Fund managers demand the same sort of things as investment banks from their graduate recruits – impeccable academics, interesting extra-curricular activities, evidenced commitment to financial services and keen communicators who can work as part of a team. At least that’s what they tell you.
But while banks hire hundreds of grads each year, just a handful of fresh recruits make it into asset management. What does it take to get your nose in front of the pack? Sebastian Stewart, an Etonian who graduated with a maths degree from Edinburgh University before starting at emerging markets-focused fund manager Somerset Capital in 2012, gave his tips to a select group of students an Introduction to the City event organised by Stanhope Capital.
Stewart participated in no fewer than eight internships – at J.P. Morgan’s cash equity sales desk, HSBC’s debt capital markets team, Standard Chartered’s loan syndication team, Egerton Capital, Lansdowne Partners,Thurleigh Investment Partners and Lloyd George Management. Obviously, this means you start working towards a full-time job from the moment you start university – and getting summer internships in itself is a tough ask – but it also looks great on your CV and allows you to choose which area of financial services best suits your personality and ambitions.
It might seem like a hackneyed piece of HR jargon to talk about passion when applying to a finance position, but really it’s about ensuring your sanity as your career progresses. “A lot of people go into finance because they’re chasing the clichés of the high paying job, but if you do that you’ll end up hating it and switching out within a couple of years,” says Stewart. “Research whether this is really the career for you – it’ll make you more convincing during interview and if you’re not naturally interested in financial markets, ultimately you’ll be pretty miserable in the job.”
If you’re not genuinely interested, and can’t come up with a contrarian view on what’s happening in financial markets, you’re not going to get very far in fund management. Stewart speaks of bi-weekly team meetings where analysts put forward their investment ideas to be “torn apart” by other analysts and portfolio managers. You need to be able to defend your ideas, see what others in the market can’t about particular investments and ultimately beat the competition.
“During my interview I was asked to explain an ‘unusual’ thought I had about a particular issue and I just froze. I’d always thought of myself as quite a linear and straightforward person. I had to think of something to come back with on the second interview – you need to be contrarian.”
Even two years into his role, Stewart says he’s reviewing graduate application and it’s “so obvious” when someone has simply tweaked their CV for the role, or included his firm in one of hundreds of companies they’ve applied to. Applications need to be targeted and they need to be tailored – and this takes some planning.
“Write a list of the sort of things the company you’re applying to is looking for and on the other side match up your experience to that. You may believe you have the right skills and experience, but you should be able to prove it on your CV,” he said.
Stewart advises researching the company before going into your first interview (obviously), but also using the interview process as a method for gathering information. “Take notes and ask questions. I had 30 questions I genuinely wanted to know about the firm and reeled them off during the interview I learned from it. The next interview I was better prepared.”