Supporting Transgender and Gender Non-binary Job Seekers
By Brandon L. Beck
Transgender and gender non-binary people have always been a part of our society; they just haven’t always had the safety and freedom to express their identity the way that they do increasingly now. And even though more and more transgender and gender non-binary people are “out” now, transphobia is still a monster that lurks around every corner. Helping transgender people access safe and nurturing careers is a valuable job and goes a long way toward overcoming the transphobia that plagues our society.
Transgender identity is a gender identity in which the internal sense of being a man, woman, both, or neither transgresses societal assumptions for the person’s sex assigned at birth. Many people assume that there is one grand narrative of the transgender experience and that if one can learn that narrative, then one can be prepared to assist every trans person. But the truth is that no two transgender people have exactly the same set of experiences. Being prepared to listen carefully and to respond to each person from where they are is the best tool to being an ally.
However, there are keys in career counseling that can go a long way to helping transgender and gender non-binary people find success in career and job searches. Below, is a list of important questions to consider along with some tips for working with transgender and gender non-binary people and a few resources for career development for transgender and gender non-binary persons.
Questions and Answers for Transgender and Non-binary Job Seekers
Here are just a few questions and suggested answers for helping clients. Note, this is not intended to be legal or ethical advice. Please consult appropriate sources, such as lawyers or the NCDA Code of Ethics 2015.
When do I have to use my legal name?
This question is important to transgender and non-binary individuals because not all transgender and non-binary individuals have the privilege of being able to legally change their name, so the name they go by might be different than their legal name. Documents for background checks, social security documents, tax documents, and insurance documents will require the applicant to list their legal name.
Doesn’t it “out” me to use my legal name on legal documents and my chosen name on day-to-day documents?
Many people use a different name on a day-to-day basis than what is on their legal documents. No one should assume someone has a diverse gender identity just because they go by a name other than the one on their legal documents. Additionally, Human Resources maintains confidentiality, so if they are the department responsible for the legal documents, then those are in a confidential space.
What name should I use on my cover letter and resume?
If a transgender or non-binary person is filling out an application form that asks for their legal name, then they should use their legal name. If they are writing their own cover letter and resume, then they can use their chosen name. If they want to indicate that they have a legal name other than the name they go by, they might consider a format using initials and/or quotation marks, such as J. “Brandon” Beck. They can also always consult with any of the transgender resources listed below for company specific policies and state-by-state guidelines.
How should I dress for an interview?
Suggest to transgender and non-binary job seekers that they dress professionally for their gender identity. In order to help transgender and non-binary individuals feel confident dressing in a way they feel expresses their gender identity for interviews, help them conduct research about the company’s non-discrimination policy, insurance benefits for transgender people, and what the culture of the office is for transgender individuals.
Tips for Supporting Transgender Job Seekers
- Don’t assume someone is transgender just because of the way they look or because of how they are dressed. Allow transgender and non-binary job seekers the freedom and space to come out to you.
- Provide signs and resources that visibly indicate that you are an ally to the transgender and non-binary community. You might consider having handouts with some of these FAQs or Resources readily available or having a trans ally symbol displayed in your office.
- Respect chosen names and pronouns. If your client asks you to call them by a certain name, use that name. If you don’t know what pronoun to use, ask what the client uses so that you can be respectful of their identity. Know that some transgender and non-binary people do not use binary pronouns such as he or she but instead use gender neutral pronouns such as zie/xe or the singular they.
- Beware of honorifics. Sir/Ma’am, Mr./Ms./Miss/Mrs. all have gendered connotations and require some kind of assumption on your part about the gender of the person your are addressing. Not all transgender and non-binary people are comfortable being addressed in these gendered ways. If someone is out to you as transgender or non-binary and you want to use an honorific, ask which, if any, they use.
- Continue to learn about ways to advocate for the transgender and non-binary community. Seek out new resources and connect with employers who are affirming so that you can build positive connections for your transgender and non-binary job seekers and so that you have the current language and expertise in the area of career counseling for transgender and non-binary individuals.
Additional Resources for Supporting Transgender Job Seekers
Transgender Inclusion in the Workplace - http://www.hrc.org/resources/entry/transgender-inclusion-in-the-workplace-recommended-policies-and-practices
Rating US Workplaces on LGBT Equality - http://www.hrc.org/campaigns/corporate-equality-index
Know Your Rights –
Transgender Rights in the Workplace –
Workplace Gender Transition Guidelines –
A Case Study Approach to Ethics in Career Development: Exploring Shades of Gray -
Brandon L. Beck, Ph.D. is faculty in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Texas State University. He is Chair of the board of Transgender Education Network of Texas. He presents on transgender inclusion for schools, families, organizations, and universities. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mary Buzzetta on Tuesday 08/04/2015 at 10:07 AM
Great article, Dr. Beck! Thank you for sharing more about such an important topic in our profession. I look forward to further exploring these resources and using them in my work with clients.
Sue Motulsky on Monday 08/24/2015 at 01:08 PM
Wonderful article and so important to increase visibility and provide tips for career practitioners. I have presented several times at NCDA on transgender career issues and the necessary education/understanding of career educators and practitioners for advocacy, social justice and interventions for this population. Thank you for contributing this article.
Paul Timmins on Friday 11/11/2016 at 11:52 AM
Hi Brandon -- Thank you for writing this! I was doing some Internet research as I'm thinking about some resources my office provides, and came across this your piece -- it really helped me out!