In theory, investment banks shouldn’t be able to attract the best graduates. Yes, they pay a higher starting salary than any other industry, but their appeal as an employer has dimmed in recent years – as recent rankings reveal – and reputational issues, particularly in light of the recent death of summer intern Moritz Erhardt, have supposedly turned many off the sector.
And yet, getting in is tougher than ever. The 2013 analyst class at banks like Goldman Sachs, Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland all share one common trait – they are clearly among the elite. Multiple front-office internships, exemplary academics at a top university, investment experience, finance society leadership roles, awards and accolades – these are all common traits of analysts hired this year.
One analyst to make it into RBS this year, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that all this years’ front-office recruits share “good academics, work experience and eagerness” with the majority taking steps to secure an investment banking role from day one at university. The scaling back of graduate programmes, together with higher conversion rates from internships, has simply lead to students having to up their game, he said.
From the banks’ point of view, there may be an element of over-compensating for their diminished appeal, however, claims another analyst who secured a role at Deutsche Bank this year. The standard of the typical recruit has got higher, he admits, but this is down to investment banks wanting to show that they haven’t lost their mojo.
“Banks certainly feel under more pressure than ever to keep attracting top talent,” he said. “They feel that their ability to attract the best students has waned relative to other career paths over recent years and they have seen both fewer applications and lower offer acceptance rates. Banking is definitely still incredibly competitive as an industry to join, it's just lost its gloss as a career destination for many of the best graduates, at least from the perspective of the banks themselves.”
From the get-go at university (if not before), investment banks are demanding evidence of both students’ elite qualities as well as their commitment to the industry. On top of this, you’ll have to be interesting enough to ingratiate yourself to fellow investment bankers.
“It seems a disproportionate number of analysts start slightly older than 21,” said another new analyst. “They have completed a gap year prior to or after university to gain further experience or have been at university longer and hence more able to get other experiences to propel them towards banking opportunities.”
All in all, investment banks want a combination of qualities that would seem unattainable to the majority of university students, claims the Deutsche Bank analyst.
“Banks demand graduates who are incredibly hard working, reliable and committed to the industry,” he added. “They want people who will first be able to last in the high-pressure environment. They are looking for graduates who will be able to contribute exceptional analytical ability. And they need the ability to present and communicate well - although intelligence is very important, nerds are not sought after - bankers both want to hire fun characters to work with and for clients to interact with.”
Eight tips from analysts who have made it in 2013:
1. Start early: “First year programmes are normally less competitive - if not on an applicant-to-place ratio, in terms of the quality and preparedness of the people they take - so get on to those and the path into a full-time job will become much clearer.”
2. Really get to know the bank you’re applying to: “I would suggest researching extensively to gain a deeper understanding of the offering and future plans of the bank. Big changes are being made across the industry and keeping up to date is fundamental – use career fairs to gain insights on specific institutions from business representatives.”
3. If you don’t have a finance-related degree, learn about the industry: “Those with finance degrees tend to learn quickly enough about financial concepts to excel during an internship versus their more experienced peers. Training programmes don't really help with this problem, not giving non-finance students much more help than those from more relevant backgrounds.”
4. Get your application in as soon as possible: “Apply as early as possible, as the majority of banks recruit on a rolling basis - the opening date is more important than the deadline.”
5. If you can’t convert and internship, leverage it: “Aside from internships with a bank a student then goes onto join, the most likely route into an investment bank is doing an internship at a well-respected rival or corporate company elsewhere. Banks seem to look out for candidates who have gone elsewhere. It's almost a prerequisite to have some level of financial experience before getting a full-time offer.”
6. Don’t make it all about finance: “Extra-curricular activities and interests will help to show your human side and personality.”
7. If you’re not at a top university, look elsewhere: “If you don't have financial experience and are not studying at a top tier university, it may not be worthwhile making a front-office application to a leading investment bank; a boutique or one outside of the bulge bracket may make more sense.”
8. Get experience, even if it’s not where you want to end up: “The majority of students have done spring weeks within the industry. Many students have even completed other financial internships during their first year at university - perhaps not at an investment bank but within financial services more broadly often. Even working in a back office or different corporate role really helps.”