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Inside View: Citigroup

Adam Walker tells us about MBA opportunities at Citigroup

This week we spoke to Adam Walker, he's a lead recruiter for front office positions at Citigroup. He draws on his experience and insider knowledge to tell us how MBAs can get a job at one the worlds largest financial services company.

Adam specifically hires across two areas, the front office and the middle office. Adam is responsible for lateral recruiting, (as opposed to the MBA program). This year Citigroup hired just over 1800 employees, and almost 80% of this was done externally. Citigroup uses three key strategies to find talent. The first is to approach candidates directly, the second is to find candidates by referrals and the third method is to use recruitment agencies.

We were told that, “referrals are the strongest route into work. If you've got a referral from someone at Citigroup then naturally we'll be more interested to see what you have to say.” Agency hiring is also a dominant method of recruitment, however Citigroup are actively trying to cut down their use of agencies, “at the moment it's pretty equal but we're looking to move away from agencies for various reasons such as saving costs and having better control of the process.”

The reason Citigroup prefers to find candidates by referral is because, “the candidates that come to us via referral tend to be of high quality and are often a close fit for our needs. Getting a Citi employee to “vouch” for you suggests the individual is of good quality.”

This focus on referrals prompted us to ask how Citigroup maintained a fair application process, Adam explained that, “a referral will get our attention, however we're careful to hire the most talented workers. Whether you've come to us via a referral or through an agency, we have very rigorous policies and procedures for all candidates.”

This means that a referral can only take you so far and it won't guarantee you a job. Another measure that Citigroup has to ensure fairness is a common interview & approval process that all candidates must go through, regardless of their point of entry.

When we started talking about the skills Citigroup look for, Adam said , “we're usually looking for candidates with a very broad range of skills. However, regardless of whether they're an MBA or not we need strong mathematical and analytical skills.” He went onto to say that a candidate must also be able to handle the pressure that comes with banking, whilst being able to communicate effectively with clients and colleagues.

An interesting point that Adam raised was that once you come into a role at any large bank it becomes increasingly hard to change roles the higher up you go in any section, “if you're in a financial control role it's not that easy to switch to an investment analyst role, although it is easier to change careers via an internal move.”

However, this kind of specialization offers employees their own niche where they can clearly see how they fit into a company. Adam argued that even with this specialization all the employees at Citigroup get to develop great communications skills, “our staff have to able to convey complex mathematical ideas to clients who don't necessarily have a similar academic background, so they talk in terms that everyone can understand.”

When looking at MBAs Citigroup is incredibly selective regarding business schools, “there's obviously more focus on skills but when we're looking at MBAs (particularly for the front office) there's only about a dozen or so business schools that produce the kind of candidates that meet our needs.” Adam mentioned that INSEAD, IE, LBS, Harvard Business School, Wharton and Stanford are some that are held in very high regard by the lateral recruiters.

Adam points out, the schools mentioned above are all respected in the rest of the banking sector as well. Adam theorised that, “they're well respected because they have rigorous entry requirements, tending to take candidates that already have high GMAT scores and about five to six years of relevant experience before they even walk through the door.”

On the other hand, Adam stressed that even though there are general patterns, there are no absolute rules, “for example recently we hired someone for an equity research role (analysing software stocks) even though their background was in IT. In this case their MBA really helped them to stand out.”

MBAs working at Citigroup tend to have particularly strong accounting knowledge coupled with great communication skills. A significant number of them end up in the investment banking, corporate finance and research roles. MBAs also do very well across the front and middle office in strategy and operations, “MBAs are really useful when we're doing analysis work on a company.”

When someone joins Citigroup soon after an MBA they usually come in at the associate level (but could be higher on the ladder if experience necessitates). At this level salaries are quite varied and can be anywhere between £50,000-£70,000. On top of this they can expect a great benefits structure. Adam also highlighted that there are a lot of working perks, “for example at our Canary Wharf office we have restaurants, cafés and a gym on site.”

Being a global firm Citigroup offers a great deal of flexibility when it comes to travel, “depending on the team that you come into your travel will vary. If you're quite happy where you are then we have some roles where you never have to leave the trading floor. On the other hand, if you want to move about then we have all kinds of roles that lead to excellent travel opportunities.” Adam elaborated by saying that internal mobility is very important at Citigroup, along with general employee happiness.

When we raised the idea that candidates could find a similar environment at firms like J.P. Morgan, Adam countered by saying, “Citigroup compared to its competitors have a size and reach that very few other firms do. Moreover we have the best people here, which I think is our biggest asset. I've recruited across the banking sector and since I've joined Citi I've constantly been surprised by how innovative they are. There's a real determination to stay at the top of the business.”

Further to this point Adam talked about how Citigroup probably offer an MBA candidate a difficult but interesting career trajectory, “when you enter at the associate level you need to impress to make it to the vice president and director levels, but if you do the rewards are proportional.”

Finally we discussed what misconceptions people have about Citigroup, “a lot of people look at us because we're such a huge American firm and think we're like all big US firms, this isn't true. There's a huge amount of regional autonomy.” Adam also encouraged those of you who are interested in working at Citigroup to find more information at this website: www.oncampus.citi.com

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