This guide splits up the most important information you’ll need to get a job at an investment bank into three parts.
Firstly, we outline the types of programmes provided by banks – these are your routes into the bank and what you will be applying for. Secondly, we discuss what banks are looking for in a candidate and how to best use your time at university to develop these qualities. And thirdly, we guide you through the steps of the application and interview process, so you know what to expect and when.
Internships: your route into investment banking
The most important thing to realise about an investment banking internship is that it’s the main way to get a place on the following year’s graduate scheme.
The reason for this is that working in the bank allows them to get a far better idea of how well you can do the job than a series of interviews ever could. But the reverse is equally true – this is your best opportunity to check that the work and lifestyle is right for you.
You can apply for an internship in your penultimate year of university, in which case you will complete the internship over the summer holiday before your final year. (If you are late deciding on investment banking, most banks would encourage you to take a year out after finishing and do an internship then.)
The internship will last 8-10 weeks, and will include a week or two of training at the start of the programme before you join a team in your preferred division, where you will stay for the rest of the internship.
As well as gaining hands-on experience of what life as an analyst will entail, you’ll also be given your own project or presentation to work on, which you will deliver at the end of the internship.
If following your internship you are awarded a place on the graduate scheme, you will most likely return as an analyst on your old team, although a small number of banks still rotate their graduates across several teams.
Can I apply directly for a graduate scheme?
Most places on a bank’s graduate scheme will be filled by the previous year’s interns.
If you missed out on an offer following your internship, it’s still to your advantage that you have completed an internship, and most banks will have a handful of places on their graduate schemes which they were unable to fill from their own interns. You will have to be prepared to answer questions around why you didn’t get made an offer, but recruiters are aware that it is a competitive process and that good candidates can have unlucky experiences.
What are banks looking for, other than good grades?
Don’t underestimate the value of having worked a part-time job, for example in a supermarket. It shows you’ve been willing to muck in as part of a team and get on with a wide variety of people, and having this experience is seen as being indicative of you being able to get on with your team during times of pressure at an investment bank.
If you’ve had work experience in anything else related to finance (even if it sounds trivial compared to working at an investment bank), this can also be helpful in showing you are proactive and demonstrating a willingness to get involved in the financial world.
Take an active role in a society
Joining finance-related societies is a great way to keep informed about upcoming events and find students who have already completed internships and may be able to offer you advice.
However, it’s important to realise that this on its own isn’t going to give you an advantage over anyone else. It’s perfectly easy to join a society and then not be involved with them at all, so the important thing is to take an active role, for example being part of a team that organises an event, or raises sponsorship for the society.
To take this point further, it would be far better to start and run a niche society that has nothing whatsoever to do about finance, than to be part of a finance society in which you were never involved.
As you’ll see when we cover the application process, these types of involvement will give you invaluable experiences to draw on.
Get involved in sports or other hobbies
Team sports are, rather obviously, a perfect way to show you are committed to working as part of a team. If you get the opportunity to captain a team, you’ve also demonstrated leadership.
But all sports allow you to demonstrate commitment to something outside of your academic studies. If you run, for example, do you compete in races and have you raised money for charity?
The same goes for other hobbies you may have – for example, if you play a musical instrument, can you show that you’ve been improving, and have you played as part of an orchestra or band?
Showing that you have the discipline to work towards goals and achieve them is a lot more impressive than simply reeling off a list of hobbies.
What are the best ways of finding out about investment banking?
Visit careers fairs and presentations to find out about jobs on offer
Investment banks may both send representatives to careers fairs, and put on their own smaller presentations. Both these are great ways to find out information about different banks, and the types of careers available.
Attend drinks evenings to find out more from banks’ employees
If you’ve done some initial research but are still deciding whether investment banking is the right career route for you, a drinks evening put on by the bank offers an informal way to meet some of the bank’s employees.
To make the most of the event, make sure you have thought of some questions beforehand that you can bring up in conversation.
Apply for place at a banking dinner for the chance to meet senior bankers
At some university towns, investment banks will organise dinners (including some women-only events) either at a local restaurant or on the campus itself. These give you the best access to senior bankers, and are intended for those who are already relatively certain they want to apply for an internship, or have already done so.
Take them seriously, making sure you have already done the research about the bank that would be required for your application, as they are an opportunity to stand out and help make sure your application gets noticed.
You’ll need to apply in advance as places are limited, so keep an eye out for when they are happening on the banks’ websites.
Complete a Spring Week programme to see an investment bank from the inside
If you’re in the first year of a three year course (or second year for a four year course), this is your opportunity to get inside an investment bank and get a first-hand impression of what it would be like to work there.
The bank lays on a series of talks and activities so that you can get an overview of what each of the areas of the bank does, hearing from senior bankers as well as getting a chance to network with bankers and your peers alike at social events in the evenings.
First and foremost, this is an opportunity for you to find out more, but it also shows an eagerness to learn about the industry, which can help if you decide to apply for an internship the following year. Additionally, some banks are able to fast-track strong candidates for their internship programmes.
What are the things to look out for during the application process?
Good preparation is key to making your application successful. Make sure you understand what the role entails and can communicate exactly why you want a place on the programme. Those who have done lots of research stand out immediately as having the right level of drive and passion.
You will start with a short registration form, followed by a numerical and a psychometric test, and sometimes a personality questionnaire.
The numerical test measures your ability to work accurately with numbers under time pressure, whereas the psychometric test measures your aptitude for the role you are applying for more generally.
The key to doing well in these tests is practice!
They are generally quite similar between banks, and there are numerous websites offering example tests for free, so make sure you do as many as possible before doing the real thing.
If you complete the tests successfully, you will be asked to complete sections about your educational background, and motivations for wanting to work in the division you are applying for and this bank in particular.
When answering questions about why you want to work at that specific bank, avoid using language too similar to the website or marketing material, as you want to show that you have thought through the reasons youself. These questions are tricky, but take your time to provide your own, well-thought out answers and you will come across far more genuine.
You’ll also be asked situation-based competency questions – allowing you to give examples of times you have demonstrated skills such as leadership, initiative and teamwork.
Try to draw examples from as wide a range of experiences as possible – sports or other hobbies, a part time job, volunteering work, travel – but make sure you’re clear how you have demonstrated that skill.
This will take between 20 and 30 minutes, and you should be prepared to speak in more detail about anything you have mentioned in the online stage of the application. It is therefore good preparation to know your online forms inside out as you will want to avoid any discrepancies in your answers which won’t reflect well on you.
You should also have other examples for competency-based questions that you didn’t use on the online form and some bullet points in front of you to help jog your memory.
The interviewer may also ask you some questions about the division you have applied to, to gauge your understanding of the work they do, and check that you are a good match.
Assessment centres last for a full day, and are likely to include a numerical test, solo presentation, group exercise, and an interview with senior bankers.
During the day, the assessors aim to see how you approach the type of work that you would be doing in the division you are applying to, and to gauge how well you work with the other candidates.
In advance of your solo presentation, you will be given some information relevant to the type of work that is performed in the division you are applying to. For example, this could be the financial statements of a company, or a recent news article. You’ll then get given time to go through the information and create a presentation.
You need to be able to think about the information in the same way as a banker from your division, so that you can interpret the information draw your own conclusions. This means you need to have a solid understanding of what bankers in your division do, so read up about the methods that they use to interpret information.
For the group exercise you will be given a source of information such as an article and 30-45 minutes to discuss the topic and reach conclusions. The most important thing here is how you interact with other members of your group in reaching your conclusions rather than the conclusions themselves. This stage may also end in a group presentation.
The aim of the group exercise is to show you can work as part of a team, both articulating your own thoughts confidently and listening to and considering other people’s ideas. You want to demonstrate leadership qualities in influencing the discussion whilst not overpowering other members of the group.
Interview with senior bankers
Your interview with senior bankers can cover any of the topics you’ve had to prepare to up until this point, from the more technical aspects tested in the presentation, to competency and motivation questions like those in the online application and telephone interview.
This interview is much more personalised and in-depth than the telephone interview. It's longer (often about an hour) and you'll be expected to expand further on your own strengths, your suitability for the role, your desire to work in the industry, the bank and the specific division, your future aspirations and your macroeconomic knowledge and commercial awareness.
Be prepared for all types of interview styles and questions. Some may focus on more technical questions (such as asking you to guide them through how to perform a DCF evaluation of a company), while others may focus more on competency and motivation questions.
Some interviewers may want to talk about macroeconomics and trends in the global economy, while others may want to hone in on a specific deal you are familiar with.
Make sure you have kept up to date with financial news. Research a deal that the bank has been involved in recently as this is will show deeper commitment to the job you are applying for and a personal interest with them as a company, as well as giving you the opportunity to lead the conversation into an area that you are knowledgeable about. It will also provide the perfect opportunity to weave in questions that were raised during your reading.
If you are given the opportunity to ask a question to the interviewer at the end of the interview, use this opportunity to ask a pre-prepared, well thought out question. Don't ask anything which can be answered by looking at their website – your time with senior interviewers is valuable, so use it to display intelligence, enthusiasm and understanding.