Talented graduates find door to investment banking closed

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This was one of the issues taxing both recruiters and students at the annual careers fair organised in London this week by the African and Caribbean Finance Forum (ACFF).

The event, at the Barbican in the City of London, is probably the biggest graduate recruitment fair targeted specifically at black students. It attracts 3,000 - 4,000 students a year and, this year, about 30 employers who were keen to promote their commitment to diversity, including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Barclays Capital, the Bank of England and HSBC.

As in previous years, most of the students and graduates attending were from new universities, which tend to have a larger proportion of ethnic minority students than the older, more established ones.

Most, even those who did well at university and achieved 2.1 degrees, don't have the minimum of 22 UCAS points or more required by many investment banks. (The UCAS system awards 10 points for an A grade at 'A' level, eight for a B grade, six for a C grade, four for a D grade and 2 for an E grade.)

Helen Bostock of JPMorgan, a regular participant at the ACFF careers fair, said the bank had probably recruited just three or four students from the event over the years. &quotWe support it because it's the best there is of its kind,&quot she said.

JPMorgan's stringent 'A' level requirements rule out the vast majority of people at the event, she said, adding that employers may have to rethink UCAS point scores if they are to recruit a truly diverse workforce.

This does not necessarily mean accepting a lower calibre of person, argued Brenda King, chair of the ACFF. &quotBlack kids are often let down by the school system and don't come into their own until they are older,&quot she said.

Her view was backed up by a number of would-be investment bankers participating in an investment game, hosted by Goldman Sachs.

Damyon Darnley is 23, confident and articulate and has a 2.1 in business studies from Southbank University. He worked through much of his time at college and is currently employed in the finance department at Gap, the store chain.

He would like to be an investment banker but has just 12 UCAS points. &quotPeople with the best academic achievements aren't necessarily always the best people,&quot he argues.

&quotPeople who've worked through university, struggled and coped with pressure have skills to offer that the academic achievers may not have. I've picked up people and workplace skills by working,&quot he says.

Dawn White, 26, another Southbank graduate is equally keen on investment banking, but has an HND qualification instead of 'A' levels. She thinks persistence and determination will enable her to break through.

White spent a long time chatting to people on the Barclays Capital stand, in order to make a positive impression. Barclays policy is somewhat more friendly to people like Darnley and White - its UCAS requirements, though stated as three A or B grades at 'A' level, are apparently not absolute.

According to people manning the stand, anyone with a 2.1 degree is eligible to sit their entrance test and be considered for the graduate training scheme if they pass. The stand was doing brisk business signing up people for the test.

Interestingly, a number of people operating the various investment banks' stalls didn't themselves have the glowing academic records currently required for graduate recruits in the institutions they represented.

It is clearly harder to break in without three very good 'A' levels and a 2.1 degree, but not impossible.

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