Six myths about investment banking careers and why you shouldn’t believe them
Don’t believe everything you hear about entry requirements and working life in banking and investment. We challenge some common perceptions to help you decide if it’s right for you.
Sustainability is no longer thought of as a ‘nice to have’ or as incompatible with making a profit; it is essential to meet clients’ needs and avoid losses to business.
Investment banking myth 1: the work is boring and unsociable
Reality: There’s more to a career in banking and investment than staring at a screen full of numbers all day. Graduates frequently tell TARGETjobs that they find the work exciting, competitive and challenging, and that they enjoy the fast pace, high stakes and early responsibility. Many roles are people-focused and some give you the chance to get out of the office and meet clients. You’re likely to have a global network of colleagues and possibly even opportunities for international travel.
In fact, interpersonal skills are at least as important as numerical skills, and an ability to build good relationships with colleagues and clients is crucial to a successful career. Charlie Powell, an analyst at Nomura, told TARGETjobs Finance: ‘It’s not all about your work, but also how you fit with the team. In such a pressured environment with long hours, if you don’t get on with your team it will be difficult, regardless of the work you’re doing.’
Investment banking myth 2: organisations only care about making money, no matter the human or environmental cost
Reality: There is increasing awareness that the finance industry has an important role to play in solving environmental and social issues. Sustainability is no longer thought of as a ‘nice to have’ or as incompatible with making a profit; it is essential to meet clients’ needs (as public awareness of these issues is raised and people choose to invest more in ethical or low-carbon sectors) and to avoid losses to business (such as extreme weather caused by climate change). Organisations are also focusing more on reducing their own environmental impact. A graduate at J.P. Morgan told TARGETjobs: ‘JPM is pledging to support renewable power for 100% of the company's global energy needs by 2020!’
Investment banking myth 3: diversity isn't important
Reality: It’s still early days, but a key area of focus for graduate recruitment in banking and investment is recruiting from a wider range of backgrounds and making sure all employees are valued and supported in their careers. Several organisations, including TARGETjobs and a number of investment banks, have previously held events and programmes for women, people who identify as LGBTQ+, people from ethnic minority backgrounds and people from socioeconomically under-privileged backgrounds, aimed at encouraging a more diverse mix of students to apply. These events are typically free to attend, with travel expenses reimbursed.
Once on a graduate scheme, you may be able to join a network for a minority group where you will be mentored to help you develop your career. A graduate at J.P. Morgan told TARGETjobs: ‘There are several diversity groups within the bank that women, ethnic minorities and LGBTQ+ employees can join and these initiatives are highly encouraged by senior managers.’ Beyond graduate level, creating a more diverse mix of people in senior positions tends to be more of an ongoing issue, although in recent years several organisations have expressed a commitment to promoting more women into managerial positions.
Investment banking myth 4: you need to have studied finance, economics or a numerical subject
Reality: Most investment banking or investment graduate roles require a minimum 2.1 degree in any discipline. Organisations actively seek graduates from a wide range of degree backgrounds including arts and humanities, because they value different ways of approaching problems. Languages graduates are particularly sought after for their language skills and global outlook. Computer science graduates and those with a strong interest in technology are also highly valued by investment banks because the technology they use is constantly being developed and innovated.
A basic level of numeracy is essential but recruiters will assess this through psychometric testing (online or at the assessment centre), not through how numerical your degree is. You’ll receive training on financial concepts and technical skills once you start the job; recruiters just want to see that you have the potential to learn them. Graduates need to prove their interest in the sector regardless of their degree background: for example, a history graduate who has completed internships, made contacts in the industry and developed their commercial awareness will have more chance of getting an investment job than an economics graduate who hasn’t.
Investment banking myth 5: you need to have attended a high-ranking university
Reality: Investment banks are known to invest the most money in visiting a few ‘target universities’ (typically those that offer highly reputable courses and produce candidates with strong academic credentials) but don’t be put off applying if your institution isn’t a target university for a firm you’re interested in. Meeting recruiters who visit your campus (at careers fairs and employer presentations, for example) can be a good way to build your network and find out which companies would suit you best, but it isn’t the only way to do so. Equally, attending a target university won’t guarantee you a graduate job. Find out which banks will be visiting your university and attend on-campus networking events if they are offered, but also look for opportunities further afield – whether yours is a target university or not.
Investment banking myth 6: long hours prevent you having a life outside of work
Reality: While it’s true that graduates can sometimes find themselves working 13+ hour days, this is by no means the case across the industry. Trading and investment management professionals, for example, usually have a better work/life balance than investment banking, with fewer requirements to stay at the office late into the evening – read the areas of work articles on TARGETjobs to learn more about what the different areas involve. Depending on the employer, you may also be able to work flexibly around appointments or work from home sometimes.