Banking and finance in the City of London has changed enormously over recent years. With more focus than ever before on developing a diverse workforce, financial institutions are no longer purely a place to head to with an economics or finance degree. As well as a drive to develop their gender diversity ratios, increasingly these organisations are looking for students from a wide range of degree disciplines. The thinking is that in order to remain innovative and at the forefront of what they do, they must recruit and nurture a more varied workforce. Financial institutions are becoming more open-minded and are thinking more broadly about what their graduates can bring to the table.
So, as long as you have achieved or are on track to achieve a 2:1 or equivalent in whatever discipline you are studying, and have an interest in finance or a passion for the markets, now is the time to consider a career within the financial sector.
Deciding where to apply
Get out and meet as many companies as possible. Attending finance careers fairs is a great way to meet people and get a feel for their organisations.
Attending networking events can also aid your decision, as you get a feel for the culture and underlying personality of the company which cannot be felt through a website. It will also give you a point of reference for when you attend interviews. If you can impress in person at a campus event your subsequent application may well catch the eye of a recruiter who already knows your mind.
Remain open-minded. There is no doubt that the large international investment banks have excellent, well-established graduate programmes. However, try to avoid the mentality that you have to secure a role at one of these huge institutions. These are not the only organisations that have interesting programmes, and it might actually suit your personality better to be part of a smaller firm.
Think openly about the type of role you are applying for within the organisation. While the front office/business-facing roles are often the ones with the big draw, there are lots of other roles that are incredibly challenging and interesting.
The very best way that you can secure yourself a full-time graduate role is to have completed an internship or a spring week at that organisation. Not only will you have completed what is effectively a ‘working interview’ to find out whether it’s the right organisation for you, you will also have started to build your networks early which will be invaluable for your later career development. Be sure to get your application in early as well. Many organisations recruit on a rolling basis, which means that almost as soon as their applications have opened, recruiters begin screening and telephone interviewing.
The recruitment process
Before you sit down and start your online application, it needs to be clear in your mind why you want to work for that particular organisation. The motivation of an individual is very clear to a recruiter, even at application stage.
Be yourself. Think about what you enjoy doing and what your hobbies are. Try to think of ways that these things have helped you develop skills over time.
Telephone and video interviews
Increasingly, large finance companies are using video interview technology as an additional stage for candidates to pass through. Take it seriously. Dress appropriately for the video recording. If in doubt, wear something that you feel would be appropriate for a face to face interview or a day in the office. Your personal appearance will speak volumes about how seriously you are taking the application.
Check there is nothing blocking the camera view and that your background is clear of personal clutter. Sometimes the questions can come quickly so be prepared for this and try not to be flustered. You will be given some practice questions so make good use of these and get to grips with the style and speed of the video interview technology before the real thing. Most importantly – practice! You can ask a friend to film you talking on camera prior to doing the video interview.
The assessment centre
An assessment centre is usually made up of some or all of the following: written assessment, numerical testing, group exercise, interviews and presentations.
Be clear on your motivations. You may well be lucky enough to be interviewing at a number of organisations but you will need to ensure that you come across as fully committed to that particular one if you are going to secure yourself a job offer. Before you attend try to find three solid reasons why you specifically want to work for that company. For example: what deals have they been involved in that have inspired you? Which key senior figures work there whom you are impressed with and what is it in particular about their business structure or business projections that make it a good opportunity?
Show your personality. This really is key at an assessment centre. Try to remember that organisations do not want a graduate class full of people that are the same. They want to see lots of different types of personalities, talents and abilities. Do not be held back by trying to be what you think the interviewer wants you to be. Ultimately, they want to find out who you are and what makes you tick. They want to find out whether they can work with someone like you, so try to be yourself.
More and more assessment centres now feature business simulations. On paper your academic achievements can’t demonstrate how you’ll apply this knowledge in a workplace situation; recruiters want to witness your decision-making processes in real-life scenarios.
A popular method is a trading game, where your compliance to rules and guidelines is tested by real-life style trading simulations. These games give assessors objective insight into your investment style and attitude to risk. The results could also influence opportunities further down the line; if an applicant’s investment style, for example, is similar to a portfolio manager, they could be flagged as well-matched for a mentorship programme.
Finally, have a positive attitude – remember that those assessing you will potentially be your future peers or managers. Focus on being positive and don’t think about trying to compete with others. Trying to ensure that you come across better or have more impact than the person next to you really won’t get you anywhere. Just focus on yourself and all the great things that you can bring to the organisation.