The soft skills that help elite men achieve finance jobs

If you’re trying to get a banking and finance job, but you’ve never been skiing, know nothing about the Hamptons and think Gstaad is a kind of cheese, you may be at a disadvantage. Although banks are now doing their best to open recruitment to the broadest range of applicants possible, historically at least they had a well-documented tendency to hire from the upper middle classes, particularly for client facing roles. In London. 90{1b90e59fe8a6c14b55fbbae1d9373c165823754d058ebf80beecafc6dee5063a} of people in senior roles in finance still come from higher socieconomic backgrounds. – The hangover is real.

If you don’t have the advantage of an upper middle class upbringing, a new study from the University of Bergen in Norway identifies the soft skills that act as the selection criteria for getting hired and promoted into elite jobs. These are the skills that you need to both cultivate and to signal on your CV.  

Soft skills play a “substantial role” in getting hired into an “upper-class” job, says Lisa M. B. Sølvberg, a professor of sociology at the Norwegian University of Bergen. “Hard skills’ do not suffice to achieve an upper-class position,” she adds, noting that as university attendance has increased, so soft skills have become an increasingly important differentiator – and that many of the soft skills required overlap with the behavioral traits of the upper middle classes. 

Sølvberg analyzed the language used in 150 job advertisements in three key sectors and extracted the skills that tacitly determine whether you’ll get the role. She looked at the cultural sector (Eg. editors, managers of cultural institutions, film, higher education), she looked at the professional sector (eg. doctors, dentists, lawyers), and she looked at the “economic” sector (Eg. CFOs, vice presidents, compliance officers, COOs).  

In the economic sector, a few key skills stood out.

Soft skills for economics and finance:

Companies in the economic sector prioritize authoritative traits, says Sølvberg. Yes, candidates need the right education and professional experience, but they also need the following more nebulous faculties. –

  • Goal oriented and results driven. – Unlike other sectors, jobs in the economic space are all about tangibles, and you’ll need to show this on your résumé, says Sølvberg. You’ll also need to show that you can “improve and develop”, both a team and yourself. 
  • High energy. – Recruiters for economic jobs want “go-getters.” You need to demonstrate that you’re, “ambitious, an achiever, driven, on the offensive and innovative.”
  • Sociable cooperation. Being authoritative doesn’t mean being aggressive. To succeed in an elite economic role you’ll also need to demonstrate good networking skills, to be “enthusiastic and energetic, social and sociable, and to have cooperation skills and communication skills.”
  • Structured hard work. Sølvberg found that elite economic jobs also require candidates to demonstrate an appetite for structured hard work. You need to display a high capacity for work, excellent time management and strong analytical skills.

Soft skills in other sectors 

Sølvberg highlights the contrast between the soft skills required for economic jobs and the soft skills required elsewhere. 

In the professional sector, for example, the emphasis is instead on being dedicated, self-sufficient, responsible, and having a high level of personal aptitude. In the cultural sector there’s more emphasis on coaching employees to achieve a common goal (alongside being hardworking, analytical, vigorous, independent and having a high level of personal aptitude again). 

Sølvberg notes that gender disparities tend to be reinforced by the different job descriptions. – “Personal aptitude” is far more highly valued in the female-dominated sectors, whereas male dominated sectors like finance are more likely to value commercial understanding, strategic thinking, analysis, innovation, vigor, ambition and confidence. 

Sølvberg is in the business of making observations rather than recommendations, but if you’re applying for a job in finance, it might be worthwhile considering how your application reflects her findings. – Do you demonstrate the skills shown in the bullet points above? Even if they’re not explicitly required in the job description, it may be worth incorporating them into your CV.

You might also want to talk about exercise. In a previous study, Sølvberg found that male members of elite classes were very physically active and displayed “negative attitudes” towards people who didn’t exercise. They didn’t display these negative attitudes initially, but they emerged within 15 minutes of chatting to them.

Photo by Roland Samuel on Unsplash

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Christopher Lewis

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