As a junior corporate finance (or advisory) professional, at some stage it's likely you’ve been attracted to the bright lights of bulge-bracket investment banking.
Offering above-the-odds salaries, exposure to the highest profile transactions, frequent travel and the opportunity to work with high-performing, inspiring individuals why wouldn’t you be?
The catch though, is whilst you might want a career in investment banking, investment banking might not want you! The barrier to entry is high, the interview process is rigorous....and for good reason.
As a specialist corporate finance and advisory search & recruitment professional who's spoken to many individuals aspiring to a career in investment banking, I thought it worth sharing my observations and experiences with respect to what it often takes. I appreciate none of this is rocket science but hopefully it's useful when evaluating your probability of success.
I caveat that these are my experiences and whilst I’m confident it represents the general rule, should not to be taken as absolute!
Academics academics academics
Let’s start with the foundations. If you don’t have an exceptional academic record across secondary school and university, you’re on the back foot. As a basic rule, a university entrance rank (if you’ve studied in Australia) in the mid 90's plus a Distinction average at university is the expectation (with NO fails). We are often asked why this is still relevant years into your career – it is seen as a representation of both raw intellect and your ability to apply yourself.
Just when you thought your exceptional academic record sealed the deal, you’ll be asked about your extra-curricular activities. Whilst less important than raw academics, a school captaincy, representation on a state team or that grade 8 in concert piano might provide the x-factor they are looking for. Ongoing interests outside of work are important too, a ‘balanced’ individual is more likely to engage and build strong social relationships with the team and clients.
The grind (Hard Work)
Ironically, all of those fulfilling extra-curricular activities you'd once enjoyed will be taken from you if successful! All-nighters are a common occurrence and (particularly in the first few years), your sole purpose is to serve your superiors as you learn the trade of executing and originating deals. As such prepare to be stress-tested during the interview process as the team seek to understand your definition of hard work.
Skills and sector knowledge
Experience is not enough, it's the right experience that is likely targeted to the sector team you are applying. At Analyst level this means experience developing financial models from scratch, valuation analysis and the ability to interpret, articulate and present key messages in presentations.
So you’ve ticked the boxes when it comes to academics, precedent achievements and a willingness and ability to work hard, but do you have the interpersonal traits that make for a good coverage banker? Are you a future leader with the capability to hold the room, build trusted partnerships with clients and, above all develop creative and original ideas? Your knowledge and ability to discuss the market during an interview and demonstrate a sound knowledge of the sector will be a key determinant in your success.
A final note - art not science
Whilst this is applicable to any interview, it's worth noting that people are an imperfect product. You could do the exact same thing at two different interviews and achieve markedly different outcomes. Be aware of your surroundings, adapt and change your style to the person you’re speaking with - be emotionally aware and in-tune with the room!
About the author
Nicolas is a Co-Founder and Director of Numbers Executive Recruitment. Nicolas has circa 20 years of experience spanning Accounting, Corporate Finance and Executive Search & Recruitment.