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Why contacts, but not nepotism, will help get your first finance job

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Can your parents, friends, or friends of your parents really help to get your first job in the City? Every so often, nepotism in the graduate recruitment process raises its ugly head – notably recently with rich parents paying for internships at hedge funds for their children – but these days getting a word put in your favour by the right person could do your case more harm than good.

“My daughter had ambitions for working for a City law firm, but a friend in the industry said that if they put a word into the HR team, they’re more likely to discount her,” said Guy Paterson, partner, client advisory, at Stanhope Capital during an educational event aimed at helping people get their first finance job this week.

His sentiments were echoed by William Maltby, senior adviser to the investment banking division at Deutsche Bank, who said that graduates with ambitions to break into the sector need to “play the game” and get as many internships and as much relevant work experience to enhance their chances.

But if direct nepotism is frowned upon, students with ambitions to work in finance still need to know the right people. Developing a network of contacts who can help gain access to the right people is integral, suggests Maltby.

“Use your parents’ contacts, friends and network – you need to get out there,” he said. “Investment banks receive such a high number of applications that it’s often difficult for HR teams to distinguish between them. Your network will not get you a job, or even an internship, which are fiercely competitive, but could ensure that your CV is not binned during the initial screening process for things like insight weeks.”

Paterson suggests that the right contacts can help secure an internship in most other financial services sectors, which in turn are usually the primary method of recruitment for full-time roles.

Sebastian Stewart, who started his career at emerging markets fund manager Somerset Capital two years ago, compares his networking technique to a romanesco broccoli – or fractals if you wanted to be more mathematical about it. Every internship, interview or networking event you attend is a prime opportunity to build contacts, which in turn can open doors to new contacts, he said. He meticulously recorded every conversation with a potential contact in the build up to his first job, always acquired business cards and was sure to follow up, he said.

“It sounds nerdy, but I always take notes whenever I’m speaking to someone because it’s unlikely you’ll remember everything they’ve said and I had a big spreadsheet with contact details and conversation notes included so every follow-up could be personal,” he said.

The Stanhope Capital event was held for a small group of students in the grand surroundings of the Oriental Club near Bond Street tube station in London’s West End. It was an exclusive opportunity to meet senior financial professionals across asset management, investment banking, consulting and corporate banking and most attendees were likely there because of who they know. Most students we spoke to had a nascent interest in financial services and were viewing it as one of many potential career avenues and had been informed of the event through family connections. Direct nepotism may be frowned upon, but it still helps to have friends in the right places in the City.

Maltby admits that he was “caught by surprise” by his investment banking career, having trained as an accountant nearly 30 years’ ago and joined Morgan Grenfell with a view to “leave after a couple of years and go and get a real job”. These days, he admits, graduates need to be focused on investment banking and be academically gifted to get a foot in the door.

Maltby is a softly-spoken, upper-class Englishman, but this genteel approach belies the sort of steeliness required to make it to the upper ranks of investment banking. A competitive nature has always been necessary.

“The thing I’ve always loved about investment banking is the big pitch for a piece of business – you’re up against the toughest competition in places like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. You spend weeks getting the presentation right, but have just an hour or so to get it right,” he says.

For all the hours spent by analysts perfecting the pitchbook, becoming a good coverage banker is not about throwing figures at clients to secure a deal, he says. “The pitchbook can be incredibly complex, but you need to pull out two or three things that really matter to the client. It’s an agonising process, but when you get a slick presentation and watch the audience come towards you when you’re up against the best in the business, it’s an exhilarating experience.”

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