Not as identikit as they, at first, seem.
Superficially, graduate training programmes are very similar. Whether you join CIBC World Markets or Goldman Sachs, you'll have to work very hard and learn very fast. First you'll be put through a course to teach you investment banking know-how, including financial modelling, bond pricing, and stock option theory. Then you'll be unleashed onto a particular division - the start of a training programme that typically lasts two years.
So far, so similar. Scratch the surface, however, and banks' training programmes are less identikit than they seem. Differences are focused around four main areas:
Where do you want to train? New York? London? Amsterdam? Tobago? Unfortunately Tobago isn't on the list of training destinations, but everywhere else is.
For example, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, CSFB and JP Morgan send some or all of their trainees to New York to learn the theoretical stuff. This is not just a chance to have fun in the Big Apple while finding out the difference between a 'put' and a 'call option'; it's also about meeting your graduate counterparts. "Time in New York is a huge opportunity to build networks and learn how the bank works on a global level," says Natalie Hildon, graduate recruitment marketing advisor at Merrill Lynch.
If Amsterdam grabs your imagination, ABN Amro is the place to go - the bank puts its recruits through six weeks' of intensive training at its Amsterdam-based 'Academy of Finance' when they join.
Most banks also have an element of initial classroom training in London, which is, in any case, where most European graduate trainees come back to after the initial theoretical training is over.
Including classroom training and on-the-job training, most banks' graduate programmes last two years. However, the length of the classroom component varies from as little as six weeks to as much as four months, the latter mostly in complex areas like IT and private banking.
Banks whose trainees spend a long time in the classroom point to this as a source of advantage. "You need to look seriously at how much time is invested in training," says Clare Witton in graduate marketing at JP Morgan, "All our students spend eight weeks in the classroom and receive ongoing training in business specific areas over the next three to five years and beyond."
The big banks tend to be proud of the fact that they use their own senior bankers to deliver at least some of their training programmes to graduates. "It's not unusual for our most senior leaders to deliver classes on how to be a more effective manager, or how to serve clients, for example", says Calum Forrest, head of recruitment at Goldman Sachs.
"When we teach you about how to value equity derivatives, the head of equity derivatives will present the models," says Ellen Miller, head of European graduate recruitment and development at Lehman.
And if senior managers aren't delivering the training? Expect professional training companies and text books to do the same thing instead.
So you want to work in fixed income sales? But is that selling high yield bonds, or government debt? You probably don't know at this stage, which is why it might be an idea to join a bank that will let you work in different areas.
Trying out different parts of a bank for size is known as 'rotating.' Merrill Lynch, for example, allows trainees entering its global markets division to do several three-month assignments in its debt and equity group. Morgan Stanley permits trainees in fixed income to do four six-month rotations in the fixed income division over a two-year period. Lehman lets trainees in its fixed income and equities division undertake a few three-week rotations before settling down.
Finally, it might be worth enquiring whether the bank you're thinking of joining has a system of buddies and mentors. This lends a personal touch to a training scheme - buddies are recent trainees; they can answer simple questions or hold your hand when someone asks you to rewrite a pitchbook at 10.30pm. Mentors are typically more senior people who help answer your technical questions and may become your long-term guru. JP Morgan also has 'staffers', who fall somewhere in between. "There is a big support system for our graduates," says Witton. "We offer a more human approach."