Wanted: global graduates

UK candidates face stiffer competition for City jobs as firms look overseas for recruits, writes Stephen Pritchard
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The Independent Online
If you want to work in the City, there is good news and bad. The good news is that, after a few fallow years, recruitment is picking up again. The bad: British first degree graduates are losing popularity within the Square Mile.

Recruitment suffered in the early Nineties through a combination of a market downturn and a spate of mergers between investment houses. Though most of the merged firms kept to their original recruitment commitments, the climate of uncertainty meant that finance houses, including some not directly involved in mergers, held back from hiring.

Now, these firms are back in the market. A number of the recently-merged banks report a strong demand for good graduates, sometimes far in excess of pre-merger levels. At Deutsche Morgan Grenfell (DMG), for example, worldwide graduate recruitment is put at some 150 vacancies. Before the merger, DMG recruited in single figures. Numbers have also risen at JP Morgan and BZW. SBC Warburg, another merged firm, has more than 100 vacancies for recruitment in the UK and Europe.

The emphasis on European or worldwide recruitment is no accident, however. At SBC Warburg, the Swiss connection has created demand for graduates who speak at least one of the Swiss national languages: French, Italian or German.

This global approach to hiring is becoming more common, both among banks with headquarters in London, and for the London offices of overseas institutions. This reflects an ever more global client base, not just within the EU, but also in Eastern Europe and the developing economies. And although few banks admit it in public, new recruitment policies match concern about Britain's lukewarm attitude towards a single European currency. Teams are now being built that will be well placed to cope if the focus of the financial markets moves away from London.

Free movement of employees within the EU means that it would be foolish for firms to overlook the best Continental universities and business schools. Banks also need staff who mirror their client profile. "We are trying to reflect the needs of our clients, and the business we are doing is international," says a recruitment spokeswoman at DMG.

City recruiters are looking, above all, for graduates who can move easily between cultures: applicants from bilingual homes have a head start.

Graduates from overseas also have advantages in their qualifications. Most European applicants are somewhat older than their British equivalents, and many are qualified to master's level. But, increasingly, British first- degree graduates are having to compete with domestic postgraduate students, too.

Much has been made of "rocket scientists" - highly qualified PhDs in maths, science or engineering - carving careers in financial institutions. But demand is, if anything, stronger for graduates with a relevant master's degree. One recruiter explains: "Try to send a UK-based graduate to work in Switzerland with just a first degree. They just don't recognise them."

A postgraduate degree can help graduates compete in Europe, and they are valued for specialist jobs in, say, insurance or trading. However, they are not general passports to work in the City.

Recruiters caution that candidates should not take a higher degree believing that it will make up for failing to find a job in the "milk round". Firms are unlikely to relish seeing the same faces a year later just with the benefit of a further qualification.

Experience in a related industry can be more valuable than a degree alone, and it is a prerequisite for many of the better MBA or MSc courses. Even graduates applying for a higher degree direct from university will need to demonstrate transferable skills, numeracy and teamwork before they find a job. Professor Costas Grammenos, who runs City University's highly regarded MSc in Shipping, Trade and Finance, draws 65 per cent of his intake from applicants with several years' work experience. This is typical.

Finding the right experience can be hard, and once again Continental graduates are at an advantage, since European business schools place emphasis on work experience and internships.

UK graduates can compete, especially if they make the effort to develop the right skills and present themselves properly. Graduates who lack experience can also look at vacancies outside the investment banks and broking houses. Most recruit at second job stage, with a time-honoured route in for post- qualification accountants and lawyers. The increasingly technical nature of much City work offers similar openings for graduates coming from information technology.

Stiffer competition for jobs, however, is also evidence of a growing meritocracy in the City. Hiring more overseas staff, and more older graduates, is just part of a more open-minded approach to recruiting. "We are looking for people with different cultural backgrounds, who can bring different things to the table," DMG's recruiters say. Clubbable white men are no longer the only ones who need apply.

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