No one in banking has ever had a “day in the life” like careers websites tell them. In fact, these sites are less “careers resources”, as the HR departments would like you to believe, and more a work of fiction that JK Rowling would be proud of.
The daily lives described in them resemble the quotidian ups and downs of investment banking as little as Hogwarts looks like a comprehensive school in Hackney.
If you fell for the image they present for even a moment, don’t feel bad. We all did at some point. However I have been through the assault course of graduate recruitment and the boot camp of graduate training at one of the largest and best known banks on the world, and it is only with hindsight that I see the carefully constructed duplicity the recruitment machine managed to feed me.
The best street scams (and this is just a very polished game of find the red ball under the white cups) work by playing on the victim’s pre-existing beliefs and vulnerabilities. We want to buy into the glossy photos and the cheery “interviews” with juniors. We want to fear for our futures if they don’t follow a pre-ordained path to success. We’re convinced the red ball is there, if only we work hard enough.
Basically, we’re suckers for believing the lie.
A quick glance through a few of the top banks’ digital publicity machines tells me that nothing has changed. Here are a few of the most glaring lies and misrepresentations
1. Clichéd claims of universal “team spirit”. You’d be a fool to believe that banks aren’t full of warring factions driven by their annual bonuses and (in the current environment) self-preservation and the urge to keep their jobs. These are zero sum games – the more money others get, the less you make; the more costs that are cut in another team the fewer that will go in your department. If anyone tries to convince you that something is being done for the purpose of teamwork alone, you’re the fall guy in their own game of Chess. They are winning at your expense.
2. Happy smiling faces. The minute you start your recruitment process, be it attending a bank’s university presentation or having an interview or a spring week, you’ll see that bankers find it hard to maintain even the most strained of smiles for long. Bottom line, banks are not happy places. Want to work in a place where people are paid to provide smiles all round? I hear Starbucks is recruiting.
3. The staff line-ups look like a Benetton advert. Not even US banks are as diverse as the most staid European or Asian institution would have you think it is. All the usual stereotypes apply – lots of Asians working in Technology or Back Office roles, and pasty white faces heading up M&A and Sales roles.
4. Everyone looks well-rested and healthy. This is perhaps the most egregious bit of propaganda. On the recruitment website, no one has dark rings under their eyes or overflowing waistlines. The typical overworked banker has both.
5. They’re all very young. Juniors come and go, but the Layer Cake determines that bankers with experience predominate. The more you have managed to hang in there, the greater your longevity, like a vicious circle.
6. “Warm, kind and incredibly humble” places. Not in my world. Bankers make occasionally vicious jokes out of a strange need to break tension between direct and often brutal conversations. I learnt this on day one of my internship and the lesson has stayed with me ever since.
My best advice for anyone who really wants to know what to expect from a role in the City would be to talk to a trusted friend who works there. That’s probably the only way to get a true representation of the highs and lows of the job. Failing that, grab a copy of Liar’s Poker or Monkey Business. Even though they are dated, they’re the best approximation you’ll get.
The author works in Private Equity and started out in investment banking