I'm an Artist!!!

"I wanna study art, the only kind they got is liberal" is a line from one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite rappers whom you've probably never heard of. Obscurity aside, today I'm going to talk about something reasonably controversial: the liberal arts and their place, if any, in finance.

This article was inspired by a few discussions with my co-workers, and even though I was planning on talking about resumes today, I'm gonna hold that off until Wednesday morning because I really wanted to write a piece on this topic. Don't be cross with me, WSO.

I majored in a liberal arts discipline...sort of. Political Science is technically in the social sciences, but Political Theory (i.e. not how Congress works, but what Rousseau and Locke had to say) is more in the realm of political philosophy, and thus, the liberal arts. Of all the classes I took in Political Science, one (of 14) was an applied class about the political realm with respect to international trade. The remaining 13 were very soft, and have been dubbed by many to be "useless".

Why am I talking about this? At this point, I've had a lot of wonderful WSO folks send me their resumes as a result of my article last Monday (and don't you worry -- I'm getting to them, have just been swamped). One thing I've noticed is that EVERYONE majors in Finance/Accounting/Econ. Having seen resumes of potential applicants at my current firm, once again, EVERYONE majors in Finance/Accounting/Econ. This makes me a black sheep in the industry, but I'm not convinced that majoring in Finance makes people strictly better off for IB than majoring in Philosophy.

First let's talk about what the liberal arts teach us. To be as trite as humanly possible, they teach people how to think abstractly. This is a mantra that I was forced to adopt during undergrad, and I didn't buy it until I entered the real world in the software industry and started working with engineers (we didn't have engineering at my school). Truth be told, most of the engineers I've met seem to lack the ability to think critically about problems. They're great at following directions, and great at implementing procedures, but they don't have the McKinsey Mind, so to speak (I don't either, but I might be closer). If nothing else, reading Aristotle for four years and being super confused for three of them will teach you to dissect an argument or problem into its component parts and analyze each of them more completely.

Secondly, people who major in liberal arts write a TON of papers. News flash to everyone who wants to break into IB: there isn't much modeling, and there aren't a lot of numbers. There are spreadsheets, PowerPoints, and long Word documents. There is research, which requires quite a bit of reading. The number operators you have to use are + - / and *, and I hope that we all learned these independently of college. IB requires A LOT of reading, a ton of editing, a knack for research, and effective communication skills in written and speaking mediums. This is something liberal arts kids are, to generalize, better at than STEM kids (at least at top schools).

Thirdly, IB requires the God-given gift of BS-ing. And come on, if you're taking a class titled "Authority, Obligation, and Dissent" (WTF does that even mean???) over "Financial Accounting", it's pretty clear who the better BS-er is going to be. But seriously though, if you've ever had an extended conversation with someone who majored in Philosophy, you know that they can talk for hours, ask tons of questions, and eventually end up saying nothing...but it doesn't matter because they made it all sound so eloquent and beautiful that you wind up leaving the conversation thinking "man, that person sure is bright".

This just a small look at why I think liberal arts majors can excel at IB just as well as Fin/Econ/Acc kids. Most of this article was tongue in cheek (in a weird mood this morning), so take it with a few grains of salt, but I think it does raise a good point: the liberal arts do have applicability to the business world in many ways. Most people that major in liberal arts don't seek careers in finance, so it makes sense that we're underrepresented and finance kids dominate, but I get the impression that as it becomes progressively more and more impossible to get into PhD programs, more and more kids with good grades from good schools in unrelated disciplines will be drawn toward careers in finance. In the end, everyone gets the same training -- majoring in Finance just helps you tell the "story" when you're inevitably asked that all-important question.

What do you guys think? Any Art History majors in your group?

Thanks for reading.

Comments (27)

Apr 30, 2012

I totally understand where you are coming from but
Two candidates, one spot for full time analyst position, both at senior year at college.

A: Target, 4.0GPA, Philosophy Major
B. Target, 4.0GPA, Finance Major + Took IBD Training Course + President of Student Investment Club + Member of ToastMasters Club (for Public Speaking), Team Captain at NYSSA Research Competition/ ACG M&A Competition (or whatever related competition there is out there) + CFA Level II Candidate (upon graduation) + BB IBD internship during last summer + Sample Pitchbooks & Models

Who are you going to hire? Who has already proven enough?

    • 1
Apr 30, 2012
Human:

I totally understand where you are coming from but
Two candidates, one spot for full time analyst position, both at senior year at college.

A: Target, 4.0GPA, Philosophy Major
B. Target, 4.0GPA, Finance Major + Took IBD Training Course + President of Student Investment Club + Member of ToastMasters Club (for Public Speaking), Team Captain at NYSSA Research Competition/ ACG M&A Competition (or whatever related competition there is out there) + CFA Level II Candidate (upon graduation) + BB IBD internship during last summer + Sample Pitchbooks & Models

Who are you going to hire? Who has already proven enough?

Sure, but that's not an apples-to-apples comparison. I should have made this more clear, but the Philosophy major I'm "referring" to has a demonstrated interest in finance and some ECs/internships. If we take a 4.0 Philosophy major with similar qualifications to your Finance major, what happens then?

Apr 30, 2012
Human:

I totally understand where you are coming from but
Two candidates, one spot for full time analyst position, both at senior year at college.

A: Target, 4.0GPA, Philosophy Major
B. Target, 4.0GPA, Finance Major + Took IBD Training Course + President of Student Investment Club + Member of ToastMasters Club (for Public Speaking), Team Captain at NYSSA Research Competition/ ACG M&A Competition (or whatever related competition there is out there) + CFA Level II Candidate (upon graduation) + BB IBD internship during last summer + Sample Pitchbooks & Models

Who are you going to hire? Who has already proven enough?

So, you mean, would I rather hire a realistic person or the single most prepared to do investment banking person of all time. I mean, Person B almost certainly does not exist, or is one of maybe two people a year in any investment banking class in the country (maybe the world.)

Also, there's a good chance that Person B has the personality of toilet paper.

Apr 30, 2012
TheKing:
Human:

I totally understand where you are coming from but
Two candidates, one spot for full time analyst position, both at senior year at college.

A: Target, 4.0GPA, Philosophy Major
B. Target, 4.0GPA, Finance Major + Took IBD Training Course + President of Student Investment Club + Member of ToastMasters Club (for Public Speaking), Team Captain at NYSSA Research Competition/ ACG M&A Competition (or whatever related competition there is out there) + CFA Level II Candidate (upon graduation) + BB IBD internship during last summer + Sample Pitchbooks & Models

Who are you going to hire? Who has already proven enough?

So, you mean, would I rather hire a realistic person or the single most prepared to do investment banking person of all time. I mean, Person B almost certainly does not exist, or is one of maybe two people a year in any investment banking class in the country (maybe the world.)

Also, there's a good chance that Person B has the personality of toilet paper.

Thanks for pointing this out. I was exactly that kind of person: replace target with non target, finance with accounting, undergraduate with graduate school. Your assessment of my personality might be up for debate. :-)

Apr 30, 2012
TheKing:

Also, there's a good chance that Person B has the personality of toilet paper.

Okay, but toilet paper is one of the most useful inventions, while the paint brush is just kinda there...

The point is you want to hire whoever is most qualified, not who is a good talker. We have the same problem with Obama vs. Romney.

Apr 30, 2012

Then I will hire who can help me
1) connect the dots in his story (convince me that the idea to getting into IBD wasn't the last minute idea)
2) demonstrate persistence, maturity and intelligence
3) someone that I can get along sitting in the cubicle at least 12 hours a day
Once again, it wasn't my intention to bash against liberal arts major. I read your story on breaking in and I was very impressed with your journey. :-)

//www.wallstreetoasis.com/forums/bumps-along-the-way...

Apr 30, 2012

I think you are observing social ineptness and confusing it critical problem solving skills.

Engineering, by definition, is thinking critically about problems, breaking them into parts and solving problems.

If you encounter someone claiming to be an "engineer" that can't problem solve, then you don't have an engineer, you have a technician or code monkey.

Anyway, good article, and I wish I had the time to take those courses, I love philosophy and logic.

Apr 30, 2012

Good blog post. I agree with most of it.

I think there is a difference between some Liberal Arts majors and others. At least Public Policy, Intl. Relations, Political Science etc. have some real world applications. Literature, Art History, etc. not so much (other than the fact that you can write really well).

Apr 30, 2012

Not quite art history, but history here. Took several finance courses outside of my major and made sure my story made sense (as Human mentions above).

Apr 30, 2012

Good post !!!

Best Response
Apr 30, 2012

Seems like this same type of post comes up every quarter.

If you go to an Ivy you can study basket weaving. If you go to a non Ivy you better know how to do accounting and finance if you are going to get a banking job.

Also, every 4 year degree has a large majority of general education classes. It really is between a BS and a BA. I was a finance major, but absolutely love history. I realized early on a history degree wasn't going to provide a life for me so I made it a hobby instead. I applaud people who can study what their heart desires, but those people are also generally not paying the bill.

What type of fantasy world do people think we live in on this site. I've never met someone who studied (insert random liberal arts major) and chuckled at them because of my god like finance degree. I usually ask them questions about their field of study and learn something and go about my day.

And those people who always talk about finance, I tend to finish my drink and walk away from them.

Apr 30, 2012
TNA:

Seems like this same type of post comes up every quarter.

If you go to an Ivy you can study basket weaving. If you go to a non Ivy you better know how to do accounting and finance if you are going to get a banking job.

Also, every 4 year degree has a large majority of general education classes. It really is between a BS and a BA. I was a finance major, but absolutely love history. I realized early on a history degree wasn't going to provide a life for me so I made it a hobby instead. I applaud people who can study what their heart desires, but those people are also generally not paying the bill.

What type of fantasy world do people think we live in on this site. I've never met someone who studied (insert random liberal arts major) and chuckled at them because of my god like finance degree. I usually ask them questions about their field of study and learn something and go about my day.

And those people who always talk about finance, I tend to finish my drink and walk away from them.

This is exactly why minors exist. I did a math business major and pursued a political science minor (didn't get it because of some technicalities). Tbh, I don't remember shit from my upper level math classes, but I learned and retained a ton from my politics classes. I highly suggest that everyone diversify their undergrad experience a bit.

Apr 30, 2012

always take the finance guy for IBD.

you dont want people with independent thought for IBD, you need executing machines who have dreamt about doing finance since they were 5 years old.

Apr 30, 2012

I love how people on this site who know nothing about engineering think that programmer=engineer. It's not like that at all. In fact, one might argue that coders are not engineers. At least not compared to people who study things like mechanical engineering, electric engineering, electronic engineering, civil engineering, structural engineering, aeronautical engineering, telecommunications engineering, mining engineering, agricultural engineering, forest engineering.... And those are just the ones that come to mind right now.

Mi point is your conclusions are totally wrong. Like someone pointed above, the definition of engineering is problem solving. You start by solving math and physics problems and end up solving an electrical problem or a mechanical problem or whatever. It's what an engineer does ALL DAY LONG.

Oh, and if you think that philosophy requires abstract thinking is because you haven't studied advanced algebra, or calculus, or electromagnetic fields, or advanced mechanics, or any kind of modern/quantum physics. Trust me, that will literally make your head explode.

Apr 30, 2012
Maximus Decimus Meridius:

Oh, and if you think that philosophy requires abstract thinking is because you haven't studied advanced algebra, or calculus, or electromagnetic fields, or advanced mechanics, or any kind of modern/quantum physics. Trust me, that will literally make your head explode.

I've studied mathematical analysis, abstract algebra, complex analysis, and advanced mechanics...all of these subjects, at their core, involve building a rigorous, structured argument. Logic in philosophy is essentially the same thing, just with different syntax. I won't deny that studying analysis and real algebra also hones one's critical thinking skills, but philosophy does so almost, if not just as, effectively.

    • 1
May 1, 2012
Vontropnats:
Maximus Decimus Meridius:

Oh, and if you think that philosophy requires abstract thinking is because you haven't studied advanced algebra, or calculus, or electromagnetic fields, or advanced mechanics, or any kind of modern/quantum physics. Trust me, that will literally make your head explode.

I've studied mathematical analysis, abstract algebra, complex analysis, and advanced mechanics...all of these subjects, at their core, involve building a rigorous, structured argument. Logic in philosophy is essentially the same thing, just with different syntax. I won't deny that studying analysis and real algebra also hones one's critical thinking skills, but philosophy does so almost, if not just as, effectively.

Agreed, I didn't mean to say it didn't. Apologies if it came across that way. I actually agree with your OP, I just wanted to say that engineers =/= cs and programmers.
Oh, and Panic, with all due respect, one year of physics and CS is not the kind of thing I'm talking about. I'm talking more about MEng/PhD level classes.

Apr 30, 2012
Maximus Decimus Meridius:

Oh, and if you think that philosophy requires abstract thinking is because you haven't studied advanced algebra, or calculus, or electromagnetic fields, or advanced mechanics, or any kind of modern/quantum physics. Trust me, that will literally make your head explode.

I strongly disagree. I studied physics and computer science for one year, then switched to philosophy. Although I graduated in the field of political philosophy, i studied a bit of logic and philosophy of mathematics, both of which were more abstract than anything i had encountered before.

Apr 30, 2012

I agree with Maximus and protectedclass on this one as well. Most engineers solve problems in certain specific areas, then apply that solution to a larger system. You can't be an engineer and not have critical thinking skills. If you lack those skills then you are just a human calculator or technician.

Where some engineers undoubtedly have trouble is in the social graces and communication department. That's probably where the confusion is as well. You can be a great engineer, but if you can't get your ideas across to people in other disciplines its all for naught.

Apr 30, 2012

Totally agree with the OP's post, which is why I'm not trying to break into banking

My drinkin' problem left today, she packed up all her bags and walked away.

Apr 30, 2012

not studying finance at my target school led to multiple offers in S&T for SA and then for FT. Being non finance/accting/econ makes you more like 10-20/300, much better odds if you have the demonstrated interest and passion outside the classroom.

Apr 30, 2012

Can we collectively agree that Human's initial contribution was quite possibly one of the dumbest posts of all time on WSO.

I understand where you were going with your comparison but I literally feel dumber after having read your post. I am not sure that I would even hire a Target 4.0 because that person is either A) too bright to work in IB and would get bored within the first 3 weeks or B) so fucking boring that I couldnt bear to work with him for 80-100 hours per week

All else being equal, I would hire the kid with the more analytical background and think that too many kids waste 4 years studying topics that fail to prepare them for the real world. Then again, academic coursework only takes you so far and what you really need to know you learn on the job.

Apr 30, 2012
junkbondswap:

I literally feel dumber after having read your post.

Don't worry, you are already an idiot. You can't get much dumber.

junkbondswap:

Can we collectively agree that Human's initial contribution was quite possibly one of the dumbest posts of all time on WSO.

I can't steal the limelight away from you. Yours would definitely top mine.

Apr 30, 2012

michael lewis

Apr 30, 2012
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