Investment bank recruiters reveal how to make your application stand out

Become the candidate whose application makes the grade. Lucy Mair asks graduate recruiters for their application and interview advice

So you've decided to apply for a spring week, internship or graduate scheme at an investment bank. Here we give you advice direct from investment bank recruiters on what they're looking for in your CV, application form, and at interview.

Whether you're going for a first-year programme, a summer internship or a graduate role, the recruitment process can seem nasty, brutish, and anything but short. But each interaction you have with a bank is your chance to make a good impression and show them exactly why they should hire you.

The application form

Do your research

Lyle Andrews, Head of EMEA Graduate Recruitment at UBS, says: "The best thing you can do is to know what you're getting into by researching the company, knowing what the work is like, and knowing what the pluses and minuses are." It's not enough to simply memorise the job description and be able to recite the bank's website on cue. To prove your interest, enthusiasm and suitability for the role, you'll need to show that you have a real understanding of what it entails. Fortunately, there are plenty of simple ways to do so: join your university's finance society, where you'll meet students who may have already done first-year programmes and internships; attend campus events to learn more about the bank you're interested in; and read The Gateway of course.

Match your skills

When filling out your application form, it's important to think carefully about the activities you're involved in and the skills you've gained, and relate them to the key competencies the bank is asking for. "I think the important thing to remember is that no experience is worth disregarding just because it isn't directly linked to finance," says Antonia Choi, Head of IBD Graduate Recruitment at Nomura. "For example, working in restaurants or bars whilst at university could reflect client service and communication skills."

Although it's important to show your involvement in extra-curricular activities, beware of listing everything you signed up to during freshers' week. Lyle warns: "People like to see a record of achievement and they like to see a goal-oriented nature. If you've got a laundry list of loads of different things you're involved in, but you don't seem to excel or achieve anything in any of them... It looks a bit unfocused.

"Showing that you can make a decision about something that interests you, set a course of action, and achieve it - that's what sets your application apart," he says.

Take your time

If you're planning to apply to several banks make sure you allow plenty of time to complete your application to each one. When answering questions it's important to be concise, so UBS Graduate Recruiter, Sukheev Bakshi, advises you to "draft out your answers first and get a friend to read them to make sure you're answering the question and not waffling." She also encourages students to pay close attention to detail throughout the process and tailor answers to each bank rather than copying and pasting from one application to the next.

The interviews

The right balance

If you've secured an interview, you're probably over the biggest hurdle already- and you've been given an opportunity to showcase your personality and your passion for a career in banking. But "having a stand-out personality doesn't necessarily mean being loud and extrovert," says Antonia. To impress at the interview stage you need to be calm, confident and collected, she says: "It's important to come across as natural and not too scripted. We're looking for someone that can think on their feet a little, but who has also done some preparation for the interview."

Great expectations

In addition to the standard interview questions about your personal experience, motivation for applying and knowledge of the company, if you're attending an interview at an investment bank you should expect to be asked some technical questions about financial processes. For an internship or a graduate role, Antonia suggests that candidates have an understanding of how a deal works, from the pitching process to the execution, in addition to the different types of mergers and acquisitions, and the various methods of valuing a company.

As well as general technical knowledge, "I think it always shows good preparation if you're able to confidently and intelligently discuss what's happening around you commercially," says Antonia. Demonstrating commercial awareness and being able to talk about deals you've read about in the newspaper is key to interview success. But it's not enough to flick through the FT on the morning of your interview: "You need to follow the financial press from an earlier stage and start to develop an opinion about what you are reading," she advises.

Prepare for the challenging questions, but don't forget about the little things either: "Try and remember the interviewer's name," says Antonia, "while it won't get you the job, it can certainly enhance your performance."

And beyond

Finally, remember that your opportunity to stand out from the crowd and clinch that internship or graduate place stretches beyond the application form and the interview. Outside these formal assessment methods, recruiters are always on the lookout for talent. "Going to a freshers fair and meeting someone and having an interesting conversation with them is really useful, because it shows that you've taken an interest and you've sought out an interaction with that industry and that company," explains Lyle. Sukheev also looks out for people who are confident and ask thoughtful questions at careers fairs, and says she often gives her business card to good candidates.

And don't forget also to make good use of networking sessions, university society events and insight days run by banks to get chatting to people in the industry - it's a great way to increase your knowledge and get noticed.

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