Skirting the Ceiling: Politics and Professionalism

With the 2016 election year and the 2017 administration transition, politics seems to lurk around every corner. Navigating these turbulent waters while frantically participating in the 1L summer job search, got me thinking—how do politics and professionalism interact? Are they mutually exclusive? My mission this past month was to find out.

Politics and the Job Search 

It’s common knowledge that bringing up politics in a job interview is usually a bad idea. But what other red flags are there? I turned to Margaret DeYoung, my career counselor at the University of Houston Law Center, for advice. I asked Margaret if there was anything a prospective employee could put on a resume that would turn off an employer. For example, if a candidate is heavily involved in the Advocates for Life club, could that signal a political affiliation that would affect the candidate's appeal as an employee?

According to Margaret, ”For many law firms and other legal employers, your political stance doesn’t impact how strong a candidate you are for the job.” What matters more to firms are qualities like your experience and interpersonal skills, and those are the things that you really want to let shine. She suggested that “It could be unnecessarily damaging to disclose [a political stance] stance on your resume.” In cases like these, when it comes to politics, less really is more.

What I found to be more interesting was the effect that extracurriculars, like the Advocates for Life club, could have on your job prospects in when searching for a job in public interest. For non-profit organizations and government agencies, Margaret suggests that, “Your political stance may strengthen or weaken your candidacy depending on the organization’s purpose, cause, source of funding, [the] clients it serves, etc.” Margaret explained how emphasizing passion for the organization’s cause, as shown on your resume or discussed in an interview, may indicate that you’re the right fit. In contrast, the employer might suspect a student with opposing political leanings wouldn’t exert the highest effort for its legal purpose or clients. Think of Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation! He makes for great TV, but you probably wouldn’t want him running your hometown’s parks department.










Public interest employers are looking for the Leslie Knopes of the world rather than Ron Swansons when it comes to passion and enthusiasm for their work and their cause.

Politics and the Job 

So now you've landed the job,-- what happens now? Keep these tips in mind as you set about sailing through murky political waters in the office.

  1. Be mindful. A friend of mine at SMU law aspires to be involved in politics after graduation. Throughout the course of law school, she has worked a variety of internships at government agencies. In the process, she’s found that it’s often other people’s presumptions about her political stances that have created the most awkward moments in the workplace. For example, assuming that she is conservative because she worked for the George W. Bush library may seem like a safe bet, but you may find yourself with your foot in your mouth when she explains that as the library is a non-partisan, federal organization, it draws in employees from across the political spectrum.  
  2. Assess the circumstances. Discussing the future of the EPA and changing environmental policies with your team members at lunch is completely different than debating hot-button topics with a client. Determine if it’s the right time and place to have this conversation. 
  3. Think before you speak. Be as articulate and friendly as possible when discussing politics with coworkers. An open-minded discussion is more likely to leave a positive impression on a colleague than a snarky or ill-conceived comment.
  4. Check sources and facts. There’s been a lot buzz lately about relying on quality news sources and avoiding the promotion of fake news. Do some digging online to investigate the quality and political leaning of broadcast news stations, written publications, and news radio.
  5.  Put things in perspective. Obtaining objective facts is incredibly important; Equally important can be understanding multiple perspectives. Multiple perspectives can help you suss out the facts and collect your thoughts on the issue. Explore different views points by listening to or reading editorials from various sources after you've reviewed the hard news story.  If you have time, check out what sources from other countries are saying about the issue. 
  6. Keep social media classy. Should you choose to express political views online, present them in a way that you would be comfortable with if you imagined your coworkers talking about what you said over a cup of coffee without you there. Avoid using inflammatory rhetoric, such as explicative language and name calling.

Politics and professionalism don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Be mindful of how you present yourself and interact with others. Politics doesn't have to be an unavoidable pitfall of in the job application process or a perilous conversation with your coworkers. Remember, Leslie and Ron may have totally different views on government and the role of the parks department, but they’re still best friends!

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