Many people choose a particular line of work (a) based on perception of what’s sexy or popular and/or b) with little consideration. Your time on earth is limited, so if you choose something that will end up taking a chunk of your time, then do yourself a huge favour and make sure it’s well thought-out.
The right way
It’s also important to spend a bit of time figuring out where you fit best within the world of finance.
This is not something you can do by just reading about each division of a bank and what it does on their website. A few paragraphs or pages on the operations of M&A or Trading business aren’t enough material for you to base such a big decision on. No way!
Sure, you may end up going with what your gut instinct first tells you, but do the homework so you’re 100% sure. Besides, the more you look into it, the more powerful your conviction will become about that particular area of the business. And this will show in meetings.
Don’t blindly pick an area because it sounds sexy. You will excel much faster, make more money (in the long run), and be happier if you pursue what you like. I had a friend who was obsessed with the idea of becoming a trader and did everything it took to become one in a big bank. It was the worst decision of his life. For the short time he was a trader, he was pissing out of his ass half the week – his diarrhea was that bad. And it was all from the stress, which is compounded when it’s not something you’re suited for.
Sometimes you don’t have a choice, so you must take opportunity as it comes, but your best bet is to spend time early on getting to know what the different divisions are like. Sure, you can start by reading a paragraph on an investment bank’s website, but then move on to do things that will really show you what it’s like. You’re going to work your ass off and sacrifice a great deal of your personal life for this job, so don’t pick a division based on something written by people in Corporate Communications who know nothing about the actual business.
What am I getting at? You have to meet people in the business. It’s good to watch videos of bankers and listen to conference speeches online. Ideally, though, you’ll meet with a banker face to face, and you’ll do it many times. That’s always the best approach. That way, you can ask questions and have them walk you through a particular deal. And that meeting can lead to another, and another.
If you can narrow down what you want early on, it will save you lots of time in the future. Trust me. Doesn’t mean you’ll always get it right. You might, after serious consideration and plenty of meetings, decide to switch your route a few years down the line. That’s okay. At least you’ll have given it solid consideration. That mental exercise is the key factor. You have to think like a banker, and that means taking lots of information (about yourself), making some strong assumptions (picking an area or two), and executing your decisions (pursuing them full force).
Maximise your chances of breaking in
Gain an edge by reading Breaking Into Investment Banking: An Unorthodox Approach, a guide which has enabled students all over the world achieve exceptional results – that is, landing jobs in investment banks, private equity firms, hedge funds and other financial institutions.
It won’t do the work for you. That’s your job. But it will give unconventional advice to set you apart from the competition.