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How to get a job in a sovereign wealth fund

ADIA

To some, sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) are bureaucracy-heavy public-sector institutions that financiers gravitate towards in the winter of their career. To others, they’re increasingly important international investors offering attractive jobs to seasoned bankers.

Whatever your view, SWFs are continuing to recruit while other financial services firms are still scaling back. Only last week Dubai International Capital, the private equity arm of Dubai Holding, hired a team of four from Deloitte, led by Richard Clarke, for portfolio analysis. CIC, China’s SWF, has been hiring aggressively, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) continues to build its private equity team and Singapore’s GIC has been shaking up its management team.

Recruiters suggest that these notoriously secretive organisations are recruiting for everything from hedge fund selection to private equity and macro strategists. Middle East SWFs in particular are keen to recruit international talent, so what do you need to catch their eye?

1. Experience in one of these five locations

It’s location, location, location when it comes to getting a job in a SWF, according to one head of recruitment in a Middle Eastern fund who declined to be named because he cannot speak to the media. Specifically, the hunting grounds are: New York, London, Paris, Hong Kong or Singapore.

2. Big up your brands

As the copious number of designer stores in the malls of Singapore and the UAE demonstrate, brands matter. SWFs are keen to get people who attain what they deem the highest international standards. This means bulge bracket investment banking experience and a degree in finance or economics from either an Ivy League or Oxbridge university, says the head of recruitment.

3. Get the CFA

Forget the debate over whether an MBA or a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) qualification is better for your career prospects – when it comes to getting a job in a SWF, it’s the latter. ADIA demands that all of its graduate recruits undertake the qualification, for example, and expects more senior hires to come armed with it.

“The CFA program is a fantastic general finance education system. It builds a strong theoretical foundation which we then couple with on-the-job training to get entry level employees to a high level of competence in the shortest period of time,” Robin Prince, head of recruitment at ADIA told us.

4. Make sure your application is relevant to experience

This seems obvious, but SWFs used to be willing to take a punt on a new recruit provided that they had experience in a large international bank or major financial centres. Not anymore, argues James Wakefield, director of recruiters Cobalt Abu Dhabi, which works with a number of large SWFs.

“SWFs are looking for higher returns, and recruiting hedge fund and private equity professionals with relevant deal experience,” he said. “They have become a lot more specific and rigorous in their recruitment practices in the past year.”

5. Show commitment

If you fit the above criteria, don’t be surprised to get a call from a roaming recruiter at a SWF asking to meet for a coffee to discuss an opportunity. However, while they’re keen to court international financial services professionals, they also want to see that you’re not viewing any new job as a short-term option.

“We’ve become very wary of international financial services professionals taking a job in the Middle East to weather the storm in other financial centres,” said the head of recruitment in the Middle East. “If someone doesn’t research the region before taking the role, moves here without their family or asks for longer leave time, alarm bells are raised. Loyalty is very important in this part of the world.”

6. Push your international credentials

Investment bankers in London may be keen to highlight their cosmopolitanism, but SWFs are truly melting pots of different cultures. More recently, SWFs in places like Singapore and the Middle East have focused on recruiting locals – in line with efforts across the countries – but it’s still a very diverse working culture. GIC has 30 different nationalities among its headcount, ADIA has 40.

“Don’t come here unless you can handle working with people from a diverse range of backgrounds,” says the head of recruitment.

7. Don’t job hop

Admittedly, in the current climate, moving frequently between jobs is not always in your control, but SWFs don’t want to see a CV littered with short-term assignments, said Wakefield.

“SWFs want to see a clear career trajectory, evidence of loyalty and consistency, so if you’ve moved every couple of years, they will ask questions,” he said.

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