Should the City recruit more generalist graduates?


If a top graduate has a technical education, then they should thrive in a technical role, right?


Companies in the high-stakes world of finance are well known for encouraging healthy risk-taking. It is a shame that this does not always extend to their hiring practices of graduates.

Every year they have the pick of the brightest grads from the best universities (across the globe, not just from the UK), but they still sometimes fail to look beyond the “safe” solutions. If a top graduate has a technical education, then they should thrive in a technical role. Goes without saying, right?

Well, for the first few years, that premise may hold true. However, we increasingly see many technical grads who fall at the first management hurdle when a softer skillset is called for. This initial hiring mentality needs to shift a little.

Taking on more generalist grads is key for developing more rounded leaders in the longer term. Yes, of course, they should be numerate and have the ability to learn the more technical parts of the roles, but they are a growing force in the middle management of businesses across the City. Graduate recruiting schemes should be reflecting this trend.

The premise of “hire for attitude, train for skills” is applicable in this case. Generalist grads are more adept at communicating; they can elucidate persuasive arguments, and their influencing skills are finely tuned after the rigors of their education. These people skills are vital in any business, but especially in the world of finance where relationships and trust play a key part in the growth of the industry.

Generalist graduates are often equally as adept at problem-solving as their technical counterparts. The difference being that while the generalists may more readily understand the wider effects of decisions on an organization, the technical guys tend to be more focused on their own specific field. It would be unfair to say the technical grads are narrow minded, but their education has been far more specialised, so it does take an exceptional individual to be able to see the big picture.

Having said that, generalists are only successful if they are highly numerate and possess excellent problem-solving skills. My personal experience is that there are more logical generalists than there are technical grads with the softer skills. No matter what the situation, there should be more of a balance at the entry level.

Each type of graduate will learn from each other. They will complement each other. They will build a more competitive business together. Graduates need to feel secure in their choice of career. The branding efforts of top companies at university careers fairs should reflect this.

The top banks and financial services firms need to adopt a more inclusive attitude – yes, they only accept the best of the best, but their net should be cast wider. Top graduate talent comes in all shapes and sizes.

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