit of latent hostility/wariness of religion in my discipline). There have certainly been instances when I’ve brought up religion both in classes and with fellow colleagues (students and professors), but it’s something I’ve found that I have to do very carefully. Or maybe more precisely, if my church membership comes up, I usually have to be prepared for a discussion about things like how I negotiate my membership in a conservative religious organization with my liberal tendencies and study of critical theory and feminism, etc. I actually enjoy conversations like these, but I generally like to choose where, when, and with whom I have them, since they can be emotionally tiring (at least for me).

  44. j.a.t.
    March 29, 2007 at 3:19 pm

    This is the 4th university I’ve worked at, and I have stories from EACH ONE to make Blake salivate. (Well, one was overseas, but the rest were in parts of the country where Gov. Boggs is likened to St. Patrick.) I erased all “clues” from my CV and made sure not to drop any. When I’m asked if I’m LDS, my response usually is “Why do you ask?”. There are only 5 FT LDS professors on campus (3 men and 2 women).

    1) Prof A (male and Stake Prez) is constantly ridiculed for having a large family and being ‘cheap’.
    2) Prof B (male) is seriously considering adding the final touch to his persona by tatooing “I’m a human secularist” to his forehead.
    3) Prof C (male) also goes out of his way to hide his LDS identity (he strategically swears, sets up work programs on Sundays, and repeatedly refers to his mission as his “international saabatical”. etc.)
    4) Prof D (female) ME! I’m a brand new hire, the only LDS here who isn’t a baby boomer. I don’t want to “hide”, but I’m also the only one still working toward tenure and I’m sensing that the mood is pretty hostile.
    5) Prof E (female) is in my department and in my ward. IMMEDIATELY after she found out I was LDS went out of the way to shun me both at work and in RS. It is professionally very bad, and I would be forced to say that this “sister” has discriminated against Mormons even more than the rabid anti-mormon profs. It is a very odd dynamic. I often lament it, b/c I see so many Catholics, Methodists, Episcopalians, etc. who see their church, campus and community as intertwined.

    p.s. don’t worry about me, I’ll hold my own w/o her help or hinderance.

  45. Eugene V. Debs
    March 29, 2007 at 3:41 pm

    Random thoughts–

    I went on a mission, but I finished my BA in six years anyway (age 17-23). Since five or six years is not uncommon time to completion for an undergrad degree, no one has ever detected a gap.

    I did not attend BYU, so religion has never come up during my first round of interviews. After working at that institution for about two months, I had several “so, YOU are a Mormon?”–type conversations. Only positive things came from these conversations.

    The second time out, with a few lines from a recognizable LDS print forum on my CV, my Mormon-ness was noted by an individual I work with now who left the church for very good reasons. She has been one of the most supportive people in my new department.

    I have always been the only active Mormon in my college (as in College of Arts and Business). That means I have never had to deal with anything like what is noted in #44. There is someone in another college at my current job who is a like-minded LDS person and a good friend. That’s a bonus.

  46. j.a.t.
    March 29, 2007 at 5:54 pm

    Glad to head there is “LDS colleagial” support.

  47. Matt Thurston
    March 29, 2007 at 8:37 pm

    I recently had a church representative at LDS Employment Resource Services tell me to take any reference to BYU or my Mormon-ness off of my resume.

    Here’s the story:

  48. March 30, 2007 at 12:09 am

    Yeah, try BS-BYU plus a 19-year-gap for child-rearing (and then add president of student chapter J. Reuben Clark Society). I think my CV fairly screams “Mormon.”

    Considering that nearly all my experience is dressed-up Primary and Scouting, I’d really like to know, Ardis (and anyone else who would be on the receiving end of such a document), just what I *should* put on my resume? Of all the things that keep me from doing OCI, etc., it is the sheer terror of trying to figure out how to tell the story of my life without crossing some taboo line of information. I’ve been told variously to include my graduation year/don’t include my graduation year (age issues; I’m over 40); include the church service/don’t include the church service; leave BYU on/take BYU off (though I would think the counter-presence of my law school’s name should speak volumes about whether I’ve got what it takes); include my writing credentials/don’t include my writing credentials (a local scouting book and two Friend articles). I am who I am, and proud to be who I am; I’d just rather that some of it wasn’t so in-your-face about religion (or in other words, it would be nice if it wasn’t nearly every line).

    This conversation is downright frightening. How about some real-world advice?

  49. Jonathan Green
    March 30, 2007 at 6:20 am

    Wow, Matt, that’s spectacularly bad advice you got. I understand the need to prune irrelevant information from a CV or resume, but language skill and residency in a foreign country are not irrelevant to a career in business. Graduation from one of the very best undergrad programs in your field is incredibly relevant. I’m glad you saw that on your own.

    I’m very sympathetic with the desire to do whatever is necessary to land a job, but that thing about not hiding candles under bushels can’t be dismissed out of hand, either. I can understand the difficult situation of Mormons in countries with few members and rampant prejudice, but in the USA? With five prominent senators in our government? For me, leaving BYU off my CV for fear of encountering bias would be not just pointless and counterproductive, but crassly ungrateful towards a church to whom I owe a great deal for helping me get to where I am today.

  50. March 30, 2007 at 9:20 am

    #48 – Coffinberry, since you called on me, my real-world advice is to remind you that you’re not telling the story of your life — your potential employer doesn’t care about your life unless she’s your mother. You’re describing yourself as the person that employer wants for the job. If your Scouting experience is relevant, tailor your resume to make Scouting match the job as closely as possible. If Scouting isn’t especially relevant, then don’t describe it; relegate it to “community service” if you include it at all.

    My earlier advice about not inflating means that if Primary is relevant, say so — but don’t try to make it look like teaching a class of half a dozen Sunbeams is equivalent to being headmaster of an exclusive private school where you are in charge not only of instruction but also of physical development (finger plays), nutrition (cookies), and deportment (‘sit down and shut up!’), with a side specialty of voice coach (‘Jesus wants me for a SunBEAM’).

    I interviewed candidates for a technical writing position where I asked for samples. As posted, the position involved writing training materials for people learning to use a specialized in-house computer program. The samples submitted included poetry, a book report on the Star Trek language Klingon, and a sheaf of PTA bulletins with one candidate’s two-line calendar announcements. How could I know whether those writers could translate geek-speak to English? The only candidates I called in were those whose samples were more or less related to the job I was hiring for — i.e., the candidates who had described themselves as already doing the work I needed. FWIW.

  51. March 30, 2007 at 10:41 am

    This whole conversation seems oblivious to the fact that for most jobs in America. Your resume is pretty much a waste of time.

    People get jobs through personal contacts in this country. Not by sending out a mass-mailer campaign, no matter what the misguided books in the career section of the bookstore say.

    You want a job?

    Go meet people in your field.

    And quit wasting time fussing about your resume and cover letter.

  52. Veritas
    March 30, 2007 at 12:34 pm

    As a recruiter for a um, large, software corporation I would say that your resume being irrelevant it totally false. Connections will get your resume further up the food chain faster, but TRUST ME…you need a resume and it needs to be articulate and contain relevant information. I think Ardis’ advice is very good regarding what to include. And sending in your resume cold, if you are a great candidate, absolutly does work. It might just take longer.

    I can’t imagine leaving your university off your resume however. If I saw a resume with no University info I would be annoyed…I might call the candidate and ask before I moved any further. I want to know they went to real accredited university and didn’t get there BS/BA from joeshmo online college or something. If the organization you are applying to won’t hire you because of that, I’m not sure why you would want to work there. Reading this thread, I’m really glad I’m not in Academia.

  53. Ardis Parshall
    March 30, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    Seth, I got my first teenager job because my bishop needed a gopher in his office. I got another job because a temp agency sent me for a week, and the firm bought out my contract with the temp agency. Except for that, my work for more than 20 years came from sending in a resume, cold. Now that I’m self-employed, I *still* have to write the equivalent of a resume every time I want to speak at a conference or teach a workshop.

    My resumes are effective. They have to be, since I don’t have the credentials people ordinarily expect for the work I do.

  54. Naismith
    March 30, 2007 at 3:56 pm

    The reality is that we all affect one another, for good or for ill. Am I the only one who holds my breath when someone says, “I worked with a Mormon once…” Because one is not sure if the stories will be a tale of condescending superiority and refusal to work on a weekend to meet a deadline, or if it will be a positive story of high integrity and reliability.

    I’ve benefitted from the latter. My first job in my current field, I was picked out of maybe 75 applicants for the job BECAUSE I was a BYU grad, and that supervisor had a positive experience with a BYU grad who was his best supervisor.

    But as for the department chair who felt burned by BYU grads who left him in the lurch, welll, that’s the other side of the coin, isn’t it? We can’t accept the benefits and disown the downside.

  55. March 30, 2007 at 6:15 pm

    My boss when I converted was an evangelical Christian, and he told me a bunch of anti stuff that some speaker at their church had given a talk on. So odd that they find Mormons to be a great enough evil to recruit speakers and rally the troops. Anyway, he was very unhappy with me when I decided to join the church. He said the devil had gotten hold of me. He quit trusting me, and things deteriorated between us to the point that I found another job. Since then it’s never been a problem. Not long after I started this job, two coworkers in the cubicle next to me were talking about how weird those people are (Mormons) because they think God talks to them and that’s scary. Apparently the thought that anyone here (southeastern U.S.) might be Mormon hadn’t crossed their minds. I popped my head in and said in a friendly way that I was Mormon but not to worry, I was very nonscary. One of them was nice about it, and the other never spoke to me again, but he was a walking lawsuit anyway, since he said things in poor taste about women and other ethnic groups all the time (a huge nono in my firm) and he left the company soon thereafter.

    Otherwise it’s been no problem at all, and I would not try to hide it, although there isn’t anything in my resume to give it away. The company I work for now has several LDS people sprinkled here and there, as it turns out, people with many years of service, and in various positions of authority, so it really seems they don’t discriminate. I like my company. There is an awesome amount of diversity and it works well for us.

  56. greenfrog
    March 30, 2007 at 8:36 pm

    From 5280, Denver’s local magazine:

  57. Kramer
    March 30, 2007 at 10:04 pm


    You had a comment about RM\’s posting information about thier mission on thier resume and shortly thereafter it being tossed into the trash. I will agree I very much dislike the \” I was a District Leader\” mentality but personally I feel my mission taught me more practical real world experience than my family ( my family situation was unique ), College, and my work related fields. I consider myself a very average person to to most if not all of my friends who are not of my faith think I am extraordinary. I am not bragging because I generally have heard this experience happens to most decent RM\’s. I could be wrong just throuwing it out there….

    Also my wifes work only hires Mormon accountants ( she being the only mormon ) because they can be trusted with money. I have heard this experience happens to a lot of people.

  58. March 30, 2007 at 10:34 pm

    I think missionaries totally should put their mission on their resume. Most applicants would kill for something like that to help them stand out from the crowd – thats why internships and study abroad programs are seen as valuable. If a hiring manager doesn’t want someone because of it, I think that reflects very negatively on their company and I’m not sure why you would want to work there. Its leadership and work experience, and often language ability and real-world cultural experience. That adds value to any organization. It has helped my husband get a job many times, and I know at my company RMs get called at a much higher rate than those who ONLY have a degree :)

  59. queuno
    March 30, 2007 at 11:44 pm

    Can we *please* stipulate the career field and the academic field when we’re asking this question?

    BYU is a real trump card when we’re talking about engineering. Sorry if it’s a liability in your fields.

    I could probably lecture for an hour about what is appropriate on a resume. There are different cases where it’s appropriate to put Eagle Scouts and missions — and there are cases where it’s just pathetic. In short – why are you still talking about high school and age 19-21. If you’re 25, it’s useful. If you’re still putting it on resumes at age 35, there may be other problems with your resume. I commented on this subject over at ( I’ve collected a large corpus of resumes from church members during my time as a stake employment specialist. Maybe one day I’ll do a statistical analysis of the mission/eagle scout contents, but my off-the-cuff reaction is that whether or not those make it in are based strictly on AGE and EXPERIENCE.

    Seriously, after 15 years with senior-level technical leadership jobs in IT and 4-page resume, do I really need to put my eagle scout and my mission? No. Saying I’m fluent in a language and saying my degree comes from BYU in the education section is a hint enough for the Mormons out there.

    Again, I can’t speak for the English grads out there, but BYU has killer engineering and science cred.

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