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Q&A with graduate recruiters from EMEA, APAC and the US

Before you make it on to investment banks’ grueling assessment centres, you must first make it through the application process and, in order to do this, you need to impress the graduate recruitment teams. They sift through hundreds of CVs and covering letters every year, so you must be exceptional to stand out. What’s more, recruitment teams generally look for different traits in the graduates they recruit in various parts of the world. We’ve spoken to heads of graduate recruitment in EMEA, the US and APAC to help you sail through the first stage of the application process.

Sarah Harper, global head of graduate recruiting, Goldman Sachs

Q What are the three main qualities or traits that you look for in a candidate?

A First, we look for drive and motivation: we want people who really strive to be the best they can be, and who have an inquisitive approach. A second aspect is teamwork: communication skills, the ability to work with others and share knowledge as well as the willingness to share credit with others. A third trait is a genuine interest in the world of finance: we do not expect candidates to be experts, but they do need to be keen.

Q What are your tips for a candidate on how to do well in an interview?

A The first tip is to practise as much as possible for the interview and prepare to answer questions, which at Goldman Sachs are always example-based: draw from as many real-life experiences as you can to highlight your various skills. The best candidates have developed their sense of self-awareness, so they are articulate and come across with the right level of confidence. A second tip would be to do a lot of research on the industry as a whole but also on the firm you want to work for.

Q When it comes to the interview stage, what are the definite turn-offs in terms of a candidate’s approach or behaviour?

A There is a fine line between self-confidence and arrogance, so my advice would be not to try too hard to sell yourself. Another frequent reason for turning candidates down is not being able to show why you are interested in the job. When the interviewer asks if you have any questions, make sure you have some ready: not having a question may demonstrate a lack of interest and intellectual curiosity. Also remember to give a firm handshake and look the interviewer in the eye.

Q At the CV screening stage, what are the key elements that create a favourable impression of the candidate?

A It is a good idea to be concise: one page usually suffices. Avoid using long sentences: opt instead for bulletpoints under specific headings, which are easier on the eye. Get a few people who know you to have a look at it and make comments. Think hard about what makes you different from other people and try to get that across. Some people focus only on the CV and underestimate the importance of the covering letter. This is a good way of presenting yourself and explaining why you are interested and why you are good. Don’t just cut and paste that same letter and use it for several organisations. Make it personal – it shows.

Tara Udut, head of campus recruitment, Americas, Barclays

Q In your experience what is the number one reason why graduate applicants are rejected?

A Lack of preparation. This can vary from mistakes on an application or resume, to not having appropriately researched the company or role, to not confirming interview details or having additional copies of a resume. The job search process is just that, a process, so you need to put the time in to get the results.

Q What are the most common mistakes students make with their applications?

A Many times students will wait until the deadline date to submit their application. This doesn’t leave enough time to think through answers, to ensure attention to detail, or to deal with any technical issues they may encounter. The application is an important part of the selection process that many candidates take for granted.

Q What are the top qualities you are looking for in your graduate recruits?

A The ability to pick up concepts quickly, flexibility and adaptability, leadership, and a passion for the industry and the role.

Q Besides their academics, what other elements do you look on favourably in applications?

A We look for students to be well rounded, which can come in a variety of forms. Some students are active in campus activities such as clubs, fraternities and sororities, some focus on philanthropy, some have part-time jobs or work study programmes, and some are involved in sport.

Q Can you offer any tips on how to prepare for the interview process?

A In my view, there are three primary steps in preparing for an interview. The first step is research. Ensure you have researched both the company you are interviewing with, as well as the position you are interviewing for – this will help you to position your experience and interest against the criteria. Make sure you review the company website, any online resources, and do a quick search for any recent news. The second step is to review your CV and begin to think about how your qualifications relate to the role you are applying for. Think about how you would answer some basic questions like “Why are you a good fit for this role?” and which aspects of your resume you would highlight for qualities such as leadership. Finally, the third step is to practise.

Natasha Peacock, director, APAC head of campus recruiting, Credit Suisse

Q When assessing applications, what are the key elements that you look for in your potential graduate recruits?

A We’re looking at long-term potential, and we seek enthusiastic people who will add fresh perspectives to our business throughout their careers with us. While our employees have a wide range of experiences, successful candidates also share some common attributes.

These include being a critical thinker with excellent problem-solving skills, a proactive self-starter and a supportive and adaptable team member.

Q What is a typical benchmark for the educational qualifications of those looking for a career in investment banking?

A A high GPA is preferable but is not the only thing that we look for. We screen application forms holistically, looking at academic record, experience (work experience, voluntary work and extra-curricular activities), interests and hobbies.

Q How would you advise graduates to best prepare for the interview process?

A Candidates should research and learn as much as they can about the firm that they are applying to. They should also read about what is going on in the global markets, and keep abreast of changes in the industry and the sector they want to work in. They should be prepared to answer questions about their skills and experiences, and provide examples about their work history and academic background that demonstrate their skills and competencies.

They should come prepared to ask questions – good questions that reveal an interest in the company and the position they are applying for. This also shows enthusiasm and an inquisitive mind, both attributes that we look for.

Q In what ways do candidates fall down during the interview process?

A By being unprepared and complacent, or by showing a lack of interest in the industry or position. This instantly creates a poor impression.

Q Do you accept many interns? And if so, do you think it is an important part of the process in securing a full-time position in the future?

A Yes, we place a strong importance on hiring very good quality interns, and we hire into all business areas, both across the region and globally. Our internship programme is our primary pool of talent for future full-time employees. It is designed to give candidates real work experience that is both challenging and rewarding. We try to hire almost all of our full-time hires from our summer intern class, so an internship is the best possible way to secure a permanent role.

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