Sina Prem is one of our young professionals: She started a top entry-level job in May 2021, working as an Investment Banking Analyst at Credit Suisse in Zurich. Before that, she earned a bachelor's degree in economics and a master's degree in banking + finance. Fondsfrau Anke Dembowski talks to her about the course she set to get this job and how it feels to work in investment banking as a young woman.
Sina, you started your first "real" job in April. Can you tell us something about your work?
I work as an analyst in Investment Banking at Credit Suisse Switzerland. That's where we deal with M&A, i.e. company mergers, and IPOs. I'm in the Large Cap M&A team, which only covers companies above a certain size. As an analyst, I do a lot of quantitative work; in particular, I perform company valuations.
What were the criteria for you to apply for your first "real" job? What was important to you?
The good thing is that I knew the department I work in now from a student internship. I was there for four months. It's important for me to work in a team that I get along with. It just has to fit. I could see that during my internship, even though it was already during Covid and we worked from home.
What do you particularly like about your work in investment banking?
The versatility. In few other jobs do you dive so deeply into so many different industries. I specialized in "finance" during my studies and now it's great that I can apply my knowledge practically. When I build a model, I can apply my corporate finance skills. The many exciting topics I get to work on and the complex interrelationships are also fascinating. I like the fast-moving nature of the stock markets, the fact that something is always happening, and the interplay between politics and business. Investment banking in particular is a very international business, even if we are focused on Switzerland here in Zurich. But Credit Suisse operates globally, which naturally opens up opportunities.
Investment banking in particular is known for tight working hours. Do you work a lot? And how does that feel for you?
I have the feeling that something is moving in the right direction in terms of working hours in investment banking. And I see that Zurich is better in this respect than London or Wall Street, for example. Credit Suisse supports employees in achieving a good work-life balance. The working hours are quite cyclical. If I'm working on an urgent deal, the working days can sometimes be longer. Whereby I have to say: I don't find that difficult because the team is good. But sure: You have to cancel a party sometimes, and I'm not so good at planning an appointment during the week. What's good is that we can also work from home, which gives us flexibility. But one thing is clear to me in general: You can't do the job just for the money. You need intrinsic motivation and it has to be fun to work with your team - this is definitely the case for me.
Your boyfriend can handle it?
Yes, very good. We recently moved in together so we can see each other more often in our free time. He works in consulting.
You chose a job in the financial sector, which doesn't have the best reputation among many young women. What fascinates you about the financial industry?
The financial industry still has the reputation of being an all-male domain, and that puts many women off. But things are changing here, although everything takes time. I also see that there are more diverse teams, and everyone benefits from that. Of course, things are more hierarchical in a large bank than in smaller ones, purely because of its size; that also puts some people off. But often there is no need for so many hierarchies.
I assume that there were several applicants for the great job you now have. What did you do to stand out from the competition? What interesting things did you do besides your studies?
The demand for investment banking jobs is high among university graduates. Therefore, there is already selection. I have a bachelor's degree in economics and a master's degree in banking and finance. But that alone is not enough. I still prepared very well for the interview. It is important to have practical experience and to be motivated. For the interview, I was very clear about my motivation for investment banking, and I was able to show that I have finance skills.
It's not easy to bring a lot of professional experience with you as a young person. How did you do that?
I did various internships during my studies, including at the fund company Veritas Investment when Hosnia Said was Managing Director there. She really took me by the hand in a great way and I learned a lot in that internship. Between my bachelor's and master's studies, I worked for a year in Singapore for KfW-Ipex in export finance and for KPMG in Frankfurt. During my master's degree, I worked at Credit Suisse as a student trainee and later as an intern. In this respect, I have already been able to gain some professional experience. That seems very important to me. Shortly before starting my career, I worked for a microfinance company in Africa for three months through the aid organization World Unite. That was also totally exciting and I even climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. But that was rather strenuous and it took six days to climb up and down.
From your current experience, what advice do you have for students on how to enter the job market well-prepared, besides already gaining work experience?
I have always tried to network well. For example, I was a member of various student associations, such as AIESEC International or the Stock Exchange Club in Frankfurt, and I've also been to fund women's events on a number of occasions. When you network, you get to know interesting people and hear a lot of things. I also find mentoring programs important. I participated in the university mentoring programs, for example, but you can also find a mentor yourself. And LinkedIn is also super-promotional - I must get ten messages from headhunters there every day (laughs). I also find alumni networks from universities exciting. I like to follow the progress of my fellow students.
The Fondsfrauen are committed to ensuring that those women who want to pursue a career can do so on an equal footing with men. How do you see it: Are young female career starters today being challenged and promoted in the same way as male career starters?
This is something that every woman who wants to make a career thinks about. I think we are on the right track. There are many support programs for women, for example, and for me I see that I am being challenged just as much as my male colleagues. However, I also know of many recent studies that point to a pay gap. Perhaps we women sometimes find it a little harder to get noticed and assert ourselves. Corona may even have been a positive thing, because it makes work more flexible and, for those who have children, makes it easier to combine family and job. Before Corona, home office was not a big issue in investment banking. Now we have seen: It's possible!
It is occasionally said that young people today are no longer as willing to perform as they used to be, that things like work-life balance and family & friends also play a role. How do you see it? Is there any truth to this more or less subliminal accusation?
A certain work-life balance is simply part of being healthy and productive in the long term. Often the accusations sound as if we want to be paid super and are not willing to work hard for it. That's not true! I think young people today are more likely to ask: What's the point of my job? Are unnecessary hierarchies being dismantled? We are willing to perform, but we want to see a meaning in our work and therefore perhaps question more. But of course family and social contacts are also important. Anything else would be strange, wouldn't it?
What advice would you like to give young women who are interested in entering the financial industry?
Be confident and don't let anything get you down! We also have to have fun with what we do and radiate that.
Thanks for the great interview, Sina!