Recruitment fever has hit the LSE finance department the past couple of weeks, with my friends going stumbling over themselves to sign up for CV workshops, bank presentations, consulting fairs, that whole schbang. And I thought Wharton was competitive.
Observing the craziness over recruiting has confirmed what I’ve suspected all along: that people majoring in Finance have no idea what they’re doing. Everyone around me is applying for everything they can get their hands on: M&A, sales & trading, consulting, structuring, asset management, private banking… I knew it was getting ridiculous when a friend left a party at 12am because he needed to send out a cover letter the next day.
That same friend has also somehow made himself believe that M&A would be a very fulfilling career choice. Having done a few M&A cases a few weeks ago, I tried to convince him that it was basically 100-hour workweeks of putting together Excel earnings models and bullshit reports of “mutually strategic goals”. He’s still applying for M&A and other jobs as well, conceding that he really doesn’t know what he wants to do except that he’d like to make “lots of money”.
I think that sums up the predicament of almost every investment banker. From the book Liar’s Poker: “The analyst was a prisoner of his own narrowly focused ambition. He wanted money. He didn’t want to expose himself in any unusual way. He wanted to be thought successful by others like him. There was one sure way, and only one sure way, to get ahead: major in economics; use your economics degree to get an analyst job on Wall Street; use your analyst job to get into Harvard or Stanford Business Schools; and worry about the rest of your life later.”
Out of pure whim, I signed up for two days of the financial services fair at LSE (they had two quantitative trading firms that I wanted to talk to). Both days, starry-eyed students in business suits lined up to talk to recruiters. The line snaked from the fifth floor of the Old Building to the ground floor. Inside, students jostled with each other to crowd the recruiters at the bulge bracket banks: RBS, Goldman Sachs, Barcap, etcetc. They all asked the same inane questions (1. What’s a typical day in banking like? 2. What’s the culture of the company? 3. What skills are you looking for?), while knowing exactly what the answers were (1. Slogging from 10am to 4am, 2. We value teamwork, leadership, attitude, we’re not like other companies – but every company says that. 3. Be really good at Powerpoint and Excel, and be willing to embrace your status as scum in the corporate food chain)
I couldn’t stand the idea of lining up with a bunch of suits, so I sneaked in through the back door. I walked past the students crowding the banks, headed straight to the trading firm I was interested in (there was no one talking to them at that moment), and had a pleasant, enlightening conversation with a trader. We shook hands, I walked past more students crowding the banks, and left. The entire process took 15 minutes.
Being clear about what I’d like to do is such an advantage. I’m sorry, but I didn’t get a Masters degree to compile dumb reports bullshitting about why “Company X’s leveraged buyout of Company Y would create value for shareholders.”
Thanks, but I’d rather be making real money and having a life.