Superhumans in investment banking: critical skills to succeed on the job

Investment banking skills - what you need on the job

You might already know this. Investment banks are looking for applicants with a diverse range of skills. Excellent numerical ability, attention to detail, strong personality, nerves of steel. Almost like a superhuman. This has a lot to do with the basic responsibilities you will have as a junior investment banker. Most of your time will be devoted to research, slides drafting and number crunching. On top of that, you’ll need to have at least a moderately interesting personality and some basic communication skills. After all, your teammates will have to tolerate you for 100+ hours a week.

Of course it goes without saying that it is not something you can just write about yourself. The experiences on your resume should indirectly convey the message that you have the right attitude and skill set.

Many firms now use ATS (applicant tracking system) to quickly outsource candidates at the very early stage that do not possess the skills required. How does it work? Computer looks for a predefined set of words that are likely to proxy for those qualities (verbs like “led”, “established”, “managed” – as well as names of schools or employers). Making sure you cover all the important skills in your application is your direct way to pass online application stage.

Critical must-have investment banking skills

There are a few skills that you simply cannot skip. If you want to get an investment banking job – in some way or another you will have to demonstrate these qualities.

Investment banking skills - analytical superhuman

1. Problem solving  and analytical skills

The single most important skill on you resume. Investment banking job has a lot to do with numbers and calculations. You need to be able to analyse trends, quickly crunch numbers, calculate margins and percentages, understand what implications your analysis has for company’s performance. This doesn’t mean you have to be a math genius. Confidence with basic calculations and affinity with numbers is enough to get you in.

How to demonstrate in your resume: if you have a chance – show how your education is related to numbers. Math, psychics or engineering degree automatically puts you in a basket of applicants with “strong analytical skills”. Courses in finance or statistics would do the trick too. Same holds for numerical tests such as GMAT or CFA qualification. Look for anything in your extracurriculars that would point to the ability to handle numbers.

A good example is managing finances and deciding on the budget allocation for the student society. Try to remember – maybe in the past you’ve participated in some case competitions or student challenges? These can point to your problem solving and analytical skills.

Previous internships tend to help a lot when they were in the fields of finance or accounting. Even if not – think of the times when you helped to solve a problem or conduct complex analysis. Write it up – and use numbers to quantify your achievements.

How to demonstrate in the interview: practice brainteasers well in advance. Be prepared to quickly do basic calculations: multiplication, percentages, ratios, fractions. Remember the bank will not test your knowledge of mathematical formulas. Rather, the recruiter will be interested to see how comfortable you are with numbers, how you analyse information, solve problems and make decisions.

2. Attention to detail

A must. You should be able to critically look over your work and spot the smallest inconsistencies and formatting mistakes. Margins on the right a bit smaller than on the left? Different font size in slide 34 and 58? Unreasonable trend in the graph? Valuation numbers not in line with the industry?

How to demonstrate in your resume: highlight any research work or assignments (both in university and your job) that required attention to detail. Analysing financial statements of the companies, writing industry reports, going through data to derive trends / forecasts etc.

How to demonstrate in the interview: don’t rush with your answers. Take some time to clearly think about the task. Ask questions. Pay attention to the smallest details. Carefully and consistently build up your answer.

Investment banking skills - communication

3.  Communication skills and and team orientation

Many bankers have amazing numerical and analytical skills. Unless you are a geek in love with spreadsheets – there is no need to compete with those people. Few, however, are able to persuasively and clearly present their ideas and communicate them to seniors or clients. This is what you often see in investment banking assessment centres. Applicants who get their case study 100% correct often cannot present their analysis. You’ve probably already guessed – they never get offers.

Communication skills in investment bank are absolutely critical. This is the one skill that will guarantee you the progression in your career.

Speaking from practice – I’ve always been somehow weak on analytical ability and attention to detail. Even during my internship I’ve managed to screw up numbers or miss an important mistake on the slides. How did I get the full-time offer? The answer is simple. I talked my way in. I was nice, communicative, friendly – and people liked me. When the time came to decide whom to hire – I had at least a few VPs who wanted me to stay on the team. They knew I had my difficulties with technical analysis. But they also valued my ability to establish rapport with everyone, clearly present the analysis and handle discussions under stress. Lesson learned: analytical skills can be taught. Communication and team working skills are something you should have straight on.

How to demonstrate in your resume: focus on roles that demanded strong communication / team working skills. Ambassador for the university, job in sales or marketing, public speaking clubs, liaising with clients, negotiating, presenting ideas in front of people, leading a team towards the result… You got the point.

How to demonstrate in the interview: listen attentively, speak calmly and confidently. Engage with the interviewer. Make eye contact and ask questions where necessary. Pay attention to feedback. And yes, of course – smile and be nice.

Investment banking skills - good attitude

4. Good attitude and strong personality

A bunch of traits fall into this category. Basically, investment banks are looking for applicants who can really handle the job. Working long hours? “No problem, I enjoy staying late”. Skipping on weekends and holidays? “Not an issue, hate Christmas anyways”. Handling five projects at once? “I love to multitask”.

The job of an investment banker is incredibly stressful. It requires dedication, energy, ability to work under pressure and a lot of hard work.

Banks are looking for candidates who can deliver on all of those. Committed individuals who have the energy, strive and self-confidence to handle such kind a job, and work hard to deliver the best results. Those who are willing – and able to learn fast. And stay strong and calm when things get really bad.

How to demonstrate in your resume: write about those experiences when despite the challenges (long hours, tight deadlines, difficult tasks) you persisted to deliver the best result. Highlight assignments that required a lot of effort and hard work. Any previous internships in finance, enduring sports or additional courses beyond your course work will demonstrate that you are a hard worker and over-achiever.

How to demonstrate in the interview: talk about the times when you had to work under stress or sacrifice personal time to deliver the results. Be honest. Acknowledge you know investment banking job is a tough one – but you love challenges, and are looking forward to work in a fast-paced environment where you can learn and develop your skills quickly.

5. Time-management and ability to multitask

As a junior investment banker you will have to work on multiple projects at once. Preparing a presentation for two seniors simultaneously, supporting work on an IPO, working on a live transaction and building a valuation model for the client. This will require some serious time management skills and ability to prioritise your workload.

How to demonstrate in your resume: show that alongside your studies you were involved in multiple extracurriculars. Highlight assignments done in the same time-frame and focus on your project management experience, even if this was just an assignment done in the university.

How to demonstrate in the interview: talk about times when you handled multiple projects at once. Be prepared to give specific examples on how you managed to deal with such situations (talked to management to assign priorities, worked with schedules and lists, efficiently managed other team members etc.)

Investment banking skills - personality

6. Interesting personality

Imagine you walk into the room for your investment banking interview. You see a senior investment banker. Dressed up, suit and tie, serious impression, your CV on the table. What do you think he wonders at that particular moment? And how does he evaluate you?

Does he wonder if you are smart? Probably. If you would be able to put in long hours? Maybe that too. But the basic question any interviewer faces is “Do I want to get a beer with this guy?”. He wonders if he can have a conversation with you outside work. He thinks if he would be able to spend 8 hours with you being stuck at the airport.

This is the single most important test you will face. Your credentials, your education, your internships – all that won’t matter if you fail what is commonly referred to as the “airport test”. If your interviewer wouldn’t want to be stuck with you at the airport – you have already failed at your application.

How to demonstrate in your resume:  student clubs, volunteer work, sport teams. Anything interesting you’ve done outside work. And when I say interesting I don’t mean reading or movies. Your extracurriculars and hobbies should be captivating. They should be thought-provoking. And they should distinguish you out of the crowd. One of the last internships classes of Bank of America did not have any people with interest in soccer, but quite a few practicing rugby, sailing and even canoe polo.

How to demonstrate in the interview: don’t be boring. As simple as that. If you have an opportunity – talk about you experiences or interests that can help you to stand out of the crowd. Climbing Kilimanjaro, travelling around the world, cooking best Italian tiramisu or playing ping pong. Whatever works.

Good-to-have investment banking skills

While most banks will focus on the skills above, there are a few others you should possess. These will not ultimately decide if you get the job – but will definitely help to come out as a stronger candidate.

7. Initiative

There are plenty of interns and analysts who are incredibly good at what they do. Actually, they are good at executing whatever they are told to do. It’s a useful skill but it is not enough. The bank wants to see that you are able to generate ideas and contribute valuable input. Re-write the graph in the way that is easier to comprehend. Suggest the associate adding a few additional companies to the analysis to boost valuation. Anything that shows you are ready to take ownership of your work and proactively address assignments.

8. Creativity

Surprised you need creativity in banking? I was too. I still am to be fair. Having worked in investment banking I can tell you for sure: quite a lot of people there suffer from a serious lack of imagination. Nonetheless, creativity and entrepreneurship skills is something that can strengthen your profile. Just not in the traditional way. No one cares about your two years in arts school or creative photography skills. What interviewer does care about is your ability to creatively solve problems, find shortcuts to solutions, think innovatively and spot areas for development. Morgan Stanley is one of the banks that pays particular attention to entrepreneurial skills, citing them as vital.

9. Leadership skills

A must-have for an investment bank. The reason this skill is on a good-to-have list is that bankers rarely expect new joiners to exhibit leadership skills upfront. Actually, it is one skill you are not expected to show until higher, senior positions.

So why is it on the list at all? Investment bankers want to see that when you reach associate or VP level you will be able to effectively coordinate the team and deal execution work. This involves managing your interns and analysts, and ensuring everything is done on time.

Thus, to strengthen your application you should demonstrate at least the potential to develop leadership skills in the future. For now this will be enough.

If you think having these skills alone will make you eligible for the investment banking job – think again. Having the right set of skills is only one part of the equation. Above all, you should also meet investment banking eligibility criteria to apply. Check if you are qualified for the job here – or read up more on the application process to the investment bank. And don’t forget to download free investment banking resume template – or just check how we can help out on your application.

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