Every year, ~300,000 candidates apply to Goldman Sachs, but only ~3,000 of them end up getting an offer. That’s a 1% success rate. Candidates usually don’t know this, but the most competitive step in the recruiting process is the cover letter and resume screening. That’s where more than 60% of candidates get eliminated. Bankers are extremely busy, and they take less than 20 seconds to scan every investment banking resume before deciding whether to skip to the next one!
One important step towards crafting a stellar investment banking resume that will get you multiple interviews is to understand what banks are actually looking for. So, what in a resume catches the investment banker’s attention?
1. Records of Academic Excellence
Simply put, the job of a junior investment banker is to be able to do the job correctly under all stressful and difficult conditions and to be able to maintain a high level of performance for a prolonged period of time, and attack everything with a great attitude.
To measure a candidate’s likelihood of meeting these requirements, prospective bankers are judged on their previous achievements to date. Keep in mind that the job of a recruiter is not to identify the best candidate but to weed out the least qualified candidates.
For undergraduate students, one of the main ways you can show your ability to work hard and achieve is via your academic performance. You are going to be judged based on their grades, reputation of academic institution, how hard was your major or overall degree.
However, for masters and MBA students, extracurricular activities and internships are equally important. For those applying for the associate level roles, what becomes paramount above all else is past work experience and less so grades and academia.
1.1. Name of your school
One factor banks use to assess your excellence is the school brand. The cold, hard truth is, kids from target universities have a much higher chance of passing the resume screening process than candidates from less well-known universities. Target schools are schools that top investment banks have on-campus recruitment and Some of the feeder schools to Wall Street are Upenn Wharton, NYU, Harvard, Columbia, UC Berkeley, etc.
Because of the enormous number of applications every year, firms need a pretty efficient way to screen out candidates for the first round interview. Big brand names are a shortcut. They want to hire high-achievers and assume that if you went to a top school or, you are a high-achiever. Candidates from the top schools tend to demonstrate the greatest ability to deal with the pressures and expectations of a grueling analyst or associate Investment Banking job over peers from lower-ranked schools, so all things being equal having a strong school tied to your name is a huge plus.
So if you attend such an institution – Harvard, Princeton, Yale, MIT, Stanford, etc. the good news is that in many ways the brand name is enough. But what if you didn’t go to a top 10 school? How do you showcase your strength as a student? The answer is through a strong GPA, leadership, and exceptional extracurricular commitment.
The second thing that an Investment Banker would look at is your GPA. People usually say score is not everything, but for investment banking, there is huge emphasis on GPA. If you’re in the UK, you’re going to need at least a 2.1 degree (preferably a First). In the US, your GPA should be > 3.6/4.0 to have the chance of breaking in.
A common misconception amongst candidates applying is when investment bankers are reviewing a prospect’s grades, they are being used as an indicator of a candidate’s intellectual capacity. This is not the case! Grades are simply a proxy for drive, determination and work ethic, not intellectual capacity.
In order to get a 4.0 GPA or a first-class degree, that candidate must effectively get an A in all of their classes, not just the finance modules or the modules which they like. To achieve a high-grade point average, candidates must be willing to work very hard even if they don’t like the class or professor or even when they are feeling sick or under outside pressure. This kind of perseverance is what makes a great investment banker, especially at the analyst level.
Why put so much emphasis on drive and determination? Many analysts will find they are tired, they don’t like their associate or VP, even under those circumstances, analysts are expected to perform and deliver quality work.
However, let me preface, just because you do not have stellar academic credentials, does not mean you cannot get into investment banking, it just means you need to compensate with other things and it will be an upward climb specially when competing against other candidates with higher grade point averages.
Low grades are a red flag to recruiters and indicative of poor work ethics and lack of commitment so you will need to have some really good reasons as to why your grades are low. Some valid explanations includes; needing a full time job to support yourself during your studies, taking time off due to an illness to care giving…etc.
Now, if you don’t have an elite school name to boast and your GPA is neither great, what else can you do to substantiate your excellence in your investment banking resume?
1) List the subjects/ modules that you scored A, or 70+. For example:
- Scored A in Corporate Finance
- Scored A in Quantitative Methods for Finance and Economics
- Scored A in Financial Analysis
2) List any scholarship that you got from your University, whether big or small
– If you received a substantial scholarship, state the full amount, or the percentage of your entire school fees.
– If your scholarship is not large (50% or lower), just state the name of the scholarship.
3) List any Academic Awards you received during your undergraduate study
– If you received an award called ‘Academic Merit Award’, and you found out from your University that only 1% of the students received it, you should write:
- Received Academic Merit Award ( top 1% in school)
Employers love to see things like ‘top 1%’, ’99th percentile’, ‘1 out of…’
Remember the trick: if your individual subject grades, your scholarships or your awards are more impressive than your GPA, make them more visible than your GPA.
Little things matter. First impression lasts.
Invesment Banking Resume Toolkit
- 18-page Comprehensive Guide for Investment Banking Resume
- Detailed Resume Review and A Coding Mistake System
- A secret list of action verbs
- Resume samples and template
2. Qualities of an Investment Banker
The recruiter will have a wish list of attributes or competencies that they are looking for and they’ll be measuring your CV against whether they satisfy those. Through researching the bank, the role and scrutinising the job advert/recruitment website, you should build up a picture of the qualities and competencies they are looking for.
Whether you have the qualities of an investment banker or not is judged on your extracurricular activities, internships, and work experience. Grades are a good start, but to be successful in investment banking you are going to have to manage multiple tasks simultaneously and excel at all of them.
In the mind of an investment banker that is looking at prospective candidates a few things come to mind, does this person’s extracurricular activity show any signs of leadership? Has this candidate been awarded anything? Does this person have any real time commitment or just doing little task to beef up their resume? Has this candidate stuck with something even when it got hard, or leave the moment things were getting uncomfortable?
2.1. Strong Numerical & Analytical Ability
Investment bankers are often required to present detailed analyses of business ventures and investment plans to highly demanding clients. Analytical expertise, in addition to good number crunching and quantitative abilities, are required to present the business plans and the risk-return tradeoffs, and to back it up with facts and figures when challenged. Demonstrate in your resume that you have:
- Filtered through data and assumptions, and identified reasonable responses to complex problems
- Synthesized large amounts of information and identified issues
- Identified a problem and taken proactive approach to solving it
- Done well in courses with heavy analytical and quantitative content
- Performed experiments that required formulation of a hypothesis and collection of evidence to support or reject it
2.2. Teamwork & Leadership Skills
Teaming up with clients and peers is a critical assignment. Bankers work in teams. They generally interact with teams of executives from client companies. Also, bankers are looking for leaders. Individuals that find a way to get things done and people that can handle a high-pressured work environment. Your resume should show that you have:
- Been a member of a sports team, study group, or committee
- Worked effectively with people whose work style differs from your own
- Inspired others to take action in an unstructured situation
- Taken on the role of a team leader or player as needed
2.3. Communication & Interpersonal Skills
It’s important you are able to demonstrate written and communication skills essential for investment banking. The primary job skill of investment banking is persuading and convincing. Selling an idea takes great all-around communication and presentation skills. It’s a service industry, investment bankers are essentially agents, so when it comes to putting together pitches and working on deals, good communication skills are paramount. For the same reason, interpersonal skills are also crucial, particularly for the client-facing front office divisions. Demonstrate in your resume that you have:
- Presented in front of classes, teams, and organizations
- Written successful papers, memos, and speeches
- Worked effectively with clients to understand their needs
- Articulated ideas in a clear and thorough manner
- Used communication skills to resolve a difficult problem with a client, supplier, or colleague
Firms want to know whether you have the initiative, motivation, and energy to deliver strong results. Start tracking and measuring your achievements and specific situations that demonstrate these skills and qualities. Make sure they are apparent in your resume. When you interview, you’ll need to discuss your accomplishments in detail. Demonstrate in your resume that you have:
- Brought new customers and/or revenue into your company
- Proven yourself to be a self-starter who goes above and beyond requirements
- Shown the ability to switch priorities and move quickly among different tasks
- Set a challenging goal and achieved it
- Attended to details while also juggling multiple tasks (that is, you didn’t let things fall through the cracks even when you have a lot going on)
- Taken an innovative and efficient approach to get something done
3. Interest in Finance
The final ingredient to a compelling Investment Banking resume is to demonstrate interest in finance. Clearly you can’t just say that you are enthusiastic about finance on your resume and be done with it – it has to be shown in your resume that you have some finance-related experiences. Investment Banking recruiters look for enthusiasm because the reality of the industry is that it’s notoriously fast-paced, challenging, and hard to stay 100% excited for it week in and week out, especially if you are sleep-deprived. According to a survey, the banking and finance industry has an attrition rate of a whopping 18.6%, one of the highest among all industries, whereas investment banking has a much higher attrition rate. That is why banks will go for candidates who have exposure to investment banking since they have a sense of what the job entails, they’re aware of the challenges and willing to meet them.
You demonstrate interest in investment banking by having finance credentials on your resume. The best proof of interest is having investment banking work experience (i.e. IBD internships). Other finance professional experiences will suffice, but investment banking internships work best. Academic major/ concentration and student organizations, like investment clubs, will also add credibility. But what if you come from a non-traditional background and you don’t have any of these? Luckily, there are other ways to make your resume seem more finance-oriented.
- Courses: You can take finance courses on your own, like our online finance course. It’ll also prepare you for the interviews. On the resume, you can reference it under the Education or Additional sections.
- Stock Portfolio: Open a brokerage account to invest your own stock portfolio. We recommend Robinhood or Ameritrade, both of which are free. This would go under the Additional section.
Finance Competitions: You can also participate in finance competitions. The Ira Sohn Conference hosts stock idea competitions every year. This would go under the Education section if you’re still in school, or Additional section.