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The investment banking recruitment process

So, you want to work in banking. Better start applying when you finish with university, right?

Wrong. Investment banks are some of the most competitive work environments in the world, and you’re going to have much more of an uphill struggle getting in than you did going to university. We’re not exaggerating either – Harvard’s acceptance rate is around 3.2%, Oxford’s is around 14%, and Goldman’s Sachs’ is around 1.5%.

If you want to get into banking, you need to start early. The earlier the better. Even earlier than that.

1. Diapers

Okay, not that early.

1. Your first year at university

Once you’ve arrived at your university of choice (and ideally your favourite bank’s choice too), it’s time to start laying the groundwork.

Banks run “events” for first years that are variously called insight days or campus days or webinars depending on if they’re in person or involve food or are online (respectively). You’re going to want to attend these, network, and ideally decide if investment banking is for you.

In Europe, banks often run “spring weeks” during Easter. These are specifically for first year university students and can lead directly to a summer internship in your second year. Our research suggests that 25% of the places on some banks' summer internship programs are assigned to people who were previously 'spring interns'.

“Applying for the spring weeks puts pressure on you in your first year, but makes life a lot easier after that,” one student told us. "The spring internships give candidates the opportunity to secure summer internships earlier and be better informed about where their skillsets and interests might best fit," a JPMorgan spokesperson said.

While insight days and 'orientation events' are run throughout the year, you will normally need to apply for a spring week by January or December, so keep a look out for deadlines on banks' websites.

Even if you choose not to attend student events in your first year for whatever reason, it’s still a good idea to research banks and generally prepare for second year applications. Our graduate guide can give you help you decide what banks, sectors, and role you want to apply for.

2. Your second year at university

Your second year is when things really start happening.

Once you know what you want to, you can devote the first term of your second year to applying for summer internships (aka summer analyst programs) at different banks in the sector. It's this second-year summer internship that's crucial to landing an investment banking job when you graduate says John Craven, former Merrill Lynch and SocGen Director and present chair of the Social Mobility Commission.

Application deadlines for summer analyst programs are typically in late December. In EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, and Africa), for example, Goldman Sachs requires that students apply for its summer analyst program by November 30th. "We encourage candidates to apply as early as possible in the season because we recruit on a rolling basis," the J.P. Morgan spokesperson said.

Getting onto a summer analyst program is not easy. Banks are incredibly fussy about who they hire for summer internships. If you want to get one, you'll need to go through the process below.

i. Fill in the application form

The recruitment process varies somewhat from bank to bank. Although most use an application form some, such as Goldman Sachs, prefer a traditional CV/resume and cover letter combination.

The application form is the crucial filtering mechanism in a banks' application process. This is where most of the unsuccessful candidates are stripped away. To succeed, you'll need excellent academics. In the UK, this means around 216 UCAS points (the equivalent to around 3 A*s and an A), plus a degree class of 2.1 or above (ideally from a top university).

You’ll also need strong extracurriculars. Academic studies suggest that banks like to hire students whose extracurricular activities resonate with the bankers interviewing them: skiing, scuba diving, and tennis all count highly (especially if you were a team leader at university). So does volunteering.

ii. Complete the pre-interview tests

Assuming your application checks out, you’ll have some tests before the actual interview. Although banks have historically been big on psychometric tests, these have been falling somewhat out of favour recently (although not entirely).

What you’re very likely to come across is a HireVue interview. We did a pretty good roundup of what they involve here, but in a nutshell, they’re fancy personality tests that rank applicants based on how compatible they are with firm culture (as well as their ability to answer BuzzFeed quiz-level questions).

iii. The actual interview

Assuming you did well and convinced the AI that counts how many of your nose hairs are visible and compares it to the average number at the bank, you’ll get a call for an interview in person.

At J.P. Morgan in EMEA, this means an assessment center - at Goldman Sachs, it means endless "structured interviews". As one ex-Goldman recruiter said to us, the firm “is all about round after round of face-to-face interviews – there’s a big emphasis on character and being the sort of interesting person they want to work with.”

You can find interview questions galore on our website – from the 4 most common to our full list of 131.

iv. Convert

Banks don’t require you to join any religion to work for them, but if you want a job, you’re going to want to receive an offer after your internship – also known as “converting” it.

We go into more detail here, but the gist of converting the internship is to be hard working, reliable, and sociable. It’s not an exact science, but you should have a decent shot if you’ve come this far - it’s around 50-75% of internships that become offers.

3. Your third year at university

If you’ve already got your offer, congratulations, pass go and collect $200.

If you didn’t, well, back to steps i-iv for you. If you already had an internship but failed to convert it, don’t get your hopes up – it can be a scarlet letter to have interned with a bank without converting. It makes sense – “why would I take you when my rivals wouldn’t?”

Good luck.

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Bear with us if you leave a comment at the bottom of this article: all our comments are moderated by 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.)

AUTHORZeno Toulon
  • bl
    27 January 2008

    I'd say around 70-80% of those taken into FO roles are from the top universities but there are plenty more from other universities. If you know the right people, and have the right grades then you stand a good chance. I personally know someone who trades at GS who did not come from a 'target university'.

  • An
    27 January 2008

    Hi enjoying the interesting discussion on top universities. Wondered what anyone's opinion is of Birmingham university, do you think students from this uni have a chance in IB???

  • T
    22 January 2008

    More investment bankers come from Bristol than any other University actually.

  • De
    6 January 2008

    Hi Guys,

    I totally disagree with the fact that, only the top guys from LSE, or Oxbridge, get into IB, I think its only about self- belief and determination.Its probably just a coincidence and exposure that these guys, get at these places, and mostly it has also has to do with the alumni network these people have access to. I personally, am from RHUL, which is not from one of these top rungs, but am hell bent on getting into an IB.

  • me
    me?my name
    4 January 2008

    Maybe so but its worth a shot, i mean, really what do you have to lose..Nothing, thats what i thought so application away

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