How to land a job in a top bank: When the A’s are no longer enough

Those grades are great but they aren't enough to get you that job in a top investment bank Click To Tweet

Let me paint a picture for you.

GCSE 9A*’S. A-Level 4A*S. University 1st class in Business and Economics. Founder of a Banking society in university. An avid reader of FT, The Economist etc. Sounds like a good resume of a banking employee right? WRONG! Or shall I say not necessarily.

Sorry to burst your bubbles if you are reading this and this is you and you are thinking you have done enough. (Chances are you are, I mean all the Motherland Moguls are all geniuses who talk about Marxism and liberalism at their Saturday lunches.) The truth is those grades are great, but they are necessary ingredients, not sufficient ones.

So how can you stand out? Here’s what I have come to find from my experience in a top investment bank and by speaking to the people I work with.

Three tips that will help you…good luck!

1. Networking as cliché as it sounds is the quickest way to accelerate your application

People go and on about the power of networking. I go to many conferences and the section I dread the most is the 20 minutes they shove in at the end for ‘networking’. You may be reading this agreeing with me. Sister, I feel ya!

But let me share something with you. I have been in my industry for a couple of years now and I have never gotten an opportunity the conventional way. Everything has come as a result of a simple conversation with someone who I connected with.

Networking is not speed dating! You do not have to speak to everyone. Find one or two people to connect with in an authentic way and follow up!! This is where most people drop the ball. When I moved into the Securities division at my firm it was a shock to many.

How did you do it? Well an MD asked three of us to email him for coffee after a recruitment event. The next day I set it up. We spoke, we connected and after a few months, he hired me. What I later realised was I was the only one who followed up with him.

Nobody likes a jack-of-all-trades master of none, here's how to stand out Click To Tweet

2. Know your WHY and have a story

To a large extent, one of the reasons I wanted to go into the corporate world was so I could rock a Chanel suit and 6inch Loubs, sit in a glass office and tell people what to do. Jessica Pearson from Suits to be specific. (Don’t judge me! Everyone has their fantasies!)

However, when asked why you want to go into your chosen corporate field in an interview never ever give a cliché (or dumb) answer. For example: ‘With my combination of subjects I felt this will be a great industry for me’ Yawnnnn.

Or, ‘I have always been passionate about banking and how the industry works. I kept a piggy bank since I was young and care bout savings’.

Lol, sister please take several seats.

People like to work with interesting people. Think about the interviewer- poor guy. Seeing person after person is really boring! Bring some of your personality into the room and position the conversation in a way that gives you the control!

For example: ‘I never imagined I would work in banking, to be honest. I’m really interested in infrastructure –especially coming from a third world country- and how infrastructure can enhance development. What I realised though was that there were many great developers, but no one has any idea how to finance large projects.

Concepts like debt financing, credit and loans kept coming up and so it sparked my curiosity. I began to speak to people and it became clear that rather than join the queue of people waiting to get their projects financed, I could go to other side and start helping them figure out how they could do so through different financial instruments…’ blah blah blah

Do you see the difference? You’ve now given the interviewer something to ask you more about and you can control the conversation. Chances are he doesn’t know much about infrastructure in third world countries so the interview (usually 30 min) becomes an opportunity for you to teach him something new!

To convince someone to give you a cherished spot in their firm -you need to be an intentional person Click To Tweet

3. Do not be a jack-of-all-trades master of none

I have some sister reading this who has trekked up and down the Himalayas, organised a UN conference, run a small business on the side and volunteered in a home all in the summer before their application to banking.

Sorry, sister! Are you the only one??? Relax.

Nobody likes a jack-of-all-trades master of none. To convince someone to give you that cherished spot in their firm -you need to come across as an intentional person. Don’t just pile on achievement after achievement, be clear on the reasons why you do what you do and what part of you these activities are developing.

Are you adventurous and love a good challenge? Then let your activities show that. Do you love to spend time learning about the problems of the world? Then do things to show that. Don’t be a follow-follow.

A question you will definitely get asked is what you enjoy outside of work. Give a genuine answer! Imagine spending 12-hour days with a very serious person who cannot talk about anything other than work. Snooze fest! This is what the interviewer is thinking about! Would I want to pull an all-nighter with you?

So ladies in general, it’s pretty simple- be yourself and be unique. The good grades and achievements are great, but the ‘softer skills’ I always argue will trump those every single time.

So to land that job, It’s pretty simple- be yourself and be unique Click To Tweet

About Seun Awolowo

Seun Awolowo is part of the Management and Strategy team for Real Estate at Goldman Sachs and holds a degree in Politics and International Studies from Warwick University. She is passionate about people to living life to the fullest and runs a wesbite to that effect (link below!). She also runs an NGO called Teach A Girl Nigeria, which is focused on girl’s education in Nigeria with 7 other incredible ladies. She sees herself as a total badass and loves to bring the badassery out in fellow African ladies. Find her every week at her website.

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