Though coveted by the Oxford masses, I have never been wedded to a career in finance. But breaking into the world of journalism is famously fickle and so - petrified at the prospect of inactivity next summer - I decided to begin looking elsewhere for work experience. Banking was the obvious choice. The prospect of earning £4000 was entirely palatable, and my ineptitude with numbers doesn't quite amount to a phobia - so on a dull Sunday afternoon from the comfort of my laptop I gave it a shot.
To my horror I catapulted through the preliminary stages - which involved a short exercise in form-filling and a couple of psychometric tests (the effect of which after a while is crushingly psychedelic). I was then invited to a telephone interview, which I wrote neatly into my diary before duly forgetting about it until the designated morning. Half-way through watching the first episode of Channel 4's hit series Fresh Meat, the phone rang.
What followed was probably the most excruciating 60 minutes of my life; and that includes the abject terror of the primary school disco. I will respectfully preserve the bank's anonymity; let's just call it Bank X for now:
The first question: "what have you heard about X in the news recently?". Beat. "Yes, I follow financial news very closely", I reply with all the composure of an ignoramus on QI. Silence. Apparently this won't do. 'Shit, ok, don't say Libor, don't say Libor, just don't' I instruct the vocal cords as my mind frenzies for something slightly more ingratiating. 'Nope, nothing? Right ok let's go with it'.
"Libor" I whimper, immediately throwing some inane platitudes about it being an "industry-wide concern" into the huge pile of dung I'd just delivered to his door. I recall not so long ago an inebriated cousin, twice or thrice removed, informing an entirely sober Great Aunt that he thought she'd already "kicked the bucket". This was worse.
And it didn't get much better. I reported reading their annual report. Smelling a rat he asked me what I found most interesting about it. Dead end. I then stumbled through the inevitable 'overcoming a challenge' question without too much grief. Far more difficult to swindle my way through was 'Give an example of a situation in which you've had to process and respond to data'. Yuk, spreadsheets terrify me and figuring out the unit price of 3-for-2 ready meals in Tesco is normally sufficient to send my cerebral cortex into a tail spin. I considered making a self-deprecating joke to that effect but by this stage the general air of sympathy and understanding had evaporated.
Predictably Bank X sent me this message last week: "When selecting successful candidates we look for evidence of all of our leadership behaviours, and strong motivation to join the FLDP [Future Leaders Development Programme]. Unfortunately on this occasion we did not see enough evidence of the above to progress your application to the next stage."
Wholly accurate, and I think a reassuring sign of the renewed health of the banking industry. Oscar Wilde famously commented that he would not wish to belong to any club that would accept him as a member. Similarly I reason, any bank prepared to hire me should immediately have their licence revoked. In this regard I have since offered my services to the Financial Standards Authority as an undercover applicant. I'm still waiting to hear back from them.
Now it's easy to be flippant, you might say, when finance is not my ultimate aspiration. Tragically there will be, to borrow a recent turn of phrase, binders full of rejects who have their heart and soul set on finance. No irreverent words can bring comfort to them. Except this: my sneaking suspicion is that the whole internship racket is far less fun than the lovely HR people make out. Not that I'll ever find out of course, but perhaps someone could let me know?