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12 ways junior bankers mess up their job search

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Avoid shooting yourself in the foot when you're looking for a new banking job.

While investment banks start to welcome the new class of summer analysts, those with a few years’ experience under their belts may be looking for their first lateral move. So-called ‘first bouncers’ venturing into the job market – either by choice, or by force – still face intense competition for places. This is how they can slip up.

1. Being arrogant

Probably the worst personal trait to show is arrogance, according to Janet Raiffa, an investment banking career coach, the former head of campus recruiting at Goldman Sachs and a former associate director in the Career Management Center at Columbia Business School.

Every candidate has weaknesses, so don’t pretend that you don’t.

“Many top firms suffer from reputations of arrogance, and so they are particularly worried about hiring analysts or associates who play to this stereotype,” she said.

2. Overscheduling and underpreparing

Too many junior banking candidates go into the interview and dazzle the interviewer based on their impressive resume and the force of their personality alone, rather than doing the necessary homework in advance.

“It’s not unusual for some folks to schedule two or three or more meetings, calls or informational interviews in a day, and when you do that you don’t have enough bandwidth to do sufficient research on the organization and communicate how you will add value,” said Roy Cohen, career coach and the author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide.

“The way you uniquely distinguish yourself is through preparation, and if you book yourself too much and spread yourself too thin, then you’ll be unable to prepare sufficiently,” he said.

3. Being sloppy

In any type of correspondence or communication with recruiters, HR executives and hiring managers, typos and sloppy grammar are typically deal-breakers.

“Such mistakes may be a generational byproduct of text messaging, writing with emojis and in shorthand,” Cohen said. “You have to be really careful that your stuff is proofed and error-free, especially junior bankers, because everything you do is expected to be flawless and precise. Mistakes are not tolerated.”

4. Being too casual

Another big one is being too casual in an interview because you’ve developed a relationship during the recruiting process, Raiffa said.

“I’ve heard about interviewees cursing in interviews, high-fiving, slouching or leaving cans behind for the interviewer to clean up,” she said.

5. Ignoring the ‘fit’ question

Many junior banking candidates lack precision in explaining why they want the job, why they’re a good fit for the firm and why they’re highly qualified for the role. In fact, the technical elements of the various job functions are increasingly less important than being armed with the softer skills that banks’ hiring managers value.

“That’s the trinity you have to communicate: why the job, why the company and why you,” Cohen said. “There’s intense competition for junior banking roles now, and the only way to distinguish yourself from other candidates is to convey your message on those three levels.”

6. Using jargon incorrectly

There are a time and a place for jargon in conversation to demonstrate facility and to signal insider status, as long as you use the term correctly, but the language in a formal resume or cover letter is another story. Novices may get tripped up by using industry jargon if they’re not entirely sure what they’re talking about.

7. Not casting a wide-enough net

Cohen said some junior candidates are overeager and don’t create enough buzz around themselves due to a lack of experience working with recruiters, or they get their heart set on a single bank and overlook good opportunities at less prestigious – but still high quality – firms.

“Creating demand and having a couple of irons in the fire is important,” Cohen said. “Talk about your level of activity with the recruiters you work with. If I know you have nothing else going on, then I’m not as impressed as if I know I can lose you to another firm.”

8. Trying to B.S. rather than owning up to something you don’t know

Sometimes junior banking candidates have a lack of understanding of what the specific duties and responsibilities for the role are and they get caught saying something inaccurate or irrelevant.

“Some junior bankers end up talking about something that’s not necessarily correct, and they dig a hole for themselves,” Cohen said. “If you don’t know something, admit it rather than BSing, and be able in your follow-up to show that you understand it by following up with some demonstrated insight that you gained: ‘I’ve researched the question that you brought up, and the following issues important for consideration.’”

9. Asking how much the job pays or how much vacation time you get

One big challenge in investment banking is that a lot of firms pay the same salaries for a certain level of experience, especially for analysts and associates. For junior bankers, typically compensation isn’t really up for negotiation, and it may be a major turnoff for the interviewer if you bring it up, especially before they’ve made you an official offer. The same goes for vacation time.

Further, junior bankers who leave for a new firm every time that they’re offered a raise risk being labeled as a job-hopper.

10. Badmouthing a current or former employer

It’s vital that you don’t launch into a tirade against your existing employer or a former one, because the hiring manager may think you’d do the same after leaving their firm.

11. Not looking at the big picture

You should have a long-term view of where you see your career heading – your current role won’t last forever, so know the various exit options, including banking competitors, corporate America, tech startups and the buy side, including hedge funds and private equity.

It would also behoove you to consider the impact of artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation on your intended career path.

12. Flirting with the interviewer

The interviewer may be extremely attractive, and you may have plenty of self-confidence, but this is a job interview, not a date, and acting unprofessionally, even if you feel that you’re being flattering, is a sure-fire way to sabotage your chances of getting the job.

Photo credit: KUO CHUN HUNG/iStock/Thinkstock

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