Why the new breed of banking junior is a headache

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It's saying something when a bank like J.P. Morgan feels the need to devote an area of its recruitment website to the parents who are helping their offspring to find jobs in banking: "Ask your daughter or son to think hard about her or his interests and strengths," it suggests, "Careers sites, job boards and social media are great resources."

While this might seem abundantly obvious to anyone who's ever looked for employment, it clearly needs to be spelled out for today's generation of juniors - who are not even doing the legwork themselves, but getting their parents to do it for them.

"They're very needy," says a head of HR at one international bank in London of the bank's junior hires. "It's very difficult to get them to make the move from being a student to being an employee. They're used to a lot of guidance."

There are signs of frustration. Yesterday, Colm Kelleher head of Morgan Stanley's investment banking business, said working in finance is no longer about getting rich quick and that the people who want to get rich quick aren't good hires anyway. His implicit message was clear: finance isn't for shirkers who want an easy ride. Meanwhile, Guy Hands, head of private equity firm Terra Firma has been complaining that the people he interviews for jobs nowadays are arrogant, embittered and lacking in a sense of humour: "No one seems satisfied and everyone seems envious and critical." Admittedly Hands' rant was not restricted to junior staff, but he's one of the few PE moguls who hires university leavers.

The problem isn't so much attracting students into banking in the first place - banks like Goldman Sachs still boast tens of thousands of recruits every year - but keeping them once they've arrived. "People know they're going to work hard," says Andy Pringle, director of recruitment firm Circle Square. "But they're not prepared for just how hard. At one extreme, I spoke to an analyst who'd joined in January and hasn't had a single day off."  Nor is just the working conditions: people don't actually like the work. As one junior complained on this site recently, "We’re all top students from the world’s best universities.  90% of what I do is copying and pasting. What’s the point in that when I could have done a PhD and be on my way to becoming an academic?"

Banks are alert to the problem. Goldman Sachs is promoting its juniors more quickly and trying to automate and offshore their least interesting work.  The head of HR says her firm is trying to give the juniors more exposure to its managing directors: "It's a change in the way of working - MDs are used to being out of the office, meeting clients. Now we're telling them they need to be in the office more, increasing their visibility to junior staff and acting as mentors."

Recruiters, meanwhile, are keen to negate the impression that banking is no longer a lucrative option. "The Millennial generation are less interested in banking than their forebears," says Logan Naidu at recruitment firm Dartmouth Partners. "It's a hard job and is less glamorous than it used to be - but it still pays!"

Whether banking pays enough is questionable however. Yes, you can earn six figures within three years, but given the high cost of living in London, it's become harder to use banking to set yourself up financially in preparation for something more interesting instead. Unsurprisingly, therefore, today's young bankers want to pace themselves for the long term, and when they can't, they leave. "The whole idea in tech is that you treat your body and mind with care so that you can live and work well and that you have to do it for a long time too. It’s just a different world to banking,” said ex-Goldman banker Meg He in an interview earlier this year. 

He and her colleague Nina Faulhaber are typical of the new breed of young ex-banker. Both are academic high achievers who spent two years at Goldman Sachs before quitting to set up their own company. Banks complain that a first job in the industry has become a 'credentializing' process. "Top students just want to join a bank out of university to get the name on their CV. They stay for two years and they go and do something else," says the head of HR. As a career strategy, this makes perfect sense. A 2013 study by academics at Wharton School and McGill University, found that if you start your career at a high-status investment bank, you'll always receive a pay premium.

For banks that need a pipeline of future talent, it's a nightmare though. And nor will exposure to senior role models necessarily make much difference. "We saw a lot of our older friends in banking, just get totally burned out," said He. "They’d go on holiday and just lie there on the beach because they were so exhausted and they were only in their early 30s." A recruiter puts it more succinctly: "Young bankers are looking at MDs and saying they don't want to be them. They don't want their lives, and that's a problem."

Photo credit: Jaypeg

Photo credit: 145 by Jaypeg is licensed under CC BY 2.0.


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