Make your hard work pay off

After some lean years, the financial sector is regaining its appetite for graduate recruitment. But while high salaries are often the draw at banks and accountancy firms, they don't come easily. Kate Hilpern reports

For ambitious students with a fast mind and a passion for finance, 2005 is a good year to graduate. "Finally, after a few tough years, the graduate recruitment scene is once again buoyant," says Terry Jones of AGCAS (Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services). "In fact, we just got word from HSBC, Deloitte and PWC, among others, saying they're still recruiting."

For ambitious students with a fast mind and a passion for finance, 2005 is a good year to graduate. "Finally, after a few tough years, the graduate recruitment scene is once again buoyant," says Terry Jones of AGCAS (Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services). "In fact, we just got word from HSBC, Deloitte and PWC, among others, saying they're still recruiting."

The AGR (Association of Graduate Recruiters) reports that graduate vacancies in investment banking are up 33 per cent since last year. Accountancy and professional services are up 26 per cent, with banking and financial services also up 26 per cent. "Following 11 September 2001, the sector has really suffered," says chief executive Carl Gilleard. "But now that it's picked up, it is playing catch-up, so the need for talent is stronger than ever."

The biggest attraction to working in money is how much of it you get to take home yourself. But, cautions Gilleard, it doesn't come easy. "I once heard a chief executive of an investment bank tell a bunch of graduates that they could earn more there than anywhere else, but they'd also work harder than anywhere else," he says. "That's how it works."

Naturally you need to be the kind of person who gets enthusiastic about monetary affairs, and many graduates are drawn to the dynamic, fast-moving environment in which roles are varied and stimulating. "You're either excited by the world of money or you're not," says Gilleard. "It's as simple as that."

There are four main areas to choose from; the banking and investment sector is the most competitive. Here, the aim is to make money work as hard as possible. It is borrowed and invested from around the world and around the clock, with London being key because its working day bridges that of the US and the Far East.

Employers in this sector include investment banks, specialist finance houses and universal banks. Derek Walker, head of campus recruitment at Barclays Capital, says, "This year, we're taking on 400 people - the largest number we've ever taken in a single year."

What's more, there is no straightjacket of prerequisites. Like most graduate recruiters across the finance sector, the firm is interested in a broad range of degree disciplines, including the arts, although it is after people with evidence of high academic achievement. "We're also looking for people who have done well in other areas," he adds. "It doesn't mean we have a trading floor full of ex-England rugby players, but it is true to say that the people we hire have strong records of achievement across large parts of their life."

Heather Beattie, a graduate who works in the convertible bonds research team at Barclays Capital, admits that the recruitment process is rigorous. She advises, "You have to be focused and determined, and I would suggest not getting too caught up in having one particular area of work in mind."

Christine Bangor-Jones, graduate recruitment and training officer at RBC Capital Markets - the corporate and investment banking arm of the Royal Bank of Canada - adds that graduates must be after early responsibility. "Banks are looking for people who will be the future leaders of their business, so we want people with real ambition and drive," she says. "We have graduates who started four years ago and are now vice-presidents."

Internships are well worth looking into for current undergraduates, as many lead to graduate positions. Goldman Sachs offers a few tips for making the most of them - demonstrate teamwork, realise that you can only make one first impression and take advantage of the networking events.

For those who don't want to work directly with numbers, the City offers other roles - "City alternatives" - linked directly or tenuously to the investment business. Broad areas of work that consume graduates include law, management consulting, property and quantity surveying.

Meanwhile, the third option in the world of finance consists of accounting and financial management - an area in which graduates can gain impressive professional qualifications. Mark Blythe, managing director of GTI, the specialist graduate publisher, says, "With the huge upturn in the amount of regulation required by corporates, this is an area where demand for graduates will definitely remain high."

And before you dismiss it all as number-crunching, think again. "The work we do has changed to become much more exciting and varied," says Charles Macleod, head of recruitment at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Accountancy is now a multi-faceted profession, with company accountants, for example, being expected to take an interest in all aspects of a business, not just the purely financial, and the best of them have the ability to understand and influence the overall strategic direction a firm is taking. In fact, a large proportion of CEOs in the FTSE top 100 companies have come up through the finance director route.

Deloitte, now the biggest graduate recruiter in the private sector, is taking on a staggering 1,200 graduates this year. Sally Whitman, senior manager for national graduate recruitment, says, "There is a lot of variation in the roles graduates can take on - ranging from joining our audit practice to the consulting practice."

Chloe Smith, an analyst who graduated last July in English literature, says that the problem-solving and variety are the biggest rewards of the sector. "You can be working on something different from one week to the next," she says.

One dilemma is knowing which company to apply to. With accountancy firms on every high street, don't dismiss smaller firms. Stevan Rolls, director of recruiting at Ernst & Young, adds, "Ensure the culture fit is right and that you feel comfortable with the type of people who work in a company."

The fourth and final option is insurance and financial services. These services include day-to-day financial management products for individuals and companies, such as bank accounts, loans, pensions, credit cards and insurance. This sector is thriving and graduates are often surprised by how many different jobs there are.

Whichever area you go for, try to squeeze in some kind of work experience and don't underplay creative thinking. This really isn't just bean-counting.

'As you go through a graduate training contract, the variety and challenge of the work increases'

Tom Guglielmi, 23, is an audit associate at Ernst & Young. He graduated with a 2.2 in classics from Queens' College, Cambridge.

It was during my second year at university that I decided to do a summer internship and Ernst & Young appeared a good option. The internship was a great opportunity because it gave me a chance to see what the firm was like and it gave them an extended interview.

It was a six-week placement. After the first week of intensive training, I was chucked in at the deep end in a graduate job. It was hard work, but I learned such a lot. I was offered a job at the end and that really took the pressure off my final year.

Since I officially joined in September 2003 as a graduate, I've done so many things and have built up quite a good portfolio of clients. Now I'm one of the auditing team for a top record label and I also deal with internet service providers and - to my friends' amusement - internet dating websites.

As an auditor, my main job is to ensure that my clients' accounts are a reflection of reality. It involves a lot of analytical work. There's also an advisory role to my work and it never ceases to amaze me just how much of the job involves the need to build up good client relationships. People on the outside think of accountants as number-crunchers, but they couldn't be more wrong.

There are some less interesting parts to the assignments, but as you go through the graduate training contract, the variety and challenge of the work increases. I'm currently on a secondment where I work within the finance team of a client for two months.

Also part of the training scheme is gaining a professional qualification. The exams are tough, but it's an amazing feeling once you've passed them - and it looks as though my last exam is this December.

What really appealed to me about Ernst & Young was the atmosphere. Without exception, everyone is friendly and open. I also like the fact that Ernst & Young is very keen on flexibility. So if you have a deadline, you're expected to put in the extra hours, but if you're quiet the next Friday, it's fine just to go home.

Once I've qualified next year, it will open up a lot of opportunities. I quite fancy going to the New York office for a while next.

'It isn't a job for people who don't like early starts'

Rupa Ganatra, 23, works in interest rate and credit derivatives marketing for RBC Capital Markets. She graduated from Manchester University with a 2.1 in economics.

I spent the summer before my graduation year working in New York at a small commodities trading company. It was this experience, as well as the other experiences I'd had on trading floors of investment banks on shorter programmes, that convinced me that I wanted to go into this industry. It became increasingly clear that it was an exciting working environment.

When I was applying for various graduate programmes, RBC Capital Markets - the corporate and investment banking arm of the Royal Bank of Canada - stood out because of its rotation programme. Also, a lot of the other programmes involved classroom-based teaching for a period of time and then you'd start on the trading floor. But this one offered on-the-job training, combined with classroom-based training. So every month we'd go back for another stint in the classroom and then we'd be back on the job again, learning from other people actually doing it.

I started my rotation working in equity and credit derivatives, both cutting-edge areas, and was offered a job in credit derivatives. That involved working with the global marketing team, initially supporting the existing marketers and eventually developing a sales role for myself. We have now merged two businesses, so I'm in interest rate and credit derivatives marketing. I focus specifically on the UK and Ireland and within the team, we cover various client bases, such as foreign and private banks and corporates.

I love the exposure to clients - the people-facing part of the job. I've also enjoyed the learning curve. From day one to now, I'm still learning new things. It's great to be working with cutting-edge products too, and the fact that the market is always evolving makes the role really interesting.

It isn't a job for people who don't like early starts. We begin our morning meetings at 7.30am every day, but I'm completely fine with it; it means I get a seat on the train. It's also not a job for people who aren't adaptable. You have to adapt to a constantly changing market and you also have to be willing to put in a lot of hard work. The upside is that you can see the direct results of your efforts.

I'm not sure what my long- term plans are yet, but for now I'm still expanding my knowledge and expertise.

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