Even in the toughest of times, large investment banks and brokerage houses will have to hire new blood. That's because, in large organizations, people are almost always coming and going. A solid transcript, relevant work experience and a passion for finance are qualities required of new hires. What candidates must remember is that once selected for an interview, it is often the minor details that differentiate the candidates.
Higher Education a Must
Many years ago, a college degree was often optional. Frequently, a person with little more than a can-do attitude and a connection within the firm could land a well-paying job. But things have changed a great deal. College degrees have become a dime a dozen. In fact, it is not uncommon for almost everyone, right down the receptionist, to hold some sort of degree. Plus, keep in mind that when the economy is on the wane, the firm may be inundated with countless resumes from college grads with degrees in fields like finance and communications. (Graduating soon? Read How to Land A Finance Job Straight Out Of Undergrad.)
So in order to be considered for a top spot in a tight job market, a master's degree or MBA with a concentration in a particular field, such as finance or accounting can be a must. Also, like it or not, the top investment banks often give preferential treatment toward those that graduate from top schools like Yale, Harvard or Wharton.
Beyond a master's degree, the employer will often look further down the resume toward other skills or classes, in order to separate out the best candidates. Those that have gone the extra step and have studied for and passed the Series 7 and/or 24 are given preferential treatment, as well. A person who does not have a degree from a top school should pay particular attention to honing these skills or achieving these qualifications, if possible. (Check out the Investopedia Series 7 Exam Prep.)
Therefore, class work at a local college or other learning facility to gain a better understanding of the above-mentioned programs may make sense. Also, prior experience in the brokerage field with firms that were willing to sponsor the candidate for a Series 7 or 24 license can help set the person apart.
Classes in public speaking, negotiating and sales may also help make the candidate more attractive to the hiring manager.
Even in good times, investment banks want to hire someone who understands the latest technologies in the marketplace, and can use them. And in a tight job market, when the firm is being inundated with resumes, such skills can be invaluable and help set the candidate apart.
For example, even something small, such as webpage building or blogging, can play a role in the process. The reason is that private and public companies are using websites to communicate with the general public and the investment community more and more, and therefore a person who has used them and has a working knowledge of them has a leg up on the competition.
In many cases the old saying, "it's not what you know, but who you know," no longer applies. But having contacts within the firm, especially during tight times, can be very helpful and can help the candidate land a position.
As a tip, candidates should try to build contacts and their personal Rolodex over time by reaching out to individuals with similar interests and forming professional relationships on networking websites. Also, the candidate should consider touching base with old classmates from undergraduate or graduate school as they may work at the firm they are targeting for employment. Consider subtle name-dropping during the interview process, only if the individual you know is a solid employee.
A degree in mathematics or statistics, and/or the ability to develop and use models is useful in the asset management business and particularly for those that aspire to be securities analysts. If nothing else, having such skills can help set potential candidates apart in a tight job market, even if the person is applying for a position where such skills may not be necessary, like sales.
One way to develop those skills is to either minor or major in such a field in college, or to take coursework in those fields at a later date in time. Again, candidates who have those skills on their resume may be set apart because the firm will likely view them as tremendous resources, and as people who, in many cases, can hit the ground running.
When the economy is slow - and even during good times - brokers are likely receiving resumes in extremely large quantities each day. And because they may have their pick of the litter, so to speak, they will often go with those candidates that are very presentable. Therefore, it is important to pay a significant amount of attention to one's attire, and to be well spoken. Again many people may be walking through that door for an interview, so it is important to come across as a person who will represent the firm well.
Getting a job at a brokerage firm or investment bank can be difficult, even in good times. And in a tight job market, it can seem like a very daunting task. But again, the above suggestions should help the candidate get a leg-up on the competition and help set themselves apart from the masses. (For more information on lucrative finance positions, refer to Top 4 Most Competitive Financial Careers.)