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GUEST COMMENT: Graduate-baiting and how to handle it

The following story happened exactly as stated to a good friend of mine in 1993 when the economy was still faltering:

‘John’ was absolutely chuffed to secure a position at Andersen Consulting. He and twenty other lucky British recruits were immediately flown off to America to be trained with new joiners from other Andersen offices worldwide. Altogether some 200 hungry, grateful ‘winners’ arrived at the ‘education centre’ in St Charles, near Chicago confident that they were well on the way to becoming big swingers.

At the start of the very first seminar, a senior executive took to the mike and announced that unfortunately, due to required cutbacks, 30 people would have to fly home immediately. The terrified grads listened in complete horror as the MD explained that they would therefore undertake a test comprising 20 questions and that those with the lowest scores would be made redundant.

John and his 200 competitors turned over the exam paper with trembling hands. During the test several people were forcibly expelled from the room for allegedly cheating. After the half hour was up John knew he had completely failed to answer the questions and would inevitably return to London with his tail between his legs. Whilst the papers were being collected, the tension in the room was becoming almost unbearable. After a nerve-wracking coffee break, the joiners filed back into the auditorium to hear who amongst them would fly home in disgrace.

What John didn’t know was that all his peers were equally convinced that they too would return to their families in complete ignominy. The questions had been carefully designed to be totally impossible to answer correctly. Not only that but the ‘cheaters’ were in fact existing employees in on the prank.

The ‘MD’ stood up and, after a suitably long pause, broke into a huge smile and announced that the whole test had been a joke. He then laughed and shouted ‘WELCOME TO ANDERSEN CONSULTING!’

What this story reminds us is that any graduate joining a firm is perceived as ‘new meat’ whose naivety makes them especially vulnerable to office pranks from senior colleagues keen to have a collective laugh whilst also subtly asserting their superiority.

Nowhere is this truer than on the testosterone-fuelled trading floor of an investment bank – especially if a new recruit is foolish enough to give it the Terry Big Spuds and needs to be ‘taken down a peg or two’.

The Andersen’s prank was admittedly unusually sophisticated and vicious. Most of the gags I witnessed during my twelve year City career involved nothing more elaborate than having a post-it stuck on your back saying ‘Nob’, Vaseline applied to your telephone’s receiver or someone breaking into your computer and sending out a seemingly normal business-related email to your boss ending with the words ‘I love you.’

There are three basic rules regarding grad-baiting. One, always be on your guard and be especially wary of any out-of-character generosity from the office joker/bully. Two, keep your password to your computer a closely-guarded secret and log out whenever you leave it for any length of time. Three, always laugh uproariously when you are successfully duped as this not only shows you’re a stand-up guy but also pulls the rug from under your tormenters’ feet. Aggressive reactions or ‘taking it upstairs’ will only ensure that you’re labelled as a natural victim or an officious loser.

At certain City firms, office pranks are not just inevitable but also part of the initiation. How you react to them can have a genuinely negative impact on your reputation and subsequently have seriously harmful implications for your career.

Don’t trip at the first hurdle … or your wallet may live to regret it!

Geraint Anderson is the author of Cityboy – Beer and Loathing in the Square Mile.’ You can visit his website here and you can buy his book here.

Comments (13)

  1. Just get it out and show you have the biggest. Thats all it comes down to. Ive never met such a bunch of insecure children as the ones employed in the city. Alternatively just threaten “jolly-old Head of XYZ” with an industrial tribunal. Tends to keep him in his office for a bit and let you get on with picking up the paycheques in peace.

  2. I had the pleasure of workign for an IDB in a past life…good fun but the type of pranks/bullying etc would shock the most seasoned of any bankers/consultants…the amount of punches thrown at colleagues in my time (ealy 90’s) would have had the Hayemaker jumping for joy.

  3. When I started, I was kind of picked on by a senior colleague who made some remarks about me being muslim. They were not so bad that I could complain, but bad enough for me to feel uncomfortable and therefore subdued. One day in the mens room I told him that i was uncomfortable, that it was unfair to make me feel that way and that if he continued I would ask HR to intervene. I said it politely but firmly. Remarks ceased shortly thereafter.

  4. Is this Geraint guy still alive….why?

  5. PropJoe, any advice you can give to fellow muslims looking to carve a career out in the city in either M&A/Corporate FInance or Sales & Trading?

  6. some years ago i worked for an IB/PE with a team that perceived itself as exceptionally friendly, multicultural and funny. I had a fair share of jokes as a grad, which i did not particularly like but was clearly a part of the “experience”. eventually, I was told about the “jewish-maffia” (i.e. a co-investor group) and how we had to try to squeez them out of an asset. all that with some cheeky smile. i am jewish. they knew. i resigned.

  7. Andersens are the guys who proved to be very dodgy during the Enron scandal. They virtually collapsed after their role in covering things up was revealed.This extraordinary tale shows the mentality at that firm. Oh, I wonder if Geraint Andersen had anything to do with them?!

  8. Student… So how on earth would this advice be any different to non-muslims? comments like that help noone.

  9. One should initially observe the racism, sexism, bullying etc by ones ‘colleagues’
    whilst at the same time keeping detailed records of the specific events.
    In my previous job I encouraged a rather stupid and alcoholic manager to send me an inappropriate text message which I kept for the next 9 months and whilst I negotiated my exit package
    Keep your friends close but…

  10. Arthur Andersen is not the same as Andersen Consulting (now called Accenture)

  11. HR – you’re right in that the advice is not specific, but Student is worried because muslims get alot of bad press (admittedly sometimes justified), which gives people alot of opportunities to bully. My advice is that you need to work hard, go the extra mile, be friendly with everyone, lose any ego and show your value – advice for muslims and non-muslims alike. Go out to drinks receptions – it feels ackward and extermely tiresome at first, but you get used to it eventually. Getting into M&A etc is obviously same for everyone – good grades, good cv etc – this site has alot of info on that. Where there are conflicts in info go with the common sense approach. Good luck! There are plenty of muslims in this most meritocratic of industries.

  12. Arthur Andersen and Andersen Consulting were both part of the same worldwide partnership but split (jolly lucky for the latter) prior to the Enron debacle. In my opinion either bunch would gladly have become camp guards for the right fee.

  13. Thanks PropJoe, I do not know many muslims in the industry so I appreciate your advice and it’s good to know that there are a lot of muslims in the industry.

    HR- as PropJoe said, Muslims get a lot of bad press, which means guys like me(smart, numerical students who work extremely hard at their studies) are naturally subject to more discrimination than, say, someone from a african/caribbean heritage or chinese/japanese heritage. I know what I need to do to secure a position within the industry from a general perspective but if there is any advice you can offer me, I would be most happy to accept.


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