How to Navigate a Career in Sales and Trading

January 24, 2024

Working in sales and trading can give you a court-side seat for some of the biggest business maneuvers in the world, making it a highly rewarding career (and we’re not just talking about money!). Unfortunately, the secret’s out. In recent years, firms like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan have seen a huge increase in applicant numbers, with single positions receiving 100+ resumés per job ad

While it might be hard to get in the door, building a successful career without burning out demands long-term thinking. That’s why, in this article, we’re breaking down some of the complexities within investment banking and the hidden realities of sales and trading.

We cover what the day-to-day job is really like and what growth opportunities are up for grabs in the future. Read on to learn more.

What is sales and trading really like?

“Sales and trading” is a broad term for a range of financial services and processes. It’s also synonymous with stories of meteoric successes (and failures) within news, film, and television.

The reality of sales and trading is about making – and maintaining – viable markets for clients’ business interests. Of course, what this actually looks like in the short and long term is totally different.

The day-to-day vs the long-term

The day-to-day of sales and trading will depend on what desk you work at. For some, it’s mostly meetings; liaising between clients and traders to find viable solutions to clients’ financial needs. For others, it’s delving deep into the numbers; fine-tuning models, and mitigating portfolio risk.

Like other corporate jobs, the first few months can be hard while you find your feet. The truth about making markets is often quite different from textbooks and movies. But, if you managed to land the job, you’ve shown you’ve got what it takes. 

Ultimately, the goal is to either become a  VP/MD, or even start your own firm. At this level, your reputation and the ability to offer timely, innovative financial solutions (as well as guidance to the next generation of investment bankers) becomes vital. So, try to make connections with colleagues and clients, and build your industry standing.

Lesser known areas of sales and trading in investment banking

Climbing up the ranks of bulge bracket banking firms takes a lot of patience, time, and skill. As huge multinational corporations, sprawling organizational charts and high competition make every career move extremely difficult. 

In contrast, mid-market and boutique firms can offer an equally – and in some ways more – rewarding career trajectory. By specializing in more niche areas of finance, industry pain points, or similar USPs, boutique and mid-market firms can achieve the best of both worlds. 

Namely, capitalizing on a smaller number of high-value financial deals. As a result, you can access the same caliber of clients without sacrificing your exit opportunities or bonuses. What’s not to love?

To illustrate, the Wall Street Journal’s 2023 Investment Banking Scorecard shows that, while Goldman took the top spot for total value from global M&A deals, lesser-ranking firms performed better by some metrics. For example, Centerview Partners had the highest average per-deal value at nearly $4.2 billion despite making fewer deals than the previous year.

How to build a career out of sales and trading in investment banking

Does the firm you work at actually matter?

League tables and annual rankings of investment banking firms can give you a sense of how different firms compare, but they don’t show you everything. As with college and university rankings, there’s a lot hidden underneath the surface. 

In general, league tables can really help understand the types of financial services that certain banks emphasize or specialize in over others. However, they’re far from definitive, as publishers like the WSJ and FT produce different rankings from one another each year. Because of this, you need to take league tables with a grain of salt.

Regardless, if an investment banking firm is leading in an area of finance you’re interested in, it makes sense to chase the opportunity. The main thing to prioritize when applying for new positions is choosing the right desk at the right firm with the right team that can help you develop and grow as an industry professional. After all, a great manager and team can supercharge your career progression and industry knowledge.

Trends in sales and trading you should know about

Long-term, your reputation as an investment banker will ultimately be defined by your ability to meet client needs and develop innovative financial solutions. That means having an eye on key areas like:

  • Emerging regulatory changes at home and abroad.
  • Developments in automation and technology to improve internal or client-facing processes.
  • Industry or client-specific market trends.

Being able to confidently navigate each of the above will ensure you’re prepared for almost anything that comes your way. However, you can’t do it alone, so make sure to find a network of peers and trusted contacts who can give you advice when necessary.

Discover career opportunities in sales and trading at Blaylock Van

Blaylock Van is a mid-market investment banking firm built on financial ingenuity. Since 1991, we’ve been delivering cutting-edge market insights to Fortune 500 corporations across the globe and building client relationships that last.

Our sales and trading professionals use their extensive experience to drive excellence in domestic and international equity markets. By combining advanced technology with a personal touch, we stand as a symbol of expertise and innovation.

Find out more about Sales and Trading with Blaylock Van here, or to get in touch with our team and start building relationships of your own, contact us today.


1,000,000,000 Secondary Market Municipal Securities Traded