By Steven Reynolds
Step aside finance, economics, and math majors, banks now want to hire liberal arts graduates. Investment banking giants Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan, among others, are proving that liberal arts students have a lot to offer in the financial industry.
Many believe that banks only hire certain majors, mainly those related to math and finance. Yet, Janet Raiffa and Jonathan Jones, co-heads of U.S. Campus recruiting for Goldman Sachs, believe that strong academic performance is more important than course of study. New hires that majored in finance and business related fields may have an early advantage, but differences disappear after a few months of training, says Jones. Working in the financial industry does indeed require a certain esoteric knowledge, but business concepts can be taught on the job. It is what cannot be taught once hired that makes liberal arts graduates desirable.
Banks are realizing the benefit of having employees who are able to read critically, communicate well, and work in a team environment, cornerstones of a liberal arts education. “Interpersonal and communications skills, as well as a hunger for knowledge, are enormously important [in the banking industry],” asserts Jones. Michal Redley, vice-chairman of investment banking at J.P. Morgan, agrees, adding, “Our traders are selling and dealing with people. You need some communication and presentation skills.” Far from obsolete and unpractical, a liberal arts education is proving to be a coveted asset for graduates seeking employment in the finance industry.
At Goldman Sachs, liberal arts graduates make up a significant portion of the workforce. According to their website, liberal arts majors are second in numbers only to finance, and ahead of business, economics, and math. Banks are seeking a diverse workforce, and the liberal arts provide just that.
“People from different backgrounds often have different thought processes. If they’ve studied history, for example, their research skills give them a huge boost. They’re self-starters – they’re used to going away, studying on their own, and coming back with a view. These are important skills for us,” says Rob Dyer, a recruiter at financial services powerhouse Deloitte.
Banking and the liberal arts may initially appear to be an unlikely pairing; numbers and words are antithetical concepts to many. However, liberal arts majors are not only landing jobs in the financial industry, but in many cases are exceling. A quick glance at current CEO’s of banks reveals that many studied the liberal arts: Ken Chennault, CEO of American Express, Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, Brian Moynihn, CEO of Bank of America, and Stephen Schwzman, CEO of Blackstone Group, just to name a few.
The notion that liberal arts majors are destined to a life of unemployment, debt, or if they are lucky, a low wage job is a fallacy. It is true that the liberal arts do not bestow upon students a specific set of skills or a clear-cut career path. Yet, in this quality lies the greatness of the liberal arts; they enable one to think critically and communicate well, skills that are useful in every field. Yes, even banking.
Steven Reynolds is a junior at Case Western Reserve University majoring in political science and sociology. Case Western Reserve University is home to the Alpha of Ohio Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.