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.
"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."
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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,
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."
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).
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.