So you want to get that coveted front-office internship in an investment bank to add glitz to your resume, not to mention the attractive internship remuneration that will pay for your semester exchange/travel in Europe. After failing in many interviews (then finally getting an internship), here are some insider tips that will help you. It is a list compiled from both my experiences and those of friends who have successfully applied to banks.
1) Make out like you wanted to work in banking all your life
Although this may not be true, unfortunately it is what banks want. They want to see your passion demonstrated in the things you do. Communicate your experiences not just in your resume, but during interviews as well. A good time to narrate a relevant story is during the introductory "tell me about yourself" question. To answer this, do not just list all your achievements as if the interviewer can't read your resume. Instead, weave in a story about how you wanted to do that particular role since you were a child.
OK, a child might be a little far-fetched, but high school or freshman year in college is a reasonable yardstick. This tactic does not apply only to financial services generically, but specifically to the role you are applying for. So for example, if you want a trading job, you can say something like: "Growing up, I always saw my dad looking at the stock index on TV, and he would educate me about the basics of finance and the stock market."
If you are applying for investment banking, you can say you have been interested in corporate finance ever since your friend recommended the 1987 hit movie Wall Street and you were really impressed by Gordon Geckko in his suspenders. Use your subsequent experiences - like work experience in the finance industry or your role in the school's investment club - to substantiate your passion. And finally, have a nice conclusion to wind up the story.
2) Do not waste time talking about your grades
I know it is heart wrenching when you cannot boast about that first class honors degree which you spent days and nights mugging for in the library. But trust me, not talking about your academic achievements and instead elaborating on your motivations for the job is a good thing. Yes, you need great grades on your resume to signal that you are smart (and which boss doesn't like an intelligent person to work for him?). But at the same time, an academic syllabus does not necessarily reflect market realities.
I have achieved good grades in college, but after I started working, I realized that many aspects of investment banking can only be learned on the job. That is why I often encourage undergraduates to take the time out to do a relevant internship at an investment bank. When it comes to securing a full-time position after you graduate, it definitely adds more value than crunching calculus equations in the library. Some of the front-office bankers I know didn't get the best grades in college anyway.
3) Don't be afraid to make small talk
This is one weapon which, if implemented effectively, can be lethal. Caveat: if implemented effectively. Not many people can pull this off successfully, but if you want to be a successful salesperson, you should jolly well master this. The trick is called "bring them out to bring them in." Simply put: make small talk.
When the interviewer first introduces himself, he will usually start off with a "How are you?" Now this is the crucial window. I know you are nervous, but do not just say "Fine" and then sit down, eager for him to fire the first salvo. Reply with a bright smile, saying "Great" and then mentioning something good about the interviewer or the company. Or ask the interviewer how his day is going.
Believe it or not, bankers are humans too and they need something else to fill their time apart from work. If you can successfully connect with the interviewer on a personal level, such as having similar hobbies or passions, you have gone some way to making a good impression. The interviewer may potentially be working closely alongside you in the future, so he needs someone who he feels comfortable with - not an impressive robot who is only good at acing assignments.
After countless failed interviews, I tried this technique for the first time and I got the job. I must say it works differently with people of various cultures, so use it with discretion.
4) Research the bank: know your facts and figures
Most candidates will say roughly the same answers in an interview, so if you can talk about something meatier and quote tangible numbers, interviewers will be impressed. League tables are a good example: asset classes the bank is strong in, recent acquisitions it has done and its deal-size numbers. Oh, and know the CEO's name! I was told by a manager at a bulge bracket bank that only one candidate he interviewed knew who ran the firm.
Something else you could showcase is knowledge gleaned from talking to friends/acquaintances who work for the company. This shows sincerity and more often than not, people within the firm give you critical information which is not published in the press.
This article first appeared on our Singapore site but applies here as well.