14th december 2022 / Anthony Cheung

CAREER INSIGHT: How to make your application standout!

For this episode, I spoke with Ben Arnold an investment director in value and European equities at Schroders.

Ben's got a really unique story. As a teenager, his number 1 dream wasn't to work in finance but rather to play hockey at the Olympic Games. Shortly after graduating from the University of Nottingham in 2012, he started working in the City part-time at RBS while he trained with the GB hockey team in preparation for the Rio Olympics.

After spending time playing professionally in the Netherlands, he returned to finance and pivoted his career to work in asset management and is now heavily involved in their recruitment selection process.

Ben is a true advocate for social mobility having come from a traditional working-class background and is always a willing candidate to help young people with their career decisions.

In this segment, Ben shares with me his top tips for standing out in both the application process and in the workplace.

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In this week’s episode, we spoke to Ben Arnold who is an investment director in value and European equities at Schroders. Ben is a true advocate for social mobility having come from a traditional working-class background and is always a willing candidate to help young people with their career decisions.

Here are some of Ben’s advice and top tips for standing out in both the application process and in the workplace.

With your involvement with the careers team at St Schroeders, are there common things that you see that are good qualities in candidates and those that are not good?

Yeah, definitely. I do help out with the assessment days and the insight days and things like that, and  the stand-out quality that does really separate a candidate is intellectual curiosity. Everyone knows that the finance sector and all the different industries offer a lot of grad programs and there's a lot of variation within that. A lot of recruiters are aware of this. Many students will just take a machine gun approach and just try and hit every company in every sector and throw as many applications out there as possible and hope to just play the numbers game, which definitely has merit. But I wouldn't apply to everything out there. It's probably 100 grad schemes in the city, maybe more of a decent size.

What do you mean by intellectual curiosity? How does it affect the job application process?

Having intellectual curiosity, like genuine intellectual curiosity about an industry and showing that and demonstrating that is absolutely key. And the demonstration is so important, because of the number of students that I meet, we do speed interviews and things like that here. I will always ask, “what are you doing outside of your course?” Because some will do finance, naturally they'll be doing stuff related to the industry anyway. But what are you doing outside of your course in your spare time to further your knowledge or get some skills that would be relevant to your career? Now, everyone tells me “I love investing, I love equities.” If they struggle to answer that question, they're not making that much of a compelling case to the interviewer that it is genuine.

It's like saying, “what football club do you support?” and answering  “I love United. Always have done”,  then being asked if you watch the game at the weekend but answering  I don't even know who they played, and I've never been to Old Trafford and I don't even know who their star players are”. So it doesn't sound believable.

Do you have any advice on developing intellectual curiosity?

So having intellectual curiosity, and then demonstrating it is super key to my point that I mentioned earlier about picking subjects and things like that. If you follow what you love, I don't think that's a problem. I would encourage students to really try and find a bit of finance which they can enjoy the most.

It's a tough assessment process to get internships and jobs. It's then tough when you start working for these companies if you don't genuinely enjoy it. But not everyone can walk around loving their job. That is a dream situation, but that's not the reality. But you can enjoy a decent amount of it to make it worthwhile and enjoy your career and then make sure you demonstrate that well with examples to assessors which is really important. What you also got to understand is the amount of people that’s going to have the same evidence as their go-to for intellectual curiosity.  For example if there are 150 people in your university’ finance society, times that by 30 universities plus international and US universities; so there are going to be many. 

So I work in equities; if someone says they love equities and they love investing, I would hope a good quality candidate will be running a portfolio or investing themselves. Doesn't have to be with real money. I didn't have any money at university to invest. But you can run a paper, portfolio, simulations, et cetera, et cetera. You're probably going to be asked on a stock pick. You're going to want to have at least probably two or three up your sleeve. Now, you don't need to be quoting the 2014 cash flow statement, but you got to have a view. I've encouraged that view to be different than the market view. I always ask, especially if it's equities and someone says they have a portfolio and they invest in stocks to tell me about one stock. Now, I'm not an investor, I work on investment desk so I'm not going to ask someone about the valuation multiple or what adjustments they're making to the balance sheet, et et cetera, cetera. I just want to know if this person thought reasonably sensibly through the investment case of a business. 

The other thing I'd say is to pick a stock that's not Tesla, Apple or Facebook, because the amount of times I hear those or people give a stock recommendation, it's one of those so you are not differentiating yourself! Also, most PMS and most fund managers will know the investment case for those stocks better than any student. So if you pick something, pick something that's just really interesting to you. If you like sports, why not pick Man United? Or why not pick Adidas? Or just something at least a little bit different, a little bit more niche and you can talk about that probably in a far better way than a company that everyone covers in the City. 

So Long answer to a short question. Number one - intellectual curiosity; Evidence it as much as you can! 

With your level of experience and in your position as a director, is there anything beyond the application process that you had to learn in the workplace? Can you share some insight on that kind of journey?

Yes , so I have three points.

1. Technical Ability

The first is technical ability. I'm not naturally technical at all. My role, I'd say, has a reasonable amount of technical knowledge that's needed. I need to speak well about equities to clients. I need to have a view of these things. I need to understand the investments and the investment process well enough, both of the teams I work on and also peers and competitors. But ultimately you will learn the technical side, whether you are technical or not. I know that the technical side of finance puts a lot of people off. There are elements of finance that are very, very technical. I imagine things like trading and some quant fund management stuff are very actuarial. The actuarial factor attracts very technical people. But there's this bit of a myth around finance that everyone can do the Black Skulls equation in the city. It's a complete myth that everyone loves to keep up with because people make them sound cleverer than they are. If you are not technically minded, please do not be put off by a career in finance. You'll learn it. 

The bar for how technically you need to be is a lot lower than anyone will probably publicly admit in finance. So that's just one thing that I've learned. When I speak to students, it really puts them off a lot of stuff in finance. I find it quite disheartening because the industry needs to do a better job of marketing itself to people that think about the world differently. 

2. Being Humble

In terms of my experience and the two things I'd say I've learned, one was definitely humility. So when I started at Schroders, I was 26. I'd just been an international hockey player for a few years. I played in Holland, and I was then a graduate. I would say I was doing the photocopy and getting the keys. Not quite that bad, but it definitely took a while.  I probably thought I was going to be doing a lot more exciting things in my first year or two than I actually was. So just being humble and just being quiet and listening was really important for me. Now, I know a lot of other people have different experiences going into their grad scheme, so probably isn't as much of a  skill that they have to learn, 

3. Being Patient

Linked to the second one, and this is something I see across interns and graduates, is just patience. I was definitely a bit impatient at times over the last few years. Just wanted to progress super quickly. I was hungry to progress, to get given more work, to get given more responsibility. That all does come eventually and most places are very good at nurturing and developing talent over time, but you just also have to be patient. It's great to have hungry graduates and people like that but the firm will give you enough work to do. You will be pushed in terms of your learning, not just on the job, but most likely in exams and any other assessments and things that the companies have.  It will all come just in good time and there's an advantage to being young and naive and inexperienced. 

On the grad scheme, you have a free license pretty much. Maybe not all companies, but the ones that I know to email pretty much anyone in the firm to just have a coffee and that is an amazing thing to go and do. If I email someone from our real estate division or our fixed income division said “can I just have coffee and learn about your role”, they're going to think that I'm going to want a job there. Because why does someone that's a direct level want to go and do that? Unless there's something business related, which there might be, and that's completely fine, but as a graduate, you get a whole pass to go and do tha and just be patient. So yeah, just don't be in too much of a rush.


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