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Graduate jobs in financial services insight

We spoke to recent graduates at three financial services firms to find out what they think are the top skills a graduate needs and what they've gained through their careers so far.
It's not just about being good with numbers; it's becoming increasingly as important to possess top quality soft skills.

In an interview with graduate recruits from Allianz, Lane Clark & Peacock LLP and Mazars LLP, we discussed what they believe are the key skills needed for a financial services career. We also asked whether their careers are what they expected them to be, what they gained from their employment and what advice they'd give to current students about to leave university.

1. The importance of financial services internships

All of the graduates we interviewed agreed that internships and work experience in the financial sector are vital before embarking on a career. Not only does it look good on your CV, but it's a great way to make sure that you suit the role and that the role you've chosen suits you.

Internships offer insight into the day-to-day operations in a financial services firm and they can teach you the basics of the industry to get you ready for your career. It's also a good way to find out how all the technical experience you've gained from university applies in the workplace.

Internships can also pave the way to graduate employment, so it's important to treat them a bit like an extended interview. But if yours doesn't land you a graduate job straight away, consider the usefulness of the application process and use it as a guide for what the graduate recruitment process will be like to prepare yourself for the real thing.

2. Working life in finance

It's rare that you'll find a job in any sector that university will completely prepare you for, so don't expect the learning to stop once you've stepped out of the lecture hall and into the office. In fact, working in financial services means you'll be likely to study towards more professional qualifications, especially in a graduate role. For example, within insurance you might be training alongside your regular office duties to gain your Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA) qualification, or, for a Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) qualification.

The recruits we spoke to all said that time and project management were essential skills needed for their jobs and that the best time to develop these skills is at university. Consider how you've managed projects while studying and identify ways you can improve that skill to prepare you for your graduate job. If your job involves studying towards a professional qualification, our respondents also said that it's important to take charge of your own learning, keep focused and make time to revise, because even though their employers did help by allowing them study days and by offering financial support, their learning was ultimately down to them.

Your graduate role may be part of a rotational scheme, letting you try out the work of three or four departments over the period of a year or two or longer, depending on your particular graduate role. It's important to make the most of these placements as you may be able to choose a department to stay in at the end of your rotation. So make sure you engage in the department as much as you can by talking to other employees, offering to help out others and ask lots of questions so you can make an informed decision should you be offered it.

3. The challenges of a career in finance

The biggest challenge that our respondents faced was the 'busyness' of working life, combined with the pressure of professional qualification examinations. However, this was combated by their firms providing a good amount of support to get them through; whether it was in the form of time off for studying, company training programmes to prepare them for exams, being assigned mentors or being provided with study materials.

4. Essential skills for financial services

It's not just about being good with numbers; it's becoming increasingly important to possess top quality soft skills. One recruit stressed the importance of being sociable and having a degree of professional curiosity to be able to approach fellow employees and learn aspects of the business that you may not be exposed to immediately. They also commented that it's important to have this proactive mind-set as you're the one in charge of your career.

Communication was also noted to be important. Not only does it tie in nicely with social skills, but on a professional level you may be in a situation where complex information has to be broken down into simpler terms for management, stakeholders, co-workers or even clients.

5. Highlights of working life

One element of their roles that the recruits spoke of as a highlight of their job was how quickly they felt their work was recognised by their employers and how soon they noticed their contributions making an impact on the business. Not only were they involved in client-facing roles sooner than expected, but some found themselves working with senior partners early on. In one instance, an interviewee spoke of their experience creating a communications plan, which in turn led to a complete web redesign.