Are you interested in working for BlackRock, the multinational asset management firm? We spoke to Jonathan Jones, BlackRock’s director of global campus recruiting. Here’s what he said about getting in.
Q: What makes a ‘BlackRock person’? How do they differ from people working elsewhere in the financial services sector?
“Well, we’re obviously in the financial services sector and consequently a lot of the candidates who are considering careers at BlackRock are also considering other opportunities in the financial services sphere, so there’s some overlap.
What I think makes a BlackRock person stand out though, is that we look for people who embody or represent our principles. For example, we have a commitment to innovation. Innovation – original thinking, problem solving, and creativity – is central to our identity. Equally, we have a strong commitment to teamwork, and we look for people who can join the dots between our disparate activities in ways which can solve problems for our clients.”
Q: When you’re hiring straight from university, which business area do most of your recruits go into?
“We hire graduates into all our major business areas. Many go into our investment teams, but we’re also a leading provider of financial technology and so we do a lot of recruitment of software developers to work on our proprietary Aladdin technology platform. For our software engineering (technology) positions, we look for people who can programme in Java, C++, Perl and/or Python.
We also hire into BlackRock Solutions. This is an area which combines our analytical capability with client orientation. For example, Solutions professionals will provide key analytical support for our portfolio managers and for our external clients who use the Aladdin platform.”
Q: How many trainees do you plan to hire globally this year? Can you split that out for EMEA/US/APAC?
“I can’t say how many we’ll hire in 2015 yet, but I can say that we just had around 320 graduates starting in our 2014 entry class. Those 320 people are split in the ratio 60:30:10 between the US, Europe and Asia. There are no plans to materially alter that in 2015, although our commitment to hiring graduates in Asia and in Continental Europe is increasing.”
Q: What’s more important to you – excellent academics or prior work experience?
“I’d say it’s a false distinction. It’s not an either or – people with excellent academics often also have excellent work experience. For me, however, what’s most important is not someone’s recent experience but their ability to learn about our business and to perform in our firm going forward.
Q: So, what advice would you give to third year university students who haven’t undertaken a finance internship but want to work for BlackRock?
“Undertaking a finance internship isn’t an imperative. It’s not a prerequisite. However, it’s helpful because it demonstrates interest in our business and industry. If you haven’t taken a finance internship, you need to think about how you will convince interviewers of your interest in the industry. You can also do that through reading, participation in clubs and finance societies, through your interest in the markets, or through your selection of courses at university. You can do all of this in a self-directed way, even without a finance-related internship.
It’s also worth noting that for some areas of the business – like technology – we are looking for people with a technology background. Clearly, in that capacity then, having taken a technology rather than a finance internship, will be very relevant and desirable.”
Q: What do you think of finance-focused Masters courses?
“Most of our intake have Bachelor’s degrees, but we do hire Masters candidates as well. We take them from finance-related master’s programmes and in the U.S. in particular we have a healthy appetite for candidates from financial engineering programmes or those with masters in computational finance. “
Q: Do you hire MBAs?
“We don’t have a formal programme, no. But we do undertake MBA hiring that’s targeted to specific roles and we often hire MBAs with pre-MBA experience that’s directly relevant to positions. In recent years, we’ve hired MBAs with relevant backgrounds into real estate and equity research positions, for example.”
Q: Can people expect to work shorter hours at BlackRock than at major investment banks?
“Major investment banks have a different business model to BlackRock. Our business, investment management, has different demands. We work hard, we’re client-oriented, and we work in an active high-velocity environment.”
Q: What’s your favourite interview question? Why?
“I don’t have a favourite, but I will often ask students to think about how they spend their time at university and to break it down for me in the form of a pie chart. How long do they spend on academic studies, how long do they spend on extracurricular activities, how long do they spend with friends, etc? The result tells me a lot about what they’re passionate about as well as their time management skills, and how well they are able to juggle a variety of obligations.
Ideally, we want to see people who have accomplished things in addition to academic excellence. We want people who are passionate and who are skilled outside the realm of academic work. When people are passionate about certain endeavours, that tends to translate to the workplace.”