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How to get a £100k job in the City – as a ‘superstar’ without a degree (Do Not Use – Press Template)

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Neil Vonk

- February 16th, 2024
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I was featured in a recent article by Telegraph Money, where the ins and outs of securing a high-paying job in London’s financial district were unveiled. Authored by Joe Wright on February 5, 2024, the piece provided valuable insights into navigating the competitive landscape of the City. I was one of the standout voices in this article sharing my expertise on breaking into this lucrative job market.

The full article continues…

With its ever-expanding cluster of skyscrapers, the City of London is a bubble home to high-flying firms where the average salary tops £100,000.

More than 600,000 workers – albeit with many mixing being in the office and working from home – are crammed into 1.2 square miles of the capital.

While most job sectors have experienced real-terms pay cuts since 2008 after factoring in high inflation, the mini-metropolis stretching from Holborn to the Tower of London is one very noticeable exception.

Here, the streets are still lined with gold – for those who can get in. Telegraph Money explains how you can do it.

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Have good contacts, and apply fast

When trying to break into any career, it helps to know someone already on the inside – but this is taken to the next level in the City, where nepotism is notoriously common.

As for class background, things have improved since the Sutton Trust’s report in 2016, which claimed that working-class students were “systematically locked out of the top jobs in investment banking”, but they are still in the minority. In 2022, a report found that just 36pc of senior leadership positions were held by staff from a working-class background.

Ryan Kaye, founder of recruitment firm Market Talent, said:

You have a chance of securing a role if you haven’t got qualifications; the mindset has changed from grad-only, as companies are realising there are superstars who didn’t go to university.

He added: “We are giving mandates to find a school or college leaver over a graduate. I’d look at your network of people, starting with family and friends and then going layer by layer. If they have a connection, it’s likely the best way in.”

If you’re applying cold, you’ll need to be quick – as any jobs being advertised won’t usually stick around for long.

“You need to be a super proactive job searcher,” said Mr Kaye.

“Within a day, these elusive roles get more than 100 applicants, so if you’re one of the early ones to apply you have a better chance as the advert could close very fast.”

Mr Kaye recommends City job hunters get up early and give themselves a set time each morning to look for and apply to roles, and set alerts for new vacancies.

“I’d recommend applying for at least five jobs a day,” he said.

Angela Lopes, of Tiger Recruitment, said word of mouth plays a huge part, and suggested securing temporary contracts and impressing on the job is a good way in.

“If you can get some good reputable companies on your CV, it goes a long way,” she explained. “Try and get temp experience because you just never know what can come off the back of that.

“You could be going in on a temporary contract and be more secure than somebody in a permanent role because if there are cuts and the headcount needs to be lowered, the permanent roles could be the first to go.”

But Mr Kaye says the likelihood of finding a temporary role isn’t high: “It’s more common when businesses are aggressively expanding, and we’re not seeing that at the moment.”

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Youth might beat talent

If you’re considering a career swap to the City, experts suggest you might find it more difficult than a grad with little experience. Younger candidates with the mettle for the demands of the City are more likely to land a job than those further along in life.

“If you’re at the early stage of your career, you’ll probably find it easier to get into the market versus if you have 15 to 20 years of experience,” according to Michael Henning, head of investment at recruiter Mason Blake.

Mr Kaye agreed: “Firms think younger people are more moldable, and wouldn’t necessarily have all the burdens of an older adult so they can fit more into the work/life balance.”

“I’ve never seen a junior role where they’d consider someone over 30 years old,” he added.

Lower-skilled jobs are hard to come by

Even though firms are on the lookout for young talent, the task of getting your foot into the City is proving greater due to a lack of opportunities for low-skilled beginner-friendly jobs.

“There are actually larger barriers in place at the moment with employers being more risk-averse,” Mr Kaye said.

“Employers used to give those from other industries more of a chance but we’re just not seeing that at the moment. A lot of the simpler roles are being outsourced to the further reaches of the world.

“Places like Delhi are now the main hub for what used to be the basic roles in the City. If you were to look for a simple clerk or officer role, for example, you’ll find a lot of them have been outsourced – the more complex roles are staying in London where the talent is.”

For example, Evelyn Partners, one of the UK’s largest accountants, is considering outsourcing its services to India as the firm outgrows its new City headquarters. It would follow similar moves by the Big Four accountants – EY, Deloitte, PwC and KPMG – which have long outsourced routine processing tasks to cheaper and more efficient offshore centres in India.

Hakan Enver, managing director at Morgan McKinley, said: “Business leaders are now far more focused on cost reductions and improving cash flow.”

How much a new City recruit can expect

“For a junior analyst graduate role, you’ll probably get between £25,000 to £35,000,” Mr Kaye said.

“Typically, in your first five years in the City you’ll earn 60pc of your earning capacity. If you draw a line graph, salary progression just rockets upwards and then flattens out after five to seven years.

“You’ll reach about £60,000 really quickly and then, depending on your role, that’s when you start to plateau. But obviously you can keep climbing and it’ll jump again.”

Mr Kaye predicts that around 30pc of City workers earn more than £100,000. According to the High Pay Centre, the median pay deal for a FTSE 100 boss was £3.9m in 2022, and chief executives now typically earn 57 times more than their employees.

A newly qualified lawyer in a magic circle firm could expect to hit the heights of £125,000.

Many of the big names such as Rothschild, JP Morgan Chase, Evercore and Goldman Sachs offer significant bonuses at the end of employees’ first year working there, some of which have historically been as high as £50,000.

But recent graduates should be wary of the large sign-on bonuses, which typically have to be paid back if a staff member leaves in a certain period of time.

The state of the City’s job market

The latest employment figures from Morgan McKinley show a decline in the number of available jobs and the number of job seekers in the City’s financial services sector over the course of 2023.

According to the company’s recruitment monitor, there was a 16pc decrease in job seekers and 38pc decrease in jobs available compared to the previous year.

In the final quarter of last year, there was a dramatic 42pc decrease in jobs available compared with 2022.

Mr Enver said the City hasn’t seen a drop of this magnitude for a while: “In 2022, there was a very competitive job market propelled by a robust year of wage expansion; however this changed quickly in 2023 with indications of a market slowdown influenced by the high-interest rates, inflation, shortage of workers and uncertainty around the world following the post-pandemic boom and geopolitical conflicts.”

The Big Four accountants all announced hundreds of layoffs across advisory and consulting divisions last year, but further sweeping redundancies are not expected this year.

Drastic layoffs are not only reputationally damaging but also leave firms without the manpower if deals return sooner than expected.

“Every single time there’s been a downturn – if you go back to the financial crisis and if you think about Covid – the recovery for professional services was just incredibly fast,” explained Fiona Czerniawska, chief executive of Source Global Research.

“Nobody wants to find themselves without enough staff at the point when the market recovers,” she said.

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A brighter outlook ahead?

Despite the current lull, there is hope of greater opportunities in the years to come.

Eleven new tower blocks are planned to be complete by 2030 and companies including HSBC and Clifford Chance will return to the district from Canary Wharf when their current leases expire.

Last year, Spanish banking giant Alantra cited the “deep pools of talent” in the UK in its decision to switch its investment banking HQ from Madrid to London.

The City has also managed to bring down its office vacancy rate by 7.3pc – a sign that office working is bouncing back.

While finance still dominates, technology, sciences and education are the three growth sectors deemed to drive future demand for space in the City. The Greater London Authority expects there to be an extra 85,000 jobs by 2041.

The question is whether you are willing to do what it takes to get one, and keep it.

“Enter the City knowing your work/life balance is going to change,” Mr Kaye said.

“The expectation of any employee is one that you need to meet the needs of the business. If you’ve got plans but need to stay late, then you need to find a way to work late.”