IT Grads: Speak softly and carry a big skill set

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For new university graduates, taking a job in IT at an investment bank doesn't necessarily mean sitting in a dark room in the basement.

Graduates have two different avenues in starting financial IT careers. They can go to a consultancy, such as Accenture or IBM, work across a number of sectors and then eventually specialize either at the consultancy or move to an investment bank; or they can enter a graduate programme at one of the large banks.

"Often in the large investment banks the role will be much more business aligned," says Lucy Heise, senior consultant at search firm Project Partners in London. "Working in IT doesn't mean you have to be a programmer. There are hybrid and quite interesting roles where you get good exposure to the business internally or work with third party clients. You may help develop solutions for them."

The larger banks, such as UBS, Morgan Stanley, and JP Morgan, run programmes for IT graduates, she adds. They are often looking for computer science graduates or people with manufacturing or engineering backgrounds, which can be useful for business analysis roles.

Consultancies provide good grounding in methodology, Heise says. "Banks love individuals who come from a consultancy because they have a broad overview of the industry and strong methodologies. Joining a consultancy doesn't mean you are closing the doors on working for a large blue chip. Moving from a consultancy to an investment bank is a very hot route and the broader you make your business experience the better."

Lost in a box

Banks want it all - broad experience with specialist expertise, and a newcomer needs to maneuver to avoid getting stuck in just one area. Graduates can be pigeon-holed, says another recruiter: "Organisations are quite rank-based - you are officer grade or not officer grade. If you went to Oxbridge, that opens a lot of doors, so does a good degree from one of the top ten universities."

Graduates who get stuck can always leave after a year or two. The grads who get into front office roles are likely to stay, while ambitious staff who wind up in back office jobs are apt to leave.

"Some of these programmes are so large a junior person can get lost," warns Heise. "The person coming in should constantly be looking for their managers and making suggested so they don't get stuck. Take on responsibility and don't be content with what you are doing."

Pay and potential

Anna Symons at IT recruiter McGregor Boyall says a new grad in a bank should have three or four rotations in the first year. Starting salaries should run 25,000-30,000 depending on the quality of the degree. Within two years a top grad with skills such as object-oriented programming could be earning 50,000-55,000.

Heise at Project Partners says, "It goes without saying that if you have a first class degree from a strong university and you come across well you should not have too much of a problem securing a role in a graduate programme. They are looking for people who can think outside the box and can demonstrate they can suggest solutions or enhance the way existing solutions work."

One danger for new graduates is coming across as arrogant, Heise says. "I have seen a number who are extremely confident of getting a new role and they have a real problem because they think they are better than they are."

Symons says grads can help their careers by learning to get along with others in the workplace. "Someone with a First from Oxbridge in science can probably do what they want, if they have the soft skills." Smart grads learn how to get along, from managing expectations to knowing what to say and what not to say.

"You need to present yourself as what you are - a candidate with some experience who has a lot of potential," Symons says. "Grads tend to think of the world as their oyster, and then get into the real world and find there are a lot of jobs to be done. Make the best of every opportunity, market yourself internally, offer to do the extra project, and find the key players. Networking is very important, so get your face known and develop a reputation for delivering quality work on time."

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