The Gateway catches up with professionals at Citi to discuss student applications and life at the world's largest bank

Citi is the most complete financial partner to individuals, corporations, financial institutions, institutional investors, and governments in the world. Ian Carnegie-Brown is a Managing Director in Citi's Global Consumer Group. Alan Choi is an Associate in Ian's team.

How much would you expect students applying to Citi to already know about a) investment banking in general, and b) the area of the bank they are applying to in particular?

We are not at all expecting applicants to have in-depth knowledge of the day-to-day techniques and methodologies used in investment banking. It is a common misconception that you need an economics or finance background to go into investment banking and that you are at a disadvantage if you don't. Many of the people we hire come from arts or language courses and they go on to be equally successful in the industry.

Having said that however, successful candidates do need to have a genuine interest in the industry and a good grasp of the financial world. We are looking for applicants to show that they understand the position for which they are applying. They need to know what the role of an investment banker is, what an Analyst would be doing on a day-to-day basis and what skills are required for the job.

It is also equally important for an applicant to demonstrate that they are intelligent and are able to think quickly and laterally. They should be able show intuition and the ability to come up with ideas as well as having the drive to succeed, know how to work well with others and an outstanding work ethic.

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

It is difficult to generalise, but there are some common failings that students should check for when preparing for the application process. Firstly regarding the CV and cover letter, these need to be well-presented, concise, well-structured and importantly, free from any errors. You'd be surprised at the number of applications that we receive where the applicant has spelling errors or even has the wrong bank mentioned in the cover letter which doesn't go down too well! Make sure you get someone to look over it quickly with a fresh pair of eyes to pick up on anything you might have missed.

Regarding the interview, the main advice I can give is to be well prepared. In reference to my answer in the previous question, some of the most common failings in interviews are that applicants do not demonstrate good enough knowledge as to what the job really entails, what is going on in the financial world today and knowledge about Citi as well.

What's the best preparation a student can do ahead of pursuing a career in investment banking? What do you look for above all in the students you recruit?

There is no single quality that we look for above all in students, and it really is a combination of a number of factors including intelligence, confidence, decision making, communication skills, adaptability and motivation, among many others. But the best preparation a student can do is to research as much as possible about the job and the industry. There is now a plethora of resources available to applicants at their disposal and you should take full advantage of them.

Take for example the 'Citi Day On Campus' event we run every year in Oxford. This is an excellent opportunity for applicants to sit with bankers and go through case studies on companies and get first hand experience on how we think about things and what we consider on a daily basis. My advice would be to go to as many presentations and fairs as you can and talk to people involved in the industry. Don't be scared to get in touch with people you meet - we are all very happy and willing to give advice to prospective applicants and answer any questions you may have.

Students should also use the university careers service who can help with practice interviews and interview techniques as well as being able to review CVs and cover letters.

What is meant when people talk about the 'culture' at investment banks? What is unique about the culture at Citi?

The culture of a bank can be defined as the way things are done in the workplace. It is a set of values and beliefs, the overall atmosphere, the attitude and the ethos in the workplace. At Citi, the culture is one of "shared responsibility" - a responsibility to our clients, a responsibility to each other and a responsibility to our franchise. As a company, we are very much focused on long-term goals and becoming the most respected financial institution in the world.

The culture of respect and responsibility can be seen throughout the organisation both in the way in which we do business with clients and also in the way we treat and work with each other in the office. It is very much a team oriented culture and one in which everyone is there to help everyone else. Investment Banking is a high-pressured job, but we recognise that working together we are more likely to achieve our goals both individually and for the franchise. While Citi is a performance-driven organisation, a lot of new employees say they find the environment much friendlier than they had imagined.

How and when did you decide to go into banking?

After qualifying as an accountant, I worked on a number of special investigations in the mid-80s whilst at PwC [PricewaterhouseCoopers]. These brought me into direct contact with investment bankers at various banks including Schroders. The bankers I met seemed to be much closer to the transaction and, frankly, seemed to have a more interesting role on the deals. Shortly thereafter, I contacted a head-hunter and they arranged interviews with 3 or 4 firms. I had several rounds of interviews at Schroders and was then offered a position as a junior in one of the generalist investment banking teams. In January 2000 Citi bought the investment banking arm of Schroders.

Alan Choi, an Associate in my team who joined in 2004 after graduating from Oxford can give you a more recent perspective:

As Alan says, "I had been interested in the world of investment banking for a long time given the dynamic, innovative and challenging nature of the industry. I needed a career that would keep me on my feet and constantly thinking, and one which would give me responsibility and a number of opportunities to learn and develop. I was certain that investment banking was a good area to start looking. Whilst in my first and second years at Oxford, I found myself with a number of opportunities to talk to people directly involved in the industry and took full advantage of this and the more I found out about it, the more I was certain I had made the right choice and decided to make applications for internships.

After several rounds of interviews with 7 or 8 banks, I was delighted to accept a summer Analyst position in the investment bank at Citi. After my 3 months I was offered a job as a full time analyst to start after graduating from Oxford and I had no hesitation in accepting the offer."

Are there any current trends in the investment banking industry that should influence students' thinking as they plan the early years of their careers? How will current market conditions affect investment bank recruitment going forward?

After 2-3 years of some of the most buoyant M&A markets seen in several years, recent conditions in the debt markets have meant that M&A activity has slowed in the last few months. As a student, this is still an exciting time to join the industry. The markets are in no way closed and every event or downturn provides new challenges and opportunities, on which Citi is well positioned to capitalise.

At Citi, we plan for the future and we look to make long-term investments in all our employees. Current market conditions are not affecting our recruitment policy going forward.

Do you have any last words of career advice for students?

Do what you feel is right for you and make use of the opportunities all around you. A career is a long term investment in yourself and it is important you make the right decision.