Quick Links

Undergraduate Students - January 2008

The full version of the January CAPSScoop can be found by clicking here.


Articles in this edition

Interested in the Finance Industry? Read On…

Finding Work as a Freelance Musician: An Interview with Regan Toews

Making the Call (Cold Calling)


Interested in the Finance Industry? Read On…

by Anie-Claude Lamarche, CAPS Career Advisor

The finance industry is one of the nation’s largest employers. In Montreal, the employment growth for this industry is expected to be higher than average at 2 to 3% over the next 4 years; the average is 1.5% for all sectors. In light of these statistics, it is not surprising that several students hope to work in this industry. However, what many fail to realize is that the finance industry includes various types of employers and numerous types of jobs, all of which require different sets of skills and offer different work environments. While most jobs require some knowledge of finance, accounting, and/or economics, graduates from other departments can still work within this sector, namely in the customer service side or in departments common to any organization such as human resources and marketing. It is therefore important, before you start soliciting employers, that you learn about the various opportunities offered to you so that you can target your resume and your “elevator pitch” more specifically (see our documents on Networking caps.mcgill.ca).

Normally, when we think of the finance industry, we think of commercial banks. However, finance professionals are also found in the finance departments of corporations, investment banks, and in insurance companies. Let us look at each of these sectors separately focusing on the career opportunities available and specific recruitment practices.

Investment Banking

Investment banks oversee company mergers and initial public offerings, issue and trade securities, manage financial assets, and provide financial advice to corporations. A Financial Analyst position is the best point of entry into this type of company. There are analysts in each of the departments: corporate finance (which helps companies raise capital), mergers and acquisitions, trading, and equity and fixed income research. In this role, you perform market research and analysis, identify potential risks and opportunities, prepare detailed models of financial projections, debt ratings and company valuations, and assist in reviewing financial statements and internal records of companies involved in corporate transactions. Economics or Finance studies are normally required, but sometimes candidates with a mining or computer science background, for example, are recruited to work more closely with a specific industry sector. While most new recruits come straight from university, it is also possible to enter this field after having worked in a bank, an insurance firm or within a corporation.

Investment banks are very rigorous in their recruitment process: they often only hire 2-4 candidates nationally. Their overbearing presence on campus during the September (for permanent positions) and January (for summer positions) recruitment periods often misleads students into thinking that investment banking jobs are the only opportunities available to them if they want to join the finance industry. Beware though these jobs are not for everyone. While they offer much intellectual challenge, variety and travel opportunities, they also demand very longs hours (80 to 100 hour weeks almost a norm0, are high stress, and require you to be able to deal with large amounts of information as you work on multimillion dollar deals where there is no room for error. The types of people that get recruited in this field have a stellar academic record, demonstrated leadership and teamwork abilities, as well as energy and stamina. Note that during the interview process, your analytical and reasoning skills are assessed. Therefore, if you are considering applying to this type of position, it is strongly recommended that you practice before stepping into your first ‘finance interview’. The CAPS library offers several resources to help you get ready for this.

If securities trading is your career goal, then things are little different. Due to the nature of the job, work is very intense when the stock floors are open, but more relaxed once everything closes. Once the stocks close, traders research companies and take time to network with clients extending the work day well past the normal 8 hours. Very few candidates get direct access to trading assistant positions; most transfer into this department after spending time as an analyst. An MBA is often required for such positions as is a certification in securities trading.

Commercial Banks

In 2006, banks employed more than 249,000 Canadians making them one of Canada’s largest employers. With banking processes now being computerized, this industry’s challenge is in recruiting qualified candidates who are customer service oriented, mathematically inclined and possess analytical; all skills that are developed during your time at university.

Jobs in commercial banking are varied, from teller to financial analysts, credit analysts, loans clerks, real estate appraisers, and commercial loan officers. Students without a business or economics background have access to some of these positions namely in customer service. Since most banks provide customized training, it is possible for these individuals to move to different departments after a few years. Note that for certain positions, such as Loans Officer or Financial Planner, specific certifications may be mandatory. Depending on the institution, these are sometimes obtained internally or through courses delivered by the licensing body.

Normally, banks do not recruit undergraduates very aggressively on campus, aside for attending the occasional career fair. Several financial institutions have summer internship opportunities, some of which are advertised in the job listings. If this field interests you, we advise that you inquire directly at the bank with regards to employment or internship opportunities. Don’t hesitate to speak with an advisor if you are unsure as to how to approach the companies.


Due to an aging population, the demand for insurance is increasing, especially for long-term healthcare insurance, annuities and other investment products. The insurance industry is divided into two main components: insurance carriers that underwrite insurance policies and assume financial risk, and insurance agents or brokers who sell insurance policies to corporations and individuals. In an attempt to decrease costs, carriers are currently seeking new ways of marketing and distributing products, mostly using the internet and associating themselves with banks thus decreasing the demand for these positions. The employment opportunities in this industry are thus mostly for claims professionals, underwriters, and risk managers, such as actuaries.

Insurance companies also do not normally recruit on campus and so it is important to seek them out specifically. Compared with investment banks, the competition for these types of jobs is not as fierce and the work hours are more reasonable. For most positions, excellent communication and people skills are a must since dealing with customers is an intricate part of most jobs in the industry. Be prepared, however, to pursue your training beyond the bachelor level as several positions in insurance require you obtain a specific certification, such as the Chartered Insurance Professional (CIP) designation.

What do I need to access these jobs?

A common misconception from students is that without a GPA of 3.5 and over, there are no opportunities in the finance industry. While investment banking firms do select largely based on GPA, all the other industries presented here look at the candidate as a whole. If you have finance, mathematics or economics studies, then the more technical jobs will be more accessible to you. However, Arts students should not disregard this field altogether as customer focused jobs are great points of entry.

Aside from having a university education, employers also like candidates who show commitment to their development and who get involved in extracurricular activities. Work experience that has allowed you to develop analytical, problem solving and people skills is also favored. Make sure that your resume in turn highlights those skills specific to the job so that employers can easily see why you are a good candidate for the position.

Keep on the look out during the months of January and February as several finance related internships will be advertised on campus, mostly in the investment banking sector. Remember though, that whatever industry you wish to work in, it is always best to be active one’s job search. Networking with potential employers has proven over and over again to be much more effective than only replying to ads posted on various websites. Don’t hesitate to book an appointment with an advisor if you wish to further discuss your job search strategy or review your resume.

(1) Emploi Québec. (October 2007). Information sur le marché du travail, retrieved Dec. 17, 2007.
(2) Careers in Finance: www.careers-in-finance.com.
(3) Fitch, Thomas. (2002). Career Opportunities in Banking, Finance, and Insurance, New York: Checkmark Books.

Finding Work as a Freelance Musician: An Interview with Regan Toews

by Lucy Armstrong

Regan Toews is a freelancing musician and orchestral player, whom I have had the wonderful fortune of knowing for a couple years since my time in the music department at McGill. For her final recital in 2004 I found myself enraptured and thrilled by her intuitive and passionate performance. A commanding stage presence, and a compassionate and inspiring friend, I am delighted to feature her in this month's interview.

L.A.: How long have you been a musician?

R.T.: 23 years; but I became a “professional” musician at 17 when I won an audition for the Saskatoon Symphony, so I have been performing for 11 years in the professional field.

L.A.: What instrument do you play?

R.T.: I started on violin when I was about 5, and switched to viola around 13. As a lower instrument, I felt the tone colour was so beautiful. I felt too that as a violist in an orchestra, violists got the best juicy notes and they never played them juicy enough – I wanted to be that person to play them that way.

L.A.: What education and experience do you have, and how is this relevant to your career now?

R.T.: I am a freelance musician with a Bachelors of Music Performance from the University of Victoria, and a Masters from McGill. I had 3 really important teachers before that who really formed me. I played in the Saskatoon Youth Orchestra which was really formative because that is where my goal to become an orchestral musician came from. All that education went towards my skills and how to do my job.

L.A.: What is your employment?

R.T.: I play full-time for 2 orchestras (that involves preparing 10 concerts a year) and I also do part-time freelancing, which is partly substitution work (preparing 2 or 3 concerts a year) when I substitute with other orchestras. My other job is being a music teacher. I have private students in 3 places – I teach at a cultural centre in the West Island twice a week, I have students at the McGill Conservatory, and I also have home studio students as well. My friend and colleague, Christopher, started a small string ensemble company called Altissimo (www.altissimo.ca), so we provide live string music for events such as weddings, funerals, receptions, and corporate parties. I've been learning a lot about the business world through this.

The reason he began this company is because as an orchestral musician and teacher, you have a lot of work from September through May, but June through August can be really dry. So the whole reason for starting Altissimo was to get work during the summer months and fill in that gap. What is completely refreshing is that it's different from the critical world of classical music, and people just listen to our performance without analyzing it. Our genre is 99% classical, some is jazz, and some is pop.

L.A.: Often when one thinks of the idea of a “musician,” the connotations which come to mind in terms of essential skills is the rudimentary doctrine of practice, practice, practice! But there are many other skills which are vital to being a successful working musician – what are they?

R.T.: The first obvious skill is how to play your instrument; the second is how to play your instrument under a conductor with other musicians playing their instruments – in other words, playing as part of an ensemble is a whole other skill. As well, the ability to prepare your music properly, and to meet deadlines, perserverance, and organization. If you're not organized, you won't be able to prepare your music on time. You need to know what to practice and how to practice it efficiently – efficient practice will enable you to fulfill your goal on time.

The ability to work with others – we are all sensitive about what we do, but we need to be able to take criticism and follow direction. If we have musical ideas, you have to go through certain channels, you have to compromise.

Entrepreneurship – A life in music comprises many jobs and you need to find a way to fill in the holes. You need to be creative and figure out how you can get paid to play music!

Enthusiasm – you need to find a way to be motivated, to learn music that you would perhaps like less than other pieces.

L.A.: How important is it to interact efficiently with your peers and networking?

R.T.: Huge. The only reason I have one of my orchestral jobs is through networking, and all my teaching is through this too. When we all leave school, we think that all we need to do is practice. But you'll never land that perfect job right away – so what are you going to do in the five or so years that it takes to acquire that job? Networking is so much more important than we realize. You need to play for people so they know what you’re capable of.

L.A.: One of the most fulfilling things about being a musician is that through this art, you can engage in the creative process on an all-encompassing level. You devote your life to your craft, seeking that enlightenment through music and always trying new ideas. But in the business world, there a utilitarian aspect when it comes to transforming “art,” into “entertainment.” How much of this creative process do you sacrifice in order to be a “marketable musician?”

R.T.: There's a sacrifice, yes. On a scale of 1 to 10, it's a 5. I have friends who organize their own recitals so that they are able to make money and have a creative outlet. There is always a creative outlet if you make it yourself. You learn to get joy out of music in different ways, but yes, it's hard – knowing that rather than being experimental and performing a piece which introduces innovative ideas, sometimes you have to play a more popular “hit” with the audience. It's all about audiences, and you play music for people, not for yourself.

L.A.: What is the fulfillment for you in this career?

R.T.: For me, I live for the orchestral musical high. I only get it once a year, maybe twice – but this is what gives me purpose.

A musical high for me occurs when I’m playing in an orchestra or other ensemble and suddenly everything just seems to magically come together (usually at a cadence or end of a piece) and I get this tingle down my spine. It’s incredible.

L.A.: Why is music so important? What about it transcends all the other things which make up our excessively busy lives?

R.T.: I have spent my whole life with music, I don't know how to live without it. I think people need a place to lose themselves in. It's a time to reflect and go through your emotions. For my wedding customers, it creates an atmosphere and heightens emotions and pathos. Music has this ability, and I understand how to make people cry with joy.

L.A.: What advice would you give to aspiring musicians (such as myself!)

R.T.: You have to love this a lot. You have to be extremely persevering because you might not land that big job, and the odds are against you. You have to be prepared to handle hard work and to be self-promoting. As long as you’re proactive, you can make it work!

  • Take as many auditions as you can (3-4 per year is a good average).
  • Talk to as many musicians as you can – and get your foot in the door.
  • You have to have a day job. Teaching is what most of us do – that is my bread and butter. That comes by getting a few students, to get the ball rolling. I also recommend teacher training if you are interested in this – I received Suzuki teacher training, and that was amazing. It's not a 9 to 5 job, hard to manage, but if you love it, you can do it. I'm really lucky to have a supportive boyfriend and family that understands why I need to practice and teach.
  • I also recommend reading books about sport psychology that can help you achieve the mindset you need to survive in this competitive world.

L.A.: Thanks very much Regan!

Making the Call (Cold Calling)

by Natalie Jewit, U3, BA Psychology

COLD-CALLING. The name seems appropriate, as the thought of calling a complete stranger as part of the job-search is chilling for many of us. When I realized I would be writing an article about cold-calling I decided I should actually experience it first hand in order to write with any kind of authority on the practice. However, in all honesty, it was not something I was looking forward to. In fact, I put it off until the last possible minute, because the uncertainty of the whole thing just made me uncomfortable.

However, the more I thought about it, the more my worries over bothering someone, or making a terrible first impression seemed insignificant compared to what I could potentially gain. I am in my last year as an undergraduate, and I am really unsure about what kind of career I want to pursue. Furthermore, I don’t really know many people who are working in my field of interest. What better way to gain information about one of my prospective job choices than to talk to someone actually working in the field?

I wasn’t calling to ask for a job. I was simply asking for fifteen minutes of a person’s time to get an idea of what it would be like to spend a day working in their shoes.

Speaking with someone who actually works the job nine-to-five, five days a week can be a lot more informative than simply reading about a career online. That person can tell you what to really expect in a particular line of work. They can give you the scoop on everything from the future directions of the field, to what kind of clothes people wear to work everyday. These things could play a huge role in determining whether or not you are suited for a particular career, and are things you may not know until speaking to someone face to face.

In addition to hearing about the everyday experiences of a particular career, I was also expanding my contact base within my field of interest. Who knows? By making that phone call I could even catch wind of a potential internship opportunity, or job opening that could really get the ball rolling for me.

So I swallowed my pride and went for it. I followed the steps laid out for me in the CAPS workshop I attended. I considered: what type of career could I see myself in? What interests me? What are my skills? Next I did some research, and looked into various companies within the industry I had isolated. Then, I identified a person within the company whom I could contact. I devised a sort of script I would use when calling this individual, explaining that I was just doing some research on potential career paths and was looking for some advice. I prepared some questions that I wanted to ask, as well as gathered some information about my skills and qualifications to have on hand. When I felt adequately prepared, I picked up the phone to try and set up a time in which I could meet this individual to pick their brain.

And who would have thought? It actually worked! At the end of a brief phone call we had made a date. With the touch of a few buttons and a little bit of courage, I was one step closer to finding the career that was right for me.


Classified as

Follow us on: