Tech, banking or Big Four: How much they pay, how hard it is to get in

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If you're looking for the sort of graduate job that might pay you generous amounts of money from the start, you will probably have contemplated entry-level positions in banking, or with the Big Four accounting firms, or in technology. A new survey by the UK's Institute of Student Employers (ISE) is a reminder of how hard it can be to achieve any of these jobs, and how much you'll earn if you do.

For sheer numbers of graduate vacancies, it's difficult to beat accountancy. This year, the ISE says there were more than 3,000 accountancy vacancies in the UK. They weren't all with the Big Four (EY, KPMG, PWC and Deloitte), but the Big Four were unquestionably the biggest hirers of graduate accountants.  IT (technology) jobs were also plentiful, with over 2,400 graduate vacancies. Investment banking was super-niche by comparison: the banks in the ISE's sample only recruited a tiny 133 people into investment banking jobs in 2018.

This doesn't mean you should give up on banking. It does mean you might want to broaden your horizon beyond the tiny band of front office investment banking jobs that everyone's chasing: banks also hire people into technology and operations roles, and do so in big numbers (although the ISE didn't monitor this).

The first chart below shows the ISE's figures for the number of applications per job for graduate vacancies in each broad sector of the U.K. economy. They suggest the most desirable jobs are not in banking. Nor are the most desirable jobs in tech. - They're in Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG). This year, a massive 204 graduates applied to each FMCG vacancy, compared to 'just' 86 for investment banking, 'just' 67 for digital (ie. big tech companies) and just 36 for IT and telecoms. Big Four graduate jobs look easy to get by comparison: there were only 29 applications for each accounting and professional services (ie. consulting) job this year. The least desirable graduate jobs seem to be in the public sector, with only 12 U.K. students applying for each one.

The second chart below suggests that some of the highest paying graduate jobs in the U.K. in 2018 are in law firms, which pay new hires over £37k per head. Investment banks pay an average of £32.9k ($43k) in starting salaries; digital companies (tech firms) pay more at £34.8k. Accountancy and professional services firms pay an average of £24.6k, which might explain why fewer students want to work there.

The ISE points out that its figures are only taken from a small sample of the British graduate hiring market, and that its median pay figures tend to be higher than the rest. In niche investment banking jobs, however, they may understate the reality: headhunters who specialize in M&A jobs within corporate finance put total first compensation (salary plus bonus) at closer to £72k at top tier U.S. banks in London. The effort may well be worth the reward.

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