Even With An MBA, It’s Hard To Switch Careers

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What Wall Street Recruiters Are Looking For

‘To become a great leader, you need to first be a good follower.’

If you aspire to become a master of the universe, that’s probably not the advice you want. In fact, you were probably hoping for someone to tell you to take risks, to be a cool-and-calculating swashbuckler who can confidently swivel back in a big leather chair. Pinstripes may be a Wall Street staple, but cut-throat cockiness is out of style. You may picture yourself as a wolf, but bankers are tired of being served subpoenas by Little Red Riding Hood. Huff-and-puff all you want. If you want a shot on Wall Street, it pays to be a team-oriented problem-solver who knows how to communicate.

Those were the findings of a recent Bloomberg Businessweek survey of recruiters from 212 financial services, banking, and accounting firms. Here, recruiters could pick up to five skills that they regarded as critical to success. Based on the result, this is not your father’s (or even your older sister’s) Wall Street.

Sure, there is always a place for a modeling ninja with mad PowerPoints. These days, financials are looking for prospects with a softer side. Among recruiters, communication skills top the wish list. In fact 75% of recruiters listed it among their top five. Analytical skills finished second at 60.8%, followed closely by motivation and drive and the ability to work collaboratively (both at 52.4%).

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Here’s a switch: Remember how recruiters tout a “global mindset” and an “entrepreneurial mentality” on their websites. When it comes to hiring, those attributes are seemingly anathema to Wall Street (and most anywhere else). Just 7.5% of recruiters valued a global mindset (and just a shade more chose entrepreneurship). Apparently, money has a language and culture all its own! And you know the cliché that, ‘to the risk go the rewards? After Bruno Iksil took a $2 billion dollar whaling over his credit default swaps, risk-taking lost its sheen. Now, just 15.6% of financial recruiters look for “initiative and risk-taking.”

So is Wall Street now recruiting eunuchs to go along with its poindexters? Not exactly. Instead, this change partially stems from lessons learned during the financial crisis (not to mention tighter regulations), says Scott Rostan, CEO of Training the Street. Even more, it follows a Wall Street tradition, where associates take orders and deliver results for their bosses. In fact, Rostan tells Bloomberg Businessweek that he sees a number of correlations between working on Wall Street and serving in the military. In both cultures, he points out, there is a hierarchy, with analysts and associates serving on the front lines (and taking fire) as privates and sergeants.

“I’ve seen lots of people who are very bright and open and creative who haven’t done that well (on Wall Street),” Rostan observes. “They’re told to go left, and they want to go right.”

In other words, if you want to make decisions, you have two choices on Wall Street. First, you can bide your time and make your bosses some money doing it ‘their’ way. Or, you can start your own firm and be your own boss. Serve or lead: That’s your call. Just know that serving is often another form of leadership.

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Source: Bloomberg Businessweek