The insider's guide to working in investment banking


Hannah Langworth
Wednesday 09 April 2014 11:39
A picture taken of 30-floor Chater House tower housing the headquarters of investment bank JPMorgan in Hong Kong
A picture taken of 30-floor Chater House tower housing the headquarters of investment bank JPMorgan in Hong Kong

Are you intelligent, entrepreneurial and interested in how finance fits into the world around us? Then a career in investment banking could be for you.

It’s not all big deals and trading

Investment banks are most well known for their involvement in trading and corporate mergers and acquisitions deals. These are important parts of the business for most investment banks and there are exciting roles for graduates here.

But be aware that there are many other types of job in the industry – for example, you could be monitoring political developments in the eurozone, helping billionaires manage their assets, or working on your bank’s business strategy.

Wherever you’re working, you’ll find investment banking is a competitive industry where you’ll be well-rewarded if you’re prepared to keep learning and to help the business develop and adapt to change.

Egyptologists as well as economics students get jobs here

Having studied a numerate subject at university helps in some roles in investment banking and, unsurprisingly given the international nature of much of the work in the industry, modern languages skills are in demand at the moment. But investment banks need graduates with a wide range of abilities and will teach you anything you need to learn to do your job.

So rather than a particular degree, a strong academic record in just about any subject, committed involvement in some sensible extracurricular activities, and a real interest in finance is what will get investment banks to take a serious look at your application.

Women are welcome

In some areas of investment banking, notably its senior ranks and anything based on a trading floor, you’ll still see considerably more men than women. But most investment banks have recognised the social and economic value of employing a range of different types of person and are keen to recruit female students to even out the current gender imbalance.

Once working at an investment bank as a female graduate, you’re likely to have access to mentoring and networking opportunities designed to help women progress.

Investment banks can be socially responsible

Many investment banks are involved in worthwhile community and environmental projects. As a graduate recruit you might find yourself reading with pupils at an East End school or cleaning out a pond at a wildlife reserve with your colleagues.

Some investment banks are taking things a step further and are using their financial expertise to help out small local businesses or the growing environmental finance sector.

You’ll probably spend a lot of time in the office

In a trading-related role you could be starting at 7am, followed by 10-12 hours of non-stop action until the markets shut and any follow-up work is done. If you’re doing corporate finance-related work, your hours can be just as lengthy, and unpredictable and antisocial to boot – people really do work all through the night at short notice on big deals sometimes.

But after an shocking death last summer, the spotlight is on working lifestyles in investment banking, particularly those of graduates and interns. Many investment banks are setting up initiatives, such as buddy schemes and protected time off, to safeguard the health of their employees, though how much of an effect they’ll have at the coalface is still an open question.

It’s also worth knowing that in some roles in investment banking you’ll work fairly normal office hours.

Investment banks love new technology

Intense competition between investment banks, particularly in the electronic trading field, has led to a technological arms race in the sector. Investment banks have recruited and are growing huge technology teams that are designing and implementing interesting developments in everything from big data to high-speed networks to cybersecurity.

Given the potential technology offers them, investment banks are extremely keen to recruit graduates interested in this area, and once you’re in, you’ll be at the centre of your bank’s plans for the future.

Apply early in your university career

If you decide you’re interested in a career in investment banking, it pays to get going early.

Investment banks recruit most of their graduate joiners from the summer internship programmes they run for penultimate year students, for which you need to apply the previous autumn.

The spring week programmes for first years that most investment banks run are a great way to get fast-tracked for a summer internship and to test out early on whether investment banking is the career for you.

Hannah Langworth is the editor of The Gateway, the business and careers newspaper for students. You can follow The Gateway on Twitter @GatewayOnline

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