A career in investment banking isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s a demanding, high-stakes job, and the hours are often long enough to make a first-year medical resident seem almost well-rested by comparison.
But for those with the talent and determination to see it through, the rewards are considerable. Few careers are as lucrative as investment banking, and few careers offer an abundance of experience, exposure to senior executives and professional development in such a short period of time. This is one reason why the field continues to act as a magnet for the best and brightest young workers. With so much elite competition, it’s more important than ever to make the right decisions when beginning a job search.
With that in mind, here’s what you need to know before pursuing a career in investment banking.
Laying the academic groundwork
It’s important to choose the right academic path. In most cases, this means a degree in finance, accounting or economics. While it’s not impossible to secure a position with an academic background unrelated to banking, it makes the process more challenging.
It goes without saying that your grades should be top tier if you plan on a career at a well-known firm. In that sense, it’s helpful to think of your college years as something of an audition. Many of the most important business connections that people make are forged in college — and this is doubly true for a field such as investment banking, where relationships are paramount.
Find the perfect internship
Internships are a critical component in any investment banking job search. In fact, many employers fill their full-time positions out of their internship programs. The right internship serves two functions: It’s allows an employer to evaluate you under typical working conditions, and it’s also a “baptism by fire” that shows you the true cost of excelling in the industry.
Successfully navigating an internship provides a significant advantage when it’s time to hunt for job offers. Even if the company you interned with doesn’t make you an offer, a strong recommendation will make you attractive to other potential employers. Good internships are competitive, however, so get the process started as quickly as possible.
Network, network, network
Networking is important in any field, yet it’s particularly key in investment banking. It’s an incredibly competitive industry in terms of hiring, so be sure to leverage every contact available. This means family members, friends of friends, alumni — anyone with a tangible connection. When making employment decisions, such contacts are invaluable and can also help provide you with perspective on different employers.
This doesn’t mean, however, that you should be over the top in your approach. Be polite and use good judgment. In the end, a poorly executed networking approach (e.g., using a broad approach and emailing every contact you can find at a company) is much worse than no connection at all.
Market like a master
“Sell yourself” is the oldest interview cliché in the book — but it’s well-worn advice for a reason. Even the most talented aspiring investment banker can be seriously compromised by poor personal marketing. There are thousands of bright, highly credentialed people who want to work in investment banking. It’s your job to skillfully differentiate yourself from this group.
Polish your resume to a high gloss. Show potential employers that you’re fascinated with the elements of investment banking that are relevant to that employer, and have a restless intellect and burning curiosity to learn more about the industry. Investment banks want people with talent, passion, and drive above all else. Illustrate precisely how you manifest these qualities.
Although highly competitive, a career in investment banking is rewarding in profitability and in the way it allows for professional development and growth. Particularly in the middle market, where employees have exposure to senior level clients and senior bankers, few entry-level careers put you in the position to excel within the first year. Follow the advice outlined above and you’ll be in the best possible position to secure the job you’ve been seeking.
Mary Weber is a Vice President at Lincoln International, a leading global investment bank. Mary began her career as an analyst in Lincoln International’s mergers and acquisitions practice until moving into talent management. Now Mary oversees all aspects of talent management at the firm, including recruiting, onboarding, training, and continuing education.