jobinterviewComing out can be tricky for the job market; here are some expert tips to help make it smoother.

Your resume is polished. You don your best smile. And hope desperately that the interviewer will like you. Why? Because in these tough economic times, your livelihood depends on it, and this interview could make or break your plans for the next few years (or more) of your life.

How on earth will you answer specific benign questions such as “What brought you to this city?” or “Are you married?” when the answers involve revealing this one particular detail: You’re a lesbian?

Coming out during a job interview can benefit long-term productivity and job satisfaction, but it is a choice that should be based on one’s comfort level, experts say. And as part of that decision-making process, there are specific questions that job seekers can—and should—ask to be better informed.

Do your homework

The first step in deciding whether to come out is to get to know your potential employer and any relevant legal protections in your state. Ask these questions:

What are the state’s regulations regarding discrimination?

There is no federal law protecting job seekers from discrimination based on sexual orientation. It remains legal to fire someone based on sexual orientation in 30 states, says Deena Fidas, manager of the Workplace Project for the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. Though not a deal-breaker, it’s certainly food for thought and helpful to know whether there is added legal protection should you need it down the road, she says.

What is the employer’s commitment to diversity?

There are several ways an employer can show a commitment to diversity. Ask these questions before the interview or find a way to weave them into the conversation:

•    Is sexual orientation included in the non-discrimination policy or equal employment opportunity statement? Job seekers can often find this information on the employer’s Website or employment application, says Fidas. If not, consider asking an HR representative to provide you with a copy of the employee manual, she adds.

•    Does the employer offer diversity training? “Are they translating their policy into practice and teaching their workforce about their standards of fairness?” she adds.

•    Are there same-sex domestic partner benefits, such as health, dental, and vision coverage? Does the employer extend its bereavement policy to same-sex partners or offer employee discounts to those individuals?

•    Is there an employee resource group (ERG) that advocates for LGBT inclusion? ERGs are commonly listed on employer websites and often include a contact person. “A potential job applicant can get in touch with the group and learn about potential LGBT inclusion in the work environment,” says Friday.

Has the employer been formally recognised as LGBT friendly?

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) offers a Corporate Equality Index that rates nearly 600 employers according to LGBT inclusive policies and benefits. HRC also shows an employer search database that features several hundred employers, colleges, and universities.

“[Offering inclusive policies and benefits] is increasingly the norm across businesses, but particularly among the most successful businesses in this country,” says Friday. Eighty-five per cent of Fortune 500 companies have non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation, and 57 per cent offer domestic partner benefits.

Another resource is the HOT (Hiring Out Talent) list published by OUT for Work, an OUT for Work—an organisation that hosts an annual career and job fair to assist LGBT students in their career search. The list, which includes companies that appear in HRC’s Corporate Equality Index and, rates employers offering entry-level positions based on whether they have LGBT inclusive policies, says Riley Folds, director.

Other resources include the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, which consists of a network of local affiliates nationwide, says Folds. Sometimes a good barometer is to check and see which companies sponsor local gay pride events or other LGBT-related gatherings.

Beware the power of the Internet.

One point to keep in mind is that although the Internet can be helpful, it can also provide a wealth of information for employers regarding potential candidates.

Don’t let the Internet out you before you can make the decision yourself, Folds warns. Job seekers should know that potential employers can easily dig up information about candidates using social media and other Internet-based tools, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, and Twitter.

“If you’re projecting something on your resume and something else on your Facebook, you better be careful. That could cast doubt on a candidate,” says Folds.

However, social networking tools such as LinkedIn can positively connect with other LGBT professionals.

“Never underestimate the power of networking within the LGBT community,” says Folds. “If you’re looking for a job or organisation that’s LGBT friendly, a logical step to take is to network within the community to see where these individuals are working.”

Give credit where credit is due.

The most crucial point to keep in mind is that employers generally value—and seek—talented individuals regardless of their sexual orientation, experts say. And as part of showcasing these talents, many job seekers must decide to come out on their resume—and long before they set foot in front of an interviewer.

“There are ways that a person can come out on their resume that are very relevant to the job to which they are applying,” says Friday. “We see students taking leadership roles in their colleges and university groups. This is a way for job applicants to demonstrate leadership, organisation, communication, and time management skills. These are very relevant to an employer,” she adds.

For Jessica Lee, a senior at Purdue University and president of the queer student union, the decision to put herself on paper was easy because she wanted to highlight her plethora of skills and abilities. “If you took all of the gay organisations off my resume, I think it would look empty and lacking in diversity and leadership skills,” says the political science major who also belongs to the National Organization for Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals and the Purdue Ally Association.

According to Folds, employers often look at volunteer work and other community involvement to find evidence of various skills. “If you’re leaving those attributes off [your resume], then you’re not selling your total self,” he says.

If you’re not comfortable listing specific organisations, consider using something more generic such as ‘diversity group’ or an acronym instead, says Folds. However, keep in mind that if you feel the need to hide who you are, it might not be a good fit, in the long run, he adds. “Do you want to work at a place where you’re not even comfortable during the interview? How are you going to go to work every day?”