It is a truth universally acknowledged in the careers world that the large corporates can have a hard time selling their appeal to arts students. Mention investment banks or the ‘Big 4’ and prepare for pretty strong reaction. And there’s probably no point considering this field if you have a pretty strong aversion to big business – after all it’s a competitive process, there’s nothing to be gained from going through the motions. But, if you’re still undecided about your career path and have a drive to succeed, you might just find the financial world is worth a second look. Following internships at Christie’s, Tara Lawrence – History of Art graduate – was on track to follow a career in the art world. Fast forward a few years and she’s happily working in the HR function at UBS. Here’s her story….
Having studied History of Art at the University of Warwick, working for an Investment Bank was not an obvious choice. I did curatorial work at Harewood House Stately Home in Yorkshire, internships at Christie’s auction house in the Impressionist and Modern Art Department and also worked as a Gallery Manager in a Contemporary Gallery in the South of France. The world of art dominated my academic and personal life and I had very little exposure to banking and finance. Working in the investment banking and finance field is something I could never have predicted in the days I spent studying Renaissance and Impressionist Art. As someone from neither a mathematical nor economic background, I didn’t believe that the finance world would be accessible or of interest to me.
I became more aware of the world of investment banking during my final year when friends started sharing their experiences of summer internships. I must confess the ‘work-hard, play-hard’ attitude to City life really appealed to me. I wanted to try it and also and also felt that being exposed to the work undertaken by an organisation such as UBS would give me a really good platform to launch my future career, whatever the sector.
From applicant to intern
There are some hard facts that any applicant has to face: graduate entry into investment banking is incredibly competitive with a complex and challenging selection process, involving a series of interviews, tests and assessments. I had no economics, maths or finance background at A-Level or university so was concerned about how I’d fare, but the key to success (including my own!) rests with practice and preparation.
I applied to the HR department at UBS as an intern and felt confident that the skills I’d acquired through previous work experience and my History of Art degree could be seen as an advantage. I knew my experiences were unique and could sell them as such. You need to stand out from the crowd, have something different to offer – and say – about your academic and extra-curricular background. It is not essential to have a financial grounding, but in order to succeed you of course need strong analytical and numerical skills. In addition to this you have to have an acute sense of commercial awareness in order to differentiate yourself and succeed in what is essentially a global, profit driven business. The assessment centre was a tough experience, but it was such a welcome boost to hear that very day that I had got on the scheme.
The internship experience was a unique opportunity to learn more about the industry and finance as a profession. It cemented my desire to make this a long-term career choice. Having completed the internship I gained a place on the graduate training programme within HR, where I will rotate in different HR areas for two years before finding a permanent position.
From intern to graduate trainee
Working in HR is extremely varied. We have constant dialogue with the business side of the firm. We also interact with many other parts of the organisation including Legal, Finance, Risk and the front office functions of IBD, Capital Markets, Asset Management and Wealth Management, as well as external financial regulators, and even law firms.
I would have to say the best aspect of my job is being able to work amongst a group of very talented people. I am constantly learning and given the opportunity to really stretch myself. I certainly know the meaning of the word ‘multi-task’! During my internship and through the graduate training scheme I’ve had the chance to learn from – and observe – leaders in their respective fields. All lectures, seminars and discussion groups involve leading economists and financial tutors – people who really know their stuff and can inspire others.
In just over a year, I have completed rotations within UBS’s Business University where I worked on developing and facilitating training programmes for the managers of the investment bank, supported the sales and trading personnel of Equities and Fixed Income in an HR Manager capacity. I am currently working within the international mobility and core cycle teams that look at performance management, promotions, reward and international talent management. Not something I envisaged myself doing when I started my degree, but I haven’t looked back.
Here comes the advice…
If I were to offer advice to current students I would say:
- do your research;
- talk to people in the industry,
- go to recruitment events,
- ask questions and find out whether you would enjoy working in the industry.
This is especially important in HR, as you need work with so many teams – from Risk, Operations and IT to Sales, Trading & Research.
An internship is a great way to find out more about a firm first-hand and also to find out where your own skills lie, so I’d definitely encourage people who are at earlier stages of their career to apply for internships. And it doesn’t matter if you change your mind afterwards: the experience is invaluable and provide a really solid base whatever career path you finally choose!
Despite being in a demanding job in a demanding industry I can say with absolute conviction that the environment and working culture of UBS is fantastic. If you’re a humanities student and think the corporate world is not for you, maybe think again….