Everyone knows that investment banking is a lucrative field. Entry-level jobs quickly provide six-figure salaries. Senior investment bankers earn tens of millions of dollars every year. Getting to the top of this field is a multi-step process that requires a combination of education, ambition, hard work, skill, experience, connections, and sometimes more than a little bit of luck.
Here are the steps for reaching the top of the investment banking field.
- Earn an undergraduate degree from a top school, with a major in finance, economics, or business.
- Get an advanced degree, preferably an MBA.
- Get an internship at a top firm to gain on-the-job training and a chance to impress potential employers.
- Network like crazy to find a job.
- A degree from an Ivy League college or other prestigious school gives you a better chance to land your first job in investment banking.
- Investment bankers are sales professionals. Hone your selling skills by networking.
- Earning an MBA is the traditional path but an advanced degree in mathematics is now highly prized by the investment banking world.
Get a College Degree...
A college degree in finance or economics is typically the starting point for entry-level jobs at an investment bank. Accounting and business are also common educational backgrounds. While it is true that liberal arts majors can get jobs on Wall Street, if you have your heart set on investment banking, you’ll be tilting the odds in your favor if you stick to the traditional fields of study that are most closely aligned with your career goals.
...at a Top-Tier School
Investment banks recruit from the best colleges and universities in the world. In the U.S., fledgling investment bankers are often plucked from Ivy League schools. In Great Britain, the London School of Economics is consistently the top choice, with University College London, the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford, and the University of Warwick among the perennial leaders. Remember, investment banking is a global enterprise with New York, London, Hong Kong, and Tokyo serving as home to the major money center banks that employ many of the world’s most successful investment bankers.
Can you go to a less prestigious institution and still achieve your goals? Sure you can, but just like choosing the right field of study, choosing the right school will help tip the odds in your favor. The schools that investment banks recruit from are well known, so attending one of these schools is a matter of putting yourself in a position where you have the greatest likelihood of being noticed.
When it comes to attracting notice, your grades are also important. Graduating at the top of your class will put you in a good position to draw the attention of campus recruiters and hiring managers.
There are roughly 4,000 investment companies in the United States, but fewer than two dozen are significant on a global scale. Consider carefully whether you want to work for an international entity or a smaller company.
Go for an Advanced Degree
While you can get a job with a bachelor’s degree, having an advanced degree is another way to improve your prospects. A Master of Business Administration (MBA) or an advanced degree in math can add to your appeal. A chartered financial analyst (CFA) certification can help, too.
Nail Down an Internship in Investment Banking
Internships provide a path for students and recent graduates to obtain full-time employment in just about every profession. Investment banking is no different. An internship gives you an opportunity to try out your desired field, gain exposure to the culture, get work experience, and impress potential employers. It’s an excellent way to jump-start your career.
Network, Network, Network
Investment bankers spend their time selling. They find exorbitant amounts of money and convince people to give it to them. They are the movers and shakers behind mergers and acquisitions of Fortune 500 companies, initial public offerings (IPOs) of private companies that command stratospheric valuations, and other high-finance deals that generate enormous fees. Networking is a critical part of the job, and perhaps even more so for those seeking to enter the field.
Long before you land your first megadeal you need to land a job. Selling yourself will be your first task, so every opportunity to do so is important. You need to mix and mingle with people who have the power to hire you or who can recommend you to people who do the hiring. And you need to make a good impression.
Of course, having a parent, uncle, cousin, or family friend who works in the business or has the right contacts never hurts either. The right words in the right ear can open doors. When trying to land the job opportunity of a lifetime in one of the world’s most competitive fields, most job seekers will take advantage of any path that gets them that proverbial foot in the door at the world’s top investment banks.
About That Good Impression
Investment bankers work with, and for, some of the world’s richest people. These people wear select clothes, drive select cars, and vacation in select places. They spend their time with people like themselves and give their money to people who understand them and share their culture.
If you’re not part of that crowd, it can be tough to break in. A study by the U.K. government’s Social Mobility Commission provides a fascinating insight into how subtle mistakes, like wearing the wrong color shoes or having the wrong haircut, can be enough to derail job seekers. If those things weren't part of your background, it helps to be a quick study, at least to the extent of being able to blend in during your early years in this field, according to some included in the U.K. study.
The approximate number of investment fund industry employees in the United States, as of 2022.
The Bottom Line
After getting the best education, choosing your major, and networking like crazy, landing a job is an important step in the right direction. From there, keeping the job and advancing through the ranks are the next challenges. Staying in your job will require work weeks that routinely exceed 80 hours. If you want to drive a Ferrari, sip champagne, and vacation on the French Riviera, you’re going to have to work for it.