Anything less than a 2:1 degree has generally sounded the death knell for any ambitions of securing a financial services graduate place, but are firms beginning to exhibit a little flexibility when it comes to academic prowess?
The quick answer, generally speaking, is no. Investment banks such as Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan, Credit Suisse, Nomura, HSBC and UBS all require a 2:1 degree and at least 300 UCAS points, except in exceptional or mitigating circumstances.
“The competition for places is fierce – we received 27,000 applications so far this year – so we have to have some way of differentiating candidates according to business requirements,” says Karen Martin, group graduate resourcing manager at Royal Bank of Scotland. “We accept 2:2 degrees for retail business leadership and business services leadership programmes and look for relevant work experiences, but for the investment bank, you definitely need good academics and as well as any differentiating factors a candidate can bring.”
This doesn’t apply across the board, however. Barclays Capital tells us it doesn’t have a specific grade criteria for applicants, Citi will accept 2:2 degrees for divisions like technology and operations, and Goldman Sachs says it looks beyond just academic qualifications.
“For example, joining a club or society, being part of a sports team or playing a musical instrument to a high standard, can all demonstrate commitment, pro-activity, enthusiasm and a desire to improve and broadens one’s thinking and skill set,” said Sarah Crawford, head of graduate recruitment for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) at Goldman Sachs.
Still, it would be slightly delusional to believe that, in the über-competitive financial services sector, qualifications are not important. However, academic performance might not be the only assessment criteria going forward.
One example of this progressive attitude comes from PricewaterhouseCoopers, which has just unveiled its ‘Inspired Talent’ scheme. This targets a wider pool of graduates, and will accept applications from those who only achieved a 2:2.
That’s not to say it’s an easy option – you’ll still have show evidence of drive, entrepreneurialism and commercial nous, as well as passing vigorous tests to prove you have the intellectual capacity to get through professional accountancy qualifications.
Sometimes study hasn’t been a priority, but graduates have shown drive in other ways – for example, through caring for a relative or, in one case, gaining a place on the Olympic swimming team, says Sonja Stockton, head of recruitment at PwC.
PwC claims to be fairly unique in its outlook and aims to challenge assumptions on academic performance. Certainly, it currently stands out among its Big Four peers – Deloitte tells us it would only accept applicants with 2:2s in “extenuating circumstances”.