Finance and business societies: get involved

Finbarr Bermingham explains why you should consider becoming a more active member of your university finance or business society

Of the thousands of students that apply for internships or full time positions within investment banks this year, it's reasonable to suggest that the vast majority will be a member of their university finance society. In order to secure a top position, it's important to differentiate yourself from the field, which is why recruiters from top banks tell us all the time that simple membership may not be enough. You need to become active within the society. Some take an administrative position, others put themselves forward for presidency, while some may even start their own society. A few do all three.

Nick Griffin, Graduate Recruitment Manager at investment bank Macquarie, says: "By being an active member of the society you're able to demonstrate a wider skill set in addition to your interest in the society itself; it will allow you to widen your network and provide you with a broader experience that you can discuss with potential employers."

Nick's sentiments are echoed by Emily Poole, RBC's Campus Recruitment Manager, who tells The Gateway: "It's rare to see a CV without a long list of society memberships these days. Being an active member shows employers that you have made an annual commitment and engagement outside of your day to day responsibilities at university. We understand the time, creativity and commitment it takes being an active member. Going above and beyond good grades is key in this competitive market!"

Start your own

When Abbas Kazmi started at Oxford, he joined societies for banking, entrepreneurship and consulting. He soon came to the conclusion that it would be better if students could pursue their interest in all of these fields under the umbrella of a single society, and decided to resurrect the Oxford Guild society. He's since founded the National Union of Student Business Societies, a network linking all the Russell Group universities' business and finance societies. Abbas, then, should know a thing or two about the benefits of getting involved.

"While on the committee," he tells The Gateway, "you get to actually speak to the recruiters. You find out what their plans are for the coming year: what kind of people they're looking for, what gaps they need to fill and in which regions. You can get application advice, and find out what the best course of action to take is, straight from the horse's mouth."

The Guild works with 20 firms in all, including top tier banks like Citi, Nomura and J.P. Morgan, and its relationship with each is symbiotic. Says Abbas: "We tell them what we think will excite students, in terms of events on campus. In return, they give us sponsorship, but also careers advice. So, perhaps we'll hear that Citi is looking to increase their applications for sales and trading, for example; or that they're looking for students with a second language."

It's certainly no cakewalk to get onto a committee (the Oxford Guild received about 400 applications for 12 committee positions last year), and the hard work really begins once you get there. But the rewards are clear. Last year, Abbas interned with Deutsche Bank and this summer he's been interning as an oil trader with Glencore. "I think the recruiters were impressed at the amount of hard work we'd put in. I'd led a team, worked with other students, helped run over 70 events in a year, worked with 20 multinational firms - on top of my degree. It shows focus and drive, and the interviewers liked that."

Rise to the top

Artjoms Vohmincevs is the president of Manchester University Trading and Investment Society (MUTIS). He, too, has seen the direct career benefits of being an active member of a university society, after a chance encounter with some fellow interns this summer at Citi. "There were two guys on my internship that recognised me from Manchester. They came up and told me that they'd got a place on the internship because of an event MUTIS had organised with Citigroup. The bank told them that they'd shown their commitment by helping out at the event, and invited them in for interview."

But there's more to society life than the access it gives you to industry professionals. The skills you pick up can be vital. "You obviously get to hone your leadership skills," says Artjoms. "You manage a huge number of people. At an average meeting, there might be between 100 and 500 people present. You need to manage those numbers, find a place to put them all, and make sure they're content. In dealing with sponsors, you also get to develop lots of different sides of your personality: negotiation, organisation and presentation, for example."

So it's clear that becoming an active member of your finance society can be a great way to develop your skills and further your career. And, at the start of the academic year, there really is no time like the present.