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GUEST COMMENT: Investment banks are obsessed with hiring graduates with exciting extra-curricular interests. This is what to do about that

Sky diving

Seriously, what does the fact that I competed in the Oxbridge boat race, debated Bill Clinton’s misdemeanours, or edited the university newspaper have to do with my ability to be an accurate and skilled trader or an astute corporate dealmaker?

When I was applying for graduate trainee positions, I can remember feeling frustrated and angry that I had to list everything that might be even technically considered as “extracurricular” for my graduate job applications.

Personally, I didn’t buy the explanation that extra-curricular activities are a valuable way of determining how good a candidate will be at their banking job, but like everyone else I played the game.

Nowadays, however, I find myself on the other side of the equation.  Part of my time is spent scouring job applications for anything which can differentiate one person from the hundreds of others. What a person does outside of their academic studies also demonstrates valuable lateral skills, initiative and commercial ability. Setting up a charity requires budgeting and the ability to understand basic finances.

However, there’s more to it than this. The other reason why bankers like to hire people who’ve done interesting things outside studying is quite simply that banking is boring and juniors with quirky hobbies make life more interesting.  They can alleviate the day-to-day boredom of investment banking. When the trading floor goes quiet, or there is a lull in M&A activity, you will be glad that you chose unusual colleagues to work with, instead of the automatons.

How should you make the most of your extra-curricular interests?

Personally, I kept a Word document detailing all my smallest achievements outside my studies in glowing terms.

I added statistics to each one to lend them credibility. Each figure was an unusual number, to at least one decimal place, because “increasing readership by 51.7%” sounded more realistic than “increasing readership by 50%”.

I copied and pasted this carefully crafted novella into every single job application, and I am pretty sure that most of my friends who actually got jobs in banking did exactly the same thing.

The author has worked across a number of roles in investment banking

Comments (1)

  1. I see this trend will increasingly diminish and search for talent will be adjusting to search for skilled talent with some extracurricular spirit. People will focus on hiring quantitative people for quantitative jobs, there will be no more money for hiring an Oxford graduate in Political science (it is an example, don’t take it personal) and train him 6 weeks (aka £20K ) to teach him X and Y axes..unless the people hiring are themselves Oxford graduates in Political science (this old usual tale will still resist though…).
    Everyone in IBD is expecting for a recovery in the business volume within the framework of what the 80s, 90s and 2001s.. (!) of IBD was. That is a totally erroneous past-biased outlook. The paradigm is slowly shifting and people who were there in the 80s, 90s..etc are the first to notice that.
    In the meantime, cost savings are focusing on process and operational as new revenues are missing from product innovation in the IBD pipeline (still selling and buying risk at the end of the day but with more rules and more complexity…).
    That’s why I see that maybe a time has come for people to study what they want to work on (biology biologists, history historians, finance financiers) and firms to hire in their respective business. At the end of the day, I studied business and I work in IBD but I like reading Plato’s Dialogues. Which of the three items in my CV should make it more credible toward a Department of Philosophy at Cambridge or a Investment bank hiring? It is unfortunate and sad but I guess it is called specialization and it is as old as the pin making factory of Adam Smith (for those who are not graduated in economics, you should find the name familiar also if you studied philosophy ;)

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