How to prepare for London recruiting

15/04/2013

Cheers to Timo Pohjanpalo from my part as well for giving the opportunity to write this short post about preparation for investment banking recruiting in London. I have been involved in the process two times now and gained quite a lot of information and experience about it part of which I intend to share here with you guys. Looking back at the time I was applying, I consider my preparation was quite hazard and I put too much effort on some specific areas, whereas I should have balanced my efforts little bit more wisely and, especially, started the preparation way earlier. However, despite the lack of planned preparation, I managed to get internship offers luckily on both occasions.

The best decision you can do after reading this post is to choose whether you will apply or not during the fall’s upcoming recruiting. If you do that, your life will be lot easier during the quite busy fall semester and you can allocate your time more wisely towards e.g. consulting interview preparations, school, sports, scuba diving in Fiji, or whatever you’ll have on your plate, OR you will have a great plan set up that you have been executing for couple of months already and you are ahead of most of the people applying for the same positions. When I was applying for the first time, I really hadn’t planned my preparation at all. I remember it was one month before the application deadline when I realized that “Yes, I want to apply”. So, I needed to clear quite a lot from my schedule for the prepping back then, which could have been avoided by planning and deciding little bit more beforehand… So, I emphasize, try to think already right now whether you want to apply or not because it’s just, in my opinion, wise decision to do at this point of the ‘recruiting season’.

In case you decide to apply, another thing I suggest is to spend some considerable time on thinking about the reasons why you want to do IB in London right after you have made the ‘go decision’ (i.e. after reading this post :)). And I mean rather more personal reasons that are linked to your real experiences and which are unique for you. That will also make the whole process smoother for you as you’ll have solid motivations for your goal, you won’t get distracted by other opportunities or new goals along the way, and if you’re burning the midnight oil when prepping for the applications (hopefully not), at least you know in your backbone why you’re doing all this and you won’t get carried away by the frustration so easily when the prepping is most needed. So, know your motivations!

Below, my suggestion of crude, high-level plan for IB recruiting season of the upcoming fall, which I think would have helped me at the times I was applying.

Start the preparation right now

I know this sounds way too early on, but if you really have decided that you want to apply, then I warmly recommend starting the preparation already now. There are around 160k applicants each year for circa 2k positions, so the process is quite competitive, especially for the top-tier banks.

Schedule time slots in your calendar for the preparation, e.g. couple of hours / week now in spring and increase them when the recruiting season approaches.

Work on your ‘Why you want to apply / work there’ and ‘telling your story’, as they are one of the most important questions you need to answer in the interviews, and also because you need to convince all the people you meet during the interview processes and networking why you would great fit for the company. Also, having solid ground here gives you the motivation to ‘go for the extra miles’ when preparing for the interviews although you don’t necessarily always have the time or lust.

Go, meet and get to know with people who work at the banks and ask them about their motivations and details about the specific bank they were working at. That will give you good overview on the factors that motivate people to work sometimes quite long hours at the sometimes hectic environment of investment banking. You will also see whether your initial motivations for the job were in line with the ones of the people who have the experience.

Read blogs and forums like eFinancialCareers, THEiBANKER, M&I, Wallstreetoasis,  etc. which are valuable and necessary sources for the preparation, and maybe consider enrolling to one or few of the courses they offer . I would recommend especially M&I, as it helped me a lot preparing for the whole recruitment process and the financial modeling courses were quite handy also for some Finance courses at Aalto University. Again, you will be ahead of 95% of the people if you start doing these things now (naturally dependent upon your knowledge level and motivation currently).

Hone your investment banking focused, one-page CV (& motivational letter)

I won’t go into details explaining how a good CV is constructed as there are lot of great articles in internet explaining all that and I’m not the expert describing you this. So, here is my view in short; a good investment banking CV demonstrates that this person clearly has motivation and the required skill sets to work in an investment bank after skimming the CV in about 15 secs (and preferably has some relevant work experience as well), it emphasizes skills that are valued in the industry, it’s results oriented and has zero typos. See e.g. this article for great tips how to enhance your CV for investment banking positions as well as for free word template. However, I would not recommend using the template anymore, as I think lot of people, who are applying, are using it as well. So, to differentiate yourself, maybe use the template as a first draft for your own CV. More importantly, take the tips regarding what to present on your CV from the article.

And as a general note, CV is more important than the motivational letter. That’s because bankers receive hundreds of applications to skim through being relatively busy already, so they will start the screening with CVs as they provide more information on the applicant than the motivational letters. A perfect motivational letter won’t help you if your CV is not well constructed.

Practice the interviews & assessment centers (AC) with your friends, family, alumni, etc.

It’s quite hard to practice for ACs, but knowing what to expect and rehearsing by e.g. making short case studies and presenting them to your friends might not be a bad idea, especially if it’s the first time you’re applying. Secondly, mock interviews with friends are always good. I know there may be some ‘barriers’ to ask from a friend to conduct a mock interview where you tell ‘your story’ and your ‘strengths & weaknesses’ but these are quite useful in order to get familiar with the interview situations, so I consider the trade-off is quite minimal.

Single most important factor related to the interviews and ACs is the first question that comes when you meet an interviewer at the bank, that is, the “tell me about yourself / walk me through your resume” -question. I consider it’s extremely crucial to have logically structured yet differentiating answer to it. Here is a link to M&I website on how to answer to the question well.

Meet and get to know with people working at IBs you are applying for (and also those who work at other banks)

The reasons for doing this are to get bank-specific knowledge that you can leverage on the interviews (e.g. how’s the culture, how are the teams set up, recent changes in the organization etc.) as well as to get a sense on how the people are alike at different banks. You might meet people that you think you’ll love working with which can affect your decision when setting up the preferences of the banks you’re applying for. And you will have pretty good point how to answer ‘why our bank’ questions as well. You can also utilize these contacts for referrals (naturally with their permission) in your applications. You’ll definitively enhance your chances to get an interview if you have, say, three names of the people working in the team you want to join next summer or full-time in your application.

The London Investment Banking Trip that KY Finance organizes is quite good way to do quite a lot of this :). That is because it takes quite a lot of effort to go to London by yourself and to set up informal meetings with the bankers (not bad idea though). Naturally, I recommend also attending to all the events that the banks have in Helsinki. Lastly, contacting people who have previously worked in London but are currently working in Helsinki is a good idea as well, as it’s easier (and less expensive) way to get similar information on the banks, but the impact is little bit lower though.

Schedule enough time for the application process

The application process is exhausting. It can take up to two hours per bank just to get your application in the system (without the numerical & verbal reasoning tests) because you need to upload quite a lot of information about yourself and to answer the short competence questions (e.g. “describe a situation where you demonstrated teamwork skills”, “why would you be great fit especially for bank X”, etc.). Here again, it helps to start the preparation early on, as then, you will have a structure for the answer already in your head as you have answered to similar questions when prepping for the interviews. Also, a good advice is to start the applications with the banks you want to work the least, so you can “practice” the process and interviews with these banks and do the mistakes where it matters relatively the least for you. And for the numerical and verbal reasoning tests, it’s good to do them ‘in a row’ as the banks usually use the same service provider, so you might encounter similar (or even same) questions at different banks. Here couple of links for numerical and verbal reasoning tests training: assessmentday, eFinancialCareers, practiceaptitudetests.

Some final words…

So, to summarize: make the decision whether you want to apply now and start you preparation right after, hone your single-paged investment banking focused CV, practice for the interviews and ACs, get to know with the bankers, and make sure you have scheduled enough time for the applications when the recruiting starts in early fall.

In general, I consider that most successful candidates know the basics well, i.e. financial modeling, industry & business related developments, CV, general interview preparation, etc., but they excel in telling their story, explaining their motivations, leveraging their strengths and, maybe most importantly, building good rapport as well as having fun at the interviews. And the latter comes naturally when you put some real effort on your preparations for the application process. Also, I recommend checking out Tomi Fyrqvist’s blog post for some aspects of leveraging your strengths and applying for London IB as a Finn!

Hopefully, this was useful for you guys. Don’t take it too seriously, just know your motivations, plan well ahead, practice, and try to have fun in the process, so you’ll be fine!

Feel free to throw some questions, or contact me related to applying for London IB or in general! I’m currently in New Zealand enjoying more laid-back way of life, but try to reply as soon as possible if you have any questions.

Cheers,
Teemu

+64 27 955 8118  //  +358 400 343 798  //  teemu.mattila@aalto.fi  //  linkedin.com/in/mattilateemu

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