Investment banking can be a rewarding and lucrative career. Not only does it offer the opportunity to progress into high-level executive positions, many investment bankers also move on to become venture capitalists such as VC Rick Bolander. However, the truth is that only a small number of people ever make it into investment banking – the industry is highly selective and competition among candidates is fierce. Therefore, if you want to get into this field, you need to invest serious time in gaining the experience and qualifications that will maximize your chances of getting hired.
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The good news is that following the financial crisis, there are increased opportunities for people who can help banks to manage risk. In fact, according to a 2013 report by Accenture, a combination of changing economic conditions, new technological advances and tougher regulations are creating opportunities for candidates who have analytical capabilities – including statistical analysis, information modeling and quantitative analysis. The study goes on to forecast that the global banking industry is likely to recruit 21,500 new bank analysts by 2015, an increase of 23% over 2010. In fact, there may actually be a shortage of these types of skills. However, you should know that many of these roles are highly technical. For instance, most quantitative analysts – or quants as they are known – have a PhD in mathematics.
If you do not have this level of technical ability, then another route is to study for a business degree. As a minimum, you will need a bachelor’s degree, and an MBA is preferred if you are hoping to obtain an advanced position. If you are trying to get an entry level post, then your bachelor’s degree should ideally be from a well-known business school – for example, Wharton or Harvard Business School – and you should focus on areas such as business finance, accounting, economics, statistics and business administration. For advanced roles, your MBA again should come from a high-end business school, and ideally address areas such as bond valuation, options trading strategies, risk management and tax law.
If you do manage to get an interview with an investment bank, then it’s essential to get your preparation right. You need to be prepared to sell your experience confidently – investment bankers are not looking for candidates who are unsure of themselves. Focus on things such as problem solving and analytical skills, as these are what banks are looking for. Also, put a strong focus on your interpersonal skills – while back in the era of Gordon Gekko bankers had a reputation for aggressive and insensitive behavior, this is not the case anymore. Given a bank’s need to work globally across countries and cultures, they need employees who are able to operate in this environment.
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Finally, be prepared to work like you have never worked before once you are accepted. You need to make it clear during your interview that you are excited about putting in 80 hour weeks on a regular basis. If this is something that you are not prepared to do, then you should reconsider whether investment banking is for you.