So, you want to work in banking. You better start applying when you’re done with college, right?
Wrong. Investment banks are some of the most competitive work environments in the world, and you’ll have to fight a lot more uphill to get in than to go to college. We’re not exaggerating either: Harvard’s acceptance rate is around 3.2%, Oxford’s is around 14%, and Goldman Sachs’ is around 1.5%.
If you want to get into banking, you have to start early. The sooner the better. Even before that.
It’s okay, not so early.
1. Your first year in college
Once you’ve arrived at the university of your choice (and ideally your favorite bank’s choice as well), it’s time to start laying the foundation.
Banks host “events” for early years called information days, campus days, or webinars, depending on whether they are in person, include food, or are online (respectively). You’re going to want to attend these, network, and ideally decide if investment banking is for you.
In Europe, banks often run “spring weeks” during Easter. These are specifically for college freshmen and can lead directly to a summer internship in your sophomore year. Our research suggests that 25% of places in some banks’ summer internship programs go to former ‘spring interns’.
“Applying for spring weeks puts a strain on you in your freshman year, but makes life so much easier after that,” one student told us. “Spring internships give candidates the opportunity to get summer internships sooner and be better informed about where their skills and interests would best fit,” a JPMorgan spokesperson said.
While information days and “orientation events” run throughout the year, you’ll typically need to apply for a spring week in January or December, so keep an eye out for deadlines on banks’ websites.
Even if you choose not to attend student events your first year for whatever reason, it’s still a good idea to research banks and generally prepare for sophomore applications. Our graduate guide can help you decide which banks, sectors and functions you want to apply to.
2. Your sophomore year in college
Your sophomore year is when things really start to happen.
Once you know what you want, you can spend the first quarter of your sophomore year applying for summer internships (also known as analyst summer programs) at different banks in the industry. It’s this sophomore summer internship that’s crucial to landing an investment banking job when you graduate, says John Craven, a former director of Merrill Lynch and SocGen and current chairman of the Commission on Social Mobility.
Application deadlines for summer analyst programs are typically in late December. In EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa), for example, Goldman Sachs requires students to apply for its summer analyst program by November 30. “We encourage candidates to apply as early in the season as possible because we recruit on a continual basis,” the JP Morgan spokesman said.
Getting into a summer analyst program is not easy. Banks are incredibly picky about the people they hire for summer internships. If you want to get one, you will need to go through the following process.
Yo. Fill in the application form
The hiring process varies a bit from one bank to another. Although most use an application form, some, like Goldman Sachs, prefer a traditional combination of CV/resume and cover letter.
The application form is the crucial filtering mechanism in a bank’s application process. This is where most unsuccessful candidates are eliminated. To succeed, you will need excellent academics. In the UK this means around 216 UCAS points (the equivalent of around 3 A*s and an A), plus a grade class of 2.1 or higher (ideally from a top university).
You will also need solid extracurricular activities. Academic studies suggest that banks like to hire students whose extracurricular activities resonate with the bankers who interview them: Skiing, diving, and tennis count for a lot (especially if you were a team leader in college). Also volunteering.
ii. Complete the pre-interview tests
Assuming your application is verified, you will have some tests before the actual interview. Although banks have historically been great at psychometric testing, they have fallen somewhat out of favor lately (though not entirely).
It is very likely that you will come across a HireVue interview. We’ve done a pretty good rundown of what they entail here, but simply put, they’re sophisticated personality tests that rank applicants based on their compatibility with company culture (as well as their ability to answer BuzzFeed test-level questions). .
iii. the actual interview
Assuming you’ve got it right and convinced the AI to count how many hairs on your nose are visible and compare it to the average number at the bank, you’ll get a call for an in-person interview.
At JP Morgan in EMEA, this means an assessment center; at Goldman Sachs, it means endless “structured interviews.” As a former Goldman recruiter told us, the firm “is about round after round of face-to-face interviews; there’s a huge emphasis on character and being the kind of interesting person they want to work with.”
You can find many interview questions on our website, from the 4 most common to our complete list of 131.
Banks don’t require you to join any religion to work for them, but if you want a job, you’ll want to get an offer after your internship, also known as a “conversion.”
We go into more detail here, but the essence of converting the internship is to be hard-working, dependable, and outgoing. It’s not an exact science, but you should have a decent chance if you’ve made it this far: about 50-75% of internships turn into offers.
3. Your third year in college
If you already have your offer, congratulations, stop by and collect $200.
If you didn’t, well, go back to steps i-iv for yourself. If you’ve already done an internship but failed to convert, don’t get your hopes up, it may be a scarlet letter to have done an internship at a bank without converting. Makes sense: “Why would I take you if my rivals wouldn’t?”
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