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Why banks reject you when you apply direct

Rejected by a bank

Why you're not wanted

It’s normal to be rejected by an investment bank. Goldman Sachs famously rejects 96% of the people who want junior jobs there. Morgan Stanley rejects 98% of those who fancy spending their summer at its desks.

At the junior end especially, banking recruiters are there to withhold the thousands of people who mistakenly think finance is for them. But what if you’re more senior and are applying to banks directly? Why are you still being turned down?

As more and more senior jobs are filled by direct applications, we spoke to several senior recruiters in investment banks. Speaking freely off the record, this is what they told us about turning people down.

1. You have unrealistic salary expectations

Over the past two years, banking salaries in London especially have been hiked to take account of European bonus restrictions. With banks like Morgan Stanley said to be paying much higher salaries than the rest, this has created confusion over the appropriate salary by role and level of seniority. The head of recruitment at one bank in London said exalted salary demands are increasingly blocking hiring: “Everyone thinks it’s standard to get these huge salaries for jobs, when in reality there are just a few people at that level. Too many candidates are very unrealistic.”

2. You’re not a diverse candidate

Positive discrimination is illegal, so no bank is going to tell you that you’ve been turned because you’re too white and male. However, one head of recruitment said this is an issue with direct applications.

“When we rely upon people applying through our website, we don’t get a very diverse set of applicants,” he told us. “For this reason, we tend to use headhunters who can get us the diverse applicant pool we need.”

He added that with plenty of white males applying through banks’ own websites, headhunters are increasingly becoming no more than seekers of women and ethnic minorities. In August, Financial News reported that Lloyds Bank in the UK had banned all-male short lists.

3. You’re not an exact fit 

While banks employ increasingly large in-house recruitment teams, they’re not typically in the business of shoe-horning candidates into jobs they’re not entirely appropriate for. Some banks will simply ask you to upload your CV in the hope that something appropriate becomes available. In this case, “you’re in the lap of the gods”, says one senior recruiter.

4. You don’t demonstrate the company values 

Virtue signalling is a big thing in banks these days. More to the point, you’ll need to signal your virtue in line with banks’ stated values. Banks like Deutsche and Barclays are having a big push on values-promotion. Make sure you’re familiar with banks’ cultural purpose before you apply – and especially before you go for the interview.

5. You’re trying for a promotion

Once upon a time, it used to be possible to apply for a new job in an investment bank and to get promoted in the process. This is no longer the case. The global head of recruitment at another bank said a lot of people who apply directly figure they’ll just try their luck. “They apply for jobs above their current title and think we might be flexible and hire them,” he says. “Sometimes we are – but rarely.”

6. You’ve got a bad reputation 

Have you applied for 10 jobs at the same bank in the past month? Have you been calling the in-house recruitment team to find out why you haven’t received a response? Don’t. You will be remembered – for the wrong reasons. “There are people who keep ringing and ringing,” says one senior recruiter. “You shouldn’t do that.”

Photo credit: Lucas Moratelli

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