Meet the Cambridge graduate with 35 A levels who wants your finance job

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Richard Branson

Cambridge graduate with 35 A Levels is now interning at Virgin's investment arm

If you're an experienced banker trying to hold onto your seat, beware. Not only are banks dumping expensive senior staff in an effort to cut spending on salaries, but the new crop of juniors is exceptionally well-qualified and ambitious.

We've noted the highly impressive CVs of junior bankers before - Stanford Bernstein hired Anojja Shah, an analyst with an undergraduate degree from Wharton, an MBA from Columbia and stints at Deutsche Bank, Citigroup and Merrill Lynch. However, there are even more highly qualified juniors out there than Shah. Take Zulfiqar Ali, a Cambridge graduate with no fewer than 35 A Levels, 31 at grade A (including 6 A*s), 3 at B and 1 at C.

For those unfamiliar with the British education system, A levels are typically taken by 16-18 year-olds before going to university. Most students take at least 3, some take 5; no one takes 35. 27% of students received an A or A* in 2012. 

Ali puts his extraordinary A Level achievement down to determination and the buzz of doing well. "I wanted to push myself as far as I could," he told us. "I wanted to see where my intellectual boundaries lay and I wanted the adrenaline rush that comes from that kind of achievement."

Ali studied his 35 A Levels over a standard two year period. He achieved the 35 passes by managing his time very carefully and developing a system. "I got to know how the exams worked - I looked for the most important component of the syllabus and was able to intuitively see the major points. It helped that I had a structured way of thinking and writing," he said. Ali also developed humorous mnemonics based on a simplification of the data he was trying to memorize - "I found that the funnier the analogy, the better the information stuck in my head. If I had something really complex, I would simplify it into a diagram or arrow tree, and associate it with something silly, like Michael Jackson."

Now, Ali (who got a 2.i in his Cambridge law degree) wants to work in fund management or private equity. He says his A Level grades have been a big help in securing job interviews.  "I get a lot of calls for finance interviews because of my A Levels, and I know that I'll always be asked about my exam passes. Having a broad A Level base also made it easier for me to shift from law into finance - I already knew a lot about economics and maths."

Ali has already interned at Standard Chartered and the Pakistani bank KASB. He's currently interning at Virgin, in Richard Branson's private office and the Virgin investment fund, a position he achieved through, an organisation that arranges internships for students who want to work in the City.

"I've tried fund management and private equity and I still don't know enough about either to make an informed decision. Right now, I'm just enjoying working in private equity," he told us.