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When Gabrielle Novacek began her job search and contacted Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to ask for information on benefits policies for same-sex partners, she felt comfortable being completely open about her sexual orientation.

Little did the PhD student know that following her enquiry, senior members of BCG’s resource group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees would promptly invite her to dinner and woo her into joining the firm.

That was seven years ago, when Novacek’s candor was more the exception than the rule. “Fewer people came out during the recruiting process then, but today, it’s rarer for students to wait until they’re hired to disclose their orientation,” said Novacek, a principal at the firm and a leader in its LGBT Network.

While she finds that students in the US and Europe tend to be quite open about their sexual orientation or gender identity, those in Asia-Pacific countries are still more reluctant to come out during the hiring process.

Many members of the millennial generation, born in the 1980s and 1990s, feel it’s only natural to disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity to recruiters. They often came out earlier in their lives than previous generations and grew up in an era of fast-expanding rights for the LGBT community.

Still a concern

But some still wrestle with the question of whether to make their LGBT identity clear in CVs or job interviews — or wait until they’re hired. They realise not all companies are welcoming to gay and transgender individuals. Even at companies that promote their commitment to diversity, applicants worry they could still end up being interviewed by a manager who harbours some homophobic feelings.

“My advice is to be yourself and talk about LGBT issues with a recruiter if it feels natural and comfortable; you have to judge the vibe in the room,” said Matt Kidd, executive director of Reaching Out MBA, which organises an annual conference to connect employers with LGBT students. “I know of some students who came off as too flamboyant or talked a lot about LGBT activism, and didn’t get hired.”

Many gay and transgender students say they’re willing to take the risk because they simply don’t want to retreat back into the closet. Being open also lets applicants test the waters so they don’t end up at companies where they could face harassment and discrimination.

Frank Beaudry, a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) student at London Business School and co-president of its Out in Business club, wanted to gauge employers’ reactions, so he explained in job interviews that he wants to stay in London after graduation to be with his male partner. “I didn’t get any odd faces or comments,” he said. “But if I had gotten a bad reaction, I would have taken them off my list.”

At LBS Beaudry said he has found most people comfortable being open during the job search, but some still prefer to remain closeted, especially if they come from countries that don’t have LGBT-friendly laws and they plan to return there.

For a job search, companies in the European Union and certain US states can be safer bets because of their tough anti-discrimination laws. However, even in those areas, there is still a risk that employers could reject a gay or transgender applicant because of bias, but cite other reasons, such as qualifications or personality.

Some students are connecting directly with gay employees via social media to assess the culture at the companies they’re most interested in. For example, students have found gay executives at Wells Fargo through searching social networking site LinkedIn and asked them “what it means to be gay here and what kind of support there is,” said Aaron Kralijev, employment branding manager at the US-based bank. “It’s very helpful to young people who may be nervous.”

Wise to be cautious?

Research indicates students are wise to at least be cautious. A Harvard University researcher sent two fictional CVs for male college students to more than 1,700 entry-level, white collar job postings, one showing experience with a gay organisation and the other listing instead participation in a socialist group. Gay applicants were 40% less likely to be called for an interview than heterosexuals, with the difference primarily at companies in the midwestern and southern regions of the US.

For students with qualms about coming out on their resumes, some college career services departments suggest disguising LGBT leadership or club activities by using an acronym or a more neutral name. Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, for example, notes that students could use Campus Diversity Club instead of Swarthmore Queer Union on their resumes. University career advisers also remind students to be aware that recruiters may peruse their social media profiles and find information that outs them.

Even if applicants don’t reveal that they’re gay or transgender on their CVs, they could have to suddenly decide whether they want to be open mid-interview. “If the interviewer mentions your opposite sex spouse, do you correct him or let it go?’ asked Ben Capell, a researcher at Esade Business School in Barcelona, who has studied the issue of coming out in the workplace. “You may prefer not to lie because it could complicate things later on, but it’s a judgment call and something people should think about before an interview.”

Some students try to play it safe by modifying their CV for certain employers. An MBA student at the University of California at Berkeley, who asked to remain anonymous, found it difficult “to get the temperature of the room” at a startup where he interned last summer. So, he deleted his LGBT activities from his CV, but came out to coworkers over time.

“I’m absolutely out on my resume with consulting firms and the big technology companies on the West Coast,” he said. But he is wary with some international companies and decided against being open when he applied to a South Korean manufacturer.

“I felt it was too big of a risk,” he said, “because of the different cultural sensitivity to the LGBT lifestyle.”

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