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Should you lose your religion on your CV?

An equal opps dilemma for employers and employees

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Comment Your CV should tell prospective employers who you are - but should that include details of your religious faith?

I headhunt science grads for banks, and recently received a CV with the applicant's religion right at the top. We’ve always told people not to do this for purely pragmatic reasons. Whatever your religion, there are people who may hate you for it, or it wastes space, and it won’t help much even if they are the same faith as you. I checked that last point by asking some hiring managers whose religion I knew, and they were either indifferent or were quite offended at the idea that someone thought they’d hire them for that reason.

Also, several of our contracts with major banks explicitly forbid us from adding notes that disclose religion, age, sex, perceived sexuality, race, marital status, etc. That is of course because all the banks we deal with have the highest ethical standards in recruitment as in the rest of their business activities... and they don’t like being sued.

That's why our guide to quant careers says this quite explicitly. I genuinely believe that banking is less bigoted than most businesses. That’s based on having done time in the media, construction, manufacturing and training sectors and having noticed that government and the civil service is almost wholly run by middle-aged white blokes like me. Harriet Harman’s campaign for more jobs for middle-class white women like her is unlikely to change that.

The banking wannabe had been told by his college careers department that because he had a “Muslim sounding name” he ought to make sure people knew he wasn’t. When I heard this, I found that I didn’t have advice that I felt was good enough.

Some people’s ethics would say that I should tell him to remove this “offensive” nonsense, but my principles are that I give the best advice I can, and unless I felt that he was lying, it is not my place to screw with someone’s career just to further my social agenda.

You might feel that the idea of a City headhunter having ethics to be quite funny, and I live with that. I want to do the best for my clients, but still don't know what I should advise.

One reason for caring about this is that on our database of highly paid bankers “Mohammed” is the most common name: a fact that surprises and upsets readers of both the Daily Mail and the Guardian. This is partly driven by these candidates' (on average) better education and reluctance to study dross like Media Studies or French.

I need to have an answer to the question that serves their career objectives, not mine. It is made more complex by the fact that I get more bitching from overt Christians about their treatment than Muslims, non-white people and women put together. That may be sampling error, but more likely reflects the education of the people in banks these days.

To do the research I did for the “don’t ask don’t tell” advice I had to talk to managers that I knew well enough to get a straight answer. If I had asked HR they would have sharply told me in no uncertain terms that they were equal opportunity employers. And most genuinely mean it.

A couple of years back we ran a big graduate careers event for a huge bank, and I casually referred to 250 graduates of Oxbridge, Warwick, QMC, and Imperial as “bright young things”. I got a glare from the HR executive that would have frozen a weaker man, and was left in no doubt that such language was unacceptable.

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