How to make it to a global top-tier investment bank

16/07/2016

How does it feel to be part of some of the largest and most covered business deals on earth? Well, I suggest you to check that yourself. Myself, I have applied for a bulge bracket bank once, thankfully it was a successful shot. To retrospect that experience (added with some insights from other people who have attended such interviews), I will share some tips to smooth out the path to a global top-tier investment bank. However, I do not provide a cover-it-all type of a text as much of the information is already available behind few clicks on the internet. Also, note that in this text I cover investment banking side interviews, as that is where my experience lies. Nonetheless, some of the tips, such as motivation and telling your story, apply also to the markets side, but generally the interviews are somewhat different there.

Applying for an international investment bank might feel like a far-fetched idea not to mention actually getting in. Even though there are dozens of thousands of applications sent each of the banks annually, and the likelihood appearing to be minuscule, it is possible to increase one’s chances dramatically by being early and well-prepared. Furthermore, just being an Aalto student, already picked from thousands of university applicants, makes one a pretty good candidate. First, for summer internships, which usually is the primary path for full-time employment, the hiring season is in autumn. So, make sure you apply as quickly as possible when the application period opens up due to the hiring on rolling-basis to increase the likelihood of being invited to an interview. Second, start thinking why you want to work at an investment bank. You just sound far more convincing when you have had time to mold your thoughts and angles. Third, reserve enough time for preparation. Of course, it is individual how much time is needed, but you should take as much time as you require to feel comfortable.

Moreover, try to connect with the people at the banks already in advance. There are some Finns in pretty much every top-tier investment bank, and all of them are more than happy to help you to join them as there are never enough of us. One of the best ways to connect with them is attending KY Finance London Investment Banking trip. Attending may be a huge asset for you as your contact in the bank can oversee that your CV gets actually read, which increases the likelihood of being invited to an interview.

Interviews in investment banking mainly consist of phone interviews (first rounds at some banks) and assessment centres (usually final rounds). Many must wonder what they actually ask in the interviews and precisely how to prepare right. As the work in an investment bank might be intense sometimes, the interviewers are very interested in why you want to be an investment banker and why you would fit in that world. That is why I cannot stress enough how important it is to provide sound argumentation in your story why you are sitting in that chair facing the interviewer. This leads to more practical advice: prepare your story well. In practice, this means that usually interviews start with a question ‘Can you tell me something about yourself?’, and this is something that you should be well-prepared for. In approximately two minutes you should be able to cover the key points of your experience, interests, and skills that are relevant for the job you are applying for and highlight why you would be successful as an investment banker.

Next, the technical questions usually are the ones that potential candidates are the most interested in. First of all, while the questions may generally be similar in phone interviews and assessment centres, cases involving some basic corporate finance and strategic thinking are commonplace in assessment centres. While the cases might be about anything, a good general tip is to construct as solid argumentation as possible to back up your statements and suggestions, and thus be prepared to defend your opinion and analysis without being defensive. Second, there usually are numerous people who do interviews, and there are differences in the preferences regarding the questions they like to ask. Some like to test your numerical skills asking you to do some simple math calculations in your head, some comes with brain teasers, whereas others might be more interested in your sense of macroeconomic trends or strategic thinking. Due to the wide scale of potential questions, it makes sense to start preparing well in advance, for example by revising the basic corporate finance material, rehearsing simple math calculations in your head, and reading some quality newspapers, such as Financial Times or The Economist. There are numerous websites, such as Mergers & Inquisitions, Breaking Into Wall Street, and Wall Street Oasis, for relevant material when it comes to technical questions. It may be worthwhile to invest some €100 for such material as they usually cover the basic technical topics somewhat well with mock interview questions that are precious when preparing.

While you need to thrive in technical questions, do not be light-hearted when it comes to preparing for the ‘soft’ questions as they carry weight as well. The material found on the internet also covers the basic types of these questions, such as ‘state your weaknesses’ or ‘give me an example of you as a leader’. Also, one very practical and important tip is to know your CV thoroughly. For example, I had stated the name of my bachelor’s thesis in my CV, and for some reason, the interviewer was highly interested in that asking very in-depth questions about it. Without acknowledging this possibility in advance, and trying to thoroughly remember what I did in my thesis, I would have been in a very unpleasant situation of not seeming to know my own work properly. Regarding the soft side of the interviewers it is usually a good habit of trying to engage into a conversation with the interviewer to make her less bored and you more comfortable. Conversation is a great opportunity for you to ask questions and consequently show your interest, but also learn more about the job and the firm. That being said, make sure you have got some intelligent and interesting questions ready – but make sure you have the capability to talk about those topics at some level. Moreover, it is an extremely good case if you find a common ground with the interviewer outside the job, such as hobby or favourite book.

Finally, interviews are usually very stressful situations for the most. But if one makes it to an interview in London, for example, there is no sense of being a nervous wreck there and ruin the opportunity because of that, instead try to enjoy the very special experience and the opportunity.

Regarding the topic, also check the previous related blog posts from Tomi and Teemu:
http://kyfinance.fi/blog/applying-to-london-top-banks-as-a-finn/
http://kyfinance.fi/blog/how-to-prepare-for-london-recruiting/

Mikko Savolainen – President of KY Finance 2015

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