There’s a growing sense in investment banking graduate recruitment that having all the ‘right things’ is merely a baseline. Yes, you possess a great degree, technical knowledge and multiple internships, but what else can you bring?
The key, it seems, is to be ‘interesting’. On top of this, you must be competitive – but “humble” – and you also need a mind-set that shows you are open and experimental, according to senior investment bankers.
In a series of talks at the UCLU Investment Society Conference last week, senior bankers spoke about what they look for in the 20-somethings they want to hire. The answer is not always obvious.
“A few years ago people thought that to work in trading or sales you needed to be pushy, but we don’t want those people any more," said the head of FX at an investment bank in the City, speaking anonymously. "The industry is so highly regulated now that that any arrogance can get you in real trouble."
"Fundamentally, we want people to be balanced. This means academic, hungry, and humble. That’s rare to find in graduates now," he said.
You also need some “steel”, he says. The problem is that the bank also wants to hire people with ‘content’, he said, meaning that they have studied finance or economics at a top school. One interview question is always “What’s the square root of 0.9?”. So, how can you demonstrate all these traits?
“I always say the best way to test someone is to get them to play 5-aside-football. You get to see how they interact with others and deal with a high pressure environment, and you can’t hide,” he said.
Meanwhile, Themis Themistocleous, head of the European investment office at UBS, said that he studied not finance but chemistry because he enjoyed experimenting. Finance, he says, should be appealing to students who are “intellectually curious”.
“The one thing I did do throughout university was invest in shares,” he said. “I also studied the CFA at a time when not many people knew about it.”
And, as we’ve pointed out previously, Michael Lavelle, UK & Ireland head of corporate and investment banking at Citi believes that you shouldn’t pigeon-hole yourself early on. It’s fine to go for internships in financial services, but being married to the idea of working for a particular division of a particular bank is not the way to go when you’re a student.
“I would encourage the next generation of investment bankers to experience as much as they can,” he said. “Find out what you like, and I don’t just mean financial services. Get as much experience as you can in as many industries as you can to find out what you really enjoy.”