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The only 10 ways into a career in investment banking

How to get into investment banking

If you’ve tried applying for a job in an investment bank, you’ll know that getting in isn’t easy. Front office investment bankers still earn considerably more than almost anyone else, except footballers and ‘celebrities,’ and banks are accordingly inundated with applications.

If you want to achieve a career in financial services – particularly in M&A or sales and trading, you’ll need to be good. But you’ll also need to know the processes that will get you in the door. Banks are bureaucracies. There are tried and tested routes into their jobs. Some involve graduate programs, but graduate programs are not all there is. Before you give up on your chances of working in banking, read through the list below.

1. Apply during your bachelors degree

Banks hire students with bachelors’ degrees onto their analyst programs. These programs are incredibly competitive: only the best of the best get in.  However, 80% (or more) of the people who get hired as full time analysts will previously have worked for that bank as summer interns – meaning that the real moment for getting into an investment bank is during the summer internship in the penultimate year of a university course.

In turn, a lot of banks are making accelerated offers for summer internships to students who completed ‘spring weeks’ or ‘sophomore internships.’  If you really, really want to get into a bank out of university, you therefore need to start applying for internships from the moment you arrive on campus.

2. Apply before or during your Masters in Finance

These days, banks also like to hire juniors with Masters in Finance qualifications – especially for positions in risk or sales and trading.

If you have a Masters in Finance, you’ll still join a bank as an analyst. Therefore, you’ll still need to complete a summer internship. With most Masters in Finance courses only lasting for one year, it’s advisable to complete this internship during the summer before the Masters even begins. In other words, you’ll need to apply for internships during the final year of a bachelors degree.

3. Intern, intern, and intern again 

It used to be the case that students completed a single summer internship during which they received an offer to join an bank full time, or they didn’t.

Not any more.

Nowadays, some of the best students applying for jobs in investment banks have completed multiple internships (spring weeks included). More importantly, some have continued to work as interns even after they’ve graduated.  And some have received offers to join full-time at the end of these internships.

Most banks now offer ‘off-cycle internships’ to students or ex-students who are available outside the summer months. It’s not uncommon to come across analysts in investment banks who’ve completed several of these off-cycle internships before settling into a full time job.

4. Apply during a top MBA 

If you really can’t get onto banks’ analyst programs, you could always apply for the next notch up. The associate programs. 

Banks mostly promote existing analysts to become asssociates. However, they also hire associates from outside. Specifically, they hire them exclusively from the world’s top business schools. If you want to get an associate job in an investment bank, you’ll need to have completed a top MBA. 

As with analyst programs, banks hire full time associates after summer internships. For this reason, it’s a good idea to study a two year MBA so that you can complete an internship during the summer of your first year.

5. Apply after completing an ACA qualification 

This only really applies in the City of London, and then only during strong hiring markets. When things are going well and banks are short of experienced analysts to work in their M&A and equity research teams, they often raid the Big Four accounting firms for talent. Some banks, like Rothschild, hire newly-qualified ACAs as a matter of course.

6. Apply after a PhD

The proportion of investment banking employees with a PhD is surprisingly small. Typically fewer than 5% of people at leading investment banks have a PhD qualification. Those who do have PhDs have usually studied specific subjects, like quantitative finance, maths, signal processing, or machine learning.  PhDs go into careers in quantitative finance or quantitative risk.

Historically, banks like UBS ran programs specifically targeted at PhD hires. Now, you’re more likely to get in by approaching quantitative finance recruitment firms.

7. Apply after time in the army

Banks like J.P. Morgan, Barclays and Goldman Sachs run specialist programs for hiring ex-military veterans. Time in the army isn’t a sure-fire route into an investment banking job, but it’s definitely an established route in.

8. Apply after time in law

Before he became a trader and worked for Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein was a lawyer. On Wall Street, law was traditionally a good route into front office investment banking division (IBD) jobs. Robert Kindler, global head of M&A at Morgan Stanley, spent 20 years at US law firm Cravath Swaine & Moore before moving into M&A in 2000, for example.

9. Apply after some time on consulting 

Banks hire in outsiders to help them work on strategy. If you’re a strategy consultant who specializes in the financial sector, you may be able to get an internal strategy job in an investment bank. However, you’ll need to have a top name strategy firm on your resume. 

10. Apply through your ‘network’ 

Ok, networking and nepotism aren’t as big as they used to be in investment banking – particularly since the Chinese ‘princelings’ scandal. But having family, or friends, or alumni, to vouch for you still helps. One of Goldman Sachs’ top M&A bankers in the UK is the son of Martin Sorrell, the advertising mogul. Both of his brothers have worked for the firm too.

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