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I was shown a job ad at StackOverflow from a US-based company which had caught my eye. Now, I don't have any immediate plans to move to US, but I do check out opportunities from time to time. Besides, I have used software products developed by that company which were rather good, so I decided to take a look.

However, when I went to company history page, I was surprised to find that it was entitled This is our story ...to God be the glory! and started with:

This is our testimony of God's direction, guidance and provision for us over the last year.

I intentionally don't include any links, but of course an interested reader can easily find the said page by searching for the citation.

Now, I don't expect everyone to share my religious beliefs and feelings (it's especially hard considering that I have none), but I don't want to get hired only to become a misfit. All companies I worked for so far have always kept a fair distance from controversial topics like religious beliefs or politic views. Given the above statement, should I expect this company be substantially different? Would my colleagues rather grab a beer with me after work, or go to church together?

Should I bring this topic up during the interview, or should I avoid discussing it? I don't want it to look like I'm having a problem with them, even before I'm hired.

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Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Monica Cellio Mar 24 at 3:06
up vote 136 down vote accepted

Should I bring this topic up during the interview, or should I avoid discussing it?

When you get to the interview, ask questions like:

  • You mention your faith pretty heavily on your website, can you talk about how that affects your leadership and employees?
  • How welcoming an environment do you have for people who have varying faiths? How do you overcome these challenges?
  • What does making an impact in the community look like to you?

These sorts of questions are good because they effectively ask what you are wanting to know. They also show you did research on the company and so are asking meaningful questions based on that research.

Understanding company culture is important regardless of what influences it (religion, the "fast paced fun loving!" environment, megacorp boringness, whatever).

Even if you could legally be employed and legally they can't discriminate based on your religion, most people still want to work in a place they feel comfortable.

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Thanks, asking the questions you phrased makes a lot of sense. – Dmitry Grigoryev Mar 23 at 14:27
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"most people still want to work in a place they feel comfortable" Sadly, too many people don't consider this aspect when job-searching. It's important to self-select out when you realise that the company culture doesn't match your expectations. – Lilienthal Mar 23 at 16:12
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@pjc50 I'm not sure I understand what you're getting at. I'm saying that someone shouldn't accept an offer in a company with a culture that they won't do well in, let alone one where they'll be actively uncomfortable, the same point that I believe enderland made in his answer. Are you suggesting that challenging an established culture is somehow beneficial to your career? – Lilienthal Mar 24 at 12:40
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Sometimes challenging an established culture is necessary to have the career in the first place. Otherwise it can degenerate into saying "women shouldn't work in investment banking", etc. etc. Some professional careers have a fairly small set of employers to choose from. – pjc50 Mar 24 at 13:13
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@R.. workplaces have a culture by nature of the fact that they are made up of people, and that culture arises naturally from how those people interact with each other much more than some concept of culture handed down from on high by HR. The fact that it might exclude others is just life. The goal should be to eliminate active hostility towards other groups (including but not limited to hiring and advancement preference), but at the same time, a person should be able to tolerate some discomfort with the culture. The only way to change culture is to put different people close together. – Jason Mar 25 at 15:06

The US has robust equal-opportunity / employee protections from religious discrimination. So if it is a job that interests you, you have some safeguards against religious indoctrination. However, at the same time, the US also has robust protections for freedom of expression, especially religious expression. And it largely works. I have colleagues who have crosses or religious symbols at their desk that make them happy, and other colleagues who are religiously ambivalent or non-believers. They go to lunch together and it's never been an issue. One thing about US culture is, it places a very strong emphasis on tolerance. So if seeing religious symbols would irritate you, then this might not be a good fit.

If you apply for this job, and they like you and offer you a job, this would be a good bullet point to discuss. When they say, do you have any questions for us, you can tactfully say, "yes. I'm excited about this opportunity. However, I noticed some sincere, heartfelt confessions of faith on your website blog. I am not religious (although I get along well with religious people). Will this be a problem?"

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Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Monica Cellio Mar 24 at 3:09
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+1 (especially for the first paragraph,) though I think the questions suggested in enderland's answer are probably a more tactful approach than asking, "Will it be a problem that I'm not religious?" It's probably best to ask more direct questions about how it affects the company culture and then decide for yourself if that culture going to be a problem for you. That approach will also probably be viewed as less confrontational. – reirab Mar 24 at 18:48
    
I agree about the protections and the results when applied as you suggest. I'd also point out, however, that when a company explicitly wants to hire Christians exclusively they have to be very careful how they do it. They can't ask directly, so what do they do? Best bet is to refer to religion throughout your company info/hiring info. If someone asks/opens up the topic you can use their phrasing to figure out their beliefs without asking directly. – Bill K Mar 24 at 20:45
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When asked the question "I am not religious (although I get along well with religious people). Will this be a problem?", no hiring manager or executive who is aware of anti-discrimination laws (and they all should be) would ever answer "yes". If they stated it would be an issue and then chose not to hire you for the job, they would open themselves up to a discrimination lawsuit. – asgallant Mar 24 at 21:22

All companies I worked for so far have always kept a fair distance from controversial topics like religious beliefs or politic views. Given the above statement, should I expect this company be substantially different? Would my colleagues be regular peers I could grab a beer with, or dedicated Christians who go to church on Sunday together?

In the US, very few companies take a public stance one way or the other about religion or politics. That's particularly true of public companies.

Some companies (mostly smaller or private) do publicly show their religious and/or political affiliations. And a few CEOs of some larger companies are vocal about their beliefs.

That said, most of even these companies don't force or strongly encourage their religious and political beliefs on their employees. In many of these companies you wouldn't feel any different than you would in the companies who were silent on their affiliations. In a few companies, you probably would feel different.

I know there are a few national companies where I wouldn't work, based on what I know about their leaders' publicly-stated beliefs (both religious and political). We all need to decide the nature of the company we want to work for, and the kind of company culture in which we would be happy.

Should I bring this topic up during the interview, or should I avoid discussing it? I don't want it to look like I'm having a problem with them, even before I'm hired.

You probably want to decide before any interviews actually take place if you want to be associated with such a company or not. And if you do, you want to consider how important a religious or political culture would be for you.

If you decide that this isn't very important to you and you could live with such a culture, then don't bother bringing it up.

However, if you decide it is important, then you must ask about it, just as you would ask about any other aspect of the company that was important to you. Otherwise you could end up in an uncomfortable setting that runs counter to the kind of culture you want in your workplace. When you ask, you might find that the leader's beliefs don't impact the company culture at all, or that they do. Either way, you likely won't have been the first to ask that question - HR will likely know how to answer your query.

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What do you mean by "being associated"? I wouldn't mind working for Christians, I don't think they are bad or weird, I simply don't share their beliefs. On the other hand, I don't want to study the Bible only to have a topic to discuss over a coffee. – Dmitry Grigoryev Mar 23 at 16:53
    
"and a few CEOs of some larger companies are vocal about their beliefs" cough cough Donald Trump cough cough – OldBunny2800 Mar 23 at 20:22
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Wouldn't it be lovely if everyone were transparent about their worldview? That would improve the quality of choice dramatically. On the other hand, their views might not affect business even if publicly stated, and then we would be deciding based on the wrong criteria. Hmm. – no comprende Mar 24 at 15:31
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@JoeStrazzere what if your worldview involved helping people and improving the world? Would you keep it to yourself then? Do you tell people that you are knowledgeable about employment and workplace issues? How about your knowledge of QA practices? What if you ran a QA company, would some trumpeting be in order there? Not so simple. It depends on how one defines one's "scope of influence", right? – no comprende Mar 24 at 20:23
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@JoeStrazzere The part that I find interesting is where seemingly you miss that your own worldview is one that you want others to abide by (such as people keeping their worldviews to themselves). You have to admit that your presuppositions lead you to that worldview, and you believe that your worldview is superior to others—just like the people you want to silence. I'm not saying you're not allowed to have your worldview, but acting as though it's automatically superior without arguing the content of why and what its moral foundation is (cf. "oughtness"), you have no ground to stand on. – ErikE Mar 25 at 23:59

Having Googled and found the company, I instantly recognized the product, which I use a decade or two ago, before they started pricing aggressively (in the face of FOSS alternatives).

Knowing the product, this cannot be a very large company at all (maybe a few dozen employees, both developers and sales/marketing).

Which might be significant.

Whoever is at the top, might well try to create a corporate culture "in his own image" ;-)

Personally, I would 1) beware, and 2) not expect this under any circumstances from a larger company which is answerable to shareholders.

With a mom & pop operation, you might be constantly reminded of mom & pop's viewpoint (given, of course, with the best of intentions, only trying to help you).

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I Googled it too, there were 31 mentions of God on the page (including the one in the heading), 3 mentions of the Lord and 5 references to being blessed. I'd say that they're big on religion, very big, and that's likely the company culture you could expect. An example "We pray for God's direction for the future, we don't know exactly what it holds. We know that if we trust God, He is faithful to us and will show us his will and direction.". I would suggest that perhaps if you're unreligious that perhaps it would not be a comfortable place to work, let alone relocate from elsewhere to. – VoodooBettie Mar 24 at 19:29
    
Lolx! And I don't think that Vodoo Bettie would fit in ;-) – Mawg Mar 25 at 8:38
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Haha likely not! – VoodooBettie Mar 25 at 16:35

I know this is going to sound a bit over the top, but when you read this statement, you should know that the founders or top management of the company values religion. Even though US is very non-discriminating when it comes to subjects like religion, race, etc., in your heart you know that, when it comes down to selecting you for a job vs. some other person who sounds like the embodiment of an angel on the paper, the chosen will not be you. They can say a lot of things to avoid legal discrimination and there is a very little you can do about it. It is just like working for a boss who likes to go baseball games and drink beers, while you are a non drinking geek, who doesn't get sports. Not a match made in heaven. Work for the sake of work is not how one should live his or her life, unless there is a dire need to sustain one's livelihood.

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US corporate work on the principle of making money. Hence, I strongly believe, religious artifacts in one's resume or interviewing technique is considered way down the totem pole, but at the same time, if there are two candidates with very similar strengths technically, this might tip the scale in that person's favor. This is what I was trying to convey. On the other hand some staunch religious organizations, who put god ahead of profits. You can be the guru of subject. It still doesn't matter unless you are a man of faith. But these type of organizations are generally small and very few – MelBurslan Mar 23 at 14:28
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I think one only needs to look as far as Chick Fil A and Hobby Lobby to see that whatever we think the law is about no religious discrimination and how employers are not supposed to be able to force their beliefs on employees, in practice they can. – Amy Blankenship Mar 23 at 15:22
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@AmyBlankenship-Choosing "not" to provide a certain benefit to their employees based on religious beliefs is not forcing beliefs on someone or discriminating in any way. It is simply not providing a specific benefit. Just because the owner based their decision on religious grounds has nothing to do with it. Neither Chick-Fil-A nor Hobby Lobby uses religious beliefs when deciding who to hire, promote or give raises to. That would be discriminatory. People who use "inflammatory" language to describe something that doesn't rise to that level do a disservice to all cases of 'real' bad behavior. – Dunk Mar 23 at 21:57
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@petethepagan-gerbil It is unfortunate that "benefits" ever got attached to employment at all. So, If I don't believe in eating pork, and I don't provide any at the company lunchroom, am I discriminating against you? Can you force me to offer pork? No and no. Say no to tangling up work and everything else in life. It is wrong. Pay money and that's the end of it. – no comprende Mar 24 at 15:25
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@reirab insisting on certain minimums of healthcare coverage isn't forcing religious beliefs on someone. Denying needed healthcare to someone who doesn't share your religious beliefs because you don't believe they should get it is absolutely forcing your religious beliefs on them as long as we have this screwed up system where healthcare is tied to employment. Which throws employers and employees into conflict over these issues, completely unnecessarily. – Amy Blankenship Mar 24 at 19:00

In parts of the US, religion is very mainstream and part of the social fabric, but not in a way that makes it compulsory or that people are judgmental about it. This can be the case in corporations also, but it is uncommon.

I would view the blog post as saying that this is the person's view of how life is led, and they bring that view to their work, but probably do not expect anyone else to see it that way or support or align themselves with it. It would be the same if they expressed a strong view about many other topics (Whitewater Rafting is a great metaphor for Life In General!!!). Just use your "feels" and get an impression of how cozy people are to that topic in that organization. Same as any other company or any other topic.

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I have debated on making this an official answer. But there are a lot of little points you have to consider.

First, the direct answer to your question:

Should I bring this topic up during the interview, or should I avoid discussing it? I don't want it to look like I'm having a problem with them, even before I'm hired.

YES!!! The company made a deal about talking about their religious beliefs. You need to know, if your going to be comfortable working there. Remember that the interview as also about you interviewing them. If this is an area for possible concern for you, then mention it, ask, and investigate. Be polite, but don't be afraid to be direct.

US Culture

You have hit on one of great american paradoxes. As a nation we strive for religious freedom and tolerance, but some religions actively work against religious freedom and tolerance. It is a big web of gray areas. How can we be tolerant of of religion if that religion is not tolerant of other religious beliefs? There is no easy answer for this. There are laws and what not, but it's never cut and dry. Most people adopt a live and let live type of policy, but that doesn't mean everyone does. And to be honest, that's fine too. This brushes up against a very complicated topic. You need to ask questions and figure out of the culture there is one that you would feel comfortable in.

US Law

This gets to be a gray area as well. There are laws against discrimination for religious affiliation, but there not as straight forward as people would have you think. Because religion is a very fundamental decision in ones life, it can be difficult or impossible to differentiate between I don't like this person from I don't like this person's beliefs. Do not think that the law provides you with a blanket anti-discrimination shield. It doesn't. The owners, and other employees rights to work and practice their religious beliefs are also taken into consideration. It gets very tangled and very complicated. It's rarely cut in dry in this area.

The Norm

In the US We have a concept that a company is it's own entity. Usually, that company has a set statement of beliefs (or goals), and the workers in that company are expected to make decisions "on behalf" of the company that support that view. Even if a company is your life's work, the normal thing would be to treat that company as a separate entity from your self, and make decisions separate from your own point of view. That being said, it's not unusual that the owner(s) of a company apply their beliefs to the company. For example Chick-fil-a is not open on Sundays because the owner believes in having a day off for family time and religious worship.

Your options

First and foremost you need to figure out if your going to be comfortable working there. If your not, then you should look elsewhere for employment. You can do this by asking questions in the interview and stating your position and judging their reaction.

Second you need to understand that the law is not going to help in this case. You would, at this point, have to jump through too many hoops to make any kind of a case. This would likely tie up your situation for years to come, and in the US make a giant red flag when looking for other work (no one want's to hire any one that is part of an ongoing discrimination case, and in most cases, don't want to be any part of one that happened in the past).

Third, understand that they have the right to "run their company their way" and while you may be able to go to court and win a something or other kind of judgement against the company, that won't change the fact that it's "Their" company and "they can run it there way or not at all!!!" if that's the kind of stance they take.

Mostly understand that in the US, it's perfectly acceptable to have a religious belief, to apply those beliefs to your company, and have the company act on them. It's not ok to penalize someone when their beliefs differ from your's or your company's. At the same time, it's not as simple as black and white, and there are many, many shades of gray.

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If their public face is this unprofessional then how do you expect them to act behind closed doors? think about that and make your own decision.

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