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How to write a CV or resume that will get you a job in banking.

The absolutely perfect investment banking CV...

It’s not easy getting a job in an investment bank. Graduate recruiters get thousands of applications for a few hundred jobs. If you’re going to get in, your CV will need to be very special.  

What follows is a distillation of all that we know about how to write a banking CV or résumé that will get you beyond first base. Follow these instructions, and you may be one of the lucky few. 

Grades

Grades matter a lot in banking, but they matter more for some jobs than others. If you’re going for the most competitive jobs like sales and trading or M&A and you’re in the UK you’re going to need at least a 2.1 degree (preferably a First) and a stack of A grades at A Level (the average investment banking summer intern has 530 UCAS points, equivalent to 3 A* grades and one A). In the U.S., it means you'll need a GPA of 3.5+ to be sure of your resume getting through.

There can be more flexibility on grades for jobs in the back and middle office – but you’ll still need to be towards the top of your class.

Even if you have excellent grades, it will help if you can differentiate yourself by pointing to scholarships and academic prizes.

Format

Make use of bullet points and use a clean and concise format. 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. In Germany, CVs are often a lot longer.

Matan Feldman, a former J.P. Morgan associate who founded the firm Wall Street Prep, says you 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."

Keywords

You can’t be sure that the first look at your CV will be taken by a human being these days. Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are being used more and more.

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 applying to.

Achievements

When you’re referring to past work experience, speak in terms of personal achievements rather than generalities. The head of graduate recruiting at Goldman Sachs Asset Management summed it up a few years ago: “For every work experience you’ve had and for every organization you’re involved in, be prepared to go beyond what’s on your resume and speak to specific projects you worked on or efforts you spearheaded. Provide details on what your responsibilities were, what skills you applied and what learnings you took away from the experience. Then quantify the results.”

Victoria McLean, CEO of City CV and former Goldman Sachs and Bank of America Merrill Lynch Recruitment Manager, emphasizes that your CV is about you. "Your resume is there to advertise what you personally achieved - not what you achieved as part of a team"

McLean has reviewed over 200,000 CVs in her career. She says the ones that stand out aren't clichéd and are specific about the achievements of the CV holder. "Your CV has to tell people about you," she says. "If any of your bullet points could be about the person who did the job before you or the person who may do it after you then it needs to be rewritten. Be absolutely clear about the outcomes."

Banks are often looking for analytical ability and for proof you can solve quantitative problems. When you're quantifying achievements, McLean says it therefore helps to think if practical examples where you've extracted critical points from complex data to inform a reasoned response.

If you've already worked in finance, use solid examples of your acheivements. For example, statements like, "I was the top ranked salesperson three quarters running and increased the value of key client accounts by 75% during that period," say a lot more than a simple job title. 

Personality

You don't want to seem boring. Banks want to hire people who are "interesting and have a background of intellectual curiosity.” 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 24 hours.

Banks also like to hire people whose CVs evidence interesting and unusual forms of extra-curricular activity. Being a member of a finance society at university will help, but not that much – you need to hold a position of responsibility in one of these societies, rather than just showing up for the free drinks.

mistakes, so avoid fancy tricks and keep things conservative, professional and corporate.

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.

English-fluency

If your native language isn’t English, you need to be able to indicate on your CV that second language issues won’t be a problem, via international university education or work experience and internships in London, New York or another English-speaking country.  The anonymous WallStreetOasis recruiter suggested that it’s worth making a specific point of this if you have an Asian name.

Photo by Alp Duran on Unsplash

Contact: sbutcher@efinancialcareers.com in the first instance. Whatsapp/Signal/Telegram also available (Telegram: @SarahButcher)

Bear with us if you leave a comment at the bottom of this article: all our comments are moderated by human beings. Sometimes these humans might be asleep, or away from their desks, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. Eventually it will – unless it’s offensive or libelous (in which case it won’t.)

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AUTHORDaniel Davies and Sarah Butcher Insider Comment
  • Sq
    Squire
    13 December 2016

    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.

  • sa
    sara
    21 July 2016

    She is a journalist not banker.

  • Ia
    Iain Beaumont
    23 October 2014

    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.

  • an
    anonymous
    4 September 2014

    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.

  • El
    Element
    2 September 2014

    Thank you so much for updating this.

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