Should you go into banking? How you'll know and what to do about it

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With the start of the new academic year at hand, students everywhere will shortly arrive on campus (many of them for the first time) and turn their attention to the question of what they’re going to do for a living after they graduate. Many of them will get caught up in the pursuit of an investment banking career - swept along by a combination of peer influence, popular culture and their own tendency to pursue what they perceive as aspirational. 

Despite the industry’s ups and downs of the past decade or so, investment banking seems to remain as popular as ever among college-level students. Indeed, we are told that student applications to Goldman Sachs alone number in the hundreds of thousands annually. 

But of all those students who think they want to be investment bankers, how many are actually well suited to the work? And, of those, how many would necessarily even enjoy it when they got there?  

If you’re one of those students, I have good news:

The way to find out whether banking is really for you is also the way to make yourself into a competitive candidate 

What are the steps?

  1. Start early. It is a great shame that the investment banking recruiting process is set up in such a way that it’s not friendly to candidates who only decide to turn to banking as a career choice in their third or fourth year of college. As much as we might lament that fact, it’s the simple consequence of supply and demand - something all you economics students will appreciate. If you embark on your investment banking career preparation the day you arrive in year one, you will not be starting too soon. 

  2. Reading. All of the most successful investment banking leaders and hedge fund icons are known for being students of markets. Become one yourself. Read as many books as you can get on the topics of companies, markets and finance. You can start here

  3. Join a campus investment club. This is a great way to accelerate your learning with like-minded fellow students. And there’s a practical benefit, too: major banking employers tend to target student investment clubs for recruitment purposes, so you’re putting yourself where you can be found. 

  4. Take initiative. To add a caveat to the prior point, some student investment clubs are very hard to get into, with applicant-to-admit ratios that make Harvard look like a cakewalk in comparison. No matter - rally some friends and start your own investment club if you have to. You’ll get points for leadership and resourcefulness into the bargain. 

  5. Follow some stocks. Observe their closing prices daily. If they move out of step with the wider market, find out why. You’ll learn a lot. Extra credit for picking lesser-known companies. 

  6. Take an accounting class. You’ll spend a lot of time as an investment banking analyst poring over company financial statements and applying basic accounting principles. Accounting has a certain Marmite quality to it - so now’s a good time to figure out whether you love it or hate it. 

  7. Get some exposure to employers in the industry. Formal internships will be hard to come by as a first or second year student. No matter. Workshops, seminars, case competitions, informal work shadowing - do them, and write them down on your CV. Just make sure to be truthful. Not only will these activities help you decide whether these are environments in which you’ll be excited to spend more time, they’ll also help your CV ‘look the part’ when it comes to applying. 

By the time you’ve done all these things and more over a period of months, you’ll have long since worked out whether investment banking is for you or not. And if it is, you’ll have made yourself into a strong candidate in the process. 

Jonathan Jones is a former head of recruiting at Goldman Sachs, BlackRock and Point72 Asset Management. The views and opinions expressed here are his own.

Photo by Lubo Minar on Unsplash

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Contact: sbutcher@efinancialcareers.com in the first instance. Whatsapp/Signal/Telegram also available.

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