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GUEST COMMENT: What do investment banking recruiters look for?

David N. Schwartz

What makes the difference between a candidate I will talk to, and one whose resume I file away for future reference?

Well, there’s the obvious point that if a candidate for a role in investment banking has the skill set I am looking for in a search assignment I have been given by a client, I am much more likely to see that candidate. That aside, here are the things that will grab my attention.

1. Candidates with excellent educational credentials:

I’ll look at where the candidate has gone to school, what degrees the candidate has received, and what GPA the candidate has earned.

We all realize that there is a world beyond the Ivy League/Stanford/MIT – that a group of ten or so fine, private, non-Ivy universities, small liberal arts colleges, and some fine state universities are all tough to get into, and provide the dedicated student with an outstanding education.  As for degrees, undergraduate business degrees don’t provide any particular advantage for an entry level candidate, but degrees that require strong analitical skills are important – math and science, economics, and even something like history, as long as the candidate can demonstrate some numeracy.  Generally, a GPA of 3.8 or above in physics or math gets my attention!  For MBAs I generally prefer students from schools with strong reputations in finance – Harvard, Columbia, Wharton, Chicago, NYU, for example.

2. Candidates with strong extra-curricular/non-work activities: 

I’ll look at candidates who show involvement in team sports, for example, particularly those that require dedication and sacrifice, as well as teamwork and precision.  Rowing (crew) and Lacrosse are two examples. Not-for-profit involvement also grabs my attention.  Someone who has committed time and energy to an organization dedicated to helping others, someone who understands the importance of giving back to the community – that’s someone who interests me.  Finally, someone who has a record of world class achievement in any non-financial endeavor – a chess master, a Rhodes Scholar, a concert musician – will always get a call from me.

3. Achievement and length of tenure

For experienced candidates, I look for people who have spent significant periods of time – five-plus years – at firms that are outstanding at what they do.  I will always talk to people who are movers and shakers in their own field – so-called “franchise players.”

None of these rules are hard-and-fast, and of course I may agree to see people who don’t fit this profile if they grab my attention in some other way.  But hitting one of these points above is a good way to ensure I will at least call you for a phone chat.

David Schwartz is CEO at search firm DN Schwarz & Co. He is a former director of recruitment at Goldman Sachs. 

Comments (14)

  1. Was this meant to be an exercise in putting together as cliched a piece of prose as was humanly possible?

  2. Slow times David? I think your experience and qualifications are better than the above post. I hesitated on commenting on your last one, but please move these posts a few levels up on the quality scale.

    Thanks, and hope you take this as constructive criticism.

  3. I found this very informative actually. Don’t be so quick to criticise….

  4. judging from the financial mess we live in, may I doubt that the best people are the ones actually hired

  5. Totally agree with points 1&3 but 2 drives me nuts. As a female banker, apart from the fact that i work long hours because i need to ensure i keep my job, i hardly have any spare time for me , nevermind finding time for non profit organisations!

    We are human beings not machines…as an alumni i may help a graduate to pass an internship, might help a friend with a cv advice or finding a job but it may not all be such big things as you listed there!! And this doesnt make me less willing to help others for free nor less ambitious to succeed than your rowing candidates!

    it is only recruiters fantasy this thing about voluntary work!

  6. I’m puzzled. For some reason no mention was made of one of the main “qualifications”: being born into the family of a political figure able to arrange to have public funds funneled into the firm’s coffers. In other words, a franchise PEP. Sure, the inbred Ivy (but I repeat myself) pool you laughingly describe as recruiting from is needed for the trenches. But in the real world franchise PEP’s will always get that call. And on and on the public-private “partnership” goes…

    Meanwhile, in the real world Reply
  7. Unfortunately not a very informative article. I would expect more from someone with this kind of pedigree.

  8. “4. Impeccable writing ability” ?

  9. “degrees that require strong analitical skills are important “

  10. David, if you take a minute to record yourself and play it back the next day, you’d cringe!…

  11. “Franchise Player”; “Rhodes Scholar”….listen to yourself David!.

  12. Wow…..looks like I am out of luck! Didn’t go to an Ivy!

    But let’s see……I am bilingual, have 2 master’s in a quantitative discipline, a fine art undergraduate degree, studied art history, fashion, and architecture throughout Europe, European Business Strategies in Madrid, and have worked in both US and Latin American markets.

    Am I good enough for you?

  13. It just shows how superficial investment banking has become. Anyone with half a brain can get into an Ivy league university – the real test is whether you can afford the fees.

    Its very simple you go to a good private school that then feeds in to a good university which the Investment Banks recruit from. You spend some time at a bulge bracket bank or at a strategy consultant (both of which recruit from the same schools) before moving into private equity. During your three – four years at the Investment Bank you will become good at powerpoint and learn endless jargon but will have a deficit of real / useful skills.

    You need to get to MD in the Investment Bank or Partner level in the private equity firm asap to avoid being found out. Then you will be able to concentrate on client interface which means spending most of your time going our for lunch and drinks with friends. Headhunters will then be impressed because you will be referred by your and their friends who will also in turn hire the headhunter for specific assignments

    The result is an industry staffed by senior individuals who do nothing more than socialise with friends and have few if any business skills. The whole sham is made worse by the fact that the senior people milk all the money and depend on a continuous influx of naive junior staff who work long hours doing mindless work and get paid relatively little on an hourly basis.

  14. I totally despair at the comments in this article. I tick most of the boxes David requires but cannot believe someone would come out and essentially say that I look to hire people from such a narrow template. What about diversity? Where does your innovation come from if all of your candidates are from the same social standing? I know this is a real world perspective and we all need to get used to it. There are recruiters like this out there but I hope I don’t meet too many of them.

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