The Low Down on Getting the Top Job in the City

A career in the City and especially investment banking and securities, is the first choice of many bright, well-qualified graduates. It is not hard to see why; starting salaries can be as high as £40,000 pa while some lucky first year graduate trainees in the major global investment banks (universally known as analysts) might receive as much again in bonuses.

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There is also the exciting prospect of working on transactions you read about in the press, or watching while the markets move in response to breaking news. Of course, all this comes at a price. Most people will know about the long working hours and dedication expected of new recruits. So be prepared to place your social life firmly on ?hold' for a few years while you establish credibility with your more experienced colleagues. It is also no myth that the City can be an unforgiving place to work with little real job security in some roles.

Employers are well aware of the ups and downs of City careers and work hard to ensure graduates they recruit understand the industry and demonstrate real talent and commitment. The selection process for graduate trainees in big investment banks is consequently tough. To stand a realistic chance of getting past the first stage and being invited for an initial interview, there are some important things you must be able to demonstrate on the application form:

  1. Excellent academics. You will need to possess (or be heading for) at least an upper second with 320 or more UCAS points.
  2. A clear proven interest in finance and the markets. For example, are you involved in a student investment society? Do you run a shadow portfolio of securities? Do you read the financial press?
  3. Relevant work experience. Try to obtain vacation employment in a financial institution or, better still, a summer internship at the end of your penultimate year of studies if you are an undergraduate. There is a well-established tradition in the larger investment banks of using internship schemes as a way to pre-select graduate recruits.

Finally, do your research: do you know what makes your chosen employer different from the competition? Most investment bank websites contain a wealth of information about their business. Many have careers pages that explain the various opportunities available, what qualities are sought and how the selection process works. Try to understand how investment banks differ from one another. Find out about their history and culture.

Recent City surveys suggest the number of opportunities for new graduates is rising after taking a tumble since the economic downturn two years ago. Competition remains fierce however, with perhaps 75 applicants chasing each vacancy in very popular areas such as Trading. This should not discourage you if you are ambitious and motivated, so here are some suggestions.

Top tips to start you off...

1. Where should I look?

Financial institutions based in the City and Canary Wharf include all the well-known national and global investment banks (Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, etc), retail banks, building societies and insurance companies that are familiar high street names. The City also plays host to many hundreds of foreign banks, as well as brokers, commodity traders, fund managers and Insurance companies.

2. Direct Entry

It is not necessary to join a large investment bank as a graduate trainee in order to have a successful career in the City. Many hundreds of firms are too small to operate a graduate scheme. You will need to do some work researching these firms and finding ways to network with professionals. You should always use your university Careers Service who are expert in helping students undertake their job search.

3. Be Flexible

The City offers a huge variety of different jobs. For some roles specialised degrees are necessary, but most are suitable for graduates of all disciplines. In addition, there are often more jobs than strong candidates in fields that are less well known such as Compliance or Product Control, Alternatively, think about how you might be able to do the same type of job in a different environment. For example, if you want to be a trader you could certainly do so in a bank, but have you considered similar opportunities with independent trading firms, commodity houses, large oil and gas companies, ship brokers or the corporate treasury divisions of large multinational corporations?

4. Start Your Search Early

It might sound obvious, but it will take time to do what I am suggesting. You need to balance your job search with study and examinations so start early. Visit your Careers Service and ask for their help. If you wait until graduation you will certainly miss out on many good City opportunities.

Whatever, the ups and downs of the economy, the City is well positioned to remain one of the key centres in the global financial services industry for years to come. There will continue to be a strong demand for bright, enthusiastic graduates If you possess the right qualities, you can undoubtedly look forward to a challenging and rewarding career.

Published 4th August 2011

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