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Applying to a bank: a five star start

How can you ensure your applications to investment banks go off with a bang? Hannah Langworth gives you a countdown to career lift-off

Five star start

5. Commercial awareness

First things first – here’s something that you can do right now – in fact, you’re already doing it: read up on business and finance. Start with The Gateway every two weeks, of course – look out for our Commercial Awareness series in each of our autumn issues. Also try dipping into the business section of a national newspaper, the Financial Times or the Economist. For Londoners, City A.M. is worth flicking through on the Tube.

Also look out for business programmes on TV and on the radio – you’ll learn a few things from The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den, but why not also try Business Nightmares or finance and economics-related editions of Panorama? Meanwhile, on the radio there’s In Business, The Bottom Line and Today’s daily business news and famous Friday “Boss” slot.

You’ll be building up a body of knowledge that will be invaluable when it comes to filling in application forms and interviews. But remember you’re also finding out if the topics being discussed are ones you want to think about every day as part of your job. Prefer Vogue or Dogs Monthly? Maybe you should consider a different career.

4. Extra-curricular activities

Extra-curricular activities – here’s why to do them: they provide great stress-busting breaks from your studies, and also give you perfect opportunities to build and demonstrate the skills employers want to see, like teamwork, problem-solving and organisation.

Which ones to do? You’ll probably have plenty of your own ideas about what you want to get involved in, but here are some thoughts to bear in mind. Firstly, make sure that you join some societies whose activities are related to banking and finance, for example, your university’s Investment or Entrepreneurship Society – doing so shows that you’re genuinely interested in these areas, and committed to doing what it takes to build a career in the sector. They’ll also help you learn a lot – and you’ll get to network with future leading lights of banking of the future. Secondly, try something you haven’t done before! University is the perfect time for experimenting, and finding out new things about yourself – and investment banks will love the fact that you’re up for a challenge. Thirdly, do what you love. When potential employers read about extra-curricular activities on your CV, they want to see evidence that you’ve got properly involved, worked with others, set some targets and done your best to achieve them. You’re bound to be successful in doing so when you’re involved in something you feel passionate about.

3. Part-time and holiday work

Before you start thinking about a role at an investment bank, how about one stacking shelves or cleaning toilets? It may be hard work and not always glamorous, but then so is working in finance. Our contacts at investment banks have told us they like to meet applicants who have shown they can get stuck in and get a tough job done on time.

Also, real-life commercial experience of working in a bar, or promoting a company at university is a great way to get a solid understanding of the business world – the insights you gain could come in very handy when working on that acquisition deal in the beverages sector, or on marketing a new financial product to investors.

If you decide to take on a part-time job, try to get as much benefit out of it for your future career as possible – take on responsibility, grab any chance to lead a team or have some input into the business plan, and ask your colleagues with more experience than you for advice.

2. Internships

This is the big one. It’s pretty much essential for you to spend some time experiencing life at an investment bank while you’re at university if you’re hoping to join one once you graduate. Your potential employer wants to see that you’re committed to the career path by spending some of your precious holiday time with them, and to have a good look at how you work before they consider offering you a permanent place. You want to do one to see what really happens inside an investment bank, make some valuable contacts, and work out if finance is the way forward for you.

On any internship, make sure you keep a list of the tasks you’re given to do – you’ll find this record useful for filling in application forms for graduate roles later. Also try to make a good impression, and stay in touch with the people that you meet, who’ll be great sources of advice, and may well be able to put in a good word for you with graduate recruitment.

1. Play hard too!

Finally, don’t forget to keep doing the things you enjoy – just for fun! Go travelling, do gymnastics, eat tapas, or whatever else does it for you. Investment banks want people who are not only intelligent, hard-working and commercially aware, but also interesting to have around, well-rounded and enthusiastic about life. Why? Because these individuals make great colleagues – and they also tend to be best able to win clients and keep them happy, and to work effectively with everyone they encounter during their career.

It’s time for lift-off! Good luck!

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Bank of America Merrill Lynch - A bulge bracket investment bank
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Bank of America Merrill Lynch - A bulge bracket investment bank
Internship in
investment banking
Deadline Ongoing
Apply now
Remind me