What do you do in your spare time
March 6, 2011 8:22 PM   Subscribe

Finishing up a degree in statistics and econometrics, and I'm applying for a bunch of jobs in banking, finance and the public service. they tend to ask a lot about 'extra-curricular activities'. For most of my time at university my main extra-curricular activities involved radical left-wing political activism and organizing. Should I mention this at all, and if so, how?

I've been a bit too busy with studies lately, but during the Bush years I was heavily involved with a lot of anti-war, anti-racism, anti-capitalist causes and groups, and helped in organizing rallies, public meetings, reading groups, and all that sort of thing. Personally I feel that the experience taught me a lot about the all-important "teamwork" and "leadership". but I have a feeling these people might be prejudiced against bolsheviks, and perhaps it's a side of my life that I should keep to myself.
posted by moorooka to Work & Money (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You're not going to survive banking as an anti-capitalist. I'm not sure why you're applying to those jobs if you have such an aversion to capitalism.

Your potential employers will look upon your politics with bemused hostility.
posted by dfriedman at 8:28 PM on March 6, 2011 [6 favorites]

It's a trap.

Present a balance of team activities and personal intellectual pursuits. 'I enjoy touch football and reading' is about as much detail as you want to volunteer.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:33 PM on March 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

If there is a way to spin your involvement in these activities in such a way as to obscure the group you worked with, and the general degree of rabble rousing that ensued, and simply discuss the teamwork and the leadership, it's worth including volunteerism, especially if you have no other extra-curriculars. If not, I'd leave it off. Better to look focused on your studies rather than have them assume that you are going to hate your job working for a bunch of happy capitalists, which for the record, you very well might.

If it helps, this will likely only come up now-future employers will care more about your career history and not much about whether you were in the astronomy club in college.
posted by supercapitalist at 8:36 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Your question reminded me of this possibly relevant study: Ivies, extracurriculars, and exclusion: Elite employers’ use of educational credentials from Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. From the abstract:
Importing the logic of university admissions, firms performed a strong secondary screen on candidates’ extracurricular accomplishments, favoring high status, resource-intensive activities that resonated with white, upper-middle class culture. I discuss these findings in terms of the changing nature of educational credentialism to suggest that (a) extracurricular activities have become credentials of social and moral character that have monetary conversion value in labor markets and (b) the way employers use and interpret educational credentials contributes to a social closure of elite jobs based on socio-economic status.
The whole paper is worth reading, if you have access to it.
posted by AlsoMike at 8:43 PM on March 6, 2011 [11 favorites]

Response by poster: You're not going to survive banking as an anti-capitalist. I'm not sure why you're applying to those jobs if you have such an aversion to capitalism.

gotta pay the bills, right?
posted by moorooka at 8:44 PM on March 6, 2011

If you said you're spent the last two years organizing Tea Party rallies, I think you'd get the same answer from most people: not a good interview discussion topic. It's very wearisome to discuss politics if you're not in the mood. Maybe you can still bring up certain parts of your experiences without the politics ("I organized and attended a reading group most weeks. We read all sorts of books, but seemed to focus on politics and economics."), but I'd generally look elsewhere for something to talk about during an interview.
posted by deadweightloss at 9:08 PM on March 6, 2011

Make sure you see what net search engines turn up about yourself. If you don't mention that you were into Left Wing politics and they have searched and found that you organised something would you be ready to answer a question about it? What if they ask you why you didn't mention it?
posted by sien at 9:36 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

For the love of god, don't mention your anti-capitalist activities. Especially to a wunch of bankers. Obewanwasabi has it.

Sien is also correct. Many employers now screen using Google and Facebook, especailly in the US.

As an added precaution, secure your social networking privacy profiles - lock them down tight. Take your real name off your Twitter account. Change your profile pictures from that embrassing halloween pic to a landscape. Control your digital identity as much as possible.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:51 PM on March 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Anti-war isn't too problematic for bankers -- it's bad for business. But appointing a dictator of the proletariat or planning ecoterroism is kinda not great for any kind of career in the US. Similarly, demonstrations and pledge drives for Wikileaks isn't gonna be a feather in your cap here, given the whole BoA thing.

Assuming your causes didn't make national headlines, serving the poor can be made to look appealing even to bankers. Plenty of execs promote United Way and other charitable causes. Before Lehman went bankrupt I understand they encouraged professionals to donate their time. But I'd probably avoid specifics, and maybe keep quiet for a year about your political inclinations.

If you really want to go for a stretch, you could claim your activity as coming from an interest in the history of emerging markets like Soviet Russia, and that you sought to expose yourself to capitalism's strongest critics through book clubs to better understand how it works, and then proceed to talk up the logistics, teamwork and collaborations.
posted by pwnguin at 11:02 PM on March 6, 2011

Best answer: Yeah, I tend to go with "book group" or "student society". It's a really awkward one because there are SO many skills you pick up through political activity. I've said before that I was the chair of a student society and when pressed simply said "it's a political one, I'd rather not say which since this is an interview and I don't know your beliefs. It wasn't the National Front," and they left it at that so I could just go on and talk about taking responsibility for engaging speakers, public speaking, etc.
posted by teraspawn at 12:40 AM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: An friend of mine worked for years as part of the european union anti financial corruption initiatives in eastern europe, and is now a senior policy advisor in the a state education department.

Her radical activist past (along with her intelligence and academic credentials) was part of what won her her positions. She had applied for jobs with organisations filled working for social change, many of whom wished they were doing something more radical.

They loved that she was able to present as professional, but also had an edgy uncompromising political history.
posted by compound eye at 12:54 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am a leftist ex-banker (I quit about a half year in, the job sucks), and can only speak to that specifically

1) Its ironic how quickly principals fade when "you have to pay the bills," eh? Don't worry, I did it too, just saying...the capitalists have to be living hearing that when faced with "reality" left wing activists have to get "real jobs"
2) Seriously consider whether banking is for you
A) it contradicts your economic and social beliefs
B) your coworkers will all probably have a strong libertarian or conservative bent
C) independent of your beliefs, it is simply an unrewarding job where people trade their life and sanity for large sums of money. You can do something better that pays well and isn't in stark violation of your beliefs
3) I imagine if you presented it the right way it wouldn't be a dealkiller, but that depends on what else is in your resume. The most important thing will be work and internship experience. Someone with a banking internship who supported leftwing causes is going to be much more desirable because they know what they are in for.

Seriously though, banking is a terrible job.
posted by wooh at 4:55 AM on March 7, 2011

Perhaps applying to a micro-credit bank? Or some other firms focus on teaching financial knowledge to people, a.k.a Mint.com ?
posted by curiousZ at 8:36 AM on March 7, 2011

I should probably add that you'll fit right into the public service with all the rest of us left-wing nutjobs ;)
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:07 PM on March 7, 2011

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