Writing a CV or resume for an investment banking (or sales & trading) job is all too often an exercise in downside-only risk. Graduate recruiters get literally thousands of applications (even after all its very public problems, Deutsche Bank got 80,000 this year; Goldman Sachs was well into six figures). That means that the average time spent looking at a CV might be less than ten seconds. A professional headhunter, for jobs just above the most junior levels, might spend as much as a minute scanning it for an initial “fit or no fit” decision, but will then distill all your hard work and detail into a couple of bullet points to pass on to a decision taker.
But while nobody ever got hired on the strength of their resume, that doesn’t mean that the document doesn’t matter. Ten seconds is actually plenty of time for an experienced recruiter to spot a mistake, omission or imperfection if it is there. So there’s no way of getting round it; a CV that’s merely “good” will certainly lose you an opportunity. To keep you in contention, it needs to be literally perfect.
The absolutely perfect resume for any front office job in an investment bank, WILL....
1. Have brilliant academics
If you're in the UK, you're going to need at least a 2.1 degree (preferably a First) and a stack of A grades at A Level (the average investment banking summer intern has 530 UCAS points, equivalent to 3 A* grades and one A). In the U.S., it means you'll need a GPA of 3.5+ to be sure of your resume getting through.
How much flexibility is there here? To be brutally frank, not much. It’s not so much that the exam results measure real intelligence and ability, more that they demonstrate that you were able to knuckle down and do what it takes. Banks want to know that you have what it takes to work hard. For that reason, a GPA of 3.6 or even higher might not necessarily be taken seriously if it was all obtained in easy-looking courses; conversely, the consensus of recent jobseekers on Wall Street Oasis suggests that slightly lower grades could be tolerated from graduates of prestigious and notoriously difficult courses like Engineering at MIT.
But you shouldn’t rely on this. As one senior banking recruiter says, “"We just don't have the resources to go through each one and read the justifications about why they didn't do well academically." If the academic numbers aren’t there, you might need to apply to less prestigious firms, back- or middle-office roles or take a further degree.
2. Make a big deal out of those impeccable academics
Given that everyone with any chance of getting a front office job in an investment bank is going to be academically brilliant, excellent grades alone are not enough. It helps to win prizes too.
After years of grade inflation, high grades from universities are not what they were. In the UK, 28% of all graduates are awarded First Class degrees, with elite universities handing out even higher proportions. In order to differentiate yourself, your CV needs to make it clear that you were genuinely at the top of the pack.
So any scholarships won, any academic prizes and, in particular, any rankings in your class should be emphasised. Tess Read from career coaching firm Mandarin Consulting says, “just the grade doesn’t say very much from a good university, as everyone there ought to be able to get a top grade. What you need is something that shows that you, personally, were recognised as being something special. Scholarships should definitely go on the CV, because they are usually awarded by an objective and independent panel”.
3. Make use of bullet points and be concise and cleanly formatted
Financial services recruiters scan hundreds of CVs every day. They want to read something succinct and to the point. One recruiter said: “I became very attached to the standard resume format and font size. When reviewing this many resumes, I want to be efficient and I want to find the information I'm after where I expect it to be”. One page is standard for banking resumes in the U.S., although you may just about be able to get away with two pages in London.
If you don't present your CV in the form of bullet points from the outset, recruiters will usually distill it down into bullet points for you. For this reason, you need to have some hard facts in your resume (see point 4). - Without these, there will be nothing for them to create bullet points with.
The exception to the bullet point rule is Germany. There, banking recruiters say it's fairly standard to submit CVs that are 17 pages long. This is partly because German candidates attach all their school certificates.
Matan Feldman, a former J.P. Morgan associate who founded the firm Wall Street Prep, says you also need to take care that your resume is easy to read. "We see a lot of strange fonts, extra-long CVs and non-standard formatting. -Especially among international applicants."
3. Contain the right key words and phrases
Having the right key words in your CV will make a big difference.
You can’t always be sure that the first look at your CV will be taken by a human being these days. Although some banks, like Citigroup, promise candidates that all applications are reviewed by the recruitment team, this isn’t always the case at every bank, and Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are being used more and more.
And these systems aren’t always terribly accurate; according to surveys, 62% of companies using them admit that “some qualified candidates are likely being automatically filtered out of the vetting process by mistake”. Experts in these systems, like Uptowork’s Michael Tomaszewski, say that it’s best to rewrite your CV for every application, lifting buzzwords from the advertised job description. Carisa Miklusak of screening startup Tilr suggests that you shouldn’t use subheadings for things like “certifications held” or “languages spoken” but should incorporate them into the “Skills” section to give the machines the best possible chance of finding them.
These days, applicant tracking systems are becoming more advanced. - Instead of simply looking for particular words, they often use so-called 'semantic matching' technology to look for whole phrases and related words. For example, if a job requires Java programming skills and you mention SQL, you could still get picked by the machine on the grounds that people with SQL often have an aptitude for Java. For this reason, it makes sense to mention as many skills as possible (assuming that you have them) and to include skills that occur in clusters for the jobs you're interested in.
4. Speak in terms of concrete achievements and detail exactly what you did
According to Victoria McClean, the “CV Queen”, your resume is there to advertise what you personally achieved - not what you achieved as part of a team. "You’ve got to prove you’ll deliver in the future and you’ve got to prove you delivered in the past," she says. "Everything has to be tangible. It has to tell people about you, not the job you did.”
And this is borne out by the banks themselves; Goldman Sach Asset Management’s head of graduate recruiting says: “For every work experience you’ve had and for every organization you’re involved in, be prepared to go beyond what’s on your resume and speak to specific projects you worked on or efforts you spearheaded. Provide details on what your responsibilities were, what skills you applied and what learnings you took away from the experience. Then quantify the results.”
Speak, therefore, in terms of personal achievements rather than generalities. Your resume needs to contain statements such as, "I was the top ranked salesperson three quarters running and increased the value of key client accounts by 75% during that period." When you're applying for a job in IBD, your resume will need to reference the deals you worked on and exactly what you personally did during those deals. Most M&A CVs will be supplemented with a deal list, but you'll be expected to have summary detail in your CV too.
5. Show consistency
The best CVs show consistent ambition and a career path which progresses in harmony with that ambition. You will, for example, be viewed with deep suspicion if you have a history of working in corporate finance and suddenly express an urge to switch to algorithmic trading.
This differs a little at different stages of your career, according to Paul Violante, head of recruiting at UBS Asset Management. He says that “With millennials, it’s just par for the course that they tend to move around more often. For mid-level and senior people, if they’re moving around every two years, that’s a bit worrying. We look for someone who has showed that they can consistently achieve a level of success in each firm they work in, not just by moving to a different firm.”
6. Suggest personality
Banks don't just want to hire automatons with good grades. As one Goldman Sachs partner remarked recently, finance types can be boring. Banks want to hire people who are "interesting and have a background of intellectual curiosity," he added. For this reason, one former Goldman Sachs recruiter said they try to avoid "plug and play" hires and to look for creativity and interesting personalities.
"We want people who are balanced and not singularly focused [on getting a job in banking]," agrees Horton.
One senior banker said he puts candidates through the so-called 'airport test': how much fun would they be if you were stuck in an airport with them for 100 hours.
Banks also like to hire people whose CVs evidence particular elite forms of extra-curricular activity. Tess Read says: “Ordinary activities don’t always set you apart from the crowd. Sport is good, but it has to be at a decent representative level, or people will think it’s just a Sunday morning hobby. If you’re putting down charity work, you need to have raised an eye-catching amount of money, or even better founded your own non-profit.”
What about being a member of a finance society whilst at university? That's good, but your resume will be viewed with more enthusiasm if you've held a position of responsibility in one of these societies, rather than just showing up for the free drinks.
7. Be free of spelling mistakes and grammatically correct
In investment banking divisions (M&A and corporate finance) attention to detail is imperative: banks need to know that you can assemble presentations that will help them win clients, and those presentations must be completely error free. Victoria McClean says that 68% of hiring managers will reject a CV on the basis of one error, rising to 97% if there’s a second. Even inconsistencies in formatting will be seen as likely mistakes, so avoid fancy tricks and keep things conservative, professional and corporate.
8. Mention big name schools
Although people like to talk about “the myth of the target school”, and finance has more diversity of educational backgrounds than media or law, the fact can’t be escaped that big banks hire more from elite institutions.
We've listed the top schools banking like to hire from on Wall Street and in the City of London here. If you haven't been to one of these schools, don't assume you can't get in. - It just means you'll need to achieve excellent grades and to make sure you've proven your interest in finance in other ways (see 11).
Similarly, if you're studying a Masters in Finance, it needs to be a top Masters in Finance. If you're studying an MBA, it needs to be a top MBA. Anything else is not going to help you with the bulge bracket.
9. Show you care
This seems to get more important every year. In this age of increased banking regulation and ethical banking, it's become important to show that you're passionate about more than just making a lot of money for your own personal benefit, and that you’re the kind of person that is going to be able to keep it up in the long term. As Goldman CEO David Solomon said, “Life is a marathon, not a sprint … If you can’t find a way to have passions and pursue those passions . . . it’s just harder to have the energy to keep on doing this and to keep moving forward professionally”
10. Show you're cosmopolitan
It's no coincidence that banks like Goldman Sachs have a thing for hiring students who've spent time at universities outside their home countries. This applies as much in London as in New York and China.
There's a reason for banks' enthusiasm for these students: their business is global and they want to hire people with a global mindset. By the same token, if you're applying for an IBD or sales job in London, Andy Pringle of recruitment firm Circle Square says it will help if you speak at least two languages fairly fluently. In London, British candidates, who are often monolingual, can be excluded on this basis: "Britons make up less than 20% of some M&A teams," he says.
Conversely, if your native language isn’t English, you need to be able to indicate on your CV that second language issues won’t be a problem, via international university education or work experience and internships in London, New York or another English-speaking country. The anonymous WallStreetOasis recruiter suggested that it’s worth making a specific point of this if you have an Asian name.
11. Include a CFA Level 1 pass or long list of internships
If you're applying for an entry-level job in a bank, you'll need to prove that you really, really want it. During your first year at university, this means you need to apply for every banking-related event going: think insight days and spring internships in Europe, or sophomore internships on Wall Street. Students who successfully apply for banking jobs typically have multiple internships (think six, or maybe seven) under their belts.
Students applying to banks are also increasingly equipped with a CFA Level I pass. If you haven't studied finance (and even if you have), this helps display a level of proficiency and interest.
12. Show that you understand data manipulation and programming
Lastly, even if you’re not applying for a tech job, it’s worth bearing in mind that there aren’t necessarily going to be any non-tech jobs in investment banking in the future. At JP Morgan, the graduate program has compulsory Python programming lessons, and cloud computing, data science and machine learning are potentially going to be added to the requirements in the near future. At present, it’s not expected that banking applicants will arrive already able to code, but being able to demonstrate familiarity with data management at a more sophisticated level than the Excel VLOOKUP command is an advantage.
And the absolutely perfect investment banking resume WON'T...
1. Be more than two pages long (unless you're in Germany)
2. Be printed on pink/purple/baby blue paper. White is acceptable.
3. Include a photograph of applicant, surfing.
4. Have boxes around key sections. [ATS systems have trouble with boxes]
5. Speak in clichés. Do not say: "Analytical thinker, demonstrated leadership ability, team-playing skills, an ability to learn fast on the job."
6. List previous jobs and responsibilities without saying what your contribution was.
7. Be printed in a strange font. Recruiters are simple beasts, keep it easy.
8. Tell lies.
9. Include every single educational qualification you've since you were 16 even though you are now aged 43. You only need to add A Level results if you graduated within the past five years, say recruiters.
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