Should I reveal my leadership in certain organizations on my resume?

Here’s a question I recently was asked: Should I reveal my leadership in an organization that reveals something personal about me, on my resume? For example, leadership in an addiction recovery organization?

Here is my opinion. It is definitely opinion and others may disagree. I would welcome a heated debate about this, as a matter of fact.

In general, whether to reveal something on a resume is a cost-benefit analysis as well as a personal values issue. What does the accomplishment reveal about you positively, which has not been revealed in some other part of the resume? What does the statement possibly reveal that might be a negative in some people’s view? Would you be unable to work in an organization where people viewed this experience negatively?

In my mind, revealing a leadership role in a 12-step program, for instance, has the following possible positives:
• It shows leadership and counseling skills
• It shows courage to reveal the information
• It shows you have overcome a personal challenge or discrimination, which some people may see as honorable
• It shows understand of mental health and addiction issues.

However, these benefits might not be outweighed by the costs:
• There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of in having an addiction, especially if you are in recovery and have worked hard to get there. However, not every employer in the world understands this. Some will be confused and think that because you say you are a recovering addict or alcoholic, that you are still an active addict, or have other issues that will become a challenge in the workplace, like absenteeism, physical illness, unreliability, you name it.
• There is also still some stigma involved with disclosing any sort of medical challenge, disability, etc., even though the Americans with Disabilities Act has been around for a long time and such discrimination is illegal. Some people still have a misinformed attitude that addiction is some kind of moral failure, etc. It all comes from ignorance.

Because it’s hard to predict which employers might think negatively about this, I think it’s safer not to disclose it—or at least not to disclose it very specifically (for example you can say you were a leader in a self-help organization without saying what it was about).

You also have the option of saying you were a leader for an addiction recovery organization, but without saying that you yourself were in recovery (though most folks will be able to read between the lines).

Also, everything is balanced by what other items you have on your resume. If you have tons of leadership work at organizations that aren’t necessarily “loaded” with possible preconceptions by employers, you might decide it’s not necessary to also let the employer know your membership in a particular group.

However, there may be some cases where an employer will find your membership in a certain group to be an asset. For example, if are a leader in a recovery program and you want a job in human and social services or the mental health field, or a role where the people reading your resume are more likely to “get it” about your leadership role, then it may make sense to reveal this information, because it is more likely to be viewed as a strength. Also, you might decide that you don’t want to work somewhere where people are ignorant or judgmental about your background. However, this could limit where you get jobs.

What’s sad about this is that I could have written almost the same thing about a number of types of groups someone could be a leader of, which employer might discriminate against even though to do so is likely to be illegal:
* Leadership in a religious organization or missionary work
* Leadership in an organization that reveals your ethnic background
* Leadership in a parenting group that reveals you are a parent
* Leadership in a gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender organization
* Leadership in a union

You name it, someone might discriminate against it… by not revealing your membership, you are de facto encouraging the continuance of this discrimination, but you are also possibly limiting the jobs you could get.

What do you think?

Heather Krasna is the author of Jobs That Matter: Find a Stable, Fulfilling Career in Public Service

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Bryan Conway JD, PMP

I think that listing participation in a conservative political organization would not be appreciated by most government employees in my area!

Kevin Lanahan

I think it really depends on how you feel about the leadership role. If you think it is a part of who you are and is important to know, you put it down. If an organization doesn’t want to hire you because of it, do you really want to work for them? Kinda like “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

I guess it also depends on whether you want a job or a career. You could put up with people that would make judgments about your activities for a while in a job, but it’s a lot harder to put up with that long-term.

Martha Garvey

Well, if it is actually a 12-step group-that is a group that ends with the name “Anonymous”–I wouldn’t recommend mentioning it during an interview, or on a resume. But it’s not because someone is going to judge you.

Historically, 12-step programs have made the choice, over the years, to remain anonymous, and typically members only break their anonymity when they are helping to get another person get clean, sober, or abstinent. Traditionally (and I can think of exceptions) breaking one’s anonymity has a very specific function in a 12-step group–to help the person who still suffers. Applying for a job, unless it’s in addiction recovery services, doesn’t really qualify.

If, on the other hand, the group you’re talking about is an educational or advocacy group, such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and what you did in that group tracks to what you’ll be doing in the new job, it makes sense.