GUEST COMMENT: Investment banks are obsessed with hiring graduates with exciting extra-curricular interests. This is what to do about that

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Seriously, what does the fact that I competed in the Oxbridge boat race, debated Bill Clinton’s misdemeanours, or edited the university newspaper have to do with my ability to be an accurate and skilled trader or an astute corporate dealmaker?

When I was applying for graduate trainee positions, I can remember feeling frustrated and angry that I had to list everything that might be even technically considered as “extracurricular” for my graduate job applications.

Personally, I didn’t buy the explanation that extra-curricular activities are a valuable way of determining how good a candidate will be at their banking job, but like everyone else I played the game.

Nowadays, however, I find myself on the other side of the equation.  Part of my time is spent scouring job applications for anything which can differentiate one person from the hundreds of others. What a person does outside of their academic studies also demonstrates valuable lateral skills, initiative and commercial ability. Setting up a charity requires budgeting and the ability to understand basic finances.

However, there’s more to it than this. The other reason why bankers like to hire people who’ve done interesting things outside studying is quite simply that banking is boring and juniors with quirky hobbies make life more interesting.  They can alleviate the day-to-day boredom of investment banking. When the trading floor goes quiet, or there is a lull in M&A activity, you will be glad that you chose unusual colleagues to work with, instead of the automatons.

How should you make the most of your extra-curricular interests?

Personally, I kept a Word document detailing all my smallest achievements outside my studies in glowing terms.

I added statistics to each one to lend them credibility. Each figure was an unusual number, to at least one decimal place, because “increasing readership by 51.7%” sounded more realistic than “increasing readership by 50%”.

I copied and pasted this carefully crafted novella into every single job application, and I am pretty sure that most of my friends who actually got jobs in banking did exactly the same thing.

The author has worked across a number of roles in investment banking