Once upon a time, the first year of university used to be a transitional phase between school and work, a chance to drift a little as well as study. Today, with more graduates chasing fewer job opportunities, it’s important to start considering your career from the get go. Here’s a guide to the steps you should be taking to get ahead.
Research and networking
“Students should start as early as possible to do their research – reading, talking to people who have been through the process, attending company presentations and finding out more about the industry,” says Alana Milton, head of recruitment at Rothschild.
A quick glance at the banks’ websites will tell you more about individual organisations and the skills and attributes they look for in their graduate recruits. What are you doing during your time at university to show that you have what it takes? “Demonstrating that you are interested in banking early on is really important,” says Polly Metcalfe, careers adviser at the University of Oxford. “Banks are good at making clear the skills and competencies they are looking for, so build up experiences to demonstrate you have them. Follow what is going on in the sector and get a more detailed understanding.”
Spring insight weeks
Most investment banks take on a handful of first-year students into their ‘Spring Insight’ weeks. These are portrayed as a chance to see whether the sector is right for you, but in reality it’s the first step in your quest for a full-time offer.
The week is spent in different divisions getting hands-on experience so it will allow you to understand what the job entails and how good you are at it. In addition, if you make a good impression, you could jump the queue and be offered a place on a summer internship.
During the interview process, banks want to see some evidence that you’ve researched the industry, but they don’t expect experts. In order to qualify, do some research before you start; read financial papers and magazines, become acquainted with the issues and the jargon and familiar with the bank to which you are applying.
When you make it into the insight week, it’s important not to show off, as you’ll eventually be pulled up on it. However, asking basic questions is frustrating to your investment banking colleagues and therefore equally as wrong. “Be aware of the timelines you face; deadlines are strict and often one stage leads to another fairly quickly, so prepare for psychometric tests, interviews and assessments,” says Metcalfe.
Another definite plus is membership of the finance society at your university: if you join and take an active role, organising events and activities, this will not only show your interest in financial markets but demonstrate softer skills such as initiative, commitment, leadership and team-building.
“Banks come to us for Spring Insight,” says Conrad Griffin, president of Cambridge University Finance and Investment Club (Cufic). “They need to sort out thousands of applicants, and they want people who are committed from the start.”
The advice is to do extra-curricular activities of value, whether it’s being captain of a sports team or running a charity project, editing the university paper, helping with a community project or doing fund-raising.
They all show that you have communication and management skills and – crucially – that you can juggle the demands of work and study and make all your time at university productive. Remember, banks look at future potential as well as past academic achievements.
You can always make up time
“Not everyone knows what they want to do in year one,” says Milton.
“But we look for some form of paid employment or charity work and a good work ethic. We try to find the whole package: academic excellence is a prerequisite, but we also want a well-rounded individual.”
Contrary to what many believe, you do not need to be studying a specialist subject: banks are interested in hiring individuals with a broad range of interests and experiences, provided they show an interest in financial markets, and have accumulated some knowledge and experience.
Take Griffin as an example: he chose to read history “to be well informed”, but joined Cufic and was then elected president. His Spring Insight week was “great fun and a great experience”, he says, and it led to an offer of an internship. Before he had even graduated, he had a job offer at Barclays Capital (now simply known as Barclays Investment Bank).
There’s no guaranteed route into investment banking, but following these steps will point you in the right direction.