by Girl Banker®
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It is true that investment banks recruit a disproportionate number of people from the very top universities. Many people believe this is totally unfair, however, consider why it might make sense:
Do you agree? All businesses want to hire the smartest people they can.
No one can argue with this. If you had a business, you would obviously want it to succeed and it makes sense that hiring top performers will increase the likelihood of achieving such success.
Do you agree? The entry requirements for top performing universities are extremely high, on average.
In addition to having supersonic grades, the best universities want to see a dashing set of extracurricular activities especially in sport, drama or music.
I say, on average, because we all know that some wealthy people get in regardless of mediocre grades due to their connections and "donations". That said, their hefty donations go a long way towards improving labs and other resources.
Do you agree? Most people have to work very hard to get top grades.
Some people seem to do no work at all, enter an exam room and ace it. Good for them. The vast majority of us aren't so lucky.
I am going to use myself as an example here: I worked my African butt off to get into Cambridge. I had no reason to expect to get in but all that I knew is that I really wanted to go there. It wasn't that I did a stupid number of hours of work, I just structured my time extremely well. Let me explain.
I went to a Malawian boarding school at the age of 11 and for the next 6 years, every single term, I wrote a study timetable and I more or less stuck to it. At times I even missed the weekend's entertainment to catch up on things I didn't manage to cover. By the time I reached GCSE, I was going through the entire curriculum for every subject every two weeks.
In the 6 years that I was in high school my grades went from strength to strength. I improved every single year just because I had this blazing desire to go to the best university in the UK.
Did anyone make fun of me? Of course they did but with me, you always get as good as you give so it wasn't much of a problem.
A friend of mine put it best when I was telling her about something I was working on, she said, "Heather I completely believe that you'll do what you are saying because when we were in high school and you said you wanted to go to Cambridge, we all thought you were mad!"
Does this then follow? People who work hard get top grades, people who get top grades get into top schools, people who get into top schools get the best paying jobs?
It should but it doesn't necessarily.
Some people can work as hard as they like but they simply have more obstacles to jump over - a lack of resources (e.g. a bad school, no room of your own to work in, no money for good books or private tutors) or they're surrounded by teachers (and parents) that don't believe in them. State secondary schools need to find a way to help people with obstacles achieve better grades.
Yes, a disproportionate number of students in top universities come from private schools. And a disproportionate number of those are from wealthy households. The cornucopia of resources in fee-paying institutions means pupils have less of a challenge to achieve fantastic grades and as such they find it easier to get to the top.
In conclusion, I didn't set out to discuss the need for a more egalitarian school system. My point is that any business, investment banks included, is justified in using the university system to help them sift through candidates.
No matter what your background is, if you were born in a developed country your chances are probably way better than mine were coming from one of the 10 poorest countries in the world. I never thought about what I didn't have, ever, I only thought about what I wanted and I focused all my energy on that goal. I didn't care about looking uncool or geeky, all I knew is that even if I failed I wanted to have tried my very best. Try your best and you might surprise even yourself.
I created my investment banking blog in 2012 as soon as I resigned from i-banking & published my book, To Become An Investment Banker.
Heather Katsonga-Woodward: On Business, Life & Everything In-Between