After months of applying for roles, you finally land an interview with your dream organization. You’re thrilled until you realize the all-day interview includes both lunch with the team and dinner with members of leadership (or an all day virtual meet-and-greet, including working lunches and coffee).
Usually, this would be a great way to get to know your potential future colleagues—but it falls during a time when you’re fasting for religious reasons. This article outlines points to consider as you decide whether and how to ask for religious accommodations.
To disclose or not to disclose?
Should you go ahead with the interview and explain that you won’t be eating? Reschedule? See if meals can be avoided? The decision ultimately boils down to what you’re comfortable with. As long as you’re respecting your own values and communicating clearly, you shouldn’t feel pressure to pursue one option over the other. Keep in mind that it is illegal for organizations not to hire you because of your religion and that employers are obligated to accommodate your religious beliefs and practices.
Before you make a decision and respond to the invitation, spend some time thinking about how comfortable you feel sharing something so personal with a stranger. You may also make a mental note of other accommodations you may need to ask for once you’re hired. Do you want to wait until you’ve been hired to inform the employer that you’ll require certain accommodations, or do you prefer to know their response to your request(s) before you even commit to interviewing with them? This article on requesting workplace accommodations for disabilities offers some useful, transferable advice.
Responding to the invite
Leslie Funk, a workplace program associate at the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, shared that when it comes to religion at work, the primary sources of conflict are scheduling and diet. If you opt to disclose that you’re fasting, she advises you to do so in a clear, respectful and concise manner. For example, in your response you’ll want to outline the length, time, and manner of your observation.
You may say, “While I’m excited to meet the team, I’m hoping to reschedule the interview for a date after May 18th, as I’ll be fasting during and beyond business hours until then for religious reasons.” If you’re open to it, you can even include a link for employers to learn more about your practice. Employers may appreciate this and feel less intimidated about offering accommodations as a result.
But maybe you don’t want to disclose. You don’t believe it’s your potential employer’s business or are concerned that sharing this information may, despite the law, negatively influence your application. If so, consider replying with a request to learn more about what’s been planned for the day and what could be altered.
Funk suggests saying something along the lines of, “I have dietary restrictions and wanted to bring that up in advance; I’d rather not partake in meals during the interviewing process.” This is a way to be honest about your requirements for the day, without revealing a religious component that may cause implicit bias.
Funk stresses that when it comes to religious diversity, there’s no right or wrong way to proceed, so long as you aim to encourage respectful engagement. Check out Tanenbaum’s website for a wealth of resources and information related to religion at work.
Learning more about the hiring organization’s values
Interviewing is always a two-way street and interacting with the prospective employer is your chance to find out if they offer a work environment that will value and support all parts of your identity. How they respond to your request to adapt or reschedule the interview will be telling of their flexibility and tolerance.
As you do your homework to find out how certain organizations align with your values and beliefs, find out what sorts of resource groups are available to employees. You can do this by searching online, reaching out to current employees on LinkedIn, or bringing it up during the interview. Don’t hesitate to ask about the history and engagement of faith-based groups and organizational diversity in general. Keep track of how the organization shows up in the news, but be sure to take reviews and testimonials with a grain of salt—don’t let one source completely inform your opinion, or assume that decisions made by an individual reflect an entire organization.
Sheena Daree Miller is based in Brooklyn and divides her time between working in faculty development at a university and managing a black heritage center at a library. She is committed to promoting equity, with an emphasis on supporting graduating students and career changers.