There’s no shortage of advice on how students should go about getting into investment banking, but it’s often overlooked how competitive other areas of the financial sector are to break into. Wealth and fund management, as well as the consultants that support them, offer plentiful job opportunities for students, but also receive thousands of applications.
In order to stand out from the crowd, Mark Standen, development partner at Barclays’ wealth and investment management and Narveen Maan, university recruiter at Towers Watson, offered some tips to graduates on what employers are looking for during an event on careers in investment by the CFA Institute supported by eFinancialCareers. The webcast is available to view here, but here are the most salient points.
1. Don’t be put off by the competition
Towers Watson receives around 3,000 applications for 80 positions, Barclays gets “thousands”, according to Standen, but he wouldn’t reveal exactly how many. However, don’t be overwhelmed by these numbers. “It’s fair to say that we’re oversubscribed by applications, but we do receive a very large number of poor applications that are quickly rejected,” he said. In other words, ensure your application is good, and you’ve already blown away a lot of the competition.
2. You’re not applying to an investment bank
Both investment banks and fund managers want academically excellent students. Both demand a minimum of a 2.1 degree and 300 Ucas points, and value extra-curricular activities, internships and work experience. However, they’re looking for different personality types, says Standen.
“Investment banks want resilient, confident and analytical people and while some of those traits are relevant across the financial sector, private banking also requires more of a customer-focused approach, and students need to consider these differences in the selection process,” he said.
3. Don’t oversell yourself
When putting together your CV, remember that any sort of spelling or grammatical error will sink your chances, said both Maan and Standen. However, there are less obvious things that could also mean you don’t make the cut. Your CV is the chance to sell yourself to a potential employer, but don’t overcook it.
“I don’t want to read hyperbole, particularly when it’s clichéd,” said Standen. “A lot of people use words like ‘brilliant’ or 'amazing', without justifying these comments. We don’t want to read exaggerated statements about yourself, we want to see what you have done.”
“Students need to describe what they did, what it meant for the bottom line and what it means to us,” added Maan.
4. Get the basics right, and then think about the extras
The minimum academic requirements – a 2.1 and 300 Ucas points – are the hygiene factor that all firms use during the recruitment process. If you can’t achieve this, you simply won’t be considered, no matter what else you’ve done. Having said this, professional qualifications can enhance your application. An increasing number of university students are taking it upon themselves to study the CFA level one at the same time as their degree, for example. This will set you apart from the competition.
“Doing the CFA in conjunction with your degree is a lot of work,” said Standen. “It clearly communicates that you’re interested in the financial sector and chimes quite well. However, the minimum requirements are the most important thing. This is just another string to your bow.”
5. Play it cool at the assessment centres
Assessment centres are competitive, employers want to identify potential future leaders, but they don’t want to see aggressive ego-maniacs trying to get one over their peers. “Don’t be aggressive or competitive, we want team-players and that’s true for all the different business areas,” said Maan. “We want to see leadership qualities, but lead passively.”
6. Use networking events wisely
Most fund managers and investment consultants run networking events for students, whether this is on campus or those organised at the offices of the firms themselves. Most students jostle for the attention of senior financial professionals or go out of their way to impress them. However, these events are also handy for gathering information that can be used later in the application process – be curious.
“Students who get the most out of networking events, ask technical questions to senior colleagues, or get firsthand information or opinions on certain divisions of the bank that would be very difficult to attain elsewhere,” said Standen. “Most people are happy to share their views and it’s a good way for students to boost their knowledge.”
7. Avoid the waffle
When it comes to interview, most students tend to go one of two ways – either they haven’t prepared properly, or they’re so nervous that all their knowledge spills out in a splurge of waffle and their personality doesn’t shine through. Firms want to recruit all types and HR will go out of their way to make you comfortable to ensure they see the real you, argues Standen.
“A lot of candidates try to say too much and end up waffling without really getting their point across,” said Maan. “They need to deliver their answer in a concise manner – we’d recommend following the STAR technique.”
8. Extra-curricular activities are VERY important
Like investment banks, fund and wealth managers want to see evidence of extra-curricular activities that both demonstrate an interest in the financial sector and some evidence of an interesting personality. Sports, investment societies, being a member of a committee for society, work experience – all of these are good examples, said Standen. Simply studying your way through university – even if your grades are exemplary – won’t cut it.