Investment banking is an exciting career option for bright graduates. But how do you know if it's right for you? Alex Khosla joined UBS just over a year ago. Here, he explains how he found his way into finance and what he enjoys about his job.
Where did you go to university and what did you study?
I studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford.
How did you become interested in investment banking?
At university I was really interested in drama and I wanted to be an actor, director or producer. But then in my first year I heard about a cool scheme called UBS Horizons where the bank sends you on a volunteering project over the summer to help you develop your skills. I won a place on the programme and went to Costa Rica, where I helped to build a school with other students.
I was invited to do an internship with UBS the following summer. At first I wasn't sure that investment banking was right for me, but I was given the chance to try out working in a couple of departments and found a position that I enjoyed. At the end of my internship I was offered a job with that team.
Can you outline your role?
I'm an analyst in cash equity sales. This means I keep up-to-date with news and research reports so I can advise my clients on which companies are best to invest in. When I joined UBS I worked in European equities but have just moved into Latin American equities.
Why did you choose to work at an investment bank?
On some graduate programmes it seems like you have to sit at the bottom of the ladder for three years before you're allowed to do anything. However, here I have to use my brain and I'm asked for my opinion every day. When I finished university I was also offered a job in another industry but I turned that down and chose investment banking because I felt it offered me more immediate responsibility.
What hours do you usually work?
My working day is tied to the markets so I start at 6.15am and finish at around 6pm. It's more demanding than going to a few lectures a week at university and I see less of my friends now than I did then, but that's the reality of working life - whatever you choose to do. The work is interesting and the buzz of what I do makes the long hours worthwhile.
What are people at the bank like?
Everybody is different. My colleagues come from all over the world and from lots of different backgrounds, but they're all very smart and we have fun together.
The people you work with are very important because you spend more time with them than anybody else, especially in investment banking.
What characteristics do you need to be successful at an investment bank?
I think the best people at the bank are those who are good listeners. Listening is especially important when you're an intern or a graduate because your colleagues are a lot more experienced than you are so it's important to learn from them. You should also have the ability to pick things up quickly because there's a steep learning curve in investment banking.
You should be able to adapt to lots of different people and understand what they want from you, or how they want information to be presented.
You should also be incredibly curious. I was one of those annoying children who constantly asked: "Why?" Curiosity is valued in our business, but it's also important to be sensitive to the working environment and understand when it's appropriate to ask questions.
What's the atmosphere like at an investment bank?
The atmosphere is intense but fun. The trading floor is refreshingly upfront and honest - it's about getting on with your job and also enjoying what you're doing. UBS looks after its graduate recruits well with its training schemes and everybody is supportive. In addition, the culture is driven by people who are fascinated by the industry and interested in learning.
Are there any downsides to your job?
It would be nice to not have to wake up at 5.30am every morning! Getting up early is probably the worst part of my job.
There's also a lot of pressure on us. We're expected to always get things right because we send information to a lot of important clients. If you do make a mistake you have to step forward and own up to it.
What do you like most about your job?
I enjoy persuading and challenging people, and evaluating opinions to see whether they're right or wrong. The criteria I have to put everything up against is: will it add value to my clients and the firm?
Thinking about why companies make money is fascinating because it involves looking at real people, how they live their lives, and how things are going to change in the future. For example, in the space of a couple of hours I may go from thinking about the profitability of online advertising for one client to why China is building railways for another.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
I'd love to live and work abroad. I've just begun to specialise in Latin American equities so there could be an opportunity for me to move to New York, Sao Paulo or Mexico City. In the long term, I'd like to set up my own microfinance business.
What advice would you give to students thinking about a career in investment banking?
The most important things to consider when choosing a graduate job are the department you'll be working in, who you'll be working with, and what you'll actually be doing each day. These are the things that get me out of bed in the morning!