Why investment banks reject you, even with top grades

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So you want to work for an investment bank when you leave university? You're not alone. Tens of thousands of graduates apply to the major investment banks every year. At big banks, the acceptance rate is less than 3%. With starting salaries around the £47k ($64k) mark and bonuses on top, it’s not hard to see why. In such a competitive market it pays to be well-prepared. And that doesn't just mean getting the best grades.

As you may have already discovered to your detriment, even with top grades academically banks will reject you. Yes, they want a top degree from a top university, but this isn't all they want. If you're relying on academic excellence to carry you, you'll come unstuck.

This is why banks will reject you, even when you've jumped through all the hoops at school.

1. You've got good academics, but you're being modest. 

Banks are looking for a 1st or a minimum of a 2:1, ideally in a relevant subject that demonstrates your financial literacy. If that’s you, don’t hide it. You need to state it clearly and simply in the profile at the top of your CV.

This is not the time to be coy about name-dropping either. Banks love good schools and universities, particularly Oxbridge and the Ivy League. They like the high education standards and they love the networks these schools nurture. If you went to a top university, make sure you highlight it in your profile.

2. Not enough of the extras

Once banks have culled everyone who doesn't meet their standards academically, all the candidates in the pool will be academically excellent. Your top grades will be noting special. This means you need to ensure you stand out with extra achievements, academic, extra-curricular, professional or otherwise. Do not be shy of including prizes, particularly high grades and relevant projects. Include details of all relevant work experience and internships. Over a third of employers, in The Graduate Market in 2017 High Fliers Report, stated that graduates with no work experience have little prospect of receiving an offer on one of their programmes.

3. The wrong key words

Your CV needs to get past the Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) algorithms. If your resume doesn’t contain the right keywords for your chosen position, you’ll struggle to get on shortlists. Research the area and find the most relevant phrases.

It really pays to know which sector of investment banking you are targeting. Are you interested in equity trading or is M&A more your area? Do you know the difference between front office and back office roles? To secure a role in your target area, you need to show you have a comprehensive understanding of the investment banking environment.

4. Nothing unique. Nothing special. What’s your differentiator?

What do you have that sets you apart from the competition? Standing out from the crowd in any positive way you can is crucial. Banks are looking for graduates who can demonstrate strong communication, interpersonal and analytical skills. Without a career history, you’ll need to look at your involvement in sports, student societies and voluntary work to find examples of situations where you showed teamwork, leadership, resilience and stamina.

If you can demonstrate a long term, pro-active commitment to a career in banking from a relatively early age (ie. at least the first year of university) so much the better. It’s worthwhile mentioning any work placements or shadowing assignments you did during your school or early university years.

5. Waffle, waffle, waffle.

Hiring managers are super-busy and they are not going to spend time on a CV that reads like a college essay. List bulleted achievements and focus on tangible results. Use powerful active verbs in the simple past tense. This makes your CV easy to read and demonstrates

Victoria McLean is the founder and CEO of City CV, a London-based CV writing service. She was previously a recruiter at Goldman Sachs and the equities division of Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Have a story or comment you’d like to share? Contact: sbutcher@efinancialcareers.com

Photo credit: the lovely miss lovely rejected this shop by rejected is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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