The Gateway talks to Alex Buchanan, author of 'The Game'.
What gave you the idea for this book?
I'd always wanted to write a book, it was a question of finding the right subject. I had the idea for The Game when a series of people, mainly the brothers and sisters of friends, kept asking me for pointers about how the City works. Eventually I thought: "Surely there must be a book for these guys." I did some research on the subject and found there was an obvious gap in the market for somebody who could actually explain, in everyday language, what it was like to work there. Readers were presented with a stark choice. It was either lurid exposes or very dry textbooks. I wanted to do something that bridged the gap.
Some of what you have to say about the City seems quite close to the bone. Were you worried about what your employers or your clients might think?
I've tried to write a balanced book, because I think objectivity is vital. I think that the city is hugely important to this country and seeking to destroy it would be stupid. Obviously, I was conscious that to criticise individuals or institutions directly would be a mistake - so I didn't do that. I think criticising behaviour is probably easier. Was I worried about my employers? I certainly thought about it but when I started the book, my former employer was quite supportive without having seen the contents. Clients were also generally helpful. I got a lot of my tips from them about things that would be interesting to put in the book. As it happens, I've stepped down totally from the city to concentrate on promoting the book. I don't know what the fallout's going to be, if any, but I'd rather not take the risk of embarrassing anybody.
Are some of the jokes at the city's expense a disguised show of affection?
I would describe myself as having a love-hate relationship with the city. I need it for my security. At the same time, I am cynical about it and I think you could find a lot of very senior people who would admit to harbouring some cynicism about it. Ultimately, it's about human beings and human beings aren't perfect.
The book is designed to inform students about what the city's really like - so what's the most important thing they should know?
The most important thing is to understand is that the city is about psychology. If you can understand human psychology when dealing with your boss, or your peers, or your clients, you'll go a lot further than someone who believes it's all about reading markets or understanding economics.
What kind of person really shouldn't think about going into the City? Who are the people who tend to get chewed up and spat out?
People who are excessively cynical are one group. Equally, highly idealistic people can also struggle. You need to be quite resolute almost ruthless at times and if you can't manage that you may suffer.
Do you have any advice for students who are going for interviews at investment banks?
As I say in the book, always admit when you don't know the answer to something. Often young people try to show off how about much they know but that's a mistake. You should, however, be able to show a basic interest and a simple understanding of current city affairs. No one's going to expect you to explain anything complicated. It's also important to be liked. Half the time the interviewer doesn't really want to be there, they're doing it as a favour or under duress. The last thing they want is some snotty individual who thinks they know everything.
People reading that are just going to think, "Well how do I make them like me?"
Yes, and I have every sympathy for graduates - it's damned difficult, which is why I wanted to write this book. I wanted to help them understand a little bit more than they could get from a corporate brochure. You visit the website and you just don't have a clue what a business is really like.
Do you think it's particularly difficult for them at the moment because there's so much negative press about bankers?
I'm not sure about that. I wonder whether most undergraduates aren't more concerned about the pressing need to go out and earn money and have a real job. The important point to remember about the City is that it's an incredibly resilient beast - it's not going anywhere. There may need to be some measures taken to make sure there can never be a repeat of what happened in 2007. I'm not qualified to say what those measures should be. I see myself as a human commentator on the industry more than anything else.
Did you think it was a good time to write this book because everyone is still talking about the City?
There's an irony here because when I started writing, the idea that there were going to be any graduate jobs at all was a bit of a joke. I began just after Lehman's collapse. There was no deliberate connection, that was just how it worked out. To be frank, the timing has worked in my favour. That was a fluke. You can't predict where you're going to get your tail winds from. I have just got one. I wish I could claim the credit for it but I can't.
Do you have a plan to write any more books?
Yes, I have. I'd like to write one that has nothing to do with finance. It's not that I have nothing left to say, more that there are other subjects that I'd like to explore.