Hi, Frshly Squeezed, I am Joe Tweedie and I currently I live and work as an investment banker in Copenhagen.

My guess is, if you are reading this, you probably have an interest in working in the financial services industry? Well, if so, I hope the next few tips or insights help your journey.

[1] Know your role(s)…

Perhaps the biggest misconception about banking, certainly one that I had entering the industry. Is that beyond trading/portfolio management, what else is there? The reality is that investment banks (and in truth asset managers, wealth managers, private banks etc.) have a huge variety of incredibly important and vital roles throughout the company that require differing skill sets. 

Anybody I have mentored or spoken to about banking have often asked me “how do I get into banking?” and my response is the same “which bit?”. 

It pays to do your research in this regard. Sure, trading is the glamorous knife-edge of the industry, but for those with excellent research skills or who are gifted with numbers, the options open to you are extensive. 

I personally have an academic background in Law and genuinely did not know what a share was when I first started on a graduate scheme ten-years ago. Particularly for those with a coding persuasion, banks are an incredible place to work on projects while you learn an industry. As a business/data architect, building the future architecture of my bank is impossible without highly-skilled and ambitious IT developers. Most FinTech start-ups have their roots in ex-banking employees. 

The bottom line being that the scope of roles in a bank is far beyond what you see depicted on television and these areas are increasingly becoming more and more important with each passing year.

Banking is no longer just about banking – it is about the whole digital experience.

[2] The CV conundrum…

I have had the fortune and occasional misfortune of interviewing both undergraduates and graduates for a number of positions within the banking industry. Such is the volume of applications for each position, the reality I and other “CV screeners” find we in is one of information overload. Generally, if you have a good degree (subject to debate what a good degree is… but perhaps for another post…) and a reasonable set of extra-curricular activities I have already read your CV before you have sent it to me. I hate to break the bubble but breaking out of the mould is often easier to do if you accept that you probably are level with the other 1,000 applicants for the same role.

So, what sets you apart? What do I and others actually look for on a CV?

(i) Internships: for those of your applying for an internship, you are most likely going to be using a set form on a website. There is potential to upload a covering letter or a CV for most mid-sized firms and up. If you have the opportunity to write a covering letter, please take it. I cannot stress this enough. 

However, if you are going to upload a cover letter please make sure it is genuine and not something you have recycled for the other 10 companies you would also like to work for. 

My top tip? Find an area you are passionate about and then do your research? Into sustainability? Maybe the firm you are applying for specialises in issuing green bonds? Incorporating this into your letter shows you have an idea about where you want to go (as a rule of thumb, being generic is not something I look for as cold as that might sound). It also shows you have taken the time to research the company and makes me feel, as a reader, that you can connect to the environment you are applying to be in. 

I will always read a cover letter and I will invariably know whether it is genuine or not. We all have Google too… so please, if you are Googling “cover letters for internship” at least try not to pick the top result and copy it verbatim.

Internships are a crucial step in creating your initial professional network. Not everyone is born into a network, some people have to work for it. Remember, if you get on an internship and make the right impression, permanent employment prospects are significantly higher. You give the potential employer a baseline of who you are as a person and that goes beyond any CV or job interview. 

If I have worked with you and liked you, I will pull for you in the next step of the process. The retention rate for interns where I have worked is high, so take this into consideration. All people want to see from you is a willingness to learn, to adapt and that you are someone worth investing their time in. There is nothing worse than hiring someone for a summer vacation scheme, to then see them fritter it away by being aloof or anti-social.

(ii) Graduate Schemes…

So, you have successfully graduated university (congratulations) and determined that you want to join an investment bank’s graduate scheme. First of all, good luck. Sadly, after all of the “network placements” have been exhausted the opportunities to hit the ground running in a cushy graduate scheme placement are difficult. If you have successfully converted your internship into a graduate scheme place, good for you. For the rest of you the hard work starts now.

How do I stand out from the crowd? Possibly the simplest and yet most complex question I have ever encountered. My personal preference is seeing people who have gone that extra mile. Perhaps the biggest piece of advice I can give people is to learn a language – and no, I do not mean French. Having a coding language on your CV immediately puts yourself at the head of the pack when it comes to my interest in you as an applicant. 

So much of front office work (trading/sales/research/dealing) moving into the middle office (risk/product control/accounting) is centred around your ability to analyse vast sums of data to draw conclusions. Whether that is to support your research ideas, to validate VAR numbers, having the ability to write queries to huge databases of data is golden. 

If you are an undergraduate reading this, I would urge you to take some time to learn a code – my suggestion would be python, but anything you can get your teeth into will suffice. Being a “technical” graduate is a major key.

For anyone reading this, I am happy to do a 5-minute CV review for you. By no means am I an authority on them, but as someone who has read maybe 1,000+ I should be able to point you in the right direction.

[3] The Reality

So, you have secured the bag and are about to embark on your career in finance. What should you expect? Honestly, it does not matter which position you take, the first year as a graduate is pretty rough. Not everyone who starts the scheme, finishes it. Not everyone gets employed. Think of it like a draft – as you go through your rotations, the better graduates start to make a name for themselves and may find themselves offered a desk or seat in a team ahead of schedule. This is your aim. No one wants to be the last pick, if you make it that far. 

So, what does this entail? Unfortunately, the glitz and glamour of banking often gloss over the realities of day-to-day life. If you are a trader? Expect a male dominated environment full of alpha males. Personally, I like the atmosphere, but it is not for everyone: while the culture is certainly becoming less LADS, LADS, LADS, it is still fairly prevalent. Expect to be doing a lot of grunt work, with incredibly long hours and occasionally being asked to fetch lunch for the rest of the desk. This isn’t meant to be some dystopian view of trading, but it can be an incredibly high pressurised environment and the people you are working with want to test you to see whether you can cope.

Those who want to get on will do the hours, the lunch runs, take the banter and perform. It can be exhausting, but did you really get into this for a calm 9-5? Top tip – if you work on a desk that covers Asia, be prepared to become incredibly antisocial with regards to your life over the next few months. Outside of training the atmosphere is certainly more relaxed, but the commitment and drive to excel remain the same. You are expected to put in the hours (a side note: most firms require you to opt out of your working hours agreement) and get the work done. 

If you work in mergers & acquisitions, these hours can become days – but that is the life you lead at least for a bit. If you can handle the hours, the learning curve, the pace of the environment you are working in, then banking and generally financial services are an incredible place to work.

The benefits of going through all the initial “why am I doing this?” is that once you have your legs under you, the work becomes incredibly rewarding. Whether you need to create a new risk model that the entire bank uses for capital regulatory reasons, implement a new trading strategy, create a new financial product to offer clients, complete a deal, finish a media campaign or whatever else, banking is constantly about creating and moving forward. There are few environments that replicate the pace and general intellectual interest that banking can offer you.

[4] Big Firms Do Not Matter…

Everyone loves the prestige and casual gloating to friends and acquaintances regarding the firm you work for. Your parents love to humble brag on Facebook about you: “so proud of my baby getting a job offer from [insert tier one bank here]”. It is what it is, in any walk of life. So why am I telling you that big firms don’t matter? Well, it is all a matter of perspective. I worked for two of the world’s biggest banks by any definition. 

Sure, I learned a lot and was taught well, but did I really contribute there? If I am being honest, probably not as much as I would like. The firm I work for now is probably a third of the size of my last company, yet my enjoyment levels are incomparable. Why? I get to do more. Never be afraid of applying for a position or role in a smaller firm – without question, you are empowered to make more decisions and actually impact your surroundings far sooner. 

I am currently a key piece (my boss told me…) in an enormous initiative at my bank. My decisions impact everyone from traders to risk managers to portfolio managers and sales people. I would never be in this position in any of the firms I previously had worked in. Sometimes, being in a smaller environment elevates your learning curve. You have to learn how to manage, to lead and to make decisions because there is no one else – there is just you.

If you can get into a “big” firm, absolutely do so. The level of teaching and support is unparalleled. However, in my own experience, I have learned more about myself, more about my profession and more about what makes me happy in the past two years than I have maybe in the last 6-8 of my careers. The grim reality of your working life is that you are a number on a spreadsheet to someone infinitely better paid than you. When someone said that to me, things started to make more sense. The bigger the firm, the smaller the entry you are. Learn everything you can, do as much as you can and if you ever feel restricted or constrained by their approach to talent development, take a look elsewhere. It took me five companies and to leave Canary Wharf to find somewhere I truly loved working. While moving to a new country is possibly a bit extreme, my number one piece of advice is to always reach for your worth.

If anyone wants to have a general chat about the financial services industry or investment banking in particular, please reach out to me on Twitter – I am more than happy to answer any questions. If there is any desire to see something else along these lines, I would be happy to write about how to nail the perfect interview.

Until next time.

Joe

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