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How to get a banking job when you didn’t attend a top school or university

If you want to work for an investment bank, but you didn’t attend the sort of university investment banks like to hire from, your application will need to exceptional. Here’s what you need to know if you want to impress banks’ recruiters despite the educational brands on your CV.

1. You’re most likely to succeed if you don’t apply to top banks

If you went to a non-target university then it is highly unlikely you will get into a graduate scheme at one of the top banks. Competition is just too fierce. Try to get a job in a smaller bank to gain experience. You can always move on later.

2. You’re most likely to succeed if you don’t apply to the front office 

Securing a front office role (eg. in M&A or sales and trading) will be incredibly tough – go for back or middle office jobs and then network like crazy internally and with clients with a view to moving once you have established a reputation for being excellent at what you do. People do move from back through to front office, I’ve come across numerous examples of this, but you’ll need a long term strategic plan and you’ll need to stick to it.

3. You could start your career in the Big Four

Another alternative is to start your career in a Big Four accounting firm. Plenty of newly qualified accountants move from the Big Four into M&A or equity research jobs in banking.

4. You need a top class degree

If you’re not at a target university, you’ll need to work particularly hard. – Ensure you get a first class degree (summa cum laude in the US), write a relevant dissertation or thesis and get involved with industry relevant coursework and projects that you can write about on your CV. It is much harder to get good grades from an under-performing high school that top grades from an elite school, and banks know this!

5. Try for supplementary academic accolades

As well as achieving an excellent grade, you should focus on achieving a top position in your class. Enter competitions, and include any awards you’ve one in your application.

6. Involve yourself in excellent extracurricular activities 

Banks are not just interested in your academics, they also want skills. They are looking for bright, commercially astute, future leaders with stamina, energy and initiative. Ensure you get involved in a range of finance-related activities – and not just by being a ‘member’ of the economics society. There is much, much more you can do from paper trading to financial blogging to internships.

7. Perfect your CV and cover letter

You need your banking CV and covering letter need to look and feel as slick and corporate as possible. They need to reflect quality – and the quality of you! Be neat, conservative and clean. Be consistent with your spacing, margins and font sizes – avoid clutter and most importantly spell check again, again and again.

When you’re writing about your skills, always stick to the motto ‘Show not tell’- don’t tell the reader the skills you developed, instead write about what you actually did. For example, I don’t recommend stating : “Developed strong communication skills as treasurer of Economics Society”. Do say “Engaged audience of 50 whilst delivering PowerPoint presentation to xxxxx.”

8. Use keywords

How are banks describing the skills and competencies required for the jobs you’re applying for? Look at the language they use and incorporate this into your CV. Make sure every section has a few key words that are relevant to the industry.

9. Network from the very start

Finally, banks are looking for a long term commitment to working in the sector. If you want to get into IB then you need to start following the markets and networking in your first year. This career choice requires your absolute commitment from year one.

Photo credit: samstockton

Victoria McLean is managing director of CV writing company, City CV. She was previously a recruiter for Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs.  

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