The absolutely perfect investment banking CV
It’s not easy getting a job in an investment bank. Graduate recruiters get thousands of applications for a few hundred jobs - if you’re going to get in, your CV will need to be very special.
What follows is a distillation of all that we know about how to write a banking CV or résumé that will get you beyond first base. Follow these instructions, and you may be one of the lucky few.
You might think that grades aren’t the part of the CV that you need help with crafting, and you’d be right. But when a bank’s AI scans your CV, the first thing it’ll look for are your grades, and it’ll throw your application out without reading all your other great little escapades. So what sort of grades do you need to get into banking?
Well, it varies between jobs. If you’re going for the most competitive jobs, like sales and trading or M&A, you’re going to need at least a 2.1 degree, although preferably a First, and a stack of A grades at A Level in the UK (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.
There can be more flexibility on grades for jobs in the back and middle office – but you’ll still need to be towards the top of your class. And even if you have excellent grades, it will help if you can differentiate yourself by pointing to scholarships and academic prizes.
Make use of bullet points and use a clean and concise format. 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. In Germany, CVs are often a lot longer.
Matan Feldman, a former J.P. Morgan associate who founded the career coaching firm Wall Street Prep, says you 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.”
Once the AI scanning your CV is happy with the grades you’ve achieved, it’ll start looking at whether the rest of you is the “right sort of stuff” that a bank is looking for. How does it do that? Well, by looking for keywords.
You want to hit the machine with (contextually relevant – it’s smarter than you think) uses of keywords that show a high degree of compatibility between you and the role you’re applying to. Victoria McLean, CEO of career consultancy City CV, suggests looking at job specifications and adverts – but you can also, in a Jujitsu-style turn against the machine, use the AI against itself.
“ChatGPT is another great place to go to for keywords. You can literally ask ChatGPT ‘what are the best keywords for a role in corporate finance within a top tier bank?’ and it will probably tell you,” she says. “And then what I would recommend you do is create that list, and literally cross them off. One by one.”
For tech applications, the searching bank’s AI is also wise to compatibility. 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 applying for.
You should be proud of your achievements – but more importantly, you should be able to speak about them in such a way that makes their importance come across (although this is more of a human reader than an AI).
You want to learn (if you haven’t already) the ins and outs of the S.T.A.R. technique (we have a whole article about it here). S.T.A.R. stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result – the gist of the technique is that it’s an efficient story telling structure that showcases your actions, thought processes, and results.
It’s important to remember that banks aren’t hiring you for altruistic purposes. No one’s doing you a favor. You’re being paid a whole bunch of money to provide a service for a billion-dollar corporation. Your aim is to show off your (hopefully extensive) problem-solving and analytical abilities.
"Your CV has to tell people about you," McLean says. "If any of your bullet points could be about the person who did the job before you or the person who may do it after you then it needs to be rewritten. Be absolutely clear about the outcomes."
Banks are often looking for analytical ability and for proof you can solve quantitative problems. When you're quantifying achievements, McLean says it therefore helps to think if practical examples where you've extracted critical points from complex data to inform a reasoned response.
If you've already worked in finance, use solid examples of your achievements. For example, statements like, "I was the top ranked salesperson three quarters running and increased the value of key client accounts by 75% during that period," say a lot more than a simple job title.
However, you need to be interesting, too.
You’re going to spend an obscene amount of time with the people you work with, especially if you’re working in a bank. It’s not unheard of for analysts – junior bankers – to work 100-hour weeks (although, thankfully, that’s become much rarer). Recruiters want to ensure that teams will gel well together. And banks want to invest in people who, further into their careers, are charming and well-connected enough to bring in clients.
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 interesting and unusual forms of extra-curricular activity.
Being a member of a finance society at university will help slightly, but not that much – you need to hold a position of responsibility in one of these societies, rather than just showing up for the free drinks.
There are certain other rules that are worth following for non-traditional applicants, especially those with a bit of experience under their belt.
“If you are applying for your first graduate role,” McLean says, “and you don't have any experience, the first thing to say is don't worry about it. What the banks are looking for is potential and passion.” It’s more important to demonstrate commitment to the field (and role) than it is to tick every past experience box directly.
Besides, your unique experience might be more useful to a bank than you think. McLean gives the example of a client of hers who worked for a major supermarket chain and (separately) as a kitchen appliance salesperson, and then got an internship at a “top tier” US investment bank.
“What he did was put a lot of spin on those two roles. At the electrical retailer organization where he was working, he talked about the fact that he got involved in merchandising. He increased customer service ratings by a particular amount. He wrote about the kind of impact it had on sales,” McLean explained.
“What you need to be thinking about really is what skills is that organization looking for. If I'm looking forward to working at Goldman Sachs, what do I know they're looking for, and what are their core values or their core principles?” That sort of information is readily available on their website, she notes. “How can I match my experience to show that I have the skills and the values that align with what they need? And secondarily, what might I have learned from my experience that might be relevant to that organization?”
In conclusion, sell yourself. With a bit of imagination on your part, it’s a lot easier than you think.
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