5 Unconventional Ways to Break into the Banking Industry

It’s not always about graduate schemes.
Carmen Teh
Writer, gradsingapore

Impress recruiters by thinking out of the box and creating opportunities of your own.

With graduates from multiple disciplines looking for a place in banking graduate schemes, the competition to land one is becoming increasingly heated. If you are struggling to break into the banking industry via a graduate training scheme, you may want to consider alternative ways to get that dream graduate job of yours.

Here are some tips on how you can stand out from the rest of the applicants and impress recruiters with your persistence and your aptitude to be creative.

1. Set up a small business

Recruiters in the banking industry value students with entrepreneurial skills and a strong business acumen. It also gives you something original to talk about in your job application and in job interviews.

It’ll also allow you to highlight the skills you’ve learned and used in real-life situations. For instance, you can talk about how you’ve picked up numeracy and organisational skills through your experience with budgeting and planning when running the business.

Problem-solving skills which are highly sought after by recruiters can become your selling point as you are bound to encounter problems during your time as a businessperson. You can bring up concrete examples on how you’ve managed a crisis or solved a problem to your interviewers who will be all ears. 

It doesn’t have to be a grand start-up, but you can always start with something small. You may want to consider setting up a small business while you’re still in university as you can take advantage of the resources and student societies there.

For example, you could do something as simple as starting your own film-screening club at a lecture hall (with the permission of the school authorities of course!) and charge students a small price for tickets. You can put up posters on campus or promote the club through social media – all points that you can mention during your job interview to impress your recruiters!

2. Look for internship and training opportunities outside banks

Instead of limiting yourself to graduate training schemes or internships in the banking industry, why not try looking into other sectors that are finance-related or offer finance-related roles?

The idea here is to get the experience that not only can be spun into sounding relevant but is genuinely useful for you to get into the banking or finance sector. You may think about marketing, sales or accounting-type roles in financial services companies such as PwC, Ernst & Young (EY), Deloitte and KPMG (the Big Four firms).

Having a notable brand name of a finance firm on your CV can boost your chances of getting the graduate banking job you want, but make sure to contextualise your experience to the banking job you are applying for. The key thing to do is to demonstrate to your interviewers how the skills you’ve learned in your finance-related internship or training can be an added value to the bank.

3. Apply through network

The importance of networking cannot be stressed enough when it comes to opening doors in your career. It gives you the chance to learn from others who share similar interests and meet people with enough influence to either refer you to a job opening or to someone else who could. If you’re lucky, you may even meet the recruiters themselves!

You can start by using online platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook to find networking groups and events to join. If you are restricted by proximity, for instance, the event you want to attend is too far, you can always take the initiative to start one yourself within your locality. Your use of initiative will be appealing to employers and demonstrate that you’re genuinely committed to a career in banking.

When networking, you will need to make sure that you are mindful of your social etiquettes to best present yourself for a good impression. If walking into a room full of people makes your stomach flip, here’s a beginner’s guide on how to network at events for you before you enter the social minefield.

4. Try for a banking or finance placement abroad

A work placement at a bank or finance services company abroad can most definitely give you the edge you are looking for when applying for a graduate job in this sector. If you are bilingual or multilingual, you would make an attractive candidate to international employers.

A placement abroad often shows that you are adaptable, and able to communicate and work with a different culture. Employers will also see that you are confident and brave enough to step outside the comfort zone to explore opportunities. Additionally, you can polish you commercial awareness of global businesses by being exposed to them in real life, which is much better than learning about it over the Internet or textbooks. 

Better yet, you’ll also able to build your own network of international contacts and expand your employment possiblities beyond that of just the country!

5. Find a mentor

This is something that networking (see point 3) can lead up to. Find yourself a mentor who is experienced in the banking or finance sector to guide you on how to break into the industry and provide you insights to the job that you wouldn’t have access to otherwise.

If you’re lucky, this mentor can put you in touch with the ‘right people’ or just give you the inside buzz about the industry that could help you get into the playing field. At the same time, a mentor doesn’t always have to be someone seasoned with many years of experience up their sleeves. He or she can be a trainee who can advise you on graduate application process and give you tips such as the questions recruiters asked during his or her interview.

However, do remember that banking and finance professionals are often quite busy, so you may not always get a response from them over online platforms like LinkedIn or emails. Hence, why it is just as important to step up your networking game at real-life events to cast a stronger and wider social net.

One important tip when approaching a potential mentor is to be honest about your intentions to learn from them. Most of the time, they will appreciate your candour more than an excessive butter-up. Make it clear that you’re looking for a mentor and email them now and again but also make sure not to flood their inbox.

Time to step up on your LinkedIn game and network away!