GUEST COMMENT: Graduate-baiting and how to handle it

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The following story happened exactly as stated to a good friend of mine in 1993 when the economy was still faltering:

'John' was absolutely chuffed to secure a position at Andersen Consulting. He and twenty other lucky British recruits were immediately flown off to America to be trained with new joiners from other Andersen offices worldwide. Altogether some 200 hungry, grateful 'winners' arrived at the 'education centre' in St Charles, near Chicago confident that they were well on the way to becoming big swingers.

At the start of the very first seminar, a senior executive took to the mike and announced that unfortunately, due to required cutbacks, 30 people would have to fly home immediately. The terrified grads listened in complete horror as the MD explained that they would therefore undertake a test comprising 20 questions and that those with the lowest scores would be made redundant.

John and his 200 competitors turned over the exam paper with trembling hands. During the test several people were forcibly expelled from the room for allegedly cheating. After the half hour was up John knew he had completely failed to answer the questions and would inevitably return to London with his tail between his legs. Whilst the papers were being collected, the tension in the room was becoming almost unbearable. After a nerve-wracking coffee break, the joiners filed back into the auditorium to hear who amongst them would fly home in disgrace.

What John didn't know was that all his peers were equally convinced that they too would return to their families in complete ignominy. The questions had been carefully designed to be totally impossible to answer correctly. Not only that but the 'cheaters' were in fact existing employees in on the prank.

The 'MD' stood up and, after a suitably long pause, broke into a huge smile and announced that the whole test had been a joke. He then laughed and shouted 'WELCOME TO ANDERSEN CONSULTING!'

What this story reminds us is that any graduate joining a firm is perceived as 'new meat' whose naivety makes them especially vulnerable to office pranks from senior colleagues keen to have a collective laugh whilst also subtly asserting their superiority.

Nowhere is this truer than on the testosterone-fuelled trading floor of an investment bank - especially if a new recruit is foolish enough to give it the Terry Big Spuds and needs to be 'taken down a peg or two'.

The Andersen's prank was admittedly unusually sophisticated and vicious. Most of the gags I witnessed during my twelve year City career involved nothing more elaborate than having a post-it stuck on your back saying 'Nob', Vaseline applied to your telephone's receiver or someone breaking into your computer and sending out a seemingly normal business-related email to your boss ending with the words 'I love you.'

There are three basic rules regarding grad-baiting. One, always be on your guard and be especially wary of any out-of-character generosity from the office joker/bully. Two, keep your password to your computer a closely-guarded secret and log out whenever you leave it for any length of time. Three, always laugh uproariously when you are successfully duped as this not only shows you're a stand-up guy but also pulls the rug from under your tormenters' feet. Aggressive reactions or 'taking it upstairs' will only ensure that you're labelled as a natural victim or an officious loser.

At certain City firms, office pranks are not just inevitable but also part of the initiation. How you react to them can have a genuinely negative impact on your reputation and subsequently have seriously harmful implications for your career.

Don't trip at the first hurdle ... or your wallet may live to regret it!

Geraint Anderson is the author of Cityboy - Beer and Loathing in the Square Mile.' You can visit his website here and you can buy his book here.

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