CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become an investment banker.
Is becoming an investment banker right for me?
The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:
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There is no investment banking Bachelor’s Degree program that teaches the specifics of the profession and lays a foundation for progressing within it. Therefore, aspiring investment bankers must opt for an undergraduate degree in a related, though more general, field like [finance](https://www.sokanu.com/degrees/finance/, economics, or accounting. Relevant curricula include macroeconomics, microeconomics, personal finance concepts, international business practices, business strategy, business law, financial markets, and more.
While not every successful investment banker has been educated at one of the world’s most prestigious institutions, it is worth mentioning that investment banks commonly recruit from the best colleges and universities around the globe. In the U.S., they often target the Ivy League schools: Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth University, Harvard University, Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, and Yale University. In Great Britain, the perennial leaders are the London School of Economics (consistently the top choice), University College London, Cambridge University, Oxford University, and the University of Warwick.
Internship / Employment
Even before completing their undergraduate degree and landing an entry-level position, some aspiring investment bankers secure summer internships. It is quite common for the top investment banks to recruit interns from top business schools and ultimately fill their junior positions with interns who have worked with them. The leading investment bank internship programs are both coveted and competitive. However, smaller investment banks located outside of financial centers like New York, London, and Hong Kong also hire interns. Where investment bank internships are not available, those at retail banks – while not as beneficial or prestigious – still provide a valuable learning experience.
After earning their Bachelor’s and before moving on to graduate school, most prospective investment bankers get professional experience as a financial analyst. In this entry-level role, the market conditions research they perform allows business leaders to make informed buy and sell decisions. This kind of working experience is a universally accepted prerequisite to earning the title of ‘investment banker.’
Click here for an informative and insightful article on the realities of finding an investment banking position.
Once they are employed, investment bankers must register as a representative of their bank with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). FINRA is an independent industry body that develops and administers licensing procedures in association with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Depending on their job responsibilities, investment bankers must pass an examination on a specific ‘series’ in order to qualify for registration.
Master of Business Administration (MBA)
In the field of investment banking, a Master’s Degree is the rule, not the exception.
The most common graduate level program chosen by investment bankers is a Master of Business Administration (MBA). The MBA can be specialized to allow for targeted training, but most programs include the following courses:
Financial Reporting and Analysis
Corporate performance as based on financial reports; how to analyze the reports; what to look for in financial statements to ensure legality and adherence to regulations
• Understanding of accounting standards
• Understanding of how taxes factor into financial analysis
• Reading, interpreting, and analyzing financial documents
Management Information Systems (MIS)
An overview of MIS and how to effectively run a business-wide operation
• Managing IT as a strategic resource
• Understanding the role of the Chief Information Officer (CIO)
• Process engineering, planning, governance, and communication
Statistics for Managerial Decision-Making
Statistical theory, business systems; business systems analysis and improvements
• Understanding probabilities
• Using common software
• Decision analysis based on a variety of simulations
General management of businesses and organizations; identifying solutions to complex problems and choosing how to implement those solutions
• Pinpointing the source of problems
• Management of solutions
• Action-oriented general management techniques
Advancement & Certifications
In what is one of the most competitive fields there is, voluntary certifications are another way to stand out:
Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)
This credential is the most highly regarded by investment banks.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Investment Bankers happy?
Investment bankers rank among the least happy careers. Overall they rank in the 8th percentile of careers for satisfaction scores. Please note that this number is derived from the data we have collected from our Sokanu members only.
While this is a remarkably low happiness quotient, it can perhaps be partially explained by some characteristics of the investment banking profession: • It is brutally competitive. • It demands exceptionally long working hours. • It is stressful. • It can be cutthroat. • Since the 2008 financial crisis, there has been a stigma attached to it. • The post-2008 backlash against bankers has brought calls for tighter industry regulations and controls on the industry’s bonus culture.
How long does it take to become an Investment Banker?
Aspiring investment bankers can generally obtain an entry-level position in the field after completing a four-year Bachelor’s Degree program. Graduate-level education, however, is very common in investment banking. The most common degree earned is a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Most full-time MBA programs add another two years to the educational track.
What are Investment Bankers like?
Based on our pool of users, investment bankers tend to be predominately enterprising people. This finding is as it should be. When corporations and municipalities turn to investment bankers to raise capital by finding buyers for securities likes bonds or stocks, they are literally counting on the expertise of an entrepreneur, of an ambitious, industrious, intrepid, venturesome, enterprising professional.
Should I become an Investment Banker?
When most investment bankers are asked to offer advice to someone who wants to enter the profession, they typically say something like this: Don’t become an investment banker because it can be a lucrative profession. Do it because you love what investment bankers do. This is wise advice. When thinking about investment banking as a career, it is extremely important to recognize that huge pay commands huge commitment. While a first-year analyst can earn an annual salary of $100,000 or more, the job can be all-consuming. Work-life balance is difficult to achieve when working upwards of 100 hours of the 168 hours in a week.
And the pressure really starts if you make it to very senior roles, like managing director. Your revenue targets are higher. You have to navigate an increasingly political environment. You will be leading teams of highly ambitious people who want your job.
So, perhaps needless to say, it takes a certain kind of person to get into, stay in, and advance in the world of investment banking. Of course, the profession calls for analytical and interpersonal skills, and an ethical stance. But before diving in, consider, too, the following habits and traits identified by practising investment bankers as vital to succeeding in the industry over the long term:
Be adaptable Surviving in investment banking means adapting. Different phases of your career will call for different approaches. Graham Ward, the former head of equities at Goldman Sachs and now adjunct professor of leadership at the European Institute of Business Administration, says: At inception you need to fit in and be a team player, with a strong willingness to learn from all the big egos around you. Next, you need to demonstrate a sharp commercial acumen and an innovators' mindset. Create something unique. Finally, no successful investment banker, even in trading, was ultimately successful if they do not have an eye on the needs of clients. Once you make clients your friends you become less dispensable.
Be dogged and persistent Most pitches for new business, despite the hours of work they entail, won’t be successful. You need to be prepared for this. You cannot lose your enthusiasm or focus. You must remain constantly determined to find and bring in new business.
Be more informed than the competition Successful investment bankers are always thinking about how they can bring more value to their clients. Staying informed is paramount. Read up on your clients and their companies. Read company reports and letters to shareholders. Learn as much as you can any way that you can.
Know how to delegate As investment bankers move up the ranks, they need to strike the right balance between doing and teaching those that work with them how to do it. This is key because it accomplishes two mainstay objectives. It allows individuals in more junior roles to learn and progress. And it allows their teachers to leverage their time to serve clients.
Take career risks Career paths in investment banking are rarely linear. They seldom happen in one single location. They often cross sectors. For these reasons, investment bankers tend to take opportunities as they arise. Winning in the long term generally requires flexibility and open-mindedness.
Have an outlet from work Investment banking and long hours go hand-in-hand. You need to have an outlet, something that will keep you from becoming unmotivated or burning out.
Be relentless The most successful investment bankers never assume that they have made it. They never rest on their laurels. In their eyes, even if they are at the top of their game, there is room for improvement. They move the target and set another goal.
Mix work with pleasure In the world of investment banking, client relationships need to run deep. Focusing on a single deal over a long-term relationship generally proves to be costly. Investment bankers need to be passionate about their clients. This almost invariably means giving up some weekends to socialize with them and their families.
Be ruthless This is a field in which you need to be enormously disciplined and current. You need to develop a thick skin to run the competitive career marathon. Many around you will fall. You need to accept this and continue to follow your game plan.
Be detached A study conducted by a Swedish university in 2015 suggested that emotions and investment banking don’t mix. Clients will be demanding; managers will be unreasonable; job security will be shaky. You must not get emotionally involved.
Be impeccably dressed This may sound trite. But investment bankers work with, and for, some of the world’s richest people. Therefore, they care about wearing the right – expensive – clothing and know how to dress at all times. If you’re not part of that crowd, it can be tough to break in. It’s just the way it is. There is a certain veneer that is required to work in this industry.
Steps to becoming an Investment Banker
Getting to the top of the investment banking field is a multi-step process that requires a combination of education, ambition, hard work, experience, networking, and sometimes a little bit of luck.
How to become an Investment Banker
Investment bankers come from a variety of backgrounds and hold a variety of degrees. The common denominator among them is a strong foundation in mathematics. At the undergraduate level, many earn a Bachelor’s Degree in accounting, business, economics, or finance.
Graduates of Bachelor’s Degree programs are typically hired in analyst roles and complete a new-employee training program before they begin their job. This training can last several weeks and introduces new analysts to principles of accounting, risk, markets, financial statement analysis, and financial modeling. Instruction in negotiation, communication, and presentation skills is generally also part of the orientation. After completing their initial training, analysts often take part in continuing education that is also provided by their employer.
Some aspiring investment bankers choose to gain experience and make professional contacts before landing a job, by completing an internship. Investment banks regularly take on both undergraduate and graduate interns and provide them with training and mentorship. Interns typically perform the same kinds of duties that analysts and associates perform, including gathering data, working with financial models, and interacting with clients.
While a Bachelor’s Degree is sufficient to obtain an investment banking analyst position, a graduate degree is the norm in the industry, especially in senior roles. Predominant in the field is the [Master of Business Administration (MBA)]. Many MBA programs provide actual field experience, which employers prefer. Graduate degrees in law, financial/applied mathematics, and financial analysis are also common and useful.
Once they are employed, investment bankers must register as a representative of their bank with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).
Investment bankers can also pursue voluntary certifications through the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Institute.