Applying to London banks as a Finn

29/03/2013

Hey all,

I am glad that Timo Pohjanpalo, the president of KY Finance, asked me to write this short post about how to win offers as a Finn from top tier investment banks in London. I have myself applied to London banks two times for summer internships. Luckily, I was able to get internship offers both times, despite quite unstructured strategy back then (mostly due to much squeezed schedule in the Fall recruiting season, which you probably already have experienced too).

So this blog post is mostly about sharing the knowledge to you, which was gained during the process and, most importantly, to give some advice avoiding potential pitfalls. Hopefully some of the content below will also help you to prioritize on things that are most important, especially when applying for internships or full time positions is not the only thing on your plate and, in turn, you have little time to prepare.

When I was applying, I did not really know how to stand out positively compared to e.g. the Swedes, who usually account for the most of Nordic people interning and starting full time in London, and more relevantly, compared to the people from other parts of the Europe and the UK, who usually are a step ahead with respect to communicating effectively. Therefore I am hoping to also highlight some facts that help you to differentiate yourself as a Finn, which I noticed to be relevant when I was in the process.

Technical skills vs. people skills?

Fortunately, there are quite a lot of strengths that we as Finns can leverage when applying to London banks. For example, we are usually considered to be hard-working and honest. Moreover, a typical Finn applying to London usually already has some corporate finance and other relevant work experience, and can stand out with the technical skills.

In the investment banking recruiting market, everyone values technical and financial modeling skills over most of the other aspects. Over time, interviews have become significantly more technical and you need to know something about modeling to succeed these days. Especially as finance major from Finland, we are usually expected to know the most of the basics e.g. the DCF, LBO and Merger models (although only at the level simple paper calculation). For more about learning these basics, through which channels to apply, resumes and CVs etc. please refer to the upcoming blog post by Teemu Mattila. (Editor’s note: Teemu’s blog post is coming up in a few weeks)

Regarding brainteasers, previous work experience, and “tell me a little bit about yourself” questions in the interviews, which you frequently encounter, one can’t never emphasize too much the importance of having a good storyline, being structured and staying logical. The latter are usually things that Finns know relatively well, however, to build a good storyline (in a foreign language) that is based on tangible things & milestones and highlights the motivation to join investment banking is a crucial area where any Finn applying should put focus on.

The people interviewing you might even be Finnish – if that is the case, remember to throw in a couple of Finnish jokes to boost up the atmosphere and non-work-related discussion (the interviewers usually enjoy discussing topics outside work much more given the amount of time they spend on work related things during the day – however, try to sense if that is the case and not lead the discussion too much).

Remember to have fun

Despite having said above that technical skills, staying logical and structured etc. are very important, in the end they are just hygiene factors. When applying, far more relevant (especially for us Finns) to really differentiate yourself in the interviews is to display yourself as fun person to work with. Usually the investment banks get so many relevant applications that they have great amount of people applying with relevant hard skills and work experience. So, since the banks only select a minority of these applicants, who will they pick? You probably already guess that this is the point when it really comes down to whether you establish a good connection with the interviewer & have fun in the interview. No one wants to recruit a person that she is not going to like to work with. So, most importantly, remember to have fun, try to build a good dialogue, smile a lot and just be smooth! Stereotypical Finn not getting the offer is usually the stiff non-talkative person.

Have fun with applying to the London banks, and let me know if you have any questions!

Cheers,
Tomi

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