The below is my interview with Jennifer, 31, who advises on how she ended up working in one of the most prestigious investment banks in the world from a science / non-finance background.
This post is part of my ‘Finance Career Content Series’ which contains the following posts:
- How to Get into Finance with a Non-finance Degree
- How to Become a Finance Director
- How to Become a Financial Controller
- How to Become a Management Consultant
- Internal Audit Career Path: Interview with Mary, (32)
- Pros and Cons of Working in Finance
- Pros and Cons of Being an Auditor
- Pros and Cons of Working in an Investment Bank
- Most Important Soft Skills in Business
In this interview you will learn:
- about the science degree she chose and why
- why she wanted to do finance after graduating
- how she made the move into finance
- her thoughts on internships
- about the jobs she did since graduating
- what she likes and dislikes about her job
- an insight into the hours she does
- how much fun she has at work
- what she would do if she was 22 again
- the advice she would give to a young person starting off in their career
- the tips she would give to someone trying to get into investment banking
How To Get Into Finance With a Science Degree: Education
What is your degree in?
Bachelor of Science (Pharmaceutical Chemistry)
Masters in 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 was a lab manager and I didn’t want to end up like him. Around that time, all the banks (2008) 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!!
These days the big banks will look at people who have done any degree. However, ones they look preferably on are:
- computer science
As you progress in your career your degree gets less and less relevant.
The banks will give you training on how to do your job, so they are more looking at the person they are hiring, not so much what they studied.
The people I have worked with over the years have come from a wide range of backgrounds.
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.
So, 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!
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.
Did you do any internships?
No. Nowadays if you haven’t studied Finance at university, you will need to prove your knowledge of finance in other ways.
An internship can be a great way of doing this. A person who has done an internship in a big bank will be front of the Q when it comes to applying for graduate programmes.
They will know people working there who can give them tips on how the interviews will be conducted and what kind of questions they will be asked.
You will also know all about the culture and can use your experience working there in answering questions in the interview, so it is a huge advantage!
However, don’t be put off if you haven’t done one, there are other ways to prove your interest and knowledge:
- Start a blog about Finance
- Buy and Sell Shares on your own and include your results on your applications
- Shadow someone who works in a finance job for a week
- Get involved in a start up and show your entrepreneurial skills
- Show them some other work experience you have done that has some finace / business elements
- Join the Finance Society at your university
- Go to finance conferences and networking events
Just because you haven’t done a certain degree, or went to a university, or done a certain internship, don’t give up on what you want to do.
There are other ways, look at me. Often the people who take unconventional routes become the most successful!
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.
Not 100% convinced you want to pursue a career in Finance? If so, then read my post on Why a Career In Finance Could Be For You; 11 Convincing Reasons
How To Get Into Finance With a Science Degree: Jobs Since Graduating
What are the jobs you’ve done since graduating? And what have they entailed?
2017 – Present
Investment Banker, Investment Bank, London
- Buy and sell government bonds, currency swaps on behalf of clients
- Assist clients with restructuring large debt obligations by re-negotiating agreements with banks
- Prepare legal and financial documents to complete purchases, investments, and acquisitions
- Work with clients to determine amounts of capital needed to meet business goals
- Research, analyse, and interpret financial information and market trends
- Develop financial models to analyse deals and offers to determine viability and profitability
2012 – 2017
Risk Analyst, Various Global Banks, London
- Created pitch books for clients detailing financial solutions and present them to clients.
- Managed a portfolio of companies getting more and more involved with the clients
- Conducted due diligence i.e. client visits, analysis of business models, and review of industry trends
- Created financial models to analyse client portfolios
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.
- You become an expert in a particular area in a very short space of time
- The prestige – people treat you differently when they know you work for a big investment bank
- 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.
- It’s a very male dominated environment, which can be challenging
- I find it very hard to switch off. I’m always thinking about work, in the evenings, at the weekends, on holiday. If you are an Investment Banker, you probably only have 10-15 years before you start to burn out.
For more on the benefits and disadvantages of working as an Investment Banker, check out my post on Investment Banking Pros and Cons: A Comprehensive Guide
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.
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.
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.
For more insight and advice into other young professionals career paths, check out some of my other interviews:
How To Get Into Finance With a Science Degree: Advice
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.
It’s a week of info sessions, networking with senior management and employees, training and simulated work experiences.
They give insight into a division (or many divisions) of the firm.
They also put on finance sessions for non-finance students to bring them upto speed.
My tips on how to get a place on Spring Week:
- apply as early as you can, you’d be amazed how many people miss the deadlines
- read up on the firm, their values, strategy, and the recent news they have been involved in
- show why you are interested in joining them, try to get across your passion for finance and ambition
- don’t be put off just because you didn’t go to a top university
- demonstrate your extra curricular achievements i.e. VP Students Union
- get involved in start-ups, even just volunteering for a few weeks. If they are finance all the better.
- attend as many networking events as you can in university, this will help you understand how the people working in these banks talk and act.
- Name drop the names of some senior people you chatted to at a networking event in your application
- use any connections you have as much as you can? Do your parents, siblings or lecturers know anyone working in a big bank that could put in a good word for you?
- puchase some online numerical tests online and practise them over and over
- get a list of competancy questions on the usual subjects like leadership, teamwork, time management, etc, and write out answers to these. Ask someone older than you to reviewyour answers, and once they are well polished learn them off so you are very confident going into the interview!
Then you have to get an internship, but in the bigger banks you can only get one if you’ve done the ‘spring week.’
My tips on how to get an internship:
- make sure you include extra curricular activities on your CV, ones that help you demonstrate leadership, teamwork qualities and initiative
- put some thought into why you’re applying for this company, why you really want this career, and what you will learn from the internship, and why the firm should hire you over someone else
- research the company more than anyone else, know the key facts and figures about them, but go further; find out about their history, their culture, their unique training programme, the people who work there (LinkedIn is great for this)
- make your application/interview performance stand out somehow, be more passionate than anyone else, mention some facts/statistics that know one else will mention, show your knowledge of the industry like no one else would be able to
All of the 100 graduates I interviewed for my book couldn’t recommend doing Work Experience enough, check out my post on the Benefits of Work Experience
Once you have done an internship then your chances of getting on the graduate programme are hugely increased!
Once you are on the graduate programme then you are in. Something like 5% of applicants succeed.
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.