add-victor alumni Francesca Ruffell discusses the difference between elite hockey in the UK and US & her secret to successful interviews

Sun 22nd Nov 2020

Former England national youth hockey player, Francesca Ruffell, recently finished a 6-month internship at a small M&A firm in London called Stephen’s. She subsequently graduated with a Master’s from Duke University in the US. Prior to crossing the Atlantic she completed her undergrad degree at Durham University in the UK. Throughout Durham and Duke she played high level hockey. And in July next year she’ll be starting at Jefferies Investment bank in London.

We asked Francesca the about playing sport in the US and her approach to interviewing for roles in banking.

How was your Duke experience?

Duke was great. It was completely different to the UK university experience, especially in terms of sport. The standard is high in the UK, but there’s a lot less money in the game than in the US. Playing for Duke, one of the top teams, we were flown all over the country. It’s a lot more of a parade and a far bigger scene, which was a lot fun.

Doing a masters was a far more mature experience than my undergrad. I studied a Masters of Management, which gives a broad foundation to business. It covers marketing and finance, accounting and strategy. At Durham I studied biology so it was very different…

Tell us about the decision to go into finance.

Coming from a biology background I knew I didn’t want to go into research – which is the only path open to biologists really. In my first year I did a short internship where I shadowed a senior director at a private bank called Kleinwort Benson. It gave me a taste of the banking world and finance in general. Following him around and talking to people there made me seriously consider finance, or something in the corporate world.

Coming to the end of my degree I wanted more exposure to the business world, but I didn’t know what specifically I wanted to do. That’s why my Master’s degree was so great because it gave me an introduction into everything. And while I was there I definitely enjoyed the finance classes and corporate classes in particular. So, it was a logical next step to try my hand in a corporate finance internship, as I had a sense it was what I wanted to…and it ended up being so, which is cool.

In the UK the recruitment season starts really early for a lot of the finance jobs in particular. I only started Duke in July and all the applications for finance jobs come out in August/September so by then I obviously hadn’t done my classes yet and didn’t have a proper idea of what I wanted to do so I pretty much missed that deadline and hence why I graduated without a job in place.

Towards the end of my time I started to look for internship. Luckily I found one.

How does top-flight hockey and banking line up?

There are similarities that I have already encountered between banking and playing hockey at a high level. Banking takes up a lot of your time. Even as an intern there are many late nights and you’re constantly having to let people down with plans you may make. And that’s very common when you’re playing high level sport. In season you’re constantly having to make sacrifices whether you’re away at games or having to have an early night before a game. Making sacrifices is probably the biggest thing for me.

And going through the interview process for jobs is incredibly competitive. Banking is probably one of the most competitive industries to go into. That competitiveness is another similarity. Managing my time across academics and sport has also stood me in good stead.

Francesca Ruffell Hockey 1

And from a mindset perspective, how is sport similar to the corporate world?

The application process takes quite a lot determination. You have do a few interviews to widen your pool. So, from a mindset point of view it requires perseverance to succeed. Which is similar to playing sport. You keep going until you get what you get and now I’ve got what I’ve got and it was definitely worth it.

Any interesting interview moments?

They get a lot better as you go along and you start getting into them. But some of my earlier interviews were absolutely awful; probably because I hadn’t had many interviews in the past. One of the worst brain-freezes I had happened while interviewing at a bank. They asked me one of the simplest questions ever.

“Please name three companies on the FTSE 100?”

I literally just sat there and couldn’t think of any!

They always come up with weird and wonderful questions. Then, naturally, you come across the obligatory “if you could have dinner with any three people who would they be and why?”

Any interview advice for the one-year younger version of you?

At first I wrote out answers to specific questions to prepare what I was going to say. That’s definitely not the right way to go. Now I just have a vague idea with bullet points of what I want to include and then speak off the cuff. It comes off as more confident and conversational.

What does the near-term future look like for you?

I don’t like to plan too far ahead usually. I’m just focusing on my next move to Jefferies. In the first two years at Jefferies you work in sector teams where you cover everything from M&A to leveraged finance. I don’t know which team I’ll be in yet but I am hoping to go into the health sector – which will fit best with my degree – or the consumer team. The first two years will be a steep learning curve and I am happy to get stuck in wherever I find myself. In two years’ time I’ll have a better idea of where exactly in investment banking I will want to move towards. For now I’m going to be open and take it as it comes.

And are you planning to keep playing hockey?

I am actually not planning to. It’s a challenge when you’re in investment banking to leave at 6pm to go to training and with the high-level clubs in the UK you can’t miss training. Since I’ve stopped playing hockey I’ve taken up long distance running, which I’m really enjoying, as it allows for more flexibility.