If you are looking to get into investment banking, put down War and Peace and find yourself a copy of Macroeconomics. The bankers who rise to the top are generally the worldly types who can mix talk of leverage with literature and other topics, putting them at ease in any social situation.
But when it comes to getting in the door at the bottom, an arts degree is not going to help, so concentrate on the numbers, concludes U.K.-based eFinancialCareers. The company did a survey of 50 analyst-level workers at securities firms around the world, and found out that almost without exception they had studied economics, economics and math, or business for their bachelor's degree.
"In theory, banks are open minded inclusive places that are more than happy to hire liberal arts graduates just so long as those graduates can pass a few numerical tests and answer some mathematical interview questions," the firm concluded. "That's the theory. The reality, however, is very different."
The degree that was furthest from finance was psychology, and there were some computer science degrees. The one philosophy degree was combined with economics. Anecdotally, here in Canada there are also a serious number of engineering grads on Bay Street, but that still fits in with the numbers-based theme.
eFinancialCareers concluded that "Banks like to hire people who know about economics and business. If you want to work in front office banking, forget banks' claims to be open-minded and don't risk studying anything else."
The results from eFinancialCareers aren't surprising. However, the conclusions do risk mixing up correlation and causation. It may not be that banks won't hire people with more varied backgrounds. It may well have more to do with candidates with the best skill sets and keenest ambitions self-select a business-related degree.
But that doesn't make them more fun at a dinner party.
You may get a job by focusing on numbers at school, notes the anonymous financier who goes by Epicurian Dealmaker on Twitter (@EpicureanDeal), but you risk becoming "the most boring person on the planet." So it might be worth reading the Tolstoy on your own time.
Then, once you're in, you have to stay in.
At that point, brains will help. But really, it's about being lucky, as the Epicurean Dealmaker points out in this insightful post on how people really climb the career ladder in banks.
"There is a mythos in investment banking, consciously cultivated by investment banks and believed in no more fervently than by its recent recruits, that my business is a purely meritocratic one," he writes. However, in salty terms, he says that isn't really the case. "These traits may arguably be necessary, but they sure as hell aren't sufficient. "Luck–good, bad, indifferent–plays a huge role in anyone's success in my business. So much of what affects what investment bankers do is beyond our ability to control: the state of the markets, the path of the economy, the success or failure of our clients' firms compared to their competitors, changes in the regulatory environment, the hiring or firing of personal friends or enemies in decision making roles at clients and potential clients. These are just a few of the boons or impediments which can deliver success far beyond our deserts, or scuttle years worth of unpaid work and preparation in a single afternoon. And this is just business as usual."