From the monthly archives:

May 2014

Right off, we concede this sounds bizarre. If you’re a typical reader of this space, you’re an MBA, or maybe a BBA, or at least a candidate, seeking an investment banking job. You’ve long since gotten into a good university and are very likely graduated already. You crammed for your SATs because you had your eyes set on a career with Bear Stearns or Lehman Brothers. Your 1400+ score (out of the old 1600-point scale) on the Boards was impressive, but ancient history. Why should anyone — least of all the hiring gatekeepers at leading Wall Street firms — care?

“Proving the adage that all of life is like high school, plenty of employers still care about a job candidate’s SAT score,” reports Melissa Korn of the Wall Street Journal. “Consulting firms such as Bain & Co. and McKinsey & Co. and banks like Goldman Sachs Group Inc. ask new college recruits for their scores, while other companies request them even for senior sales and management hires, eliciting scores from job candidates in their 40s and 50s.”  The article also lists D.E. Shaw as an investment firm that not only wants to see your SAT score, but wants to see the math results parsed out before considering you for an investment banking job.

Nobody should be more surprised by this oddball use of the SAT than the College Board, which administers the test. It was designed in the 1920s to predict one thing: how successful an individual is likely to be in their first year of college. It doesn’t even measure the likelihood of ongoing academic achievement, let alone how likely the individual is to actually obtain an undergraduate degree — no less a graduate degree. So that it’s now being used to predict business success is a bit of a stretch, and one which the College Board has absolutely no data to support, nor does it purport to.

What makes this even more strange is that even college admissions departments, the intended audiences, are questioning the SATs’ usefulness for their stated purpose. Almost a decade ago, prestigious Bates College in Maine released a study demonstrating that the difference in success rates — in and beyond college — between those who submitted SAT results and those who didn’t was statistically insignificant. The SAT-optional movement is large, growing, and includes a lot of schools to which you yourself likely once applied. That being said, the Bates study notes that if you had to again take a standardized test to get into a graduate program, you were probably best served if you got solid SAT results.

Still, we are where we are. Your next prospective employer might or might not request to see your SAT scores. There’s no predicting whether one particular firm will or won’t. The best advice is to keep it off your resume, because it makes you look like, well, you know what it makes you look like. But if they really want to know, be prepared to show them.  The good news is, they’ll probably take your word for it. But if you’re dealing with a company that wants to see your official college transcript, then they’ll probably want your official SAT results, which cost $30.50 to retrieve and — if it’s so old the College Board keeps it in a box full of dot-matrix paper, it could take up to five weeks to get a hold of it.

We’ll end with the kind of warning we wished we didn’t have to state but, for the record, never lie to prospective employers about your SAT scores. Yes, they will take your word for it — during the interview process. If they’re serious about hiring you, and it comes down to you and another equally worthy candidate, the firm might go through the exercise of contacting the College Board and exhuming your results. They better match what you told them if you want any chance of getting that investment banking job.

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If you’ve been raised as the progeny of Western Civilization, then you’re probably aware of the Seven Deadly Sins. If you went to Catholic school, then you can rattle them right off:

  1. Lust
  2. Gluttony
  3. Greed
  4. Sloth
  5. Wrath
  6. Envy
  7. Pride

Even if you’re not from around here, you still are very likely to have a similar litany of prohibitions. If you’re Hindu, for example, you are possibly proscribed from the Arishadvargas, the six negative passions, which map almost one-to-one with the list established by Pope Gregory I and later popularized by the poet Dante Alghieri. (Good news, Hindus, you’re allowed sloth.)  So what does this have to do with pursuing your investment banking career?

At this point, you might be saying, “Sure, but if it wasn’t for greed, nobody would be going into investment banking in the first place.” Fair point. Fortunately, the Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald suggests a new list of seven sins for the career-minded professional, and greed didn’t make the cut.

According to columnist Sylvia Pennington, the following bad behaviors are to be avoided at all cost:

  1. Arrogance: Maybe you really do know it all — that merely primes you to “remain the smartest person who never got promoted.”
  2. Spinelessness: The best leaders understand they themselves don’t have all the answers. That’s why one of them hired you. Don’t display the boss’s ignorance in front of clients or your firm’s upper echelon, but below decks you owe him or her the courage of your convictions.
  3. Selfishness: There might be no I in “team,” but GS, JPMC, AIG, HSBC, VTB and BMO all get along perfectly well without “U”. You want to get noticed? Get noticed for being a team player.
  4. Ruthlessness: Quality of life isn’t just about acquiring things. It’s about acquiring friends. If you’ve even gotten in the door of an investment banking firm, then you’re already associating with the kind of people you’ve selected to spend your life with. Some of them might be your competitors in the deal you’re working on today, but any and all of them can be lifelong friends. If they like you. If they trust you.
  5. Incompetence: If you wanted to never have to learn anything new, you should’ve majored in history. Banking is always changing. Stay informed. Stay current. Stay sharp.  
  6. Laggardness: Don’t just expect change, embrace it. Enjoy it. Advocate for it. Be that individual who suggests process improvements. Remember, the person who raises their hand is usually the one who gets assigned the task. Are you up for the challenge? 
  7. Drunkenness: The point of loosening up at work functions is to build camaraderie, not to get polluted on somebody else’s tab. Being a boorish sot can, and will, get you fired. “I was drunk, and you were buying the drinks” is not an excuse for bad behavior. If the boss can’t tolerate your actions at the risk of creating a precedent, drunk or sober, you will be escorted out.

Notice what cardinal investment banking sin is not on the list? “Don’t get caught.” It’ll go better for you if you just assume that, if you commit any one of the enumerated sins, you will. So don’t.

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