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A survival kit for women starting in investment banking

Young girls who've achieved the best grades from the highest-rated universities are walking into jobs in all the top tier banks and corporates. They are attracted by work that is challenging and prestigious and that holds the promise of generous rewards.

They aren't afraid of the long hours, of the numerous statistics that prove women are still discriminated against men in appraisals, that they earn less, or of the ongoing crisis in the financial industry. They want to change the world: they're ambitious and eager to win.

But success in the 'real world' isn't as easy as following the simple academic formula in which hard work leads to high exam scores. Investment banks and corporates have complex hierarchical structures where a whole new spectrum of skills becomes important.

So how should you survive the first few months, develop a successful routine and win out to live happily ever after?

1) Be resilient and patient

At the bottom of the ladder, you have to prove yourself - whether you're a man or a woman. Cliché has it that women have to prove themselves more.

In my experience, women in a top corporate environment are given exactly the same opportunities and respect as their male competition. And even if this isn't the case, the under-estimation of women's intellectual abilities is merely an opportunity to surprise their detractors. Young women who can overcome prejudices and prove themselves as capable of learning the skills required for their jobs as stereotypical-super-qualified nerdy male analysts, will stand out even more. Never let go of your confidence.

2) Educate yourself

Read. Read everything that might interest you and then more if you can. Most of banking is based around a battle to gain information: the learning curve has to stay an ongoing process throughout your whole career. And don't be afraid to ask questions; be bold and daring in exploiting the knowledge of the people around you.

3) Dress appropriately

For a man wearing the standard uniform of the office suit, it's hard to go wrong. For a woman, the office style is always trickier. Never be flamboyant; be modest. Always cover your shoulders.

Short skirts and open cleavage are strictly forbidden. High heels and colors are a go.

4) Engage

Above all, the corporate environment is a people place - it is a team game. Always be polite, fair and loyal with everyone, and always make friends.

First, make friends with your peers: they know exactly what you're going through and can share your feelings (and help with the mathematical formula you can't recall). Second, find mentors: you need senior people you can look up to, who can give you wise advice and whose career you aspire to have in some years time.

5) Keep your personal life at a distance

Try to separate your professional and private life, and keep your private life outside the office. The office environment is already a concrete jungle, there's no need for personal situations and romantic dramas that can both affect your performance and promote a hostile environment. If you're going to be focused and to outperform, you need your peace of mind.

6) Use the element of surprise

Once you've broken into investment banking and starting as an analyst, everyone expects you to work hard and to execute orders. But you should do more: think outside the box and over-deliver, when it's appropriate. Initiative and entrepreneurship are always a great surprise for your bosses. A corporate environment is a meritocracy after all.

7) Prioritize your health

Sleep, nutrition and exercise are fundamental for an excellent mental performance. Try to find a moment for sports and cut out junk food from your diet. Despite the long hours, remember to take care of yourself. Find what's right for you and have fun: corporate winning is a marathon, not a sprint.

Xenia Tchoumitcheva has been an intern at JPMorgan, Merrill Lynch and the hedge fund Duet Group. Despite receiving offers of employment, she's pursuing her own business interests.

AUTHORXenia Tchoumitcheva Insider Comment

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