Applications / Interviews / Job market / Work experience

Investment Banking – 9 top tips to get ahead of the pack

So you’re interested in the world of investment banking and want to know how to get ahead of the game? How do you get your “foot in the door” of this competitive and high profile industry.  How can you find out if the worlds of “Mergers and Acquisitions”, “Sales and Trading”, “Compliance and Risk Management” or “Operations” are for you?

Here are nine top tips to help you stand out and save you time and energy. They’ll even make you feel more confident, when (rather than if) you get to the interview!

Tip 1. Follow the markets.

market data scaledMake it your business to know how world and local events shape financial markets.  Do you know how the monsoon in India might affect the price of gold?  Commodity traders do!  If equities grab you, you’ll need to understand the reasons behind the recent movements in the S&P 500 and the FTSE 100. Bankers read the Financial Times and other newspapers and newsfeeds.  You need to too! The Executive Director, Institutional Equities, at Morgan Stanley explains:

“I can tell when someone has read the Financial Times yesterday…for the first time.  I do not expect you to be an expert in the field but I am interested in your opinions about markets and world events and to give me that, you have to be well read.”

You could start with The Gateway Newspaper. It’s a great way of finding this information in an easy to understand format.


Tip 2. Consider the “pipeline”.

Hiring levels for positions in Investment Banking are healthy,

“We are maintaining the strong hiring levels of last year.”
VP Graduate Recruitment at Morgan Stanley

but… relatively few analyst roles are available if you have not already interned within the industry.  Larger banks like to hire from previous interns and look to cultivate a “pipeline” of talent. Be proactive!  Look to see what opportunities are available for first or second year students, and make your applications in good time.  If you’re a masters student, consider an “off cycle” internship as a route into the sector.  Don’t confine yourself to the “big guns”, consider applying to smaller investment banks and brokers too.

Tip 3. Take advantage of diversity initiatives.

Banks recognise that diverse teams increase profitability and employee productivity.  Look out for schemes to encourage those with disabilities , women and under-represented ethnic groups to apply. These are Morgan Stanley’s initiatives.


Tip 4. Tailor what you have done to the bank’s key skill sets.

Another Morgan Stanley Director has advice for how you “sell” your degree to him;

“I want to see how you analyse information.  In history for example, evidence degrades over time, you have to sift through different opinions and reports to come to a conclusion.  I am interested in how you have done that.  It relates to how we need to analyse financial information to advise clients.”

Key skills sets are identified on banks’ careers pages.  Come to see us or use our web page for help. Make sure you tailor your approach to individual banks. Never send the same application to all banks!

Tip 5. Talk to people in the sector.

Talk to employees at target banks about the culture, what the bank is looking for and how you can make your application stand out. Top advice from a Director of Graduate Recruitment at an investment bank,

“We place as much store in the cover letter as we do the CV. A cover letter informed by a personal conversation with someone in our firm can carry a lot more weight than one informed by a brief 15 minute foray onto the internet.”

Check when employers are coming to campus or holding events at their offices.

Tip 6. Don’t be afraid to have an interesting opinion.

Giles Johnston of Instructus Markets has some advice:

“Obviously the new regulatory framework around banking has had a major impact on how banks do business and it is good that students show their understanding of this in application forms.  However, students that offer an opinion on how banks might function effectively post-regulation could shine through on the application”.


Tip 7. Beware of being too “risky”.

Investment Banking has quite rightly drawn back from the excessive risk taking that contributed to the financial crisis.  There has been much in the news recently about increasing bank regulation.  The message here is to be cautious when talking about risks you have taken – they should be calculated or you should have “learnt” from them if the result was not good!

Tip 8. Consider all departments.

The top “front office” roles in an investment bank are highly competitive.  Impeccable academic credentials, well-evidenced key skills and clear motivation are prerequisites for even the first interview.  Why not consider other options?  Roles within Risk and Operations are growing and offer great opportunities for promotion, travel and fulfilment.   Another Vice President at Morgan Stanley:

 “In Operations I manage relations with many of our partner financial institutions worldwide who carry out transactions on our behalf.  I travel widely and have been able to follow my interests and ambitions.”

Speak to people from all sectors of the banks. You may find your perfect role is in the middle or back office.

Tip 9. Be prepared

Know application deadlines and prepare for each step in the process.  Remember that banks begin to interview well before the close of applications. Get your application in as soon as you’re happy with it.  One exception – if your preferred employer is due on campus you might want to wait and talk to them first.

“It is very possible (as was the case for me) that the person you are speaking to will be reviewing your CV in the coming days.”
Nik Steffen MSc Finance with Behavioural Science, WBS, now IBD Analyst.

This blog was inspired by a recent careers day at Morgan Stanley.

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