Careers advice and planning

How to succeed in investment banking – tips from women at the top

25 Jan 2023, 13:37

At TARGETjobs’ inaugural Women in Investment Banking fair, five veteran female investment bankers opened up about their climb to the top and what today’s university students should do to have a successful banking career.

Panel of female professionals speaking at an investment banking event with audience in foreground.

‘It’s not really relevant whether you are a man or a woman. You are one of the team from the beginning.’

The day-long event saw 50 university students squeeze every possible drop of wisdom out of five senior investment bankers, with more than 70 years’ experience of the industry between them:

  • Director Louise Oliver , markets and securities services at Citi
  • Managing director Sophie Franklin , corporate banking and securities, markets, at Deutsche Bank
  • Managing director Lorraine Connell , UK investment banking at Barclays
  • Senior managing director Tara Courtney Davies , Macquarie Capital
  • Executive director Vanessa Soh , head of European credit trading and interim head of credit trading and sales at Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group ( MUFG )

Attend investment banking events targeted at university students

Each guest speaker has no fewer than ten years’ experience in the industry, working at at least one well-known organisation. Citi’s Louise, however, has a banking career that pre-dates the euro – spanning two decades. That’s because Louise, who was one of ten students to join Lehman Brothers' graduate scheme in 1995, knew from an early age that she wanted to be a banker.

‘When I was 16 I work shadowed a financial journalist and realised that I didn’t want to write about finance – I wanted to work in it,’ said Louise. She was interested in ‘what made the markets tick’, so joined an entrepreneurship society, did a commercially focused degree (economics and politics) and completed summer internships.

Deutsche Bank’s Sophie also took steps to find out about investment banking early on. The philosophy, politics and economics graduate, who joined Deutsche Bank in 2004 as part of the markets graduate programme, completed a six-month summer internship in the bank’s London office in 2003 and a two-month internship at Merrill Lynch the year before.

Sophie stressed that it’s important to ‘attend careers fairs, such as Women in Investment Banking, and events on campus, and join the right societies’. Not only will this increase your understanding of the industry and graduate opportunities within it, it can also connect you with the people who can help you get a job.

Make the most of women-only investment banking initiatives

Barclays’ Lorraine added: ‘Don’t be put off by investment banking programmes targeted at women – make the most of them.’ Lorraine explained that many banks are ‘setting explicit targets to increase the number of women in investment banking’. Barclays, for example, runs events and schemes to engage female university students, and initiatives to help female employees access internal opportunities.

‘It’s not really relevant whether you are a man or a woman in investment banking,’ said Lorraine. ‘You are one of the team from the beginning.’ Macquarie Capital’s Tara agreed: ‘Men and women face very similar challenges; all employees have to evolve and make a successful transition from an analyst to being able to sell and generate money. It’s the same for men and women in that respect.’

You don’t have to be masculine to succeed as an investment banker.

Demonstrate the qualities you need to succeed in investment banking

However, although the industry is undergoing change, some of the misconceptions observed by the group when they joined are still around today. MUFG's Vanessa, responding to a university student who said a male investment banker told her ‘you need to be confident, assertive and masculine’ to do well in investment banking, said: ‘There is a preconception that investment banking is a male industry and you need male-type qualities to succeed.’

All the women agreed – and their successful banking careers testify – that you don’t have to be masculine to succeed as an investment banker. Nonetheless, Lorraine conceded: ‘You do need to be confident and assertive. However, that could be quietly confident. Ultimately, you will need to be able to find a way to be confident and assertive that reflects your character.’ Sophie agreed: ‘Don’t change yourself – you can’t pretend to be someone else.’

It’s also paramount that you think about which specific skills and competencies your chosen employer is looking for. Teamwork, leadership, a sense of values and citizenship are among those that are typically sought. ‘Then ask yourself, how strong am I in these areas? What are my stand-out strengths?’ advised Lorraine. ‘Think about selling yourself and what makes you special. If you’re strong academically, for instance, it’s okay for that to take up half the page of your CV or covering letter.’

Familiarise yourself with the key values that underpin the bank

Possessing and demonstrating your chosen employer’s core values is just as important as having the requisite skills and experience. Each bank mentioned here has its own set of principles that it wants employees to adhere to, and it’s important that you familiarise yourself with these before you commence your application.

For example, take the key values that underpin success at MUFG. Vanessa shed light on them: ‘They are partnership and accountability (working in a team and taking responsibility for your contribution both as an individual and as part of the group), innovation (coming up with and implementing new ideas), integrity (how would you behave if it was your grandmother?), and urgency (taking action in a timely manner).’

'If you don’t get the job when you first apply – try again. There’s always another way.'

Don’t be deterred by setbacks

You may encounter setbacks during the recruitment process and after you secure your graduate job. Touching on her own experiences, Lorraine said her application wasn’t successful when she applied for a managing director position the first time. She commented: ‘You have to be resilient and believe in yourself. If you didn’t get the best degree or work experience, for instance, find an alternative way in. Likewise, if you don’t get the job when you first apply – try again. There’s always another way.’

Vanessa, who started in a middle office role and worked her way to the front office, advised: ‘Don’t give up! Establish your own vision of success – you’re responsible for your own destiny.’ She continued: ‘Separate what’s in your control and what isn’t. If it didn’t work the first time, ask yourself how you can do it differently next time. Always think of the next step.’ Sophie concluded that you should ‘objectively analyse’ what happened and what you could do next time to bring about a better result. ‘Imagine you were giving advice to someone else; what would you say to them?’

Follow us on Twitter @TjobsFinance .

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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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