How to become an Investment Banker
Check out my interview with Jennifer, 31, who advises on how to become an investment banker. She works in one of the most prestigious investment banks in the world and has worked incredibly hard to get there. It’s from my book ‘1000 Years of Career Advice’ which is out this Friday 16th March on Amazon. It will be free for first 5 days as I want as many young people as possible to read it – don’t miss out!
What is your degree in?
Bachelor of Science (Industrial and Pharmaceutical Chemistry)
Master of Computational Finance
Why did you do the degree you did? Did you have any clue at the time on how to become an investment banker?
– A lot of my family work in pharma, they all did chemistry degrees, my dad is a science lecturer.
– I did a year placement in a pharma company and liked the work. However, my boss who was a lab manager, I didn’t want to end up like him. Around that time, all the banks were crumbling. I was interested in the how and why, and decided finance was for me. So, I looked at switching from chemistry to finance.
– I then did a Computational Finance Masters which was all about computers and the pricing of financial instruments. The guy who ran the course said your background isn’t in finance at all. I said to him that the maths in chemistry and finance was all the same.
Did you know what you wanted to do career-wise?
– I wanted to be a trader, but I didn’t have the background to go into the mergers and acquisitions (M&A) side. There were no graduate training programs at the time because of the recession. I didn’t know how to become an investment banker.
– It was very lucky that I got the right break to start working in risk. I was incredibly lucky; a lot of your career comes down to timing. I cannot stress how extremely lucky I was. I’m not sure I’d advise taking the path I did, it’s a minefield.
When you came out of university did you seek advice from anyone on how to become an investment banker?
– I had a chat with my dad. He said to go for it if it is what you want to do. However, he also said that he knew no-one in finance so he wouldn’t be able to help with contacts. He had no clue how to even start becoming an investment banker.
– I talked to a friend of my uncle who was an Investment Banker, but nothing came out of that.
What percentage of what you learned in university have you used in your day-to-day roles?
A lot of it was very relevant, the undergrad was very general, but the postgrad was more specific.
With the benefit of hindsight, if you were 18 again now would you do anything differently degree-wise?
No, I wouldn’t change anything. Doing chemistry gave me a different perspective, so I’m happy with the way I did it.
What are the jobs you’ve done since graduating? And what have they entailed?
2015 – 2018
Investment Banker, Investment Bank, London
Buying and selling government bonds, currency swaps, etc.
2010 – 2015
Risk Analyst, Various Global Banks, London
Modelling the risks that the bank faces on a day-to-day basis.
What are the things you most like about your job, and the things you don’t like?
- The hands-on, independent work.
- The buzz is incredible – even if you haven’t slept in four days, you are totally engaged, it’s so stimulating.
- The risk stuff wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do.
- The caustic personalities, it’s a vicious environment, you’ve got people telling you to fuck off all the time – I can’t stress how vicious it is.
Which would you prefer to work for: a small company or a big company, and why?
A smaller bank is more easy-going and relaxed, in the bigger banks it’s frenetic, it’s the highest operating speed possible, which I prefer.
Have you worked long hours over the years?
I get up at 5:45am, in for 6:45am, and I’m home for about 8ish. You only really have ten years before you burn out in investment banking, it can be intense.
If you could start over and you were 22, but you know all you know now, would you do anything differently career-wise?
I would have tried to get better grades, so I could go to a more prestigious university, as those things stay with you and they do matter. These make a big difference when you are trying to become and investment banker
What career advice would you give a young person now?
Make sure you get good grades, they open doors, no one can take them away from you. A lecturer told a friend of mine that a high 2.2* is the same as a 2.1*, there is zero truth in that – don’t believe that for a second, you need a 2.1*.
(*2.1 is an upper second class honours, 2.2 is a lower second class honours.)
What advice would you give a young person on how to become an investment banker?
– You need to get into the red brick universities. You probably need to go to private school, get your 2.1* or 1.1*.
– In the big investment banks, they have what’s called ‘spring week.’ you need to get referred to it by someone internally. Then you have to get an internship, but you can only get one if you’ve done the ‘spring week.’ Then you have to get on the graduate programme; you can’t get on the graduate programme unless you’ve done an internship. Once you are on the graduate programme then you are in. Something like 5% of applicants succeed.
– On the trading side, you will be doing 7am – 7pm, if you are on the M&A side, you could be there all-day long. They have this thing called the ‘The Magic Roundabout’ where you just go home and shower and then come back to the office. A couple of kids have died doing those kinds of hours. They order food in, they have a gym and dry cleaning at the office. They never leave the office.
(*2.1 is an upper second class honours and 1.1 is a first class honours.)
Which gets you further in a career – knowing people or being good at your job?
Getting into these banks requires a phenomenal amount of effort. You need to be meticulous and strategic in your networking, if you leave it to meeting organically then forget about it.
If you would like to find out more on how to become an investment banker, there are more interviews in my book, or drop me a line using the ‘contact’ form, thanks!
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