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Mystery banker offers clandestine tips on launching a finance career


So you want a finance career? So you've sent in hundreds of applications, only to get nowhere and to spend the summer working in a bar and reading about how to convert an internship at Goldman Sachs if only you had one? So you're thinking of giving up? Or becoming an accountant? Or just skipping banking and going straight into industry as most 30 year-old bankers reportedly want to do anyway?

Don't. A new guide to breaking into banking by an anonymous ex-M&A banker who now works for a family office says the worst thing you can do is to give up. If you want to work in banking you need to be like a stream: if you find an obstacle, go around it. Don't just sit there stagnating.

This is what he says it takes.

1. A banker mindset

If you want to be a banker, you'll need to have the mindset of a banker. This doesn't mean thinking about money all the time. It does mean being confident, discrete, highly organized and highly persistent.

2. A refusal to accept defeat

The author relates the sorry case of 'Jonathan', a university friend who really, really wanted to work in banking. Jonathan was 'passionate' about the industry. He, 'already knew, without a shadow of a doubt, what he would do after graduation: become an investment banker. Jonathan wanted to be a banker more than any of us.'

However, Jonathan didn't get to work in banking, because having sent over 40 emails and applications to various banks, he got no response. Worse, he saw people less qualified and passionate than he was receiving offers. Jonathan therefore gave up trying to be a banker and settled for something he didn't really want to do instead.

"I can tell you one thing for sure and let this sink in," says the mystery banker. "Your quest won’t be easy. Not at all. You will have to try more than one strategy and meet with plenty of people, some of whom will be arrogant, condescending and straight up assholes - this business has plenty of them."

In other words, keep trying. Don't blame other people when you don't get anywhere - the responsibility lies with you. Don't be a Jonathan.

"In your head there can be no doubt. Your desire to become an ibanker must be unshakable. When you truly believe this, it manifests itself without you even realizing it," instructs the mystery banker for good measure.

3. Formulate your career plan 

Rather than simply chucking out applications in the style of Jonathan, the author says you need to sit down and organize your thoughts about your finance career. Ask yourself why you want to get into banking. Ask yourself if it's just a route to another kind of career - if so which one and is investment banking the best way in? Ask yourself how long you're willing to keep trying to get in, what you'll do if your strategy for getting in doesn't work (would you work on an unpaid internship for a year?), whether you're really ready to sacrifice your social life for your job, and what you want to do in five and 10 years' time.

4. Work out exactly which area of banking you want to work in

It's not good simply thinking that you want to work in M&A, or maybe sales and trading, or risk at a push. You need to be as clear as possible where you want to work and what you want to do. Focus on one or two job titles and make sure your application is outstanding.

5. Don't just go for the most attractive divisions 

Avoid the 'shiny stuff'. Don't apply to work in trading just because it sounds sexy and lucrative. You might decide to become an emerging markets trader instead of a private banker because it pays more, but in five years' time that private banking job could lead opportunities working with billionaires you're completely unaware of...

6. Make a huge list of everyone you know with any conceivable link to banking 

If you want to get into banking, you can apply to banks' graduate programmes, or you can at least try and get some initial experience (which will make all the difference when you later apply to graduate programmes) by tapping everyone you know. List all these key contacts. Put them into a spreadsheet and approach them systematically to see if they can offer you some advice, or work experience.

7. Make a huge list of everyone you don't know who works in banking and shares a point of commonality with you 

Which school did you go to? Which university did you attend? Are there people who work in banking who studied where you studied? Note them down.

Which sports do you play? Which unusual hobbies do you have? Are there people in banking who share those sports and hobbies? Note them down too.

Get in touch with them using your points of commonality as an introduction. "People more quickly warm up to you once they discover you have things in common," says the mystery banker.

8. Send personal emails to the people on your lists

Even if you don't have someone's personal email address, you can usually figure it out. Most banks have an institutional email (which we're unfortunately not at liberty to give out here, but is freely available via Google). You simply need to adapt this to the name of the person you're trying to reach.

9. Don't just have the same old stuff on your CV

So you have great academic grades? Congratulations, so does everyone else. So you joined the finance society at university? Congratulations, so did everyone else. So you set up a company based around a website? So did a lot of other people.

If you want to differentiate yourself during your application for a banking job, you'll need to do something special. You'll need to have climbed a mountain, set up your own finance-related society, or formed a proper company that has actually sold things and implemented a growth strategy.

"Bankers want self-starters who will take initiative, work hard and make things happen. The last thing they need is someone who requires babysitting and having their hand held," says the author.

10. Don't take it personally when a banker blanks you 

So, you've done all you can to make yourself stand out and bankers are still blanking you? Let it go. Try elsewhere. " You have to constantly chase people, explore multiple channels of entry and never set your expectations too high. It’s not over until you have a signed offer in your hand," advises the author. In some cases, that offer may not come for years. Are you prepared to wait?

To buy the book (which is discounted for eFinancialCareers readers), click here. 

Related articles:

How to ace an internship at Goldman Sachs

How to convert your internship at Deutsche Bank into a full-time job

Investment banks cut graduate recruitment, receiving fewer applications

AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor
  • an
    25 July 2014

    Read the book and have the following to say:

    - easy read
    - practical
    - def "unorthodox" as the subtitle suggests -> hence v good
    - will save you lots of time
    - extremely cheap investment for the great advice

    It should be read by all first year business students in uni.


  • B.
    B. Romero
    11 July 2014

    Good advice. I would say that part of the mindset is to think of the effort as a marathon. Not a 100 meter dash. Otherwise you run fast for a little while and then you're tired and give up.

    Answers are usually very intuitive... but hard to implement.

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