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Sep 5, 2016

The Guardian | Opinion | Banking Opinion - September 5, 2016: How To Blag a Job in Financwe: Buy Some Black Shoes and Talk Like an Aristocrat, by Paul Mason

theguardian.com

Paul Mason
 
There’s supposed to be a war for talent. If so, it became pretty clear last week why Britain’s investment banks are losing it. The recruitment filter, revealed in a report from the Social Mobility Commission, works like this: you can only join the customer-facing part of an investment bank if you went to one of four public schools; got a first from one of five universities; and possess “sheen”.

Yes, sheen. And polish. No matter how good you are, if your tie is not right or your suit does not fit like a glove, you are destined to take your excellence somewhere else.
Little wonder, then, that the world of investment banking suffers from group-think on a scale that crashed the world markets in 2008 and has led to wave after wave of fines for fraudulent behaviour.
Given that the signifiers are so clear and obvious, how would you scam your way in? How would you hoodwink the informal process based on “specific behaviours, speech patterns and dress codes”? Unwittingly, the commission’s report provides plenty of clues.
First, the obvious don’ts. No beards. Not Muslim ones, not hipster ones, not the stubble worn by movie stars. None. One of the clearest demographic faultlines in the world runs along White Kennett Street, in east London – where the beards of hipsterland begin and the twice-shaven faces of the City end. Also, no brown shoes.
In fact, the brown-shoes thing, plus numerous other faux-pas, can be easily avoided by reading GQ magazine. But buy the British edition because if you read the Italian one you are going to arrive in the wrong kind of suit, shoes and – very important, this – socks. I once met a management whizz-kid thrown out of his City internship for wearing plaid socks.
You need the haircut, the suit, the shoes, the tie. They are all – like the outmoded economic theories you will have to waffle on about – available as a job lot in and around Savile Row.
The suit has to be blue or grey. Sure, you will see electric-blue suits, or pinstripes, on the streets of the Square Mile, but don’t try to pull this off unless your family’s yacht has a helicopter pad. Shoes have to be black leather and click as you strut along a corridor, shutting down venerated retail chains by text message.
The bankers surveyed were disdainful of people who “can’t wear a suit”. To their jaundiced eyes, this means you have bought a suit off the peg, and cannot afford six grand to have one made that immobilises you at the armpits and makes your bum look like that of a figure skater.
The haircut has to be bouffant. One of the surest signs you have walked into a workplace that recruits only from the elite is that the haircuts do not change. Neat back and sides, big bouffant quiff, no gel, no wax, no putty. These are the marks of convicts or advertising men, not the front-office banker.
All this is fakeable, with money, practice, a willing tailor and obedient hair. But then you need to open your mouth to speak.
Take careful note of what’s happening to the “posh” English accent. It is no longer enough to have the calm, fruitily inflected RP common among barristers. More fashionable now is the “Rees-Mogg” – a throwback to the accent of the aristocracy in the 1920s, where the consonant “r” migrates slightly towards “w” and even spontaneous utterances sound like they have been written by Michael Gove. This is achievable with practice.
Next you need subject matter. The Laffer curve, which attempts to illustrate that taxing the rich is futile, is a good thing to talk about. Also the work of any fashionably rightwing African economist. And Venezuela. If in doubt, diss Venezuela.
But – and this is critical – you must understand that words are not the primary medium of communication. If you are going organise a team to fix Libor, you don’t say “let’s fix Libor”. You use subtle understatements, allusions, metaphors, sentences that trail off, eyebrows that curl independently. To learn this you have to hang around in places like St Moritz, and not just for a single season.
As to the CV, you must make it up. The four spring internships claimed by elite candidates in their first year at university (the new normal according to the report) come in limited supply. Apart from the sons and daughters of the bankers themselves, most other places will be reserved for the offspring of Arab despots and Russian crooks.
And if you are proud of having climbed in Glencoe on your Duke of Edinburgh award, be aware that’s not good enough. You must have, at the very least, discovered a new species in the Amazon while in the lower sixth, or still better, a new tribe. You must have proof of this on Facebook and Instagram. Also references from Nobel prize-winning economists.
Fortunately, it’s all fakeable.
But here comes the unfakeable part. You must go into that interview not just with a tie from Ede & Ravenscroft and shoes from Lobb. You must go in believing that it is the duty of high finance to avoid tax, rewrite the law of sovereign states, enrich dictators, boost inequality and – in return – voluntarily clean up litter in Haringey on the annual away day.
Above all, you must subscribe to the efficient-markets hypothesis so unequivocally that it becomes your religion. This says it’s the job of the financial market to allocate capital efficiently. Centuries of good practice show that capital can only be allocated efficiently when the participants in the deal played rugby with each other at the age of 12.