I am a French business student specializing in corporate finance. Having studied and interned on both sides of the Channel, I can say that there seem to be 4 main differences between the recruitment processes in the two countries.
1. Technical France vs. behavioural UK
This is definitely the key difference. Over the past 2 years, I interviewed in BB banks and boutiques, both inParisandLondon. Even the easiest French interview was tougher than my trickiest UK one in terms of my knowledge of finance.
More often than not, French interviewers ask a couple of motivational questions such as: “Why do you want to work here?”, and then quickly move on to technical queries.
Not only will they test you on DCF valuations, beta deleveraging, or the relevant criteria for a multiples method valuation, they will likely check if you did your homework in accountancy by asking you if you know the different consolidation methods or the various effects of a change in depreciation on the 3 financial statements, etc.
The vast majority of French financial services interviewers will also hand out a quizz/case study to complete before or after the interview.
By comparison, if you interview for London-based banks, you are more likely to be asked competency-based questions. These might include: “Did you ever have a bad experience in a team?”, or, “What’s your biggest failure?”
It’s a totally different exercise: still hard, but not in a technical sense.
2. Organised UK vs. messy France
Paradoxically enough, most of French banks, which lay a huge emphasis on rigour, don’t have a structured recruitment process.
This seems particularly true for Lazard and Rothschild, where applicants send their CVs and cover letters via email.
On the day of the interview, candidates are likely to wait both before and between interviews (I waited 55 minutes between 2 rounds at Lazard!).
On the contrary, almost all UK-based banks will ask you to apply via their websites and applicants are invited to sit interviews in batches, usually in half-a-day.
3. French elitism vs. English diversity
Let’s make it clear: if you wish to get into a French white-shoe investment bank without a target ‘Grande École’ inked on top of your CV, you’re very unlikely to succeed. All French bankers and recruiters keep a mental ranking of schools and banks, and are unwilling to venture much outside this. Therefore, if you didn’t go to a top 3 business school or a top 5 engineering school and if you haven’t done a good internship previously, applying to Rothschild will probably be pointless.
Of course UK-based banks are selective as well, but less so. They seem more willing to give a chance to people with various backgrounds than in France. For instance if you have been captain of your hockey team in high school, you should definitely put that forward in the UK.
4. French marathon vs. English sprint
Finally, internships in France and Englandare very dissimilar.
Most positions offered inLondonare summer internships. These are a kind of 10-week interview leading to full-time offers for the most motivated, resilient interns. Some offer 3-month off-cycles, and a few have 6-month internships, but these are the exception.
Apart from a few large institutions (notably SocGen), French banks only offer 6-month to 1-year internships. Most of them consider interns as a cheap, educated workforce willing to work hard and seldom complain. Some big banks in La Défense even have a ‘pool of interns:’ a whole team grouped on the same floor where analysts come only to dump their work. The underlying idea is fairly simple: if someone’s able to put up with the burden of work for 6 months, he/she can do so a few years.
The author is a French student with an offer from a major US bank.