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The perfect graduate CV for investment banking

Perfect graduate cv

If you want to get into investment banking straight out of university – if you want to get an analyst job, in other words – you’ll need to be good on paper. In fact, you’ll need to be very good on paper.

In 2014, Morgan Stanley received 90,000 applications for its summer program and Goldman Sachs had 17,000 applications for 350 analyst internships. As a graduate trying to get into banking, the odds are stacked massively against you. And your CV or resumé is your only chance to overcome them.

What should your CV look like if you want to get into an investment bank? Based upon years of writing about the sector, interviews with banking graduate recruiters, profiles of successful candidates, and conversations with professional resumé writers who’ve worked in banking, this is what you need.

1. Impeccable academic qualifications 

As our profiles of the 2015 analyst hires at J.P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley make clear, investment banks like to hire people who’ve done well at school. And not just a bit well. People who go into ‘front office’ investment banking jobs like sales, trading, or M&A often have top grades, in everything. Moreover, they are often from the world’s top universities. If you don’t have perfect grades and you haven’t attended one of these institutions, your CV will be far less effective.

2. Brevity

Banks don’t want to read resumés that go on and on and on. J.P. Morgan states that the resumés of undergraduate and MBA students should be no longer than a page. Use bullet points to order your thoughts.

3. Evidence of ambition and teamwork in extracurricular activities 

Recruiters at banks like Goldman Sachs say they want to hire students who can demonstrate a “self starter attitude” and ‘motivation to progress.’ “We want to see school and work experience, but we also want to see what you are passionate about outside of work and academia,” said Kate Martuscello, head of MBA recruiting for Goldman’s private wealth management division. “If we look at someone with a 4.0 GPA but with no extracurricular activities and compare that person to someone with a 3.6 GPA but who has other skills and commitments, to me, that is a more well-rounded candidate,” said Sandra Hurse, global co-head of campus recruiting at Goldman Sachs.

For this reason, many graduate hires at Goldman Sachs and elsewhere have captained sports teams, run finance societies, organized conferences, set up small businesses, or won transatlantic debating championships.  

4. Evidence of a commercial mindset 

Victoria McLean, managing director of London-based CV writing firm ‘City CV’ and a former recruiter at Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch, says this is crucial if you’re applying for a front office banking job.

“Banks want to hire people who will help them make money,” says McLean. “They want people who will enhance their revenues, help them to grow their client base, reduce their costs and increase their efficiency – there’s a commercial rationale to their hiring decisions.” For this reason, McLean says even graduate CVs need to be presented with a commercial filter. “Rather than just writing about your activities, you need to think about what the outcome was and what that meant in terms of revenues or cost saving,” she says.

As an example, McLean points to a student who had only worked in a supermarket and electrical goods retailer before applying to Morgan Stanley. “We got talking about exactly what he’d done at the supermarket and it became apparent that he’d been involved in merchandising and had helped change the visual layout of the store to generate repeat business. We were able to add that to his CV.”

As a rule of thumb, whenever you mention a non-academic achievement, quantify it in monetary or numerical terms. How much money did you generate? How much money did you save? How many new customers did you bring in?

5. Evidence of commitment to the finance sector 

It’s no coincidence that some of the students landing jobs in investment banks now have completed 12 prior finance internships before they arrive for good when they leave school. These days, banks offer sophomore or ‘spring internships’ to students in their first year of university. You need to apply for these and to complete as many as possible. You also need to complete a summer internship and to attend as many orientation days as you can and add these to your CV.

Nor is it just internships: plenty of the students who get jobs in banks today have participated in university finance clubs. In fact, most have done more than just participate – they’ve been the chairman of the finance club, or the treasurer of the finance club, or they’ve set up a finance club.

Finally, a growing number of graduates going into the finance sector have passed the CFA Level I exam – 23% of those participating in the CFA program are students. “More and more students coming to me have the CFA I qualification,” says McLean.”It certainly demonstrates your long term commitment to finance, but it won’t break or break your application – school results and university grades are far more important.”

6. The right kind of detail

While banks want resumés which are one page long and structured around bullet points, they don’t want resumés which skip the kinds of juicy details that will inspire them to invite you for interview.  “If you took a year off to focus on other personal goals, you should include that experience in your resume,” Joanna Lee, an investment banking MBA recruiter at J.P. Morgan, told us last year.  McLean says you need to include experiences which might not seem relevant, like working in a supermarket, but that you need to spin their commercial value as above. One of Goldman’s hires this year worked as a parking lot attendant and cashier. 

McLean says candidates need to provide details that will set a basis for discussion in later interviews. For example, you’ve been managing your own portfolio (imagined or otherwise) talk about your investment strategy and your return on investment (ROI). If you’ve lost money, say what you learned and how you plan to adapt your strategy in future.

7. No typos

Junior investment bankers need excellent attention to detail. Therefore, if your CV contains misspellings, grammatical inaccuracies and – worse – you mention the name of the wrong bank in your cover letter – you will be rejected immediately.

8. Awards

Finally, some of the best junior banker CVs are filled with awards. The International Maths Olympiad is a favourite – as are its domestic heats. Banks and finance firms themselves often run competitions (for example PWC runs a case study competition and Goldman Sachs runs a ‘student challenge’). Check careers websites and enter a few of these competitions each year during your university career (start early!). – Competition wins are important CV differentiators for banking recruiters trying to choose between thousands of different CVs.

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