June 22, 2024

KT Business

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How To Write A Banking CV

8 min read

Getting an investment banking job isn’t easy.

JPMorgan said yesterday that it accepted less than 1% of applicants to its summer internship programs, and Goldman Sachs last year said that it had 300 applicants for each open position, an acceptance rate of 0.33%. How do you stand out from such a big crowd?

Your first step is your CV/resume. Although some banks have their own little preferences during an application process (we have a whole article on Goldman’s quirks here, and we’ve included their CV template at the bottom of this article, too), the keystone of any good job application is a high-quality CV. Here’s how to write one.

Banking CV Education and Qualifications

Although people see “financial services” and imagine that their degree in finance will help them cruise to a financial services role, things aren’t quite that simple. There’s remarkably little – if any – overlap between what you learn in a finance undergraduate course and the skills you’ll use as an investment banker. The reason investment banks like finance students (and STEM students) is because it shows an analytical mind, and that is exceptionally valuable to them. You’ll also have to be personable, but you can show that off in the interview process.

That being said, banks hiring humanities or generally unconventional-subject students is far from unheard of – in fact, it’s exceptionally common. So don’t get too hung up on that.

Grade requirements vary by school and situation. In the US, you’ll want to show off your GPA of around 3.5 if you’re from a target school, and a higher GPA if you’re from a non-target school or studying a humanities or humanities-adjacent subject. In the UK, you’ll want a 2:1, and although banks don’t stipulate A level grades, it will help if you have 216 UCAS points (A*A*A*A).

It can help to show you’re serious about finance. You might want to consider the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) course. You’ll have to have work experience to complete the last level of the course (there are three), but you can do Levels I and II as a student. Given that you’ll be applying for a summer internship as a second-year student, you can realistically have a Level I pass on your CV – consider having it.

It’s worth noting, however, that the CFA isn’t quite what it used to be. It doesn’t carry as much weight with banks as it used to, either. But having it (and having it on your CV) hurts nothing and more likely than not helps your application.

Banking Resume Format & Structure

Formatting your CV/Resume is a topic worth writing a book on. There are significant variations in how a CV is formatted based on geography, industry, employer, and seniority.

“The ideal investment banking CV format in the USA is preferred to be conservative,” said Mary DeLuca, an executive resume writer for financial professionals. That means using standardized fonts and standardized sizes. DeLuca recommends either Calibri, Arial, or Cambria between 10.5pts and 11.5pts, with 10.5 to 11.0pts the ideal.

Victoria McLean, CEO of careers consultancy CityCV, named Arial, Tahoma, Verdana and Calibri as her ideal fonts. The specific choice of font might seem banal, but it has an important benefit: letting bank Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) read what you’ve written. “Almost all of the IBs in the City [of London] are using the ATS approach,” McLean said. DeLuca, who works with Wall Street firms and their applicants, confirmed that she was aware of ATS use, too. We’ll get to hacking them in a minute; for now, let’s get back to formatting.

CVs in the US are often one page for graduates, two pages for experienced professionals, and 3+ pages for an executive. Two pages is standard in the UK.

DeLuca recommends including a candidate’s name, phone number, email address, and LinkedIn at the top of the page – addresses are going out of fashion, due to location discrimination. For discriminatory (although age, this time) reasons, candidates with more than 15 years of experience should only list the last ten or so. You also shouldn’t include your graduation date, for the same reason, unless you’ve graduated in the last five years.

Don’t include a picture, if you’re applying in the UK or US – that’s long gone out of fashion, even though any and every employer can find your face on social media (and your LinkedIn profile has to include a picture, McLean notes).

Beneath your personal details, you’ll want three main sections: Experience, Education, and Skills, in that order (unless you’re a student or graduate, in which case education goes above experience). Some people include an Interests section, but there’s a bit of an overlap with Skills, so if that can be one section, make it. 

Banking CV Keywords

Investment banks (and big employers generally) run ATS systems. Those systems “analyse keywords, dates, titles and other key data in order to screen out approximately 75% of candidates, streamlining the process for employers,” McLean says. Candidates need to beat the ATS before anything else.

Both McLean and DeLuca agree that the best place to find keywords is in related job postings, if not the job you’re applying to directly. “Those just starting in the space will see requirements for the basics and. where the relevant courses taken will have influence,” DeLuca says.

Whilst graduate applicants will have the bulk of their CV in the education section, experienced professionals should front-load their experience section at the top of their CV. “A summary or profile at the beginning of the CV, followed by a clearly marked list of skills and qualifications, helps the ATS locate the most important information straight away,” McLean says.

The ATS is part of the reason why fonts were so important in the formatting section, by the way – you want to make sure that the robot can read what you’ve written.

Banking Resume Skills & Achievements

“The best way to present individual/team achievements is with quantified information whenever possible,” DeLuca says. When that’s not possible, such as for graduates who only have internship (especially spring) experience, loaded adjectives are the name of the game. DeLuca says that “notable”, “substantial”, “noteworthy”, and “vast” are all good choices.

Quantifying is also important to McLean. Quantifying your achievements “shows employers the measurable impact you had on an organisation and this adds credibility to your banking CV,” she says.

You want to learn (if you haven’t already) the ins and outs of the S.T.A.R. technique (we have a whole article about it here). S.T.A.R. stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result – the gist of the technique is that it’s an efficient story telling structure that showcases your actions, thought processes, and results.

If you’re a student, there’s also another to angle to consider: the fact that, unlike an experienced professional, your commitment to banking and/or financial services is still in question. Your CV “should show the hiring manager or recruiter that this is a long-term career path for you and every step you have taken has been a stepping stone to get you where you are today,” McLean says. “Show your commercial awareness and industry knowledge in a unique and creative way.” She recommends starting a blog.

Banking CV Hobbies & Personality

Personality is a funny part of any CV.

Front-office bank people work insanely long hours (100+ a week, at times). They spend most of that time with their colleagues – so you’d be damn right if you thought the bank you’re applying to cares about who you are in a personal capacity.

One senior banker told us about the “airport test” that he puts new candidates through: how much fun would a candidate be if you were stuck in an airport with them for 100 hours. Being a fun person might not get you an investment banking job, but not being one can certainly lose you it.

“Many people do not see the value of adding a hobbies and interest section to a CV,” McLean says. “However, it does show that you have a life outside of work and it has been known for some recruiters to pick up on your extra-curricular activities, especially if you play a sport that they may be interested in or have an unusual hobby that warrants further discussion.”

DeLuca agrees. “I tell my clients only to list noteworthy interests that can provoke conversation—for example, an avid mountain climber, a competitive tennis player, etc.”

It’s wise to steer clear of any generic interests, however, as well as any that might make you seem potentially… Unprofessional. Neither gave an example of what this could be, but over-zealous political affiliations fit this bill well. Or anything you wouldn’t mention to your grandmother.

Banking Resumes for senior students

There are certain other rules that are worth following for non-traditional applicants, especially those with a bit of experience under their belt.

“If you are applying for your first graduate role,” McLean says, “and you don’t have any experience, the first thing to say is don’t worry about it. What the banks are looking for is potential and passion.” It’s more important to demonstrate commitment to the field (and role) than it is to tick every past experience box directly.

Besides, your unique experience might be more useful to a bank than you think. McLean gives the example of a client of hers who worked for a major supermarket chain and (separately) as a kitchen appliance salesperson, and then got an internship at a “top tier” US investment bank.

“What he did was put a lot of spin on those two roles. At the electrical retailer organization where he was working, he talked about the fact that he got involved in merchandising. He increased customer service ratings by a particular amount. He wrote about the kind of impact it had on sales,” McLean explained.

“What you need to be thinking about really is what skills is that organization looking for. If I’m looking forward to working at Goldman Sachs, what do I know they’re looking for, and what are their core values or their core principles?” That sort of information is readily available on their website, she notes. “How can I match my experience to show that I have the skills and the values that align with what they need? And secondarily, what might I have learned from my experience that might be relevant to that organization?”

Free Banking CV/Resume Template

Here is DeLuca’s ideal CV template. Note that it’s for an experienced applicant.

… And here is Goldman’s. It’s worth noting that Goldman likes a specific type of cover letter in addition to a candidate’s CV, but if you’re applying to Goldman, check out not just their Ideal Resume but also our article on applying there.

Apologies for the poor image quality – rest assured, the body of the text isn’t as important as the headings and structure.

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