☰ Menu eFinancialCareers

The absolutely perfect investment banking CV…

Perfect CV or perfect resume for banking

Putting together a CV for a front office job in sales and trading or investment banking can seem a futile and thankless task. – You spend hours crafting a document, only to find that recruiters spend a minute (or less) scanning it, and distill it down into bullet points if they decide to take your application any further.

Nonetheless, a carefully crafted resume is a necessary evil. If you want to get a front office banking job, your resume will need to be better than good: it will need to be close to perfect.

The absolutely perfect resume for any front office job in an investment bank, WILL….

1. Have impeccable academics 

“Most banks get tens of thousands of applications and for the sake of simplicity they have to eliminate a lot of them on the basis of academics,” says Malcolm Horton, global head of recruitment at Nomura International.

If you’re in the UK, you’re going to need at least a 2.1 degree and a stack of A grades at A Level (the average front office recruit at J.P. Morgan has 700 UCAS points). In the U.S., it means you’ll need a GPA of 3.5+. Banks want to know that you have what it takes to work hard.

If you look at J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs’ 2016 analyst classes, you’ll get an idea of the standard today’s junior bankers need to achieve. One of Goldman Sachs’ (London) hires has a GPA of 3.72.  Another has a first class degree in physics from London’s Imperial College.

If you don’t have top academics, your investment banking resume – no matter how good in other ways – will be dinged. “We cut out around half of the resumes of the people who apply to us on the basis of poor academic performance,” says one senior banking recruiter. “We just don’t have the resources to go through each one and read the justifications about why they didn’t do well academically.”

Andy Pringle, director of recruitment firm Circle Square, agrees that so-called ‘mitigating circumstances’ hold no sway with banking recruiters: “If you’re in London and you don’t have a 2.1 degree or better, you’re not going to get any further. Banks have no interest in the reasons why you didn’t do well at university.”

2. Make a big deal out of those impeccable academics 

Given that everyone with any chance of getting a front office job in an investment bank is going to be academically brilliant, excellent grades alone are not enough. It helps to win prizes too.

Victoria McLean, an ex-Goldman Sachs recruiter and founder of City CV, says extra academic achievements can be a big differentiator. “Mention any scholarships, times that you came top of the class, high percentages and grades you scored in particular exams,” she advises. McLean suggests that you continue doing this for five years after you graduate.

3. Make use of bullet points and be concise and cleanly formatted

Financial services recruiters scan hundreds of CVs every day. They want to read something succinct and to the point. Bullet points will suggest that your CV is both. “Bullet points are standard,” says Horton. One page is standard for banking resumes in the U.S., although you may just about be able to get away with two pages in London.

McLean says that you should have no more than six bullet points per subheading: “Any more than that and it just becomes a list.”

If you don’t present your CV in the form of bullet points from the outset, recruiters will usually distill it down into bullet points for you. For this reason, you need to have some hard facts in your resume (see point 4).   – Without these, there will be nothing for them to create bullet points with.

The exception to the bullet point rule is Germany. There, banking recruiters say it’s fairly standard to submit CVs that are 17 pages long. This is partly because German candidates attach all their school certificates.

Matan Feldman, a former J.P. Morgan associate who founded the firm Wall Street Prep, says you also need to take care that your resume is easy to read.  “We see a lot of strange fonts, extra-long CVs and non-standard formatting. -Especially among international applicants.”

3. Contain the right key words and phrases

Having the right key words in your CV will make a big difference.

If your banking resume contains the right words, it will get you past the computers that scan CVs, says McLean. Also known as applicant tracking systems (ATS), these are the programs banks and recruiters use to sift through applications.

Which are the right key words for you? It varies by job. Look at the descriptions of the jobs you’re applying to. “Look online at job boards – look at ads for the jobs you’re applying for and try to pick out the words that are relevant to your role and sector,” McLean advises.

These days, applicant tracking systems are becoming more advanced. – Instead of simply looking for particular words, they often use so-called ‘semantic matching’ technology to look for whole phrases and related words. For example, if a job requires Java programming skills and you mention SQL, you could still get picked by the machine on the grounds that people with SQL often have an aptitude for Java. For this reason, it makes sense to mention as many skills as possible (assuming that you have them) and to include skills that occur in clusters for the jobs you’re interested in.

4. Speak in terms of concrete achievements and detail exactly what you did

Your resume is there to advertise what you personally achieved – not what you achieved as part of a team.  “Put yourself in the mind of your future employer,” says McLean. “Why are they hiring you? What impact have you had in previous jobs and how did you do it?”

Speak in terms of personal achievements rather than generalities. Your resume needs to contain statements such as, “I was the top ranked salesperson three quarters running and increased the value of key client accounts by 75% during that period.”

“For example, if you’re a trader, then explain which strategies you use,” says McLean. “Which ones have been most successful for you? How did you build client flow? How much money do you make for the bank – and where does it come from?”

When you’re applying for a job in IBD, Pringle says your resume will need to reference the deals you worked on and exactly what you personally did during those deals. Most M&A CVs will be supplemented with a deal list, but you’ll be expected to have summary detail in your CV too.

5. Show consistency 

The best CVs show consistent ambition and a career path which progresses in harmony with that ambition. You will, for example, be viewed with deep suspicion if you have a history of working in corporate finance and suddenly express an urge to switch to algorithmic trading.

“If you are making a change then you need to say why in your intro profile – even if just one line to explain. Recruiters are so busy that if there is any ambiguity they probably won’t read on,” says McLean.

6. Suggest personality

Banks don’t just want to hire automatons with good grades. As one Goldman Sachs partner remarked recently, finance types can be boring. Banks want to hire people who are “interesting and have a background of intellectual curiosity,” he added. For this reason, one former Goldman Sachs recruiter said they try to avoid “plug and play” hires and to look for creativity and interesting personalities.

“We want people who are balanced and not singularly focused [on getting a job in banking],” agrees Horton.

One senior banker said he puts candidates through the so-called ‘airport test’: how much fun would they be if you were stuck in an airport with them for 100 hours.

Banks also like to hire people whose CVs evidence particular elite forms of extra-curricular activity: it’s not enough to deliver food to needy people locally, you need to go to Costa Rica and build some houses for Habitat for Humanity. Similarly, expensive hobbies take precedence: skiing, skuba diving and tennis count for more than running in the local park.

What about being a member of a finance society whilst at university? That’s good, but your resume will be viewed with more enthusiasm if you’ve held a position of responsibility in one of these societies,

7. Be free of spelling mistakes and grammatically correct 

In investment banking divisions (M&A and corporate finance) attention to detail is imperative: banks need to know that you can assemble presentations that will help them win clients, and those presentations must be 100% error free.

“97% of hiring managers reject on the basis of 2 typos,” says McLean. “You can’t afford to let this slip – proof, proof and proof it again.”

8. Mention big name schools 

Whatever banks say, they hire from elite institutions more than others.

We’ve listed the top schools banking like to hire from on Wall Street and in the City of London here.  If you haven’t been to one of these schools, don’t assume you can’t get in. – It just means you’ll need to achieve excellent grades and to make sure you’ve proven your interest in finance in other ways (see 11).

Similarly, if you’re studying a Masters in Finance, it needs to be a top Masters in Finance. If you’re studying an MBA, it needs to be a top MBA. Anything else, and you’re wasting your money.

9. Show you care

This is a new point. In this age of increased banking regulation and ethical banking, it’s become important to show that you’re passionate about more than just making a lot of money for your own personal benefit.

“We want to see your values as an individual,” says Horton. “What matters to you? What are you passionate about?” Extracurricular activities and hobbies are the place to show this (see 6.)

10. Show you’re cosmopolitan

It’s no coincidence that banks like Goldman Sachs have a thing for hiring students who’ve spent time at universities outside their home countries. This applies as much in London as in New York and China. 

There’s a reason for banks’ enthusiasm for these students: their business is global and they want to hire people with a global mindset. By the same token, if you’re applying for an IBD or sales job in London, Pringle says it will help if you speak at least two languages fairly fluently. “Languages carry a premium,” says Pringle. In London, British candidates, who are often monolingual, can be excluded on this basis: “Britons make up less than 20% of some M&A teams,” says Pringle.

11. Include a CFA Level 1 pass or long list of internships 

If you’re applying for an entry-level job in a bank, you’ll need to prove that you really, really want it. During your first year at university, this means you need to apply for every banking-related event going: think insight days and spring internships in Europe, or sophomore internships on Wall Street. Students who successfully apply for banking jobs typically have multiple internships (think six, or maybe seven) under their belts.

Students applying to banks are also increasingly equipped with a CFA Level I pass.  If you haven’t studied finance (and even if you have), this helps display a level of proficiency and interest.

12. Show that you understand data manipulation and programming 

Lastly, as J.P. Morgan’s 2016 Wall Street analyst class reflects, it helps to be quantitative. Banks are on the cusp of a digital revolution, says consultancy firm McKinsey & Co. As processes are automated and data is used to inform decisions, banks will need an increasingly large army of programmers and data scientists. If you can program in Python and present data in Hadoop, you’re going to be popular.

And the absolutely perfect investment banking resume WONT…

1. Be more than two pages long (unless you’re in Germany)

2. Be printed on pink/purple/baby blue paper. White is acceptable.

3. Include a photograph of applicant, surfing.

4. Have boxes around key sections. [ATS systems cannot read boxes, advises McLean]

5. Speak in clichés. Do not say: “Analytical thinker, demonstrated leadership ability, team-playing skills, an ability to learn fast on the job.”

6. List previous jobs and responsibilities without saying what your contribution was.

7. Be printed in a strange font. Recruiters are simple beasts, keep it easy.

8. Tell lies.

9. Include every single educational qualification you’ve since you were 16 even though you are now aged 43. You only need to add A Level results if you graduated within the past five years, say recruiters.


Contact: sbutcher@efinancialcareers.com

Comments (40)

Comments
  1. There is absolutely nothing new here whatsoever. Sarah, do you never tire of regurgitating the same articles time and time again?

    If a candidate has fallen at any of the hurdles you have listed above then he/she is simply an idiot.

    If you continue to offer articles that are neither insightful nor productive then please quit your job and start an alternative website that advises on careers outside of IB. I suggest Management Consulting, as this is where you will find the intellectual standard you seek with articles of this nature.

    (Or, you could simply refrain from talking to Recruitment Consultants?)

  2. what if you are like me a graduate of a second tier poly and having worked all your career in a small provincial town ? Do I stand a chance ?

  3. Regarding Excel, depends on the role. If you’re applying for something quanty its par for the course and is akin to sayin “skilled breather” but for other roles, especially entry level or back office it doesn’t hurt to mention you have mastered the secret knowledge of Pivot Tables. You would be shocked at how far people get with only Autosum.

  4. @Brasenose – Thank you for your contribution. As a jobs website we have a need to reiterate the qualities required for a good CV from time to time. Unfortunately, they tend to be fairly unvarying.

    Management consultants only communicate in the form of matrices, but I will bear your advice in mind.

  5. Apropos of first number 9), in your point number 8), the word is spelled “whets” – not wets.

  6. steiner … you are right it s incredible some proficiency in excel and Powerpoint can wow people away… however by saying good excel skills you simply add nothing…. if you know how to make pivot table, find a meanigful way to add this to your cv (i.e. data analysis and MI design through excel etc.)

  7. I have worked at 8 places, all permanent roles, over 20 years. If I decide to be honest and list all these on my CV will it count against me. (I can dress up my role at each of these, that’s not difficult for me to do).

  8. On her Linkedin profille, Sarah lists her interests as “Eating” and “Reading”. I was expecting something more along the lines of “Swimming across the English Channel on weekends.”

  9. Slagging Sarah (or indeed anyone) off from behind the cloak of anonymity is a touch unchivalrous. Perhaps she is keeping her genuine interests a secret to protect against stalkers…

  10. Harrison Careers aren’t good. I contacted them twice to order a service I was willing to pay for and they never replied. Having read this article I don’t regret this.

  11. Sarah, Um…I’m a management consultant…at times in IB…and I have no idea what it is to “only communicate in the form of matrices”.

    I practice ESBS and I’m thinkin’ there ain’t no matrices in any of what I do!

    Whatever “matrix communications” is, it doesn’t sound very appealing, at least in your eyes!

    BTW, it IS important to review essentials from time to time lest we forget our roots, so to speak… mdh

  12. Don’t forget the mandatory “Member of sailing club”… virtually every IB CV I see has this

  13. Brasenose, Sarah, on what basis do you think it’s acceptable to slate Management Consulting in relation to this article? Do either of you have any relevant experience beyond looking at the job pages?

    I suspect Brasenose is just out of Uni and is about to learn the hard way that people in real businesses and real work situations don’t talk or act like that. It’s an attitude that will hold you back Brasenose.

    Sarah you sound like you’re joining in the consultant bashing just to deflect the negative attention from your own sub-standard journalism. To have a reader point out a spelling mistake must be hugely embarassing. Also, I’m no expert but I think you need to add “or not” to the end of the final sentence in your second point 6, either that or change “whether” to “if”.

  14. @Chris and Mark and all other management consultants – apologies for any offence. My response was written in self defence and yes, I did, join the management-consultant-bashing in a moment of weakness. For this, I stand corrected.

    @Chris – Regarding your other points. I see absolutely no need to add ‘or not,’ and point six already states, ‘whether.’ Fortunately I am not ‘hugely embarrassed’ by minor spelling mistakes, just mildly bemused.

  15. @Chris

    I think it is acceptable to slate (generalist) Management Consultancy because it is neither a legitimate nor economically viable activity.

    The only people that like Consultants are Consultants. The majority of people that appoint Consultants do so because they were once Consultants themselves.

    @Sarah

    What does ‘absolutely perfect’ mean? Either something is perfect or imperfect – there are no varying degrees of perfection in the context that you place your headline in.

  16. @Brasenose – I feel you are being pedantic. Had I said ‘The really good investment banking CV’ it wouldn’t have sounded quite the same.

  17. Brasenose, you clearly know nothing about Management Consulting, and probably nothing about Investment Banking either. Good luck in your career, because with insight like yours you’re going to need it.

    Sarah, apology accepted. Thank you very much.

  18. Very interesting and constructive article. Far more interesting than any of the accompanying comments. Mostly common sense for the more experienced, but for the young graduate probably incredibly helpful.

  19. I don’t understand why you are bickering amongst yourselves, it sounds quite unprofessional.

    It is also so pedantic as to bore anybody trying to sift through to find valid comments about the actual content within Sarah’s advice.

    As I see it, the advice is there as a guide. You do not need to follow it religiously; I certainly will not, but I can take something from it.

    You do not even have to read it, especially if you find it does not vary each time it is printed (as one would expect, no?).

    And if you must comment, please keep your points relevant; and not as a showcase for how superior you consider your English to be.
    Feel free to pick holes in my own if you want to be completely ironic.

  20. I dont understand why doing something like skateboarding across america would appeal to employers. I would much rather work with someone normal, who was good at their job. Skateboarding across america and such acitivies just says to me that the he or she cant find anything more useful to do with their time. Triathletes on the otherhand are fit by nature and take pride in their health and therefore are more likely to take pride in their work. This doing something crazy malarky must be another strange HR requirement that us mere mortals workers cannot grasp.

  21. I don’t normally comment on these articles but thought that given the rather hostile reception it has received thus far, it needed to be made clear that this is correct and useful advice. There is little new information here not because of any lack of effort on the part of the author, but rather due to the fact that the framework of a decent CV does not significantly change with time.

    Anyone – and there are tens of thousands – who has recently graduated and needs a few pointers on improving their CV, could stand to benefit from this article. This is it’s purpose. If you are ten years into a glittering banking career, I would ask why on earth you are scouring Google for CV pointers.

    Thank you for the article Sarah

    D

  22. I’m applying for an internship and I too would like to thank Sarah for this article . Thanks!

  23. I reckon there is no harm to have a bit of guidance to be honest. If you dont like it, the headline says it all – so dont read it.

    I have 10 years financial services experience – and in line with one of the points (commitment) I am 8 years with my current employer, it is good to have a handy reminder on important points to include in my cv.

    Cheers

  24. Thank you for this article.

    Just a quick question with regard to skills and layout.

    According to the second section of what not to say in your CV, you refer to word and Excel not being listed as skills. How should a person communicate on their CV their all Excel and word skills if only some where used in previous employment tasks?

    Are Personal Profiles, Key Skills and IT skills sections still relevant in investment banking CV’s?

  25. Hi
    I am a Chartered Accountant with 3 years’ post-articles experience in Corporate Finance Advisory at a Big 4 firm and a Level II CFA Candidate.
    I want to submit my CV to an Investment Bank. Should I include my University degree transcript together with my CV or is this not necessary ?
    A response would be much appreciated….
    Thank You

  26. “Reading” is not a hobby? Well, usually by “reading” people mean literature and literature is actually a hobby. Sorry.

  27. The arrogant and pompous comments of some people on this website are astonishing! A common characteristic of many seems to be, like the cowardly cybernats, hiding behind anonymity. Pillocks like Snottynose, sorry – Brasenose, would be put in charge of cleaning the bogs at my firm until they are suitably chastened. An apology from this likely frustrated (probably in many ways!) to the author would be in order.
    This guidance is not ground breaking nor perfect (nor could it be), but may well be useful to young people trying to start out who realise that they don’t know everything already.

  28. A sound and very relevant article by Sarah but the competition to get into a decent IB as a graduate is fierce and requires a world class CV to stand a chance of getting noticed. As an ex Director with Morgan Stanley I saw countless CVs pass over my desk and I know what makes the grade.

  29. Many years ago I aspired to work in IBD and would check this website daily (which I loved to do and found it exceptionally helpful). Thank you Sarah its great to see your name still on here when I first started to explore my career (way back in 2007).

    I had a check list of “must do’s” that I collected reading this website. I ended up in Asset Management Sales and the experience was excellent as I found my people skills were far better than my number skills. Sales, mind you, ended up being a much more profitable career path too.

    Five years down the track, a change of management and much reflection on what was important I decided to move on and establish my own independent wealth management firm. It has been a hoot and find that my yearly sales salary can now be achieved in a number of months.

    I encourage everyone here to reflect about the requirements for applying for an IBD role. Being young and chasing all of the “elite” activities is fun but there really is much more to life. Now, I look at these requirements and my stomach turns.

    Would I hire the candidate that has a collection of elite activities? Probably not. I want the hungry guy that hasn’t had a chance and wants to prove ones worth.

    It is great to dream – but there is a whole world out there which is better than selling your soul to a Wall Street firm. Most of the people I know started off in the top tier IBs and Legal Firms and ended up hating it. They also ended up hating themselves.

React

Screen Name

Required

Email

Please enter a valid email address

Consult our community guidelines here