Interview: British Airways Pensions

Losing my Virginity

The role I was applying for was a graduate trainee position working as an investment analyst for BA’s pension management team.  However, all I knew going into the interview was that the role involved “working with fund managers in a supportive environment”.  The ad didn’t say much.  I wasn’t sure if they outsourced their portfolio decisions to investment banks (which is what most corporations do with their pension schemes) or if they made their investment decisions in house.  Turns out, they did it all in house.  They had a team of 25 people managing assets in excess of £14 billion.   Extremely impressive.  This was exactly the position I wanted.  I only wish I had learned that before going into the interview….

I had read up on general pension fund management theory, and BA’s schemes too, but as my notes on investment analysis are currently being stored in my Uncle’s attic in another part of the country, I was unable to do a decent job reviewing the necessary information.

So when the financial statements of a holding company were put in front of me and I was asked to pick out three things I was concerned about with regards to the future growth of their two business units, I was a bit stumped.  And it didn’t help that I misread the question and only reported on one of the business units.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

First, I like to rate companies on how they treat their interviewees.  How a company treats you says a lot about the quality of the company itself, and how they are going to treat you should you be hired.  One way I like to gauge this is by how many weapons of mass rejection they use in the application process.  My theory: the less, the better.  BAP got top marks in this respect.  The application process involved sending my CV and covering letter to an email address.  No competency questions.  No online assessment.  Not even an initial telephone interview.  This is not to say that companies that employ a high number of WMRs are poor quality companies.  But it definitely says that they are too big a company to give the time of day to reading your CV without first having you successfully navigate a series of obstacles.  And I have developed an animosity for these companies simply because I have filled out so many of their damn online applications only to be subsequently rejected and told to keep watching their careers website for future opportunities.  For me, time is money.  The sooner I get a job, the better.  And the longer the application process becomes, the less jobs I can apply for within a given timeframe.  Makes sense.  Right? Oh well.  Times have changed.  Deal with it.

So I received an email from BAP two weeks after my initial submission asking me to come down to London in 3 weeks time for an interview and short assessment.  What made this especially surprising, and noteworthy, was that I found this job on Milkround.  I later found out that there were 400 applications submitted for the role.  They were going to hire 1 person, maybe 2.  I was shortlisted into a group of 25 for interview.  This was going to be cut to about 10, then interviewed for a second time.  Then 10 would become 5 and go for a third interview.  And finally, a decision would be made.  I was really chuffed to have succeeded this far for such a popular job.  And even more so that the company was taking the time to really get to know every applicant (not to mention reading 400 CVs and cover letters! Actually… they most likely used a program to filter through them).

So the first part of the interview consisted of 45 minutes spent on an assessment.  Half of which was Excel-based, involving basic calculation problems on investment returns and currency exchange.  The other half involved analysing a snapshot of Home Retail Group’s financial statements and writing down 3 questions you would ask the firm’s management regarding their future growth prospects (the former part I did fine on; the latter… well, we already know how that went).

The next 75 minutes were spent interviewing with 2 fund managers.  I was asked to expand on what I thought of Home Retail Group’s financials.  Would I invest in the company? What sort of additional information did I need to come to that decision? The conversation then moved on to the general economy.  What did I think caused the recent problems in Greece and Spain? In Ireland? What caused the recent financial crisis?

Following that, the conversation turned towards pension funds and the sorts of investments they made.  What sort of investments would a mature fund make? An immature fund? What about alternative investments? What about art? What do you think the differences are between investing in equities vs. art? How do you value art?

Mixed throughout were some more common questions like “what are your weaknesses” and “how do you get on working in teams”.  I’ve had plenty of practice receiving these questions.  And by now you’d think I’d be able to give a decent response each time.  But no.  For my adeptness in the interview room is comparable to my performance with the opposite sex on a first date.  I freeze up, and my IQ drops to that of a small woodland creature.  I say things that, as they come from my mouth, I realize their stupidity, but am powerless to stop.  Instead I continue on, making the situation worse and embarrassing both parties.

Moving on!

The interview closed with a brief overview of my CV, and this was only because I brought up how I had not listed my complete work experience (I had my reasons).  Followed by a brief overview of the training scheme and a chance for me to ask my questions.

To note, the training would see me working for a time with the UK equities team, followed by the US equities team.  Learning the different strategies used by each respective team and general practises.  In the end, I would be assigned to the team I was best suited for and left to my own devices.  They seemed to accentuate that learning would be largely independently driven.  They would sponsor the usual IMC and CFA qualifications, but noted that this scheme was not as extensive as that of other companies.  This didn’t discourage me.  I don’t expect to be spoon-fed my career.  I intend to work for it.

All in all, the interview did not go very well for me.  The main reason being that I failed to prepare in the areas I was questioned in.  I focused most of my energies on learning my CV back to front.  And this was barely a part of the interview! Oh well, my fault.  You live and you learn.  I now know what I need to know.

One thought on “Interview: British Airways Pensions”

  1. Dear TNG,

    Thank you for attending the interview at our office on Tuesday 28th September. As mentioned previously, you were one of the exceptional candidates selected to attend the first round of interviews from over 400 applicants.

    However, I am writing to advise you that unfortunately, after careful consideration, we have decided not to pursue your application further. We would like to thank you for your interest in British Airways Pensions and wish you the best of luck with your job seeking and future career.

    With kind regards,

    British Airways Pension Investment Management Limited

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