Graduate jobs in finance: why students should consider alternative routes into the industry

Last updated: 25 Jan 2023, 13:37

Students who want to work in finance should think outside the box and make their own opportunities to break into the industry.

Calculator: alternative routes into graduate finance jobs

With the internet you’re not restricted to your university or locality.

Alternative routes into finance: speculative applications | set up a small business | join or start your own finance network | find a finance mentor | set up your own careers event | finance placement abroad | treasurer of your university society

Whether you’re struggling to get an internship or graduate job or want to do something extraordinary to stand out among other applicants, consider these seven alternative ways to develop your finance knowledge and experience.

1. Speculative applications

Many small financial organisations, particularly insurance loss adjusting, financial planning and actuarial firms, do not recruit via structured internship and graduate programmes, so sending a speculative covering letter and CV is a great way to enquire about job opportunities that may exist. Applying for a combination of speculative and advertised vacancies will give you the best chance of success.

In your application state who you are, what you would like from the employer (eg work experience or work shadowing), what relevant experience you have and what skills you could bring to the company. Make the covering letter personal, including why you’ve chosen the company specifically.

Remember to keep your covering letter and CV succinct, as finance recruiters may not have a lot of time to look at a lengthy application. Before you submit an application, you should ring the company and ask who you should send your application to; a letter addressed to a specific person is more likely to be reviewed. Read on for more advice about speculative applications .

The benefits of this route are:

  • it shows that you have a genuine interest in a specific company
  • it gives you an insight into the area of finance you are interested in
  • it creates potential networking opportunities that may come in handy in future
  • it increases your pool of employers to apply to.

2. Set up a small business

Finance businesses, particularly investment banks, are impressed by students who have entrepreneurial skills, so consider setting up a small business while you’re at university. You could, for example, begin your own clothing line by designing and printing a logo onto t-shirts. You could sell your clothing line at freshers’ fairs and promote it through social media. It doesn’t have to be a big business venture, but it will show budgeting, commercial awareness and strong business acumen to future recruiters.

There are lots of resources and societies that you can approach for help in starting your own business, such as your university’s enterprise society. Also check out our entrepreneurship section , especially the seven-step guide to starting your own business .

The benefits of this route are:

  • it gives you something original to talk about on applications and in interviews
  • you can make extra cash while at university
  • you can apply skills such as planning, numeracy, budgeting and problem solving to real-life situations.

3. Join or start your own financial network

Join a group for those interested in finance. This will allow you to build up a network where you can, for example, exchange tips with other students about application processes. The first place to start is your university – check the list of clubs and societies. You may be an aspiring actuary and find out that a group for students interested in the actuarial profession exists, for example.

Similarly, you can use websites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and MeetUp to find groups to join. During the coronavirus lockdown you will only be able to meet and speak to people virtually, but there are benefits to this: you’re not restricted to your university or locality. Social media gives you the option to connect with finance students and professionals worldwide. If the group you’re looking for hasn’t been created, use your initiative and start it yourself. This will give you an opportunity to meet students and professionals from a range of universities and possibly even further afield. Take a look at our other advice on networking.

The benefits of this route are:

  • you can network with other students, graduates and professionals interested in the finance industry
  • it shows your use of initiative to future employers
  • it gives you a chance to learn from others who share similar interests
  • it demonstrates that you’re genuinely committed to a career in finance.

4. Find a finance mentor

A mentor, who has experience in the area of finance that you want to break into, can guide and advise you and maybe even put you in touch with the ‘right people’. Your mentor can be a trainee, advising you on the graduate application process, or an experienced professional, giving you tips on what skills are most desirable to recruiters – they don’t need to have years of experience.

Bear in mind that finance professionals are often very busy, so your first port of call to finding a mentor could be to look among your university alumni, family friends, family members and neighbours. Then consider events and networking. You can use LinkedIn to connect with people you have met, for example. If you use this approach, make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date. Make it clear that you’re looking for a mentor and intend to email them now and again. When you build up your professional relationship, it may be possible to meet them for lunch occasionally.

You don’t have to limit yourself to one mentor; having a few will give you access to more guidance about their applications and personal experiences.

The benefits of this route are:

  • you can gain first-hand advice from professionals who have been where you are
  • you’ll be able to ask questions to someone who has experience
  • you can make connections that may help you with future employment
  • you can get tips on how you can make yourself more employable.

5. Set up your own careers event

Careers events (including virtual careers fairs) are a great way to bring employers and students together, giving students the chance to network and see the range of opportunities on offer at different organisations. There are many careers fairs for those interested in investment banking, but there are fewer targeted at those interested in other areas of finance, such as retail banking. However, this is not the be-all and end-all. There is nothing to stop you from setting up your own event. You could start by talking to your careers service at university – they may be able to help and advise you. It’ll be a huge undertaking, but the benefits would make it very worthwhile!

The benefits of this route are:

  • it allows you to build up your professional network
  • it puts you in touch with recruiters
  • it shows your use of initiative and innovation, which will impress employers
  • it shows a real interest in your chosen career path.

6. Finance placement abroad

Although this might not be possible due to coronavirus travel restrictions, a work placement at a financial company abroad can give you the edge over other graduates who want to get into the highly-competitive finance industries. If you’re bilingual or multilingual, working in a non-English speaking country could give you the opportunity to use your language skills. There are also plenty of English speaking countries to go to, such as the US or Australia, if you don’t speak multiple tongues.

Whether you go to a European country or further afield, the skills you develop, the experiences you gain and the contacts you make will help you stand out throughout the application process. Employers will see that you are confident and adaptable, as you can live, communicate and work in a different country and culture. A placement abroad will also show your increasing commercial awareness of global businesses. If you're thinking of heading overseas, don't miss our advice on working abroad and individual country guides.

The benefits of this route are:

  • it builds up your network of international contacts and expands your employment possibilities
  • it gives you great examples to talk about on job applications and during interviews
  • it develops many transferable skills and qualities, such as confidence, adaptability and drive.

7. Treasurer of your university society

Being a treasurer for a club or society at university shows employers your willingness to work as part of a team as well as your ability to handle and manage money, and think about the wider needs of an organisation – competencies sought by finance employers. If you were involved in moving to virtual meetings (and perhaps recalculating any costs involved in running the club) during the coronavirus lockdowns, this will also demonstrate your adaptability. Your university’s student union will be able to provide you with information about how to join and what’s involved in being a treasurer.

The role will give you some relevant experience to add to your CV as well as great examples to talk about in interviews. Your time as a treasurer will also teach you skills that will impress employers, including self-management, team work, commercial awareness, problem solving, communication, numeracy and IT. Read more about how extracurricular activities will help you get hired.

The benefits of this route are:

  • you can gain invaluable skills that you can include on your CV and talk about in interviews
  • you can impress employers by your willingness to volunteer and get involved in activities outside your studies
  • you can apply your planning, budgeting and management skills to real-life situations.

Article last updated 23 February 2021.

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This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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