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Directing Pathways to a Successful Career in Finance and Banking

November 25, 2015

There is an arc to a successful career in finance and banking. Do well and you’ll be a vice president by the age of 30, a managing director by the age of 35 and a head of business 10 years later. Do badly and you’ll be out – maybe in your 20s, maybe in your 30s or early 40s.

The later you’re rejected, the worse it will be: if you’re going to build a career in a different industry, you might as well start young. If you think finance is not for you, then it’s better to not plunge in to measure the depth of waters.

Recruiters, bankers and academics, point to three key phases of finance careers. If you want to own your career and to thrive and endure, here’s how you need to play them. These tips from banking professionals should help you navigate safely through a career in finance.


The first years of a banking career – the post-university phase in your early to mid-20s when you’re an analyst or associate, are all about excellence, attention to detail and hard grind.

“As an analyst or an associate, you need to be excellent at the technicalities of the job,” says May Busch, a former COO of Morgan Stanley Europe who now provides careers advice to finance professionals. “You need to nail the day-to-day job. If you’re in M&A, that’s building financial models. If you’re in sales and trading, that involves understanding the financial markets.”

Pitfalls:  Burnout is an omnipresent issue during the technician stage of a banking career. A study by University of California academic and ex-banker Alexandra Michel found that young bankers compete against themselves and others so intensely that they suffer from symptoms of physical collapse in the first three years. Years ranging from four to six are then characterized by actual physical breakdown, said Michel. Thereafter, young bankers either learn to manage the workload and their physical needs, or drop out.

If you can survive physical exhaustion, you may also succumb to mental fatigue as a technician. The role of analysts and associates can be boring especially in Investment Banking Divisions (IBD), where you’ll be forever building financial models. It’s not uncommon for people to leave the industry because they’re bored as well as exhausted.

See: Best Suited Jobs for Detail Oriented People


If you can survive as a technician and can the master requirements of your role, you need to start looking around at where your talents can be put to best use.

“Figure out where your natural home is,” says Busch. “You need to be ‘good enough’ at your core job and then you need to be exploring the organizational landscape and looking at where you’re really going to work best. You don’t want to end up in a job that emphasizes your weaknesses – look to the roles where you have natural ability and lean in to those.”


Starting in your late 20s-early 30s and lasting until your 40s, the marathon running years are the crucial phase of a banking career. With luck, they will take you through from junior vice president (VP) to managing director (MD). At this stage you need to, “hit the ground and run hard,” says Busch.

This is when you need to start generating revenues for the bank. If you’re in IBD or sales, this is when you need to develop your own clients and relationships. You need to become known for your deep knowledge of a particular sector and you need to build a ‘track record of successes.’

If you’re in trading, you need to establish yourself as a product specialist who can be trusted to make a good P&L within the bank’s defined risk parameters. Throughout the marathon period you also need to network across the organization and build relationships with sponsors and stakeholders.

If you move jobs as a marathon runner, you need to put in some heavy due diligence. You don’t want to move to a role where you can’t cover the ground. Do as much as you can to ensure that you will have resources and support in the role you’re moving into.

“It can be a matter of luck,” says Clive, an ex-J.P. Morgan managing director. “I changed jobs twice into senior roles where I’d been promised big things by the enthusiastic and reassuring people who hired me, only to find that they left within a matter of months and the business didn’t have the appetite they’d claimed.”

Also read: Top 5 Reasons Why You Should Choose a Career in Accountancy

Image credit: encyclopedia.com

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