Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/11/30/religion_cv/

Should you lose your religion on your CV?

An equal opps dilemma for employers and employees

By Dominic Connor

Posted in Jobs, 30th November 2009 11:08 GMT

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.

To quote the head of HR at another large firm, “my job is to protect the management from being sued by the staff”. This is not the easiest job in the whole world, and that is why this person can afford a really very nice home, which speaks to how much of an issue it is these days.

Several firms now send questionnaires directly to applicants, quizzing them on sex, race, etc. This is in an effort to check they are getting diverse applicants from agencies, and show they are trying hard to avoid discrimination.

When one bank gathered its recruiters to its HQ, this was met with a surprising degree of hostility, voices were raised. Apparently in some countries this information is used to weed out the “wrong” people; such discrimination not only being legal, but sometimes compulsory. The emails do not get a good response rate, whatever country they get sent to.

Although bankers are not very politically correct, greed is indeed good here. One manager jokily shared with me that a candidate belonged to a group of people so evil that right-thinking people would not only kill them but also make sure their bodies didn’t pollute the Earth. The candidate was offered £90,000 straight out of university, and a first year bonus of £30,000-£70,000, and to ease the pain of changing the tube station they had to use, got £3,500 “relocation expenses”. Not because the manager admired the candidate's rich cultural heritage, but because they would help him and his bank get richer.

Banking in London is an international sport. I go to meetings where I am the only person born in the UK, and have had to endure many comments about the failings of the arts-grad-dominated British education system. Greed is the enemy of bigotry when you need the best people, as the manager of any football club will tell you. If you don’t grab the best talent, the competition will hire them to use against you.

So, I’ve written this piece not because I know the answer, but because I want feedback on what advice I should give to the increasing number of people who want employers to know they are not Muslims. I don't have a clue what to tell those people who are.

For this I simply do not care if the reasons for hiring behaviour are good or bad, or whether my job is to encourage a more diverse society, since being in investment banking I am already a member of the most diverse community in the world. I want to give the sort of good honest advice you would want to get if you were trying to get a job in a dreadful market.

What would you say? ®