• Students and Graduates

Wanted: Non-Finance Recruits Who Can See the Forest from the Trees

Why do financial firms value recruits with degrees as far removed from finance as philosophy and music?

If you thought only business school types, finance graduates, math geniuses and computer scientists are in demand at firms like Morgan Stanley, think again. Graduates ranging from language majors to musicians, and just about everything in between – make up a sizeable share of the firm’s yearly intake of recruits.

Why? Because someone has to see the forest from the trees, says Becci McKinley-Rowe, Managing Director in the Institutional Equity Division in London. “If you just have highly skilled financial technicians in a room, then you're only going to get a certain perspective," says McKinley-Rowe, who majored in History and Politics. “Business graduates are essential, of course, but we've found that humanities graduates often have a macro viewpoint that might have been missed if they weren't in the room."

Global client-facing businesses need people who are thinking constantly about the wider political or economic landscape and the impact on markets. “By definition, students of history, geography or languages are interested in what's going on in the world," she adds.

The Not-So-Obvious Perspective

There are some obvious non-finance or science-related subjects that build the right skills for a bank. People with law degrees are always in demand, and language majors are especially useful in Global Capital Markets. Yet there are also students hired by Morgan Stanley who have studied subjects that seem the polar opposite of banking, like philosophy and religion.

“Non-finance students often take for granted the many skills they've learned in their field, which are also essential to the world of finance,” says Meredith Hotarek a director on the Campus Recruiting team. “Graduates, who identify the applicable transferable skills from their studies and relate them to the role they are applying for, generally do well throughout our interviewing process.”

The Banking Skills You Never Knew You Had

Take Chris Lyle, an analyst in the European equity coverage group of Global Capital Markets, who studied Arabic and Persian. “I found that many of the skills I developed during my degree have transferred very well to my role at Morgan Stanley," he says. “When studying languages, the minute details—like a small change in spelling—are extremely important to remember because it can change the entire meaning of a sentence. Having this built-in attention to detail has really helped me when carrying out financial analysis and modelling."

That's not to say that just anyone can turn up and apply for an investment banking job. “If you're talking to us, then we are going to assume that you are interested in the intersection of economics, politics and finance, so we're going to expect that you have knowledge of each of those disciplines," says Christine Baron, North America Head of Institutional Securities Campus Recruiting.

Recruiters expect that non-finance majors can prove their value to the finance sector, for example, by having a strong interest in financial news and the macro trends in local and global markets. “You don't need an MBA to know the difference between a Treasury Bond and a convertible bond, or what price/earnings multiple is,” she adds. 

But I Hate Math!

As much as non-finance majors might veer away from mathematics, there’s no denying that having a strong grasp of arithmetic goes a long way, especially if the job is in a client-facing role in Corporate Advisory, Global Capital Markets or Sales & Trading.

But mathematical or quantitative skills beyond that are usually taught in-house for roles that require them.  “As long as someone has a good grasp of arithmetic, they should be able to pick up the technical side," says McKinley-Rowe. “Our training program will help graduates get up to speed with financial modeling and anything else they need. After that our training teams offer developmental resources and your colleagues can help you learn skills through our apprenticeship model."

One thing that will be familiar to graduates from most non-finance fields, is that for many graduates, breaking into the business starts with participation in one of our campus recruiting programs. The majority of firms hire from their pools of summer analysts and associates. For these programs we generally receive hundreds of applications and we scour those applications people with potential.  How to stand out among the crowd, is a whole other story.

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