A job that's bang on the money

Graduate vacancies in investment banking are up by almost 16 per cent on last year. But competition for places is as fierce as ever. Kate Hilpern reports
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The Independent Online

The good news for graduates interested in the fast-paced world of banking and investment is that the market is buoyant, with recruitment having well and truly picked up since the slump which followed 11 September 2001. According to the Association of Graduate Recruiters, graduate vacancies in investment banking are up by 15.7 per cent on last year.

"This year, we are hiring between 300-350 graduates across the firm in the UK," says Helen Bostock, global head of campus marketing at JPMorgan. But, she cautions, "It's very important that British graduates understand that they are up against some very talented people right across Europe, who are very well qualified and speak two or three languages."

Her advice for UK graduates is to really seriously consider whether they can match these skills, as well as getting their applications in early. "The window of opportunity is relatively small. Leaving applications until our deadline of November is risky, so I'd suggest graduates get out on campus and think about their options as early as possible."

She adds that graduates who are not yet in their final year should apply for an internship. "They are still a key differentiator in the recruitment process," she says. "We would look for people who have had one with us or with another investment bank."

You'd be hard pushed to find an employer in this sector who disagrees - all say that getting involved at an early stage is a vital part of a career strategy. Calum Forrest, European head of recruitment at Goldman Sachs, says if you've done a summer internship at the bank you'd like to work at, even better.

"We don't rely solely on people who have done internships with us. There is always room for others. But it is clearly useful to see someone in action for 10 weeks. Typically, we get more than half of our graduate intake through the internship programme," he says.

The best way to find the right internship is to start attending relevant events that both your university and individual companies set up, as well as utilising the university careers service. Student clubs that have forged links with employers can also be good sources of information.

If you're successful - and the assessment process can be almost as tough as for a real job - an internship allows you to discover whether your skills and expectations fit the role and organisation you have focused on. What's more, it will give you the chance to develop important relationships with people who may be in a position to help you obtain a full-time position later on. That's why it's crucial to make the right impression.

Internships are also important because the culture of each employer is different. Forrest explains, "At Goldman Sachs, we are relatively consensus driven and wouldn't be described as a 'star culture' - where there is more emphasis on the individual being held up in the limelight for their success rather than the whole team."

The banking and investment business is about making money work as hard as possible. It is borrowed and invested in a huge range of ways, with the financial markets open 24 hours a day, straddling different time zones worldwide. So it should come as no surprise that employers work their graduates hard - probably more so than in any other industry, although you will be rewarded both financially and through the sheer excitement of the work.

The assessment process is no easy ride either. Mr Forrest explains how it works at Goldman Sachs. "Because all the firm's divisions share common goals in terms of skill sets - including, for example, communication skills and analytical capability - the first-round interview is essentially a company-wide screening process, lasting 40 minutes."

If you're applying for an analyst role, rather than an associate role, you will have already sat a 40-minute test, which examines your verbal reasoning capability, he adds. "We hire from so many education systems that it gives us a helping hand with our overall decision, although we don't use the score as an end in itself. So, if I interview someone who appears weak in their analytical skills, the test might reinforce that or it may persuade me otherwise."

Assuming the interview goes well, the candidate is invited back to see up to two divisions, such as fixed income, currency and commodities or investment banking. Here, you'll go through perhaps half a dozen interviews, with one or two people at a time, and the focus is more on the particular division, so you'll need to show more specific attributes, such as a passion for financial markets or deal-making.

Christine Bangor-Jones, graduate recruitment and training manager at RBC Capital Markets, adds that creativity, logic and interpersonal skills are also key attributes in this sector.

Like most employers, she says, "We don't really mind what degree people have, although we do look for a minimum of a 2.1. Whether it's philosophy or engineering, what we are more interested in is agile intellect, strong numerical and analytical skills, an awareness of global economic issues and a genuine interest in the financial market."

Early responsibility is a critical element of any graduate role in banking and investment, and RBC Capital Markets is no exception. "Our 17-week graduate programme provides an opportunity to rotate around the key capital market areas - such as foreign exchange, treasury management and debt finance. Together with the classroom based learning and e-learning that support this on-the-job training, graduates get the chance not only to learn fast, but to progress quickly as a result," she says.

Ms Bangor-Jones points out that academic capability is not the only thing people should strive towards at university. "We are looking for well-rounded individuals," she explains. "It's important to be able to demonstrate skills like leadership through extra-curricular activities."

Mark Blythe, managing director of GTI, the specialist graduate publishers, confirms, "It's no longer enough to assume that because you've got good A-levels, and you are cruising through a good degree, that you've got your entry ticket. More and more graduates are doing well, so employers are expecting a lot more from their applications."

Research, research, research is his advice. "If you don't, you can bet the next candidate in line will know all the big deals the employer has done and the stock share prices. This is a sector where graduates need to fully understand what the business they are applying to is trying to achieve and the context within which they work."

If you are lucky enough to get in, Grover warns that the hours are long. "I generally start at 9am and finish anywhere between 9pm and 3am. But no day is ever the same, with each providing new challenges," she says.