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Why banks reject you, even with top grades

So you want to work for an investment bank when you graduate? 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 $100k and packages of $180k when bonuses are added in, 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, banks will reject you even if your grades are exceptional. Yes, they want a top degree from a top school, 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 top degree (in the UK that means 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 résumé.

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, extracurricular, professional or otherwise. Don't be shy of including prizes, particularly high grades and relevant projects. Include details of all relevant work experience and internships.

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 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, proactive commitment to a career in banking from a relatively early age 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 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  résumé easy to read and demonstrates your motivation.

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.

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

Contact: in the first instance. Whatsapp/Signal/Telegram also available (Telegram: @SarahButcher)

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.)

AUTHORVictoria McLean Insider Comment
  • Pa
    26 November 2021


  • Da
    25 November 2021

    Also: too entrepreneurial, too hard to boss about etc

  • Ro
    18 September 2017

    A guide to game the HR 'tards...

  • an
    18 September 2017

    Another two:

    - you're of the wrong gender
    - you're of the wrong race

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