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Banking & Investment | The Careers Service Banking & Investment – Oxford University Careers Service
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About this sector

Opportunities in this sector are many and varied, so if you are interested in banking and investment you should be able to find the role and firm that’s right for you. The first decision you will need to make is what type of work you would like to do. The sector is dominated by the following types of firms: investment and retail banks, M&A advisory boutiques, asset management and private equity firms, and trading firms.

Types of job


These banks are the most easily recognisable in the graduate market, often with multiple global offices and covering many areas of specialism such as mergers & acquisitions (M&A), sales & trading, asset management and risk. They provide specialist financial services and advice to a wide range of clients, including governments, corporate entities, charitable institutions and “high net worth individuals” (HNWs). Roles within investment banks are usually separated into the following areas:

  • Front office – eg: M&A, sales, trading and research.
  • Middle Office – eg: risk management, compliance and legal.
  • Back Office – eg: IT, Human Resources and Administration.

Another option for students interested in mergers and acquisitions are boutique M&A advisory firms. The senior management teams of these firms are usually M&A specialists who previously held leadership positions at the large investment banks and often work on some of the biggest deals in the sector. This may be the ideal place for those who want to start their career at a smaller organisation, without compromising on deal quality and size.


The high street banks – eg: Barclays, Lloyds, HSBC, Santander – comprise this sector (although it is worth noting that most of these also have investment banking arms). Retail banks also offer opportunities in areas such as business and corporate banking, wealth and investment management and operations management.


Asset managers (also known as wealth managers or investment managers) buy and sell shares, bonds and other assets to increase the value of their clients’ portfolios. Their clients can be diverse, ranging from large institutional investors such as pension funds to HNWs. In this area you could find yourself working in a different range of organisations, such as sovereign wealth funds, independent companies, boutiques or within a sub-division of a bank.

Private equity firms invest in companies (often those which are under-performing) to help them meet their growth potential, then sell their stake for a profit at a later date. Some larger private equity firms also have large real estate practices, investing in office, retail, hotel, industrial and residential properties across the globe.


These independent firms do similar work to sales & trading teams within the larger banks, often with a focus on using technology to design trading strategies, build statistical models or create trading algorithms. As this work often requires high levels of numeracy and strong IT skills, firms typically recruit undergraduates and postgraduates from quantitative disciplines such as Maths, Statistics, Computing, Physics, Engineering etc.

Entry points

This is a highly competitive sector and firms receive applications from students across the globe. So you will need good 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. 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 major pipeline for their graduate programmes, and many firms only recruit for full time roles in Michaelmas as ‘top-up hiring’, i.e for a small number of additional places on teh graduate programme or for specific roles which may require a specialist, language or technical skill set.

We would recommend looking for “Spring Weeks” (approximately 1 week work experience) in your first year 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 boutiques often also have graduate programmes open to finalisits and recent graduates. If you are in your final year or have recently graduated you may wish to come along to the “Routes into Finance for Finalists and Recent Graduates” talk at the Finance Fair on 16th October 2018.


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 as and when candidates apply.

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 is essential that you apply as early as possible, ensuring your preparation is completed well in advance. It is also advisable to take a look at the method by which the firm you are interested in recruits. This information should be on the website of each individual firm.

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 it is not uncommon for them to receive speculative applications throughout the year.

Application & 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:

  1. 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 Forms, CVs and Cover Letter for tips.
  2. Online Tests– You will usually have to sit a numerical test for financial roles, and possibly a verbal and/or abstract reasoning test. Some firms have practice tests on their website, please use them! Also, take a look at our Psychometric Tests webpage for tips.
  3. 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.
  4. 2nd Round Interviews or assessment centre – for some roles this will be the last stage. See our Assessment Centre webpage for advice.
  5. 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 organise “super days” in which candidates will meet multiple people in the office 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.
Skills & experience


Required skills

Different skills will be required for the different roles within the sector. For example – a sales person within an investment bank will need have a real passion for the markets, someone working within compliance will need to have an interest in financial regulations and/or relevant legal principles, a quantitative researcher is likely to need to have a PhD or advanced masters in a maths-related degree (eg: Maths, Physics, Engineering etc.), 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
  • The ability to deal confidently with figures
  • 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 in ensuring your success. Background reading on investment banking, global markets, the various roles available within banks and how they fit together is essential. 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 already in the industry is useful to improve your understanding and the possible roles you could consider.

Spring Weeks

Most large banks organise week-long programmes, “Spring Weeks”, for first year students (or those in the second year of a 4 year course) to provide an insight into roles within banking. These are generally organised over Easter with students required to apply online – deadlines may vary, with some as early as mid-Michaelmas term (October/November) or early-mid Hilary term, so it’s advisable to check websites of firms you are interested in as early as possible. Spaces are limited and competition is fierce so ensure you demonstrate how the programme could benefit you, often via a covering letter and/or initial interview. On the whole, these programmes are used as a pipeline for the summer internship programme; many organisations host fast-track assessment centres after these events for summer internships the following year. In addition some banks organise ‘Insight Days’ targeted at 1st and 2nd year students throughout the year. These are also designed to provide a taster of the banking industry.


As most firms use summer internship programmes as the main method for sourcing full time hires, they recruit only penultimate year students or those who can prove they are continuing in education following the summer internship. Some banks do offer “off-cycle” internships to finalists and graduates after they have completed their degree, but this is usually dependent upon business needs. It is advisable to look into the opportunities you are eligible for at all the organisations you are considering and to make sure you are aware of their specific requirements.

Firms can utilise various assessment methods eg: competency-based, technical and/or strengths based interviews in their recruitment process and will look for evidence that you can demonstrate competencies such as teamwork, drive, enthusiasm, determination, and communication skills. Getting involved in activities outside your academic work is key, whether by doing an internship or in an extra-curricular position of responsibility that demonstrates an interest in this area eg: treasurer of a society, being an active member of a financial society or running an event that needs to make a profit.

At all levels of study, it will be very useful to build up your knowledge of the industry by informational interviewing, attending relevant events, work shadowing, doing work experience and developing core competencies through extra-curricular activities and reading up on the sector.

There is often confusion about whether you should be paid to do an internship or work experience. It will depend on your arrangement with the employer and also the status of the employer. You can find out if you are entitled to be paid when undertaking work experience or an internship at the UK Government: National Minimum Wage.

Getting a Job

Top Tips

  1. The vacancies pages on our website provide a comprehensive listing of available roles throughout the year from a number of key recruiters.
  2. In Michaelmas Term attend the events and presentations of the firms that interest you, and talk to their representatives. Ensure you read the firms’ literature and scrutinise their websites – but remember they are not looking for you to regurgitate what is written online!
  3. Attend the Finance Fair and the “Banking Springweeks and Internships: Everything You Need to Know” event in Michaelmas Term, to get a feel for the sector, meet company representatives and find out about opportunities. Do some preparation before the fairs and try not to ask questions that are available on the companies’ websites.
  4. Think about getting some work experience: formal Springweek programmes and summer internships are the key pipeline to full time roles within this sector.
  5. To increase your knowledge of global markets, read relevant material that you find interesting. For example, the business pages of the main national papers or the Financial Times and The Economist, which include comprehensive information to help shape your views.
  6. Utilise alumni to increase your knowledge of specific companies and roles available to you. Use the Oxford Careers Network or speak with practising analysts and associates at the fairs and company presentations.
  7. Whatever stage you are at in your career, developing your knowledge of the field and seeking out vacancies is often best achieved through networking, i.e. speaking with alumni, former interns, graduates, contacts met at careers events, etc.
  8. Consider joining student societies – some of the societies you may consider joining at Oxford include: The Oxford Finance Society, The Oxford Student Foundation, The Guild and Women in Business. They all run relevant recruitment and social events with employers and highlight opportunities to students.
  9. Prepare for technical interviews using resources including Brainstellar and training the street (available in the Careers Service Resource Room). Also consider applying for the Oxford Said Finance Lab and practising probability questions and sequence recognition. You may also want to use Investopedia or similar to research basic financial products and economic drivers.

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 by carefully reading the graduate recruitment section on each firm’s website, or to speak directly with graduate recruiting staff from the banks at the Finance Fair or company presentations.

DPhil students with quantitative backgrounds are actively sought after for quantitative analytical roles in firms (particularly students with advanced degrees in statistics, mathematics, physics, engineering etc).  In addition, keep an eye out for DPhil/Quant specific events that are run by firms (and the Careers Service), especially in Michaelmas. A helpful website for for information on quantitative roles is Wilmott.

Our resources


The following books are available to read in our Resource Centre at 56 Banbury Road:

  • The Best Book on Goldman Sachs Sales and Trading Internships, Avnish Patel
  • The Best Book on Getting an iBanking Internship, Erin Parker
  • Wall Street Women, Melissa S Fisher
  • Too Big to Fail: Inside the Battle to Save Wall Street, Andrew Ross Sorkin
  • Greed Can Be Good – Why Investment Banking May be Broken But Doesn’t Need Fixing, Dave Hart
  • Merger Modeling – a Self Study Book, Training the Street
  • Financial Modeling Package – Excel Best Practices and Financial Modeling, Training the Street
  • Vault Career Guide to Investment Management (European Edition)
  • Careers in Asset Management and Retail Brokerage, Wetfeet Insider Guide
  • Careers in Venture Capital, Wetfeet Insider Guide
  • Careers in Investment Banking, Wetfeet Insider Guide


The following journals and newspapers may be of interest:

  • The Economist 
  • The Financial Times (current students can also register for free on-line access)

Take-away material

You can get a free hard copy of the following publications in our Resource Centre:

  • Targetjobs, City & Finance
  • Inside Careers, Banking, Securities & Investments
  • Inside Careers, City & Finance
External resources

General vacancies & occupation information

Online test & technical preparation resources

As well as the resources listed in the Psychometric Testing information sheet, the following websites are good for practice tests:

Sector vacancies


Equality, diversity & positive action

A number of the large investment banks run specific events and programmes for under-represented groups within their workforce, such as women, students with disabilities, LGBTQ+ students and students from ethnic minorities.

  • EmployAbility works with university students and graduates who have disabilities to aid the transition from education into employment. They offer free support, advice and guidance and run a wide range of internships and graduate recruitment programmes on behalf of many of the most prestigious finance firms including Barclays, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, BNY Mellon, Morgan Stanley, and Bloomberg.
  • My Plus Students Club is a website that offers access to a great deal of information regarding disability management, how to succeed in the recruitment process, what opportunities are available, and resources on topics such as disclosure.
  • Inside & Out – an investment banking insight for 1st and 2nd year LGBTQ+ undergraduates of all degree diciplines. You’ll find out about the industry and also the wide range of intern and full time opportunities of offer. in 2018 this will be held on September 13th in London.
  • Blind in Business provides information on current recruitment programmes in easy to access formats, assists with the practical aspects of completing application forms and provides specialised interview practice sessions with graduate interviewers from major employers, among other services.
  • Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (better known as SEO London) focuses on improving access into the most competitive professions for students from under-represented ethnic minority backgrounds and works with many banks including Citi, Barclays and HSBC.
  • Other positive action organisations include Rare Recruitment and the  Social Mobility Foundation – who are all partnered with various firms.

A number of major graduate recruiters have policies and processes that are proactive in recruiting graduates from diverse backgrounds. To find out the policies and attitudes of employers that you are interested in, explore their equality and diversity pages of their websites and see if they offer ‘Guaranteed Interview Schemes’ (for disabled applicants) or are recognised for their policy by such indicators as ‘Mindful Employer’ or as a ‘Stonewall’s Diversity Champion’.

The UK law protects you from discrimination due to your age, gender, race, religion or beliefs, disability or sexual orientation. For further information on the Equality Act and to find out where and how you are protected, and what to do if you feel you have been discriminated against, visit the Government’s webpages on discrimination


This information was last updated on 29 August 2018.
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