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May 1, 2017 – By Jill Gregorie

To succeed in asset management, it pays to attend the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard or Columbia, according to a study of more than 36,000 professionals from more than 4,500 companies by the investment analytics provider eVestment.

Those three schools accounted for nearly 3,000 fund professionals, while peer institutions, such as the California Institute of Technology and Virginia Tech, generated fewer than 40 each, according to the May 2014 report.

Despite the prevalence of Ivy Leaguers, however, individuals without a Harvard MBA can find ways to advance to the industry’s top ranks, recruiters say.Firms such as State Street have developed programs to promote individuals with a wider range of educational and work backgrounds to middle management and executive positions than in decades prior, says Paul Francisco, the company’s chief diversity officer.

“In the past, we had looked for candidates with a more traditional background, such as those who took the track to college and even graduate school, but we’ve to come realize that experiential learning and on-the-job training brought others up to the same performance level,” he says.

Paul Francisco

One way State Street seeks to uncover talent that may otherwise get overlooked is through its Boston Workforce Investment Network, otherwise known as the Boston WINs program. As part of that initiative, launched in June 2015, the firm partners with the nonprofit Year Up to recruit urban youth who may not have much exposure to the financial services industry.

Program participants, who range from 18 to 24 years old, start with six-month internships designed not only to teach them about about fund management, but also coach them on soft skills expected of such industry professionals.

“We wanted to wrap our arms around a demographic and group of people that have traditionally been ignored in prospective talent pipelines,” Francisco says.

Since June 2015, the company has hired more than 200 young candidates to full-time positions through its Boston WINs effort. And while it may be good for the candidates, it’s also great for the firm, says Francisco.

“This is a workforce that is flexible, young and eager,” Francisco says. “They are hungry to learn more and add value to our organization.”

Graduates of the Year Up program typically stay at an organization for nearly four years (45 months), compared to a year and a half for recruits from other sources, according to the organization’s website.

Higher up the organizational ranks, State Street ensures that candidates who may be considered non-traditional contenders don’t get overlooked in job rotation programs. It also drafts succession plans that create paths for employees of all backgrounds.

Part of that approach includes training managers to spot traits among staff that indicate potential, instead of relying on a specific academic degree or other metric, Francisco adds.

“When we’re sitting down with a management committee or board and going through a roster of candidates for a search, it’s certainly doesn’t hurt if a candidate is bolstered by a strong academic background,” says Larry Lieberman, a senior partner at the executive recruitment firm The Orion Group.

The further candidates get from entry level, the less weight such elements carry, he says.But the pressure many active managers currently face is causing some fund professionals to make “dramatic changes” in their careers, which may cause hiring managers to pay more attention to educational background than prior work.

“If you’ve done something for 15 years and you want to move into a role that’s tangentially but not directly associated with that, and I’m evaluating you for that move, your education might become more relevant again,” he says.

Still, there are ways to stand out among competitive candidates, says Jane Marcus, a senior client partner in the asset management recruiting division of Korn Ferry.

“Once you can start showing a track record of career accomplishments and forward movement, the undergraduate degree doesn’t matter,” she says.

Highlighting specific accomplishments or milestones also helps, says Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer for CareerBuilder.

“Don’t hide things you ought to be proud of, and don’t make your potential employer dig for the information.”

It may also be valuable to look for unconventional ways to demonstrate expertise empirically.

Professionals can also complete “pre-interview projects,” where they create models or strategies that could potentially help a prospective employer reach specific objectives, and then pitch those to the company, for example, says Raghav Haran, an entrepreneur and founder of Land Any Job You Want.

Beyond just getting a candidate an offer letter, good ideas help them immediately stand out among executives because they were hired because of specific qualifications, not a diploma from a certain school, Haran adds.

Perhaps the most important trait is determination, says State Street’s Francisco.“You don’t need to necessarily know how or when, but you have to have that inclination of, ‘Hey, I want to be successful and I want to figure out how to get somewhere,’” he says. “As long as you have that, there will be a way.”

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