As anyone who’s spent any time in finance will know, banks are not identical. Aside from the obvious distinctions between boutiques and full service investment banks, there are increasing disparities in culture and strategy. Michael Ohana, founder of France-based Alum Eye, claims to be an expert at navigating these differences and at personalising applications for particular banks.
Next time you’re applying for a new job in banking, this is the process he suggests you go through.
1. Who, exactly, are you addressing here?
Don’t even think about applying for a job without knowing the company you’re applying to. If you’re applying for an IBD position, for example, you’ll need to know whether your intended employer has sector-specific teams or generalist teams. Are there execution-only teams, or are teams equally occupied with winning clients and doing deals?
Equally, you’ll need to know exactly where the bank in question ranks for product area you’re applying for. What are its weak spots? Strong points? Talk to people who’ve worked there before.
2. Don’t dump the cover letter
There have been suggestions recently that cover letters aren’t worth the hassle. Ohana, however, would disagree. He says the banking cover letter is an important method of demonstrating the depth of your understanding of your potential employer: “Who have you met? When? Why are you applying to this particular bank?”
A cover letter written to Rothschild will not be the same as a cover letter written to J.P. Morgan. Don’t copy and paste. Do make your pitch as specific as possible.
3. Show that you know insiders who work for that firm already
Who do you know who already works for the bank you’re applying for? Before applying, Ohana advises getting in touch with alumni and former colleagues who work for the firms you’re applying to. You may be asked to mention their names during the application process, or at interview. By demonstrating that you already have inside knowledge of a firm, you’re showing that you’re familiar with the culture and what it’s really like to work there.
4. Sell yourself for that specific role
You’re not going to get the job unless you can demonstrate that you’re absolutely suited to that role in particular. If you’re a junior, Ohana says you’ll need to explain exactly why you’re interested in one line of financial services above another. If you’re a senior, you’ll need to come prepared with a swot-style analysis of the role you’re applying for and how you can add value. This will require some pretty detailed knowledge of the bank’s existing strategy.
In a banking interview, the more facts and figures you’re equipped with, the better. It’s no good talking about your leadership capabilities, says Ohana – you’ll need to come with some hard data that demonstrates exactly what your team achieved. Whether you’re applying for a junior or senior role, come prepared with both figures and vignettes which illustrate your capacity to do the job.
5. Game the ‘fit’
With ethics and culture more important than ever, banks are placing increased emphasis on cultural ‘fit”
For this reason, you need to know as much as possible about what it’s really like inside the firm you’re applying to before you step into the interview. What does the bank say about its ‘values and beliefs’? What do insiders say about the culture (see 3).
Ohana says you need to be ready to bond with your interviewer – to engage in a proper, warm, two-way conversation. The interview is not a monologue and nor is it an exam. It’s an opportunity to get to know the people you might soon be working with. You need to demonstrate your appropriateness for the role, but you also need to show that you’re curious about the experiences of your interviewer. Make sure you come prepared with questions that flatter the person across the table and subtly demonstrate your knowledge of an interest in that firm.
“‘Fit’ is a big part of banking interviews in London,” says Ohana. If you can get this element of the recruitment process right, you’ll be a long way to winning the role.