Banking and Investment

The first question you need to ask yourself is: "What type of work do I want to do?"

The most high profile firms in the sector are investment banks, retail banks, asset management, private equity and trading firms. Many of them are household names and some serve a niche client base. It's a good idea to research and explore the various options so that you can find the right fit for you.


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Below is a brief overview of some of the types of firms Oxford graduates apply to.

Investment Banks

These are probably the most recognisable institutions in this sector eg: HSBC, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Citi, UBS etc. - some of these banks also offer retail banking services. In a nutshell, investment banks provide services to organisations and high net-worth individuals who want to borrow, lend and invest money.
The services  they offer are wide-ranging which is why they are seen a popular option for graduates as they have a number divisions and roles graduates can choose from. Investment Banks have multiple divisions carrying out a range of work eg: Mergers & Acquisitions, Research, Asset Management, Sales & Trading, Technology, Infrastructure, Retail banking, Operations etc. Firms sometimes call the various divisions by different names, so carefully review firms websites to understand the work each division does. The website Inside Careers provides an overview of the sector.

Retail Banks

These are the more recognisable “high-street” banks that focus on personal and smaller business banking for the public eg: HSBC, Santander, Barclays, Halifax etc. These banks can provide financial services to members of the public and smaller/mid-sized businesses eg: personal banking, loans, credit cards etc. Some retail banks are divisions of larger investment banks.

Asset Management Firms

These firms manage investments on behalf of others eg: pension funds, governments, high net-worth individuals and corporates, to increase their client’s portfolio whilst at the same time mitigating risk. Examples of "stand alone" asset management firms are BlackRock, Fidelity, Baillie Gifford - many investment banks have asset management divisions.

Private Equity Firms

Private Equity (PE) firms earn money by charging management and performance fees from investors in a PE fund. For example a PE fund may acquire a company, improve its performance by restructuring and selling it. The larger firms in this area include: Blackstone, The Carlyle Group and KKR and although some offer graduate entry-level positions and internships, others don’t and people often join these firms after working in investment banking for a few years.

Quantitative/Proprietary Trading Firms

These firms (eg: Jane Street, G-Research) are sometimes known as "electronic market-makers". They develop trading strategies based on quantitative analysis using automated trading models and typically hire graduates with Masters and/or DPhils/PhDs in STEM subjects.

Private Wealth Management Firms

Private wealth managers specialise in managing the finances of high net-worth individuals in order to grow their assets. They can work in a wealth management firm, in a division of a bank or independently.

Investopedia has a great dictionary of finance terms which is a very useful introduction to financial language and terms.

This is a highly competitive sector and firms receive applications from students across the globe. So you will need to do comprehensive research and preparation to secure the right job.

You don’t need to have studied a finance related degree, but it’s important to have a keen interest in and understanding of the wider concepts within the banking industry and global markets. Follow the business news by reading publications like the Economist and the Financial Times. Investopedia also has a dictionary of finance terms which can help you become more familiar with the language used in the sector. You also need a high degree of analytical intelligence and the ability to build and maintain good working relationships in what can be a competitive and pressurised environment.

Getting work experience is very important for a full-time graduate role in this sector (and often a requirement). It’s important to note that most banks use their internships as a  pipeline for their graduate programmes, and many larger banks only recruit for a small number of full-time roles in Michaelmas.  We would recommend looking for 1-week work experience “Spring Week” in your first year (or second year if you are on a 4 year course) and summer internships (approximately 8-12 weeks) in your penultimate year, to gain as much experience and exposure as possible. If you don’t get an internship in your penultimate year, all is not lost, as a number of the large banks offer “off-cycle” internships for those who have just graduated. Smaller organisations often also have graduate programmes open to finalists and recent graduates or offer full-time entry-level positions outside of a formal graduate programme.


It’s very important to have a good understanding of application deadlines as they are usually earlier than other sectors, and interviews often take place before the deadline.

Most recruitment by large organisations takes place between July and November, otherwise known as the ‘Milkround’. The vast majority of banking and investment graduate application periods close in late October/early November, if not earlier. On the whole, investment banks recruit on a rolling basis, hiring graduates as they come through the application process. As such, it's essential that you apply as early as possible, ensuring your preparation is completed well in advance. Please do not wait for the deadline!

Most interview/assessment dates take place between September and February with a few vacancies throughout Hilary and Trinity Terms as well as during the summer. However, smaller firms tend to recruit on a more fluid basis and they sometimes accept speculative applications throughout the year.

Application and Assessment

The application and selection process will differ depending on the type and size of firm you are applying to. Always ensure that you know and understand what this will be prior to application, as some assessment processes begin immediately after you have submitted your application.

Below is a general guide, but the process will vary from firm to firm:

  • Online Application or CV & Cover letter: If an application form is required it is likely to comprise both motivational and competency questions. See the information on our website about Application FormsCVs and Cover Letter for tips.
  • Online Tests: You will usually have to sit a numerical test for financial roles, and possibly a verbal and/or abstract reasoning test. Increasingly organisations are using games-based scenario assessments at this stage in place of psychometric tests. Look at individual firms’ websites for practice tests and our Psychometric Tests web-page for tips.
  • 1st Round Interviews: these can be with HR staff or members of the department/team to which you have applied, by telephone, in person, or pre-recorded/video interviews – see our pages on Interviews. Depending on the firm they may be competency-based, technical, or a combination of both.
  • 2nd Round Interviews or assessment centre: for some roles this will be the last stage. See our Assessment Centre webpage for advice.
  • 3rd Round Interviews: these are common if the position to which you are applying is for a specific desk or division. In this case the last round of interviews is likely to be with the direct manager of the position applied for. Some firms (especially smaller boutiques) will arrange for candidates to visit their offices, where they will meet multiple people in the organisation for a series of short interviews. This is to ensure that, in addition to technical ability, there is an overall “fit” with the culture of the firm.

Many firms in the sector have indicated that their 2022/3 marketing and recruitment processes will be a mixture of virtual and in-person events/interviews, so make sure you check which formats your preferred firms are using.

Required skills

Different skills are needed for the different roles within the sector, however all roles require an interest in and comfort with numbers - although the level of quantitative ability varies from role to role. For example – a sales person within an investment bank will need have a real passion for the markets, strong interpersonal skills and the ability to work to targets and a quantitative researcher is likely to need a PhD or advanced masters in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths) subject, with advanced quantitative and programming skills and enjoy developing mathematical models.

Some of the common traits of successful graduates in this sector are:

  • A keen interest in and understanding of the wider concepts within the banking industry and global markets
  • A high degree of analytic intelligence
  • Quantitative ability
  • Given the high levels of responsibility, competition and pressure, it is important for graduates to demonstrate sustained stamina, energy and competitiveness over long periods.
  • The ability to cope well under pressure, whilst maintaining good working relationships with co-workers and clients at all levels is essential.

Getting experience

In this competitive environment, knowledge of the employer, their skill requirements and your own strengths are essential if you want to be successful in assessment processes. Background research on the various roles available within banks and how they fit together is very important. Knowledge of banking basics and investments, the ability to speak about them with interest, enthusiasm and realism further highlights your credibility. Networking and utilising contacts in the industry is useful to improve your understanding and the possible roles you could consider.

Formal Experience in the sector can be gained through Spring Weeks and Internships;

Spring Weeks & Insight Days

Most large banks organise “Spring Week” programmes, for first year students (or those in the second year of a 4 year course) to provide an insight into roles within banking. These usually take place during the Easter vacation (c. 1 week) with students required to apply online. Deadlines vary, with some as early as mid-Michaelmas term (October/November) so it’s advisable to check websites of firms you are interested in as early as possible. Spaces are limited and it's a competitive process, but with  extensive research and preparation you should be able to demonstrate that you have the skills and motivation firms are looking for. Think carefully about which progammes to apply to and how the programme will benefit you. Most firms have useful information on their recruitment pages about what they are looking for in applicants. These programmes are often used as a recruitment pipeline for firms' summer internship programmes and many firms "fast-track" successful spring week attendees to their summer internship assessment processes (the summer internships usually take place the following year). Some banks also organise ‘Insight Days’ targeted at 1st (and 2nd year students studying a four year degree) - which are an alternative way to gain some professional experience in the sector.


Summer Internships can vary in length and are usually between 4-12 weeks long, taking place during the summer vacation of the penultimate year of study. 

Most firms use summer internship programmes as their main recruitment method, offering full-time positions to successful summer interns. Some do open up their summer internships to finalists and recent graduates or offer “off-cycle” internships to recent graduates throughout the year. If you're already in your final year or have already graduated check the websites of the various firms you're interested in to find out if these options are available. 

Firms use various assessment methods, often combining them eg: on-line tests, competency-based, technical and/or strengths-based interviews in their recruitment process, so make sure you understand what the recruitment process involves before applying.  

In addition to formal internships, try to find other ways to get experience in and exposure to the sector. This can be done by creating work experience opportunities for yourself (eg: contacting smaller firms to ask if they can offer you some short work experience) and/or applying to any relevant internships via  our Micro and Summer Internship programmes. Also join relevant university/college societies eg: The Finance Society, Oxford Guild, Oxford Alpha Fund etc. Get actively involved by joining the committee or taking a leadership role or managing the finances of a college/university society.


Also think about ways you can build other skills that employers are looking for eg: take an Excel course through the University's IT service. access short, free open-access training courses and short ‘virtual internships’  with the Bright Network or on the Forage platform. 

Will I get paid?

Internships and summer jobs are governed in the UK by National Minimum Wage law, which means that if you are carrying out activities that class you as a “worker” by the employer, then you should be paid. Full details of Employment Rights and Pay for Interns are published by the government.

If you are undertaking a learning and development opportunity such as a micro-internship, or volunteering for a charity or statutory body, or shadowing or observing, then you may not be eligible for the National Minimum Wage. The organisation may reimburse you for your travel and/or lunch expenses, but they aren’t obliged to do so.

Top Tips

  1. Many firms post their vacancies on CareerConnect but make sure you also check their own websites for job opportunities 
  2. Attend events and presentations (virtual and/or in-person) hosted by  firms to learn more about them, what they are looking for and to talk to their representatives. Make sure you read the firms’ literature eg: reports and scrutinise their websites to learn as much as you possibly can about them and the work they do – but remember they are not looking for you to regurgitate what they've written about themselves! 
  3. Apply early! Many firms recruit on a "rolling basis" which means that they begin the assessment process as soon as they receive applications  - don't wait until the application deadline, as the roles may already be filled by then.
  4. Attend the Management Consultancy & Finance Fair in Michaelmas Term. Do some preparation before the fairs, planning which firms you would like to speak to and what questions you want to ask
  5. Get work experience, spring weeks, insight days, summer internships and or create your own work experience opportunities.  s
  6. To improve your sector knowledge, read relevant publications  eg: the business pages of the national/international newspapers, the Financial Times (current Oxford students can sign up for free access via Solo - see "External Resources" section for more information)The Economist etc.
  7. Connect with alumni eg: via LinkedIn or your college alumni office to learn more about specific roles and firms and speak firm representatives at fairs and events.  
  8. Join student societies and actively participate eg: The Guild, CapitOx, The Oxford Alpha Fund, The Finance Society
  9. Prepare for technical interviews using online resources (examples listed in the resources section below)
  10. Think outside the box – don't apply to a firm just because you like the "brand name". Think about whether they do the type of work you're interested in and/or if it's your preferred work environment.  

Preparing for Interviews

Each firm/division/team creates an assessment process that they believe is the most effective for evaluating applicants' abilities and motivations for the role - so they can vary. Check the firm's websites (many have comprehensive information about the process) and ask recruiters at events about the process and how best to prepare. 

Postgraduate students

Postgraduate students may find themselves in a ‘grey area’ between traditional undergraduate analyst programmes and MBA associate-level positions. Your best recourse is to find out more information directly from the firm, either by reading their website or speaking to recruiters at events,presentations 

DPhil students with quantitative backgrounds are actively sought for quantitative analytical roles in firms.  In addition, keep an eye out for DPhil/Quant specific events that are run by firms (and the Careers Service), especially in Michaelmas term. 

The Finance Fair Booklet re-published each year in late September/early October has a useful table detailing all those firms who attend the fair and whether they are interested in receiving applications from DPhils and postdoc researchers. It also indicates whether they have internships specifically for DPhils and postdoc researchers.


General vacancies and occupation information

Online test and technical preparation resources

As well as the resources listed in the Psychometric Tests briefing, the following websites are good for practice tests:

Sector vacancies

N.B. Most graduate jobs are advertised on firms' own websites


Recruiters are keen to have a diverse workforce, and many will have policies and processes that are proactive in recruiting students and graduates from diverse backgrounds. An increasing number of recruiters are offering traineeships, internships and insight events that are aimed at specific groups and many are being recognised for their approach to being inclusive employers. 
Try the following to discover more about the policies and attitudes of the recruiters that you are interested in:

The UK Equality Act 2010 has a number of protected characteristics to prevent discrimination due to your age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or beliefs, sex or sexual orientation. For further information, visit the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s webpage on the Equality Act and the Government’s webpages on discrimination.

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