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How to break into investment banking when you didn't go to private school

Breaking into a front office investment banking job is tough enough, but imagine that you went to state school. If this sounds like a line from Jeeves and Wooster, you’d be surprised.

The truth is, for a front office banker, an expensive education goes a long way. This isn’t because the school you went to stands out when banks’ recruiters are flipping through mountains of CVs, but because going to private school means there is a much higher chance you went to the "right" university and going to the right university means that you move in the "right" circles.

No matter what they say, investment banks have a list of target universities they go to in order to find the next generation of bankers. Not only do they fish directly from these universities, but if you didn’t go to a target university, you’re likely to be discarded into the 'no' pile within seconds.

For perspective, the Independent School's Council says that 6.5% of children in the UK go to private school, but the Department of Education says they're 5x as likely to break in to Oxbridge.

Can anyone say "equal opportunity"?

Hope is not lost. The list of state-educated, modest background front office junior bankers may be short, but it certainly exists. I know because I'm one of them.

So, what should you do?

Step 1: Internships.

Repeat after me: "You don't get an investment banking job without an internship in investment banking". OK, that’s not always true, but getting a brand name on your CV will go a long way towards impressing bankers.

Yes, internships are similarly geared towards private school graduates, but here’s the thing – all first year students know nothing. The playing field is much more even at this stage, so get started – Spring insight weeks, summer internships, just do what you can.

Because believe me, if you spend your first two years at university in the pub, only to emerge in your third year working up a list of banks to apply to then you're in for a lot of rejections.

But this isn’t the only thing you can do – I didn’t complete an internship either, so there’s hope for any third years reading.

Step 2: Network

Not going to private school probably means your dad wasn't a banker. So while Horatio and Petunia and Louis Bacon's son have the advantage of a finance family you're probably playing PS4, watching Game of Thrones, and staring at the Goldman Sachs website trying to remember the name of the CEO.

People make things happen. Meet a banker, convince him you're not an idiot, and you might just find yourself an internship. LinkedIn and email are your friends here, and when the first 30 people don't reply - get over it and try again.

When I found myself as a graduate from a mid-tier university with no internship, I sent unsolicited emails to 50 boutiques looking offering my services for the summer. Only 3 replied and I only got 1 offer. But 1 was all I needed.

Step 3: Craft your CV

If you find yourself as a graduate from a no-name university like mine, with either no internship or one not quite good enough to get you that graduate-program offer (me again), then I have one word for you: 'Masters'.

No, you don't necessarily need a Masters in Finance to be a banker. But if you're smart about it, you can get a target university on your CV and learn something useful in the process. Better yet, it's easier to get an offer for a postgraduate degree than an undergraduate degree at a top ranked university.

I'll warn you though, Masters are expensive, so you'd better start filling in loan applications.

So, there you have it. Follow the steps above and you might just get over your average background. And if you don't, then you just go get a job that won't keep you in the office until 5am.

You might even be better off that way.

The writer is a junior front office banker at a leading global investment bank. He does not work with anyone called Petunia. Johnny Rotten is a pseudonym.

Photo: Stockbyte/Thinkstock

AUTHORJonny Rotten Insider Comment

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