Queered & Careered: Sussing Out if An Employer is Trash

Queered & Careered is a column that offers tips and tricks on how to navigate career development as a queer person — from job searching to career inspiration to dealing with straight nonsense in the office.


Job-searching is like online dating.

You put your best face forward with well written puns and cute pictures, and when your profile finally reaches that level of effortless chic you’re going for, you begin the long, slow process of finding a good match.

When you FINALLY find someone who seems worthwhile (and the other person has enough interest to reach out and say hello first because you’re a total bottom), you meet up with them in person and endure an overwhelming series of emotions ranging from a fear of rejection to anxiety about your skills to excitement about your future together.

If you both determine it’s a bad match, you separate and look for other opportunities. If you both determine it’s a good match, you meet up for dates two, three, and four, and start brainstorming mashup super-couple names that would look good on a wedding invitation.

Or that’s the way the metaphor should go.

As a queer woman of color, job searching is a lot like online dating for me because both processes can be scary, stressful, and even traumatic.

What happens when you put up your profile and no one responds because of your race, gender, ability, size, or sexual orientation? Or what happens if you have a great first meeting, but after spending time together you realize that the other party either doesn’t know or is uninterested in supporting you fully in your identities?

When you’re queer, every career decision can have consequences for your emotional, mental, or even physical health. Planning ahead, finding support, and asking critical questions about the people and companies you’re “dating” is central to your survival.

And, here’s where the power of suss comes in.

According to the only dictionary that matters, the word “suss” means to “discover or realize information, usually with a level of intuition playing a role” (Urban Dictionary, 2003). When we are looking for work, we have to use our best suss skills to determine whether an employer is in alignment with our values and goals. Here are some questions you should be asking yourself and employers throughout the suss process.


Question # 1: What does trash mean to you?
Though this question sounds like something Oscar the Grouch would ask a visitor after too much pot, I think it is a worthy question to explore. I’m going to assume that most of us value social justice and would prefer to work at companies that don’t actively create, perpetuate, and uphold inequitable systems. Outside of that parameter, it’s really up to you to determine what makes an employer “trash.”

When it comes to work, I’m a creative, collaborative, Queen-of-Cups type bitch who enjoys humor, personality tests, and feedback that is more glitter than shade. Though I know I could navigate a work environment that is competitive or conservative, I also know that kind of environment would probably be trash for me.

Think about your past experiences working both full time and part time jobs. What was ideal and less than ideal for you in those positions? If you could choose, what would be the perfect work environment for you?


Question #2: Can I afford to turn down this job?
In the last post, we discussed common career advice that is fueled by capitalist thinking about power and success. A common belief, often masqueraded as empowerment, is that everyone has the power to wait for a job that feels right or leave a work environment that is not working for them. The reality is that many people are forced to stay in jobs they don’t love to support themselves and their families.

As you’re job hunting, it is important to ask yourself what your boundaries and limitations are. If you are in a place to where you can wait for the perfect job, that’s great! If not, take the best opportunity that comes along and focus on gaining skills and connections that can help you in future searches.


Question #3: What are the employers espoused values, and how do they talk about them?
Them: “Do you have any questions for us?”

Me: “Yes, I have a few. From my research, I found that one of your company values is diversity and inclusion. Would each of you be able to talk to me about how that value manifests in the work that you do each day here?”

Crickets.

And then something about a diversity training they once attended a few years back.

Almost every company has a website with an About Me page that discusses their mission and values. Look up these values and then follow up by asking critical questions once you get to the job interview stage (pro interview tip: always be sure to have at least five questions prepared as some of your questions may be answered when they introduce themselves and their company at the beginning of the interview).

It is also important to be a critical listener here. When you ask critical questions, do they seem annoyed, or do they say “that’s a good question” and give you bonus points for challenging them? If they aren’t accepting of your questions and personality in the interview process, then they probably won’t be when you start working there.


Question #4: Who do they hire? And what do those people say about the company?
Let’s play a game! Think about a company you love- one you have always wanted to work for. Now, go on Linked In >> type in that company name >> go to employees on their company home page >> and see what comes up!

Now, ask yourself: Do any of these people look like you?

Companies are defined by where they put their money, and one of the greatest ways to see what a company values is to see WHO they are investing in. Though race can be fairly easy to suss in this instance, do some deeper diving into employee profiles on Linkedin to gain insights into other company hiring practices. What level of education do most of their employees have? What kind of articles are they sharing or liking? How long do their employees typically stay with the company before moving on to other opportunities?

If you are still interested in working for the company after your initial research, start reaching out to current or past employees for informational interviews. We will explore informational interviews in depth in a few weeks, but to give a quick overview: informational interviews are conversations that you hold with people to learn more about a certain company or career path. Use them to get the 411 on what it is like to be a (insert marginalized identity here) at that company and to better understand the company’s culture.


Question 5: What is the vibe? .
I have countless friends who have ditched dates, Lyft rides, or even sexual encounters because they just knew something wasn’t right. Though I like to imagine this sixth sense comes from Gods and Goddesses, ancestors, or drag queen guardian angels, I ultimately believe these knowing moments are spearheaded by our intuition.

When you are meeting with an employer for the first time, be observant. Take in as much information as you can about how they treat each other, how they answer your questions, what the space feels like, and how the employees look. Do the employees seem happy to work there and does their happiness seem genuine? Do you like the space, and could you see yourself working there? If you could describe the feeling of the company in one word, what would it be? These are the questions you can ask yourself as you try to determine if the company will be a good fit or not.

Immediately after I finish an interview, I like to go somewhere calming and process the day. I take out my journal and rapid write about my experience and then I follow up by calling a friend and telling them about it. This two step process is helpful because (1) writing down your feelings without a filter will give you new insights into how you felt about the employer and (2) a trusted friend can validate your experience, especially if something felt awkward or off. Your intuition will be a constant companion for you throughout your job search so take a moment every now and again to connect with it.

At the end of the day, you can’t ever fully know if you will have a good experience with an employer or not in the long term, and just like dating, there will always be risks that you will have to negotiate. But, if you continue to trust your intuition and do your research- you will one day end up at a place that works well with who you are and what you value (or at THE LEAST, will provide you with a paycheck that can help you to support yourself and your loved ones).

Follow your intuition, ask good questions, SSDGM, and add some suss into your search. What are a few suss techniques you have utilized in the past? Are there any in this article that you’re excited to try?

Tiara’s six word memoir is “born with questions in her mouth.” By day, she works as a sassy, affirmation-card-wielding Career Coach. After hours, she is a creative writer, book reviewer (@booknerdspells), and unofficial bubble tea ambassador. Tiara writes angsty fiction and essays about intersectionality, mermaids, reading, spirituality, being queer, and traveling. She hates beets and people who touch her hair.

Tiara has written 4 articles for us.

9 Comments

  1. Incidentally, I quit my last job rather unexpectedly because of upcoming issues and well, the break up wasn’t pretty.
    My boss wouldn’t even greet me in the hallway anymore.
    Now,I’m unemployed and so.scared to get back out there and get my heart broken again.
    So, yes, I might be a bit of a workaholic, and ok, maybe I ought to do more socializing outside of work (which I totally am atm, by the way) but this feels, uncannily like a break up, and job applying does feel like online dating and all of this is just very terrifying and unexpectedly emotionally charged.
    Also, I really need to abandon the whole wanting for people to want me, just to boost my ego, even if it’s not a good fit.
    Like online dating! You totally nailed it.
    I‘ll come back to this list when I’m getting to the point where I‘m going to put nice clothes on to meet strangers.
    Argh.
    I hate dating.

  2. It’s funny, I’ve always said that dating is so awkward because it feels you’re like going on interviews for sex, so basically what you’ve said here but in reverse haha.

    There’s some great advice here – I’ve taken the approach in the past of asking “Do you feel like this company encourages a supportive culture or not, and why?” when on an interview. You can pick up on a lot just from the facial expressions that follow.

  3. I’m currently looking at this from the other side, doing interviews and hiring for my company for the past month.

    Is my employer trash?


    I don’t know. We’re very open, welcoming, blah blah blah. But the implicit bias? It’s there. It always is. I thought it wasn’t so bad, but it only takes one performance review labeling you as ‘abrasive’ after a single loud discussion with a male coworker to take the shine off of things.

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