Business as unusual

Lydia Monnington catches up with a group of bankers at BNP Paribas and discusses student applications and interview preparation

BNP Paribas is a global leader in banking and financial services, ranking amongst the world's top 15 banks by market capitalisation and total assets. BNP Paribas has global opportunities in Fixed Income, Equity Derivatives, Coverge, Corporate Finance, Technology, ECEP, Structured Finance and Functions.

Why is it so difficult for students to get their first break into investment banking?

Investment banking is a competitive field, but with the right skills and interests, it's not as difficult to get that break as people might think. At BNP Paribas Corporate & Investment Banking (CIB), our graduates come from all sorts of different backgrounds. Work experience is useful, but we think it's just one of the ways that you can demonstrate your interest in the investment banking sector. Reading the Financial Times or taking part in trading games would also be useful.

There seem to be markedly fewer women than men generally in investment banking. How do women overcome the barriers they face?

In terms of women in banking, we recruit purely on talent. Historically, banking has been seen as being male dominated, but that's changing and many investment banks have specific strategies in place to redress the balance. For example, at BNP Paribas, we run a specific Women's Event for female graduates so they can meet some of our senior-level female employees and find out about their experiences.

What do you look for above all in the students you recruit?

Our minimum requirement is a 2:1 degree and that could be in any subject. We think personal qualities are just as important as academic qualifications so we also look for passion, drive, motivation, and of course, a real interest in finance.

How much would you expect students applying to BNP Paribas to already know about a. investment banking in general, and b. the area of the bank they are applying to specifically?

An in-depth knowledge of our products and services isn't necessary. However, we would expect to see a general understanding and awareness of investment banking and any prospective employee should look at our website. If someone's applying to a certain business area then we'd expect them to be able to explain their motivations - why they're interested in that particular area and how they're suited to it.

What are the general characteristics of the students who apply or reach interview stage but do not subsequently do not make an internship or job offer?

It's impossible to generalise as we recruit to specific roles and each requires different skills. Our interviews are about determining a person's suitability for a specific role, although all of the people who get an offer would certainly share the qualities we outlined above.

What does a student have to do in an interview to get an internship or job offer?

It's important to be well-prepared so at a basic level we'd expect someone to have looked at our website - not just to find out more about us, but also because we go into more detail about our selection and interview processes there. Beyond that, it's important to show initiative and drive without being arrogant. And perhaps the most important thing is that people just be themselves.

What's the best preparation a student can do ahead of pursuing a career in investment banking?

Immerse themselves in investment banking as much as possible. It's definitely important to regularly read the financial and industry press and people should try to join financial societies and trading games. It's also a good idea to attend careers fairs, presentation and events - these provide a chance to get first-hand information from people who are already pursuing a career in the field. If possible, we'd recommend doing an internship as this enables people to experience investment banking first hand.

How can a student tell if they are suited to a career in investment banking?

Generally speaking, they'd need to be really interested in the field. We recruit exceptionally diverse people to a multitude of different roles, so an individual may well be suited to one role and not another. It's a good idea to read the job profiles to see which roles interest you the most and which your skills would be most suited to. Internships give an excellent insight into life at an investment bank and you should definitely make the most of campus events such as presentations.

What is unique about the culture at BNP Paribas?

Our roots are in France but, whilst we retain our European culture, CIB has a global reach and a presence in more than 50 countries. Each of our offices offers a diverse mix of people, for example, our London office is home to some 69 different nationalities. And although we believe a bit of healthy competition is a good thing, one of the traits that really sets us apart is our focus on collaboration. By sharing ideas and opinions we believe we can create even better value for our clients - and even more innovative products and services. Our culture is also very supportive - our graduates benefit from assigned buddies and mentors. At the same time, all of our graduates join us in a real role with real responsibility from the outset. All of which means that working here is definitely not business as usual.

Do you have any last words of career advice for students in general and women in particular?

Preparation is essential so do your research. When it comes to applications, we would always advise people to focus on quality not quantity. You're more likely to get a good result if you spend longer making fewer applications than if you rush through lots and lots of them. And always make your CV bespoke to the role you're applying for.

Is there any further information you would like to add?

You can find out more about what makes BNP Paribas such a different place to work by visiting our website at - you'll also find lots of useful information about making a good application there too. Good luck!