How to Become an Investment Banker
Investment bankers are intermediaries who help their clients – whether individuals, businesses, or governments – wisely invest their money. Investment bankers are also responsible for buying and selling stocks and securities on behalf of their clients. To become an investment banker, you must have a college degree, preferably in a related discipline. You also typically need professional certifications, as well as government licenses to buy and sell investment products for your clients.
Starting in College
1. Choose a banking-related major. There is no investment banking major, but you have your pick of a number of related majors that will prepare you for an investment banking career, such as finance, economics, business, or accounting.
Make sure you take classes in macroeconomics and microeconomics, as well as classes that cover personal and business finance concepts, as well as business and tax law, international business practice and strategies.
Start with introductory courses and then take advanced courses in the areas that interest you the most.
2. Look for an internship. A summer internship before you graduate from college is the way most students are introduced to the world of investment banking. The large, well-known investment banks, such as those in London and New York City, have large classes of interns and established internship programs.
The large investment bank internship programs are highly competitive, and may be difficult to get into. However, smaller investment banks exist in many cities, and can be easier.
If you can't find an investment bank with an internship program that works for you, try to get a summer internship at a regular bank. It's not quite as beneficial as an internship at an investment bank, but it can still give you a leg up.
3. Find an entry-level position in the financial services industry. Before you move on to graduate school, it can be helpful to spend a year or two after you get your bachelor's degree working in an entry level position so you have a little professional experience in the field.
Most investment bankers start as a financial analysts. In that position, you study and analyze the market and produce reports that business executives use to make sound financial decisions.
4. Get an MBA. While some investment banks will hire new associates fresh out of college, most investment bankers have an MBA. This can be a relatively large investment, especially if you go to a top business school with a good reputation.
Evaluate business schools closely – don't just go to the first one that accepts you. While the cost of tuition may be a huge factor for you, it shouldn't be the only factor.
Many reputable business schools have part-time or evening MBA programs if you plan on working while you get your MBA.
5. Contact the career center at the business school of your university. Many banks connect with universities and schedule internship and new associate interviews through the school. You can learn about these opportunities by visiting the career services office.
The business school typically will be more connected to investment banks than the general career services office for undergrads would be.
Smaller, boutique investment banks typically don't visit schools or recruit large classes of interns and new hires. If you want to work for a smaller bank, you'll have to seek them out on your own.
6. Network with experienced professionals. Your connections to working investment bankers are just as important as the skills and information you're learning in school. Talking to investment bankers online and in person is a great way to get your name out there.
If your school has an investment banking club, join it. They typically have a lot of events that provide good networking opportunities.
Clean up your social media accounts so that you can use them to network with investment bankers (you may want to remove those pictures from your spring break trip), and join a professional social media platform such as LinkedIn.
Have informational interviews with experienced investment bankers. If they're local to you, call and invite them to lunch and tell them you want to pick their brain. Most professionals love to share their wisdom and give advice to people just starting out.
Coming from Another Industry
1. Go back to school. Unless you already have a business- or finance-related degree, you will be more attractive to investment banks if you get some direct education to prepare you for the financial services industry.
If you don't have a degree at all, it's typically impossible to get into the investment banking profession. However, if you have several years in another profession and an undergraduate degree in something else, you may still have a chance.
You might want to consider a part-time or night MBA program. There are many reputable business schools that offer these programs for mid-career professionals, and most investment banks only recruit from business schools.
2. Look for references. If you started a career in another field, have professional and personal references who can vouch for your skill and work ethic. Investment banks want to know that you were a leader in your previous field.
Try to find someone who understands the traits and skills that investment banking requires. You want references who know what to emphasize.
3. Get a professional certification. Professional certifications require you to study and pass lengthy exams, but they can help set you apart from the competition and typically are cheaper than getting an MBA.
For example, you can become a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) after three phases of tests and with four years experience in the field. The preparation for the exams typically is self-study, so you can do it on your own time.
4. Network aggressively with investment bankers. The world of investment banking often is more about who you know than what you know. This is especially true if you are trying to enter investment banking from another industry or career path.
Join professional associations or groups for investment bankers. If you live near large investment banks, hanging out at cafés or restaurants near the banks can be a good way to meet investment bankers casually.
Keep in contact with investment bankers you meet, and follow up with them regularly. You want to stay on their mind if something comes up that they think might interest you.
5. Offer to do an unpaid internship. Many investment banks train new employees through internships, but internships typically are offered through universities. If you're far removed from your school days but have the financial means to go without (or with substantially less) income for a few months, an unpaid internship might work for you.
Most large investment banks have fairly rigid and traditional recruiting processes. You may have to find a smaller boutique firm for this idea to have a chance.
Let all of the contacts in your network know that you're looking for an internship. They may be able to help you out.
Working at an Investment Bank
1. Apply for training programs. Larger investment banks have established training programs for recent graduates that provide you with additional education as well as some hands-on experience working in the investment bank.
These programs are highly competitive, so don't get discouraged if you get rejected. Apply to as many as possible to increase your odds.
Look at the characteristics of the last associate "class" to get a taste for what an investment bank is looking for in a new associate.
2. Take an active part in your training. The training programs for investment bankers are intense and grueling. Expect to work between 12 and 15 hours a day while you're in training, much of that time under stress.
You'll typically need to pass exams to get a license to buy and sell stocks and other commodities for your clients as an investment banker. The training programs provide you with the information you need to pass these exams.
3. Dress the part. Investment banking is still, by and large, a formal and traditional business. Wear a tailored business suit in a dark color, such as black or dark gray. Your appearance should be groomed and professional.
Any accessories you wear should be understated. Avoid anything flashy or distracting.
4. Get the appropriate licenses. Depending on what you're doing as an investment banker and the laws of your country, you probably will need to get licenses or register with regulators before you can conduct certain activities as an investment banker, such as buying and selling stock for your clients.
If you were fortunate enough to get into a training program with a larger investment bank, they'll provide you the information and resources you need to pass licensing exams. Otherwise, you'll have to study for these exams on your own.
You may be able to find study resources or even copies of old exams on the internet. Do a general internet search or look on the website of the department or agency administering the exam.
5. Keep up with continuing education requirements. Most licenses and certifications require you to complete a specific number of hours of continuing education courses each year if you want to maintain your license or certification in good standing.
Make sure your contact information with the department or agency that issued your license is up to date. They'll use it to send notices to you when your license is up for renewal.
Try to spread your continuing education out over the whole year, rather than leaving it to the last minute. That way you can take classes that actually interest you and will benefit your clients.