So you want to be a banker

Want to be a lawyer? Go to law school.

Want to be a doctor? Go to med school.

Want to be a banker? Go to… bank school?

You don’t have to study economics to get into banking. Many bankers have degrees in philosophy, geography, mathematics, civil engineering, law, or history.

Bank managers don’t care that their employees have studied Old French poetry or Kant’s Kritik der reinen Vernunft. To employers, a university degree indicates perseverance and an ability to learn new things.

However, there are some specific things you can learn to get ahead. The following four skills will boost your career in finance.

Excel

There is no shortage of specialized business intelligence software on the market. But you’d be surprised how often Excel is used in banks. Excel truly is the Swiss army knife of BI. Unfortunately, its popularity combined with a lack of training often lead to errors.

To get the most out of Excel, you must learn how to work with functions, filters, pivot tables, and macros. And please navigate spreadsheets with shortcut keys instead of the mouse!

Monetary economics

Financial firms have plenty of jobs for software engineers specialized in things like machine learning or data architecture. If you want to do such technical work your entire career, you can be a professional in a bank.

However, if your ambition is to grow as a banker, you will need to learn finance as well. Take internal courses, e.g. on financial products or on risk management. For a big picture view of the financial world, check out my book Bankers are people, too.

Become a good sales(wo)man

No matter how good your product is, it’s useless if you can’t sell it. That’s obviously true when you work with clients. Whether you offer mutual funds to retail clients or you’re an investment banker1 dealing with billion dollar companies, you’ve got to sell.

But the ability to sell is also important for bankers in the back office. You need to convince your managers and colleagues why the bank should invest its resources in your project.

Office politics

Finally, something every experienced banker knows but nobody will tell you. To advance your career, it helps if you can play the game of office politics.

That doesn’t mean you should become a back-stabbing Machiavelli. But the earlier you realize that corporate life is very different from school the better. Your success does not depend on passing exams anymore.

Take initiative, get things done, and build your reputation!

Good luck!

  1. The Epicurean Dealmaker has some advise for investment bankers.

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