A check list for getting hired into a sovereign wealth fund

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Sovereign wealth funds are changing their recruitment strategies. Gone are the days of big recruitment sprees, with funds in the Middle East in particular blinded by brand names and experience in Western markets.

SWFs are still expanding, though. Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global is doubling the number of internal equities staff it has, while Singapore’s GIC and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) are putting similar efforts into bolstering in-house expertise.

To be considered for a role, however, you’ll need to tick all the boxes. Here, according to conversations with recruiters and the HR teams of large funds, are the attributes you must demonstrate in order to make the shortlist.

1. Evidence of consistency and loyalty

Recruiters are now more tolerant of gaps in CVs or more frequent job-hopping in the wake of the financial crisis that has seen even good people thrust on to the job market. SWFs want to see evidence of a clear career path and loyalty to an employer, says James Wakefield, managing director of headhunters Cobalt Abu Dhabi.

“If you’ve had two or three jobs in the past five years, you can forget working for a SWF,” he says.

2. Demonstrable deal experience

As hiring becomes more specific, SWFs are asking for direct experience within niche sectors. Or, as Wakefield puts it, “if they’re looking for European wind farm principal investment specialists, you need deal experience”. As an example, ADIA invested in new staff from Europe throughout 2013 and, according to a recent report from the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute this “allowed it to seek out more deals” and has “augmented its participation in initial public offerings.”

3. Brand names

As an initial hurdle, you’ll still need either an Ivy League or top university on your CV, combined with experience in either New York or London with a bulge bracket bank or large private equity firm. “We look for bulge bracket experience in developed Western financial centres,” says one head of HR at SWF in the Gulf.

This applies to big and small funds alike – the new Nigerian sovereign wealth fund has installed Uche Orji, a former managing director at UBS in New York, as CEO. It can also be assigned to qualifications – ADIA, for instance, puts all its junior recruits through the CFA.

4. A deference to authority

Imagine you went to work for sovereign wealth fund in the Middle East. The chances are that your boss will be actual royalty – ADIA’s managing director is Sheikh Hamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. It’s important not to go into the job with an over-inflated sense of your own abilities. Despite being an internationally diverse place to work, the largest proportion of staff at UAE sovereign wealth funds will be Emiratis and Singapore is giving more and more preferential treatment to locals.

They will be promoted quicker than you, you will be viewed as something as a hired gun, but if want the experience and generous pay packets at SWFs then you shouldn’t make a song and dance about this.

5. A willingness to accept diminished responsibility

Call it a defence mechanism of working in a pseudo-governmental institution with a reputation for bureaucracy, but SWFs don’t want stars. This may be at odds with their tendency to hire from bulge bracket banks where big egos are nurtured, but it also ensures that no one is left carrying the can for underperformance. This takes some getting used to – according a report last year for NMG Consulting on behalf of Investec, SWFs struggle to retain staff for functions like “risk management, asset allocation, investment strategy and internal asset management”.

6. A cosmopolitan attitude

If you work in London or New York, you’ll be no stranger to working with a number of nationalities, but SWFs are real melting pots. There are 30 different nationalities working at GIC and 40 within ADIA and an ability to thrive within this diverse culture is integral. “We want people from the UK, but don’t apply if you’re a little Englander,” says the head of recruitment.

“ADIA employees are generally very tolerant people with an international perspective, and they are used to working within a multicultural environment,” Robin Prince, its head of international recruitment told us previously.

Related articles: 

Seven areas where you should want to work in the Middle East financial sector now

Morgan Stanley’s new IB MENA chief on the importance of keeping your head down during a crisis

Why bankers are joining sovereign wealth funds in London

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