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Investment Banking: Skill and Talent Requirements
Investment banks want employees with a combination of strong analytical and interpersonal skills. Some jobs lean more towards one skill set than another (e.g. brokers need to be mainly sales people). A typical job of an equities analyst requires both analytic and interpersonal skills. The skills involved include:
Key Skill Area Requirement
People skills: High
Sales skills: Medium
Communication skills: High
Analytical skills: High
Ability to synthesize: High
Creative ability: High
Work hours: 50-120/week
Hard Work Expected and Respected Investment banking is a high work, high risk, high reward profession. When you start your hours will typically be long but the work can be exciting. Be prepared for moments of frustration where you are stretched too thin and moments of exhiliration where everything clicks.
Tough to Break In It's relatively hard to break into investment banking. You need to be prepared to pursue firms on your own after you have thoroughly prepared yourself.
Believe it or Not, Bankers Have Social value Investment bankers are often the subject of social scorn in movies like Bonfire of the Vanities. Are investment bankers really greedy narcissistic scum? Some probably are. But keep in mind that they play a crucial social role of helping to direct capital to companies with great ideas that make people better off.
Analyst Jobs Are the Best Entry Point Many college graduates start in investment banking in an analyst position. To succeed in these positions you need to be extremely dedicated, have good spreadsheet skills and be analytically fluent. Your next step will be to become an associate. Same skills, just raise the volume.
Communication and Completion Abilities Key In mid-career, your success usually will depend on your ability to communicate with clients and get deals done. At this level it is also important to have a good understanding of market trends, the political and macroeconomic environment and deal mechanics.
Math Skills Can Help Some jobs in investment banking call for very strong mathematical ability. If you are good at math think about getting an advanced degree in a technical field (studying areas such as stochastic calculus and differential equations), then take some advanced finance courses in options pricing or bond valuation and apply to a research department on Wall Street (Carnegie-Mellon's FAST program is a leading in training mathematicians and physicists for Wall Street jobs).
Accounting Skills Valuable The ability to analyze accounting numbers critically is important in most analyst positions. Ultimately, you should aim for the CFA designation if you would like to be a securities analyst. The CFA helps you become much more mobile over time. If you have ambitions too "bail out" some day and become a corporate financial analyst you might also want to consider the CMA (Certified Management Accountant) designation.
Traders are Multi-Talented It's hard to define what makes a good trader. A good understanding of the market, quick reactions, analytical skills and the ability to bluff help. Read Liars Poker by Michael Lewis to learn more about sales and trading.
Get Used to New York Most large firms operate out of New York. Even if you are interested in working in another location, your general interviewing activities are likely to be centered there. Other places you should look at include Hong Kong, Tokyo, London, Moscow and Singapore. If you go looking for a job in investment banking using informational interviews in the U.S. it is crucial that you make several trips to New York.
Teamwork Crucial A crucial success factor in investment banking is teamwork. Being able to pull together persons with large egos to get a presentation together for a client is a challenge and is likely to be rewarded highly.
Scientists and Lawyers Wanted There's definitely an interest in people with backgrounds in science and law. Scientist types can work on everything from derivatives algorithms to biotech banking. Lawyers can help design new securities, sell leasing business and use their analytical prowess to talk to clients. This said, you have to sell yourself. It often doesn't hurt to go back and get an MBA from a top school, and then try to repurpose your career into investment banking.
Contacts are Everything The key to breaking into investment banking is a good network of contacts. You may already be blessed with such a network, but if you don't have one, you can start to develop one by going on informational interviews, attending industry conferences, finding alumni from your school in the business etc. Keep in mind that your network might not really "pay off" for some time. If you are young and haven't gone for an MBA degree, try to get into the best possible school and then go for quantitative and analytical coursework.
Getting Things Done is Important Starting off in an investment bank, you are usually responsible for getting projects done well and on-time, whether it be writing reports, running spreadsheets, trading, doing research or coding programs. Later, once you get involved with clients and ideas for generating revenue, you will be rewarded greatly if you can bring in business. At higher levels (usually Director, Managing Director and up) you are exposed to much greater risk. At this level, people are often fired for non-performance, whereas at lower levels you may not be scrutinized as closely.