“Hardo” is the term used to describe students that go hard to break into banking. They are the students that by second semester freshmen year (give or take a semester) know they want to go into banking, they know everything there is about how to walk the walk and talk the talk. They know their technical questions inside and out, they are extremely polished with their answer’s to why IB?, their resumes look impeccable (including freshmen year hedge fund internship at family friend’s fund in Greenwich), they discuss recent deals like they actually understand what deal rationale is, and they’ve networked with every banker you know.
“Scrub” is used to describe the complete opposite of a hardo. Someone who has no understanding of banking and it’s culture. Often times, signs of a scrub are having no idea what technical questions are, has never networked with a banker before, posts on Linkedin when they get a an internship offer, has a very low GPA (sub-3.3, as yes, there are still phenomenal candidates in the 3.3-3.8 pool, although elite boutiques and bulge brackets aren’t really paying attention to them anymore), has no relevant finance internship experience, resumes are mis-formatted, and the list goes on.
Essentially, the big differentiation is that hardos are typically the ideal banking candidates on paper* (checking all of the boxes), and they already have a relative understanding of the culture, while scrubs are considered bad candidates both on paper, and for behavioral reasons.
Hardos, although it would seem would make for shoe-ins, today, it can be either a compliment or a negative. Hardos were typically considered good candidates for banking because they took the time to understand the job and its people, and work very hard to get there. It took some of the guess work out of the equation when considering hardos because they had done a lot of the work tailoring themselves to fit in ahead of time, working hard in and outside of school, and wanting deeply to be great at the jobs... However, today being hard can also mean that you are too cookie cutter, have a bad attitude, or are a psycho because all you do is live and breathe for finance.
Junior bankers often times don’t want to be in banking for life, so when they see students that have no relative interests other than finance, it is a red flag of someone you would not want to work next to, at the desk. Additionally, because of the influx of Instagram and Snapchat accounts that propagate and mock the worst parts of banking culture, students are clinging onto and making this culture their gospel. Most junior bankers don’t smoke juuls, use the terms “deal sled” to describe their loafers, go to the Hamptons every weekend, or use MD speak in normal conversation. It’s not uncommon to see hardo college students speak to each other using language like “circle-back,” or to see college upperclassmen have attitudes as though they were MDs; these are the very kids who are the most desperate for prestigious jobs and treat bankers as the pinnacle of human society - they can be seen treating their peers with MD like attitudes and with attitudes of entitlement that most bankers absolutely despise. The very things that most bankers hate about banking culture can be caught influencing the next generation of would-be bankers in the most negative ways.
A friend of mine, who works at an elite boutique, sent me a screen shot of a text he received from a college student I had introduced him to, and whom he had spoken to once. The text was wishing him a “Happy Thanksgiving.” Moves made by college students that are not genuine but clearly made to endear themselves to bankers are easily spotted. This also wasn’t the first time anyone had sent me screenshots of a would-be banker doing things that junior bankers loathe - everyone talks and being a hardo or a scrub sends signals across the street.
Many bankers involved in recruitment note that nothing replaces being considerate, genuine, and working hard. That candidates that are over-polished with their emails and in conversations are beginning to be ruled out because hardos have taken things too far and sometimes are being simply referred to as too insane, psychos, or having bad attitudes. Diversity in interests is desired and the elevator test is still king - today’s hardos just aren’t the kind of people most bankers want to sit next to at the desk.