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Don't fake it or mention swimming. - Top banks' recruiters reveal pet peeves

Most career advice that banks dole out on their website is rather generic and unnecessary for the majority of applicants. That said, internal bank recruiters can sometimes slip in more useful advice through videos, interviews and blog posts that are less boilerplate. Oftentimes these tips are specific to the firm in question, which can be particularly useful.

We combed through recruiter profiles, company blogs and some of our own previous coverage to lay out what each big Wall Street bank hates to see, whether it be on a resume or in an interview, along with a bit of advice that is less generic across the industry. These are their main pet peeves, many refreshingly blunt. (If not specifically attributed, the quotes were pulled from links posted to a bank’s career site that didn’t include a byline).

Morgan Stanley

  • “Don’t fake it. Don’t act overly enthusiastic. Any extreme enthusiasm comes across as you trying to impress me too much. Be comfortable with yourself, polite and engaging. Apart from your skills, we are also trying to evaluate whether you’d pass ‘The Airplane Test’: would you be pleasant to be around for long periods of time.”

  • “Pigeon-holing yourself. Sometimes someone will try to over-impress by showing their knowledge in a particular industry. If it’s a general position you’re going for, it could end up making you look as if you are not interested in anything else.”

  • “Try not to ask us questions that you can easily find answers to by reading our website and marketing materials.”

  • “Show that you have a life. Academic success is important, but so are signs that you have passions outside of work. It’s good to see that you can manage your time well enough to have both good grades and a life.”


  • Utilizing the copy-paste thank you method at Citi will get you busted. “If you have multiple interviewers you should write something unique and different to each – they will compare notes!” – Ellen, campus recruiting manager

  • “’Tell me about yourself’ is an introduction to your interview, but it should not be the entire interview. Keep your elevator pitch to two minutes or less.” – Ellen

  • “Aim to arrive 15 minutes early. As the saying goes, ‘If you’re early, you’re on time; if you’re on time, you’re late.’” – Michael

Goldman Sachs

  • Don’t botch the “why do you want to work here” question. The most common poor response is: “I want to work with people,” a Goldman recruiter noted during a webinar on interview skills. “We all want to work with people!” she said incredulously. Instead, talk about aligning your values with the company and how you fit in the specific department for which you are interviewing, she said.

  • Not having any interest in or knowledge of current events is a massive pet peeve for Goldman recruiters. They mentioned reading the Wall Street Journal or Financial Times on a half-dozen occasions during the webinar. You should be dropping knowledge of recent news clippings often, particularly those that affect the division in question.

  • “Avoid administrative questions which may put the interviewer on the defensive.” (likely pay, benefits etc.)

  • “Don’t be the first to speak in meetings. Listen to what others are saying, read their body language, and remember that everyone at the table has unique insights to share and learn from them. – Christina Minnis, global head of acquisition finance, on advice she would give to her younger self.

J.P. Morgan

  • “Talk to a recruiter and write down the language that they’re using…and make sure that when you’re creating your resume, you’re putting your strengths and experience at the top where it aligns with their criteria,” advised one J.P. Morgan recruiter in a recent video post.

  • “DON’T LET DEADLINES DRIVE YOUR DECISION. Take the time you need to make an informed decision. Be transparent with your recruiter and negotiate a timeline that suits both of your needs. You should feel comfortable asking other employers for more time so you can make the right career decision.” (Yes, those were J.P. Morgan's caps).

  • “You can submit applications for up to three programs, so choose them with care. Withdrawing an application will still count as one of your three applications.”

Bank of America

  • “Remember, that arriving too early can have a detrimental effect; 5 -10 minutes before the interview is plenty of time.”

  • “Dress for the role you are applying for to make sure you look and feel your best – the same way as if you were meeting us in person.” – a BofA recruiter’s advice for video interviews. (This is interesting as it differs from guidance offered by Goldman Sachs recruiters, who noted in a recent vlog that you shouldn’t dress overly formally for video interviews, suggesting instead a business casual approach. The video depicted a male candidate wearing a button-down shirt with no tie or suit jacket.)

  • On your resume, “don't include anything that isn't relevant. For example, don't mention your fondness for swimming unless you want to work on the water. Don't include references.” (Look at Bank of America dropping a joke!)

Bonus: Deutsche Bank

While it’s not one of the five big U.S. firms, we felt obliged to include Deutsche Bank as their recruiters drop some interesting knowledge, including admitting publicly that they will check out your photos on Facebook and other social media platforms and assumedly cast judgements.

  • “Take a look through the photos of yourself that appear across social media channels. Are you happy for a prospective employer to see these? Make sure that you keep these professional. Potential employers are already using these touchpoints – everything from Facebook and LinkedIn connections to publications and projects – to build a richer and more transparent picture of a potential candidate.” – Matthew Barnes, head of recruitment for the UK and Ireland

  • “In banking, it’s important that you can make the best use of other people’s time by conveying important information quickly and concisely. An interview is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate this skill; resist the temptation to speak at length, or offer extraneous detail. Answer the question you’ve been asked as succinctly as you can, and wrap it up quickly.” – Faye Woodhead, manager of graduate programs and employer brand

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Bear with us if you leave a comment at the bottom of this article: all our comments are moderated by actual human beings. Sometimes these humans might be asleep, or away from their desks, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. Eventually it will – unless it’s offensive or libelous (in which case it won’t).

AUTHORBeecher Tuttle US Editor
  • Pe
    Peter Clinell
    18 December 2018

    This article makes it sound like the editor asked the respective Banks for their opinions. Alas, all of the content comes from the Banks' careers page. Sloppy journalism at best.

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