Interviews – Financial – Karen Hoggard

 

Merrill Lynch Investment Managers is one of the world’s largest asset managers, with $525bn of assets under investment. We talk to Karen Hoggard, head of human resources about this unique working environment and get some invaluable advice for graduate applicants

What’s Merrill Lynch’s recruitment process for graduates?
We take all our graduates from the milk round. We have an online registration system and they apply online. In our presentations on campus we’re very clear about the differences between the various areas of ML’s business and we do take quite a lot of ad hoc requests for information so that from early on in their application people can start to make decisions about whether they want to go into fund management, corporate finance, or sales and marketing etc.

Is there a difference between the culture of working for the asset management part of the company as opposed to another part?
I think there is. The investment management business tends be longer term and you have longer client relationships. It’s perceived by the outside market as not being quite so frenetic as other areas of financial services. In the short term I think the pressures within investment banking and asset management are probably the same. To give you an idea of the length of client relationships, we won our first client in 1967. We still have them today.

What is the graduate programme like?
It is a global programme. Graduates spend time in New York and London. We invest a lot in their training in the first two years and they do two different courses in two different parts of the business depending on whether they’ve chosen fund management or sales and marketing.

What are the kind of characteristics you’re looking for in the young graduates?
They have to be highly intellectual, self-starters, people who are very interested in financial services. There’s no point coming in here unless the markets are interesting for you. They have to be team-workers. It’s not a star culture environment, so they’ve got to have demonstrated the ability to lead a team and be part of a team, maybe playing a sport or being involved in societies of one sort or another. A good all-round candidate.

What can graduates do to prepare themselves for interview?
Find out about the organisation. That’s absolutely critical. Hone up your interview skills, be ready to talk about your interests, but the most important thing is to say something about the organisation in the interview. And the City, and how it works, as well. It might be worth spending time talking to people who work in the City and finding out whether you think it’s for you or not. Try and understand the differences between banking and fund management. As I said you have to be really motivated by the markets as a fund manager.

Do people have to be pretty IT-literate when they apply?
Not particularly, no. It’s certainly an advantage to most of our people here if they are. But no, numeracy is the most important quality in that respect. Graduates don’t have to have a maths degree or a science degree but they do have to be numerate.

Have you always looked for the same qualities or do your needs in a candidate change with the markets?
I think if you look at people coming into the firm, and the people who are in their mid-thirties and older, there’s a consistency in the types of people that come here and want to work here. We do employ nice people. People come here because there is a slightly bigger emphasis on the quality of life. We work very long hours, but people here appreciate more of a work-life balance that you might not see in other parts of banking services.

Do you have specific policies to maintain that work-life balance?
We’ve just done a big project to review where we are and to look at the possibility of introducing more flexible working practices. For example, Merrill Lynch already provides childcare, more so in the US than here. But certainly there’s a crèche facility for the investment banking side.

Who do you see as your competitors in the war for talent?
That’s an interesting one. Last year it was obviously the dotcoms. This year that’s not been the case at all, and we’ve had no difficulty in recruiting. The competition from dotcoms is simply not there. And for whatever reason investment banking, asset management, financial services in general has been back in vogue this year – quite a radical shift from where we were this time last year. The other element of competition is always to a greater or lesser extent the pull of other professional practices like accountancy and law.

Have people returned from failed dotcoms or are they too embarrassed to come back?
No, some are knocking on the door again. Others, I think, have decided that actually they’ve found a different lifestyle and they’re happy with that. But there are people who are now coming back into the business who, having tried the dotcoms experience, have decided it’s not for them.

What about consultancy – what does banking have to offer that consultancy doesn’t?
I could be politically incorrect and say it would be riches. I think you’ll probably find rather more of them in investment banking. And lots of people come to the City because that’s what brings them here.

What is your greatest concern for recruitment?
I think it’s retention rather than recruitment. It’s how you keep your people in the business, keep them motivated, and keep growing and allow them to grow at the pace that they want to grow. I think that’s the challenge for every employer. I think the area of biggest risk is a year after the end of the graduate programme, maybe two years. Once you get over the three- or four-year mark you tend to stay.

What’s most likely to impress you at interview?
People who come in who are warm, natural and friendly are most inevitably the ones who do extremely well.

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