PhD to a Career in Finance

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This article highlights reasons why PhD graduates are in demand by recruiters in the financial sector, including insights from the Bank of America Merrill Lynch. The tips and insights will help PhD researchers to think about steps they can take during their PhD to effectively prepare for a career change out of academia to the world of finance.

What are the competencies employers are looking for?

Financial organisations from global banks to investment banking specialists to private trading companies will welcome applications from PhD graduates who can demonstrate relevant expertise and experience for roles requiring quantitative and research skills. Some of the larger organisations even have dedicated positions and internship schemes specifically for PhDs. In other cases PhDs will be applying alongside first degree candidates or experienced hire applicants, with the organisation not necessarily specifying that a PhD is required.

Employers will value PhD candidates with specialist quantitative and statistical training, and strong economic and numerical skills, typically recruiting researchers from mathematics, science or engineering fields, or economics or finance.

As well as the technical expertise, think more broadly about how your PhD can demonstrate your ability to:

  • Solve complex problems and find creative solutions
  • Analyse and synthesise large amounts of information and data
  • Work under pressure and to deadlines
  • Cope with unexpected results and find new ways to move ahead
  • Communicate complex information  to a range of audiences
  • Work independently with minimal supervision and ability to make decisions

What steps can you take to get ahead in the job market?

Articulate and evidence your key competences and experience in a well-written, concise CV or in an online application. Make sure that you tailor your application to the specific job role.

To stand out at the written application and interview stage ensure that you can demonstrate:

  • An understanding and interest in financial markets and broader commercial awareness
  • Examples of relevant work experience you have undertaken outside of academia, ideally in the financial sector
  • Clarity about your career plans and a motivation to work in the organisation you are applying to
  • Evidence of soft skills, such as managing others, working in teams and showing leadership

Insights from by Lauren Saunders, Staffing Manager at Bank of America Merrill Lynch

Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s PhD programme enables doctoral students with high-level technical skills to put their intellect and ambition to work in a fast-paced, exciting environment that will challenge and reward a rigorous approach. Interns will be assigned across our Quantitative analytics and Algorithmic trading desks and the day to day responsibilities will vary accordingly.

Typically, as an intern you will:

  • Grasp all opportunities to use high–level mathematical skills in a fast–paced, demanding business environment
  • Apply research and quantitative analysis to real–world problems in several business areas
  • Manage an intense level of interaction with colleagues and peers across all global markets functions


To support candidates in their transition to our workplace we offer a bespoke development programme, unique to our quantitative hires, which runs throughout your internship including: Strategic overview of the company, focusing on the debt and equity businesses, sessions covering topics including how to add value in your role and communicating with impact. There are also several opportunities to interact and network with peers.

Candidates will need an advanced degree/PhD in a mathematical or financial discipline, along with a strong quantitative background and impressive problem–solving, analytical and communication skills. The ability to think creatively will be essential, as will familiarity with programming. Applications are only accepted via our website at

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