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Investment Banking Essay Topics

How to answer Why investment banking?

For students and graduates, besides the technical questions, CVs, questions and brainteasers, this is a question you WILL get during asked at interviews: "Why investment banking?"

There is no engineered answer for this, but, based on our experience of interviewing candidates, the best answers are:

1) The learning curve in investment banking is very steep and you want to learn a lot and take on new challenges

Investment Banking is a challenging career and you will indeed learn a lot through the experience. You will learn about finance and acquire strong technical skills, such as financial modelling and accounting, but you will also learn about how to manage others and how to work in teams. Also, and this is one of the most important skill for an investment banker, you will learn how to remain calm, focuses and efficient under very high pressure.

2) You are eager to learn. You believe that working surrounded by smart and talented people by be beneficial and help you learn even faster.

Investment banks attract top candidates from the best schools all over the world. This means that your peers will be smart, highly ambitious, and from very diverse backgrounds. This means that you will be able to learn a lot from them, which will make the experience very valuable.

3) You were always interested in corporate finance and financial markets, as illustrated by your hobbies, studies, club memberships, etc.

Several candidates do have a genuine passion for finance and investment banking. Some of them are very knowledgeable about current events, specific deals, and have been very active in finance or banking clubs and events during school. If this is your case, make sure to stress this.

4) You will enjoy working in investment banking because M&A transactions affect whole 

industries, and you will have the opportunity to make a real impact.Many bankers love their jobs because they have a visible impact on society and industries. As an investment banker, you will work on multi-billion dollar IPOs, mergers of some of the largest companies in the world, or merge companies in different countries. Closing a deal is a very rewarding and satisfying experience, especially when it makes the news on TV or the first page on the Financial Times. This sense of power and accomplishment is a big motivation factor for many bankers.

Things not to mention:

- The taboo topic: " because I want to make money"!

- Because you think it is "interesting". Bankers are number-driven people, therefore you cannot be vague or imprecise. You will need to substantiate with hard facts why you think it is interesting.

Nevertheless the answers above are just "valid" ones. While they wont take any points away from you during an interview, they won’t help you score points either. Investment Banking is competitive, so you'd better come with a great answer if you want that spot at the top investment banks.My on the topic is that you should add a personal touch by using a personal "story". However, you will need to be very honest, because interviewers will see right through a fabricated answer. Here are some good "stories" that I we have heard while interviewing candidates, and may apply to you also:

Your friend, family member or alumnus, who works in an investment bank, inspired you.

Bankers like to hear about this, because it means that you have a "real view" about the industry, and it also means that you have a good network. On a separate note, don't lie, because they will ask you which person and in which bank this person works, and may well check to see if you're making it up or not. The investment banking world is a very, very small world.

You won or took part in a stock-picking competition, or an M&A competition or event, and you really enjoyed it.

This is good because it shows your interest, but it also shows that you are competitive. Bankers like competitive personalities. Again, don't make this up, as many bankers like to check. I personally would call people and do an extensive Google search on applicants' CVs to verify most facts. It is fine if you didn't win, but at least make sure that you know the subject of the competition very well, because they'll definitely quiz you on this. Therefore, know what you did and what were your strategies.

You read a news item about an intense takeover battle and you found it exciting; this stirred your interest towards investment banking

This is good because it shows passion and interest for the job, and also shows that you made some research and have good finance knowledge. But make sure you know the transaction in every detail, and be prepared for questions such as, "Did the company pay in equity or cash? How much did they pay in total? Do you think the transaction makes sense?"

You did an internship in finance and loved it

It is good to highlight any prior experience in finance, even if it is not directly related to investment banking. What you need to show is that you like dealing with a lot of numbers. Be ready to explain what you did and liked about your experience, and explain your activities in detail.

>> A few words of caution here. First, make sure you did your research and know your "passion areas" very well, otherwise you will lose all your credibility. Also, be very careful on the use of the word "learn". Wanting to learn is great, but don't leave the impression that they will have to teach you everything! If you mention that you want to learn too often, they will tell you to go study a PhD or go back to university. I would rather emphasise the challenge than the learning aspect, or a combination of both. Finally, make sure your story is short, concise, right to the point, and sounds genuine. Bankers are well-known to have a short attention span.

To conclude, the key words here are: prepare well and be truthful. Do not EVER lie. If you don't know or can't answer, just say it. It is fine and doesn't mean all hope is lost. Also, I want to emphasise again that you should NEVER talk about money. If you are asked whether you are interested in money, just mention that the challenge and learning opportunities are the most important aspects to you, but you also like to be rewarded for good work.

Investment Banking Modelling Test

Investment Banking Modelling Test

Investment bank will often require top-notch Excel modelling skills whenthey hire analysts or associates from other investment banks or fromother professionals in the finance sector (i.e. accountants and consultants).Part of those interviews almost always includes a full-blown Excelmodelling test to be completed in a few hours to test your operationalmodelling and DCF modelling skills.

What is an investment bank modelling test?

A modelling test is similar to a case study; you are given assumptions, sometimes a brief description of the business, and then asked to perform some analysis. The most common test given is to a Discounted Cash Flow analysis (DCF) and Operational Modelling (i.e. forecasts). Sometimes you may be asked to build Merger models but this is less common. The models given are usually very complex with a very short time allowed for completion. 

The most common type of test will happen like this:

- You will be seated in a room alone with a laptop, with only Excel on it.

- You will be given some assumptions, either on a separate page, or in an Excel file saved on the laptop. Except for the assumptions and maybe some basic headings, the file will be totally blank.

- You will then be asked to build a model based on the assumptions within a specific time frame (two to four hours)

Why do banks give modelling tests?

While many people can be good at interviews through extensive practice, you can't fake a modelling test. The investment banking modelling test is the ultimate test of your ability to be a good analyst or associate.

- A modelling test can help the investment bank test the following:

- Ability to understand complex financial and accounting terms (assumptions can often be complex and involve detailed tax treatments, industry jargon, etc.)

- Ability to structure a model

- Ability to work fast and accurately under pressure

- Quality of your Excel modelling and ability to use appropriate and advanced formulas

Can you give me some tips for Investment Banking modelling tests?

  1. Spend some time reading the assumptions first and understanding them all.
  2. After reading the assumptions, think about the structure of your model.
  3. Create the following tabs: Assumptions, P&L, Balance Sheet, Cash Flow, DCF and (optionally) WACC
  4. Once you are clear about the structure, lay out all the assumptions on the "Assumptions" sheet so you can easily track and modify them.
  5. Start building out the forecast P&L. Model down to EBITDA linking your assumptions, and leave the rest blank for now (i.e. interest expenses, depreciation and tax)
  6. Go to the balance sheet - model the fixed assets using the depreciation and Capex assumptions. Link back depreciation to the P&L. (Now it’s possible to have EBITDA in the P&L.) 
  7. Model the debt using any assumptions about debt increase / repayments. Based on the debt balances, you can model the interest expense on the P&L using the interest rate assumptions. (You now have EBT in the P&L - you can then model the tax and you are down to net earnings - P&L model complete!) Model all other balance sheet items but leave the cash balance blank.
  8. Go to cash flow. You should be able to build the cash flow from every balance sheet and P&L items now. You end up with a cash figure for each year which you can use to link back to your balance sheet cash balance.
  9. Always make sure that the balance sheet balances: Total Assets minus Total Liabilities = Total Equity. 
  10. From there on, you have all the necessary items to build your DCF, which is very simple. 
  11. If you have to estimate the WACC (unlikely but may be required if all assumptions are given), do it on the separate tab and link this to your DCF assumptions. 
  12. To make it perfect, add sensitivity tables in your DCF, showing different Enterprise Values for different WACCs, exit multiples, or perpetual growth values. You can also build some add-on functions allowing for interest earned on cash, automatic overdrafts when cash balance is negative, etc., but this is not critical - focus on the main assumptions first!

Do you have any investment banking modelling test example?

A standard DCF modelling test that you would get for an analyst-level investment banking modelling test interview.

You can also download the DCF modelling test. You would have four hours to complete this test.

The answer to the DCF modelling test is also available.

List of Competency Interview Questions

Investment Banking interviews typically start with a battery of questions about yourself. All those questions you will get in the investment banking interview have a single purpose and are trying to assess Adaptability, Analysis and Problem Solving, Commercial Awareness, Communication, Decision-Making and Judgment, Influencing and Persuasiveness, Leadership, Motivation, Relationship-Building and finally Teamwork.

About Yourself

1) Why did you choose to study economics/chemistry/history, etc.?

2) If you are from overseas, prepare to answer why you chose London?

(Mention all the positives about London and how it is a financial center, multicultural, etc.)

3) What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Good strengths include being a hard worker, analytical, curious, being a good communicator, a good team player, resistant to stress, don't give up easily. "Good" weaknesses can be being impatient, taking a lot of time to make decisions, because you always need a lot of information, being inexperienced in finance (of course, that could describe all of the students), being a bad loser. Characteristics not to mention: your intelligence, introversion, shyness, or individualism.

4) Have you enjoyed your study? Why?

(Answer must be “Yes.”)

5) What is the achievement you feel proud of or least proud of?

The best examples are where you had to make a lot of effort, either hard work or team achievement. You can use sports, major study projects, or personal travel. The least proud achievements can be any kind of failure, but you need to show that you have learnt from that failure.

6) What would your teachers or other students describe about you? (See strengths and weaknesses.)

7) Give me an example of an important goal, which you have set and tell me how you reached it. What steps did you take? What obstacles did you encounter? How did you overcome the obstacles?

(Mention what your learned from this and how you improved.)

8) Tell me about a goal that you set that you did not reach. What steps did you take? What obstacles did you encounter? How did it make you feel?

(Again, mention what you learned from this and how you improved.)

9) Give me an example of instances in which you made mistakes and what you learned from them.

10) What courses have you liked most? Least? Why?

11) Why did you select your university? (Don't say, "It was the best"! Just mention classes, location, extra-curricular clubs, etc.)

12) What do you do in your spare time?

13) What would you most like me to know that is not in your resume? (Answer can be that you grew up in an interesting place or an interesting experience you had.)

14) How competitive are you? (Don't say: "I’m extremely competitive". Just add examples saying that you enjoy participating competitive activities such as sports, events, etc.)

15) Tell me about the time you worked the hardest in your life.


Motivation

1) Why investment banking< (Please see our article on this specific question.)

2) Where do you see yourself in five years?

3) What are the most important things to you in a job?

4) Why did you choose to interview with us?

5) Why investment banking versus sales and trading? What is the difference?

6) In what area of investment banking do you want to work? Why?

Adaptability

1) How do you work under pressure and stress? Describe a time of working under an intense time pressure or deadline. How did you handle it and react?

2) Describe a situation that required you to do a number of things at the same time. How did you handle it? What was the result? How do you prioritize projects and tasks when scheduling your time? Give some examples.

3) Tell me about a situation in which you have had to adjust to changes over which you had no control. How did you handle it?

Analysis and problem solving

1) Give me an example showing how you demonstrated your quantitative ability.

2) Describe the project or situation that best demonstrates your analytical abilities. What was your role?

3) Tell me about a time when you had to analyze information and make a recommendation. To whom did you make the recommendation? What was your reasoning? What kind of thought process did you go through? Why? Was the recommendation accepted? If not, why?

4) Tell me about a problem that you solved in a unique or unusual way.

5) If your boss is shouting at you for an error you didn't make, how would you react?

Challenges

1) Talk about a leadership experience - describe a leadership role of yours.

2) What are some key lessons you have learned about motivating people?

3) There are two analysts; one works very hard but his performance is just ok. The other one does not work hard at all and sometimes not in the office, however, his performance has been outstanding. If you were the manager, what would you tell those two people during their performance review?

4) Tell me about a time when you successfully resolved a conflict.

5) If your associate keeps giving you more work that you can handle and treats you unfairly, how would you handle the situation?

Initiatives

1) Tell me about a time when you were entrepreneurial or took initiative, and the end results.

2) Describe a recent unpopular decision you made. How was it received? How did you handle it?

Teamwork

1) How do you deal with team breakdown, difficulty, or disagreement?

2) Tell me about a time when you worked with a classmate or colleague who was not doing their share of work. How did you handle it?

3) Describe a situation in which you were able to build team spirit during a time of low morale.

4) What types of people do you have trouble getting along with? Why?

5) What, in your opinion, are the key ingredients to guiding and maintaining successful business relationships?

6) How do you get people to do things they don’t like to do?

Business Awareness and Commercial Judgment

1) Have you ever had to sell an idea to your classmates or friends? How did you do it? Did they accept your idea?

2) What do you think makes our bank successful in the current economy situation?

3) What qualities do you think make someone successful in business?

4) What do you think about the recession? When do you expect it to recover?

5) What do you think are some good investments in an economic downturn?

Tough Questions

1) Based on your CV, what do you think concerns us about you? Knowing what you know about yourself, what would concern us most about you?

2) What negative feedback did you get from your classmates or at a previous internship/job?

3) Of those banks you interviewed with up to the second or third round and didn’t give you offer, what feedback did they give you and why? If not, why do you think they didn’t give offers?

4) Describe a time you have had to compromise on your standards, and why

 

Investment Banking Technical Questions

Basic Technical Interview Questions

- Why would two companies with identical earnings in the same industry have different P/E multiples?

- Would you use Enterprise Value/Net Income as a multiple?

- In a perfect (tax-free) world, if you have a company with an enterprise value of $5 billion and you take out $2 billion in debt, what is the new enterprise value? What is the enterprise value if you subsequently use the $2 billion to pay out a dividend? What is the enterprise value if instead of paying out the dividend, you invest the $2 billion in a new project with an NPV of $3 billion?

- In a world with taxes, if you issue debt for 1000 and pay it out as a dividend, how does it affect your enterprise value?

- Why might a company be trading at a lower EV/EBITDA multiple than its competitors of the same size in the same industry?

Valuation Questions

- Give me an overview of at least five valuation methodologies for a company.

- Which of the valuation methods will tend to lead to the highest valuation?

- Which method of valuation is most robust? What are the pluses/minuses of each method?

- What percent of total DCF value is usually in the Terminal Value? What proportion did the Terminal Value contribute to the Enterprise Value? Why? What concerns are there?

- Explain the difference between WACC and IRR.

- How do you treat deferred taxes in a DCF?

M&A questions

- What are the pros/cons on a stock vs. cash acquisition?

- Who would pay more to acquire a company - a financial buyer or a strategic buyer? Why?

- Why do accretive mergers still sometimes see a falling stock price?

- Talk to me about some hostile deals that have been initiated lately. When does a hostile deal make sense? What percent of hostile deals are completed by the buyers who started the process?

Capital Structure and Financing

- If you were pitching to be an underwriter for an IPO, what would the table of contents of the pitch book look like?

- What implications are there for cash dividend versus stock repurchase? Why and when would you use one versus the other?

- How can a company reduce its Debt/EBITDA ratio without increasing EBITDA or paying down debt?

- What is staple financing?

LBO questions

- What is the IRR with an equity investment of £100m and exit equity value of £300m after three years? Give me the calculation formula.

- Give an example of Circular Reference in an LBO model.

Accounting questions

- Walk me through the impact of an asset write-down on the financial statements.

- If a company changes from a LIFO to FIFO, how would that impact its financial statements?

- Where would you put a convertible bond on the balance sheet?

- Suppose you reviewed the financial statements of a firm for two consecutive years. Every line item on the income statement showed the same value for both years, but the numbers on the lines in the cash flow statement are different for the two years. Speculate on a few things that may have happened to cause this outcome.

- If convertible debt gets converted, what is the impact on the balance sheet?

Note - answers to those questions are included in our AskIvy Investment Banking Technical Guide, which contains 100+ other investment banking technical interview questions.

Assessment Centre Aptitude Tests

Aptitude tests are online or written tests given by investment banks that consists of a combination of numerical, verbal and logic questions. You will almost always be asked to do those tests online first once your CV has been shortlisted by banks. Once you pass those tests and are invited to come to the assessment centre, you will be usually asked to take them again on a piece of paper (which is sometimes more difficult or longer). This process is to ensure that you didn't ask a friend to take the test online for you.

Why do investment banks use those tests?

Each year, tens of thousands of students apply to investment banks. Those tests are a way for investment banks to make a first selection in their large applicant pool. They usually have a cut-off or minimum pass grade that students need to meet or exceed in order to go to the next stage of the interview process.

Do not underestimate those tests, even if you are doing extremely well at school. Those tests can be notoriously difficult, especially under stress, and will demand a great deal of preparation. Indeed, it would be a shame to fail an interview because of something that is in your control! In fact, the main reason why so many students fail investment banking interviews is due to the lack of preparation or overconfidence with regard to those tests.

Can you give me an overview of those tests in more detail?

The tests are generally provided by SHL, an organisation that creates those tests; usually, there are three kinds of tests. 

Numerical

In a numerical reasoning test, the examinee is required to answer questions by using information presented in statistical tables and graphs. Questions are given in a multiple choice format

Verbal

In SHL verbal reasoning tests, you are usually presented with a passage and required to evaluate a set of statements by selecting one of the following possible responses

Logical

These logical tests evaluate cognitive abilities that rely on pure logic, without the use of written texts or numerical data. In the course of these tests you will be asked to recognize patterns that are presented by series of shapes and thus induce and predict which shape should come next in line

I want to practice, can you recommend me a good website?

JobTestPrep, a UK website, does a good job of helping students prepare for those tests.

Investment Banking Headhunters List

Below is a detailed list of headhunting and recruitment firms that operate in the field of investment banking in London.

-Argyll Scott & Redgrave Partners (www.argyllscott.co.uk & www.redgravepartners.com)

Sister firms, one catering for junior and middle management (Argyll Scott), and the other focused on executive search (Redgrave Partners) in Private Equity, Corporate Finance and Corporate Development disciplines. Clients include large cap LBO funds, mid cap, growth equity and distressed turnaround funds.

Contact Name: Matt Steeds

email: msteeds@redgravepartners

contact phone: +44 (0) 207 936 1130

-Alan Mitchell (www.alan-mitchell.co.uk)

Alan Mitchell is a financial markets city recruitment and search firm specialising in the areas of investment banking, private equity, equities and fixed income from analyst to MD/Partner level. Corporate finance coverage includes Mergers and Acquisitions, Private Equity, Corporate Broking, Equity Capital Markets and Debt Capital Markets in Investment Banks, Funds, Advisory Boutiques, Brokerage Houses and Accountancy Firms.
Equities clients include investment banks, regional specialists, mid-cap security houses, boutique brokers, specialist brokers, agency brokers and execution only houses with the team focussed on equity research,equity sales. Fixed Income coverage includes Credit, Bonds, Interest Rates and Derivatives.

email: info@alan-mitchell.co.uk

contact phone: 020 34407655

- Arkesden Partners (www.arkesden.com)

Dedicated stand alone Investment Banking team with a track record and experience of the sector for over twelve years. Typical mandates at the Analyst to Director levels. M&A, Leveraged Finance, Restructuring, ECM, Corporate Broking, Country and Sector Coverage. Mandates are focussed on the UK and wider EMEA space. Partnering with clients on trends in the Investment Banking market including compensation trends (2013 Analyst report), analysis of strategic and cultural differences between Banks and up to date knowledge of hiring patterns.

Contact: Adam Cairns

Email: awc@arkesden.com

Phone: +44 (0) 203 762 202

- Austin Andrew (www.austinandrew.co.uk)

Started with the vision to fill a perceived gap in the market for a mid level contingency firm with the service ethos of an executive search firm. Our experienced Consultants joined Austin Andrew to establish lasting and mutually beneficial business relationships with our clients. We strive to develop a long term understanding of our clients built upon trust and integrity, and we always aim to exceed expectations. We believe that this provides both stability for us and value for our clients, who benefit from our in-depth understanding of their business’ unique selling points.

Areas covered include M&A / Corporate Finance, Private Equity (Growth Equity, Leveraged Buyout, Venture Capital) and Corporate Development

Clients include large cap LBO funds, Mid cap, Growth Equity, Debt Funds, Venture Capital Trusts, Corporates, Advisory Boutiques, Investment Banks, Private Banks and Hedge Funds.

contact name: Zoe Manners

email: enquiries@austinandrew.co.uk

contact phone: +44 (0) 207 153 1666

-The Bloomsbury Group (www.thebloomsburygroup.com)

Focuses on debt, equity and derivative sales, trading and research; wealth management; financial management, operations and middle office; credit and market risk and private equity

-Circle Square (www.circlesquare.co.uk)

Finance and Banking focus, with good coverage of boutiques

-Cobalt Recruitment (www.cobaltrecruitment.com)

Specialist recruitment provider to the Real Estate, Finance, Infrastructure and Energy sectors

-Dartmouth Partners (www.dartmouthpartners.com)

Dartmouth Partners recruits individuals with an outstanding academic or professional background into firms who recognise that a competitive edge is gained by finding and hiring the best human capital available. They work with candidates broadly from 0-10 years experience.
Graduates: they run outsourced Graduate recruitment for Investment banks, Consultancies and “High Flier” Schemes for small businesses up to FTSE 250 companies.
Experienced professionals: they help 2nd and 3rd jobbers in M&A, PE, Consulting, Asset management, Hedge Funds, and Corporates

Contact Name: Logan Naidu

email: logan.naidu@dartmouthpartners.com

contact phone: +44 (0) 203 638 5101

-Finance Professionals (www.financeprofessionals.com)

General corporate finance recruiting firm that also covers capital markets

-Greenwich Partners (www.greenwichpartners.co.uk)

Greenwich Partners are a search and selection firm focused on Buy and sell side equity research, Private Equity, credit and debt investment funds, asset management, alternative investments such as fund of funds and secondaries and corporate development and strategy. The firm focuses on targeting candidates from strategy consulting firms, research houses, investment banks and other private equity or investment firms. Most of their work is at the Analyst to Director level.

Contact Name: James Heath or Sue Carter

email: james.heath@greenwichpartners.co.uk

contact phone: +44 (0) 207 953 4066

-Grainger West (www.graingerwest.co.uk)

Small independent recruitment boutique covering financial services broadly, including corporate finance and sales & trading.

-KEA Consultants (www.keaconsultants.com)

Focuses on placing junior candidates in investment banking, private equity and hedge funds

-Kinsey Allen (www.kinseyallen.com)

Broad-finance recruitment firms with strong relationships with most investment banks and boutiques

-Marks Sattin (www.markssattin.co.uk/corporate-finance)

Specialises in advisory and investment space for experienced corporate financiers

-Michael Page Financial Services (www.michaelpage.co.uk)

Large recruiting firms that has a division that focuses on financial services

-Mirage Recruitment (www.miragerecruitment.com)

Specialist recruiter focusing on hedge funds and corporate finance

-Morgan McKinley (www.morganmckinley.com)

Active recruiting firms that focuses on finance, banking and accounting sectors

-One Search (www.one-search.co.uk)

Purely specialised finance-focused search firm with broad coverage across both buy and sell side, with strong relationships with many investment banks and PE funds

-Options Group (www.optionsgroup.com)

General corporate finance firm with offices in NY, London, HK and Tokyo

-Selby Jennings (www.selbyjennings.com)

Global Financial recruiter (covers US, Europe, Asia and Middle East) that focuses on any function in financial institutions.

-Shepherd Little (www.shepherdlittle.com)

Small recruiting firm specialising in investment banking, corporate banking and asset management

-Stevenson James (www.stevensonjames.com)

Independent financial services recruiter that focuses on the more senior end of the market

-Walker Hamill (www.walkerhamill.com)

Walker Hamill is a leading recruiter in corporate finance/M&A, working with both investment banks and boutiques. We recruit from Senior Analyst through to Managing Director level and have been selected on numerous occasions as the Managing Agent for multi-vacancy assignments.

Contact : Tim Smith tsmith@walkerhamill.com

Would like to add your firm, contact name or anything else to this list? contact us here.

Answer: Do you have questions for me?

After having gone through all the online tests, case studies, presentations and the whole investment banking application process, the last five or ten minutes of your interview will always end with "do you have any questions for me?".

While this part of the interview is not the most critical one, many applicants still manage to destroy their chances by asking the wrong questions, or not knowing what to ask.

Our base advice is to keep the questions fairly simple. While asking a very smart question will probably not be the key factor that will get you the job, asking an overly complex or inappropriate question will definitely hurt your chances of getting hired.

Therefore, do not try to be the most original or smartest applicant by asking overly engineered questions. Here is a selection of the most appropriate questions to ask:

  • How is the department or the team structured?
  • Do you have any further hiring plan at different levels of the team?
  • How is the deal pipeline recently?
  • If you see the interviewer or the bank has closed a deal recently, you can enquire about this deal: how complex was the deal? Was there a bidding war? etc.
  • How much do you interact with other departments?
  • How much do you interact with other international offices?
  • Do you do many cross border transactions? IPOs? LBO? etc.
  • What is the culture of the team / bank like?

We strongly suggest not to go beyond those categories to limit potential damage. Questions to not ask are as follows:

  • Anything related to the following topics: money, compensation, bonuses, working hours, politics, religion, discrimination, scandals in the press, bad performance of the firm.
  • Anything negative about something. For example, talking negatively about a previous employer or internship you did, anything negative about your school, a classmate, sports, other people's jobs (i.e. consulting is not interesting to me, or I don't want to work for a corporate), etc. Always mention the positives, never talk negatively about anything.
  • Anything that could reflect negatively on the bank one way or another (example: "you haven't closed any deals this year, what is your strategy going forward?", or "do you think Barclays overpaid for Lehman's acquisition?" when interviewing with Barclays!)
  • If the bank went through a merger or an acquisition, be careful. The only question you can ask is "what was the impact of the merger with XX?". Do not make judgements of any sort such as "didn't the merger cause many people to leave?" or "did the merger impact the bank's performance?"

Common mistakes in banking CVs

Finding a position in investment banking is a highly competitive process, which gives you a very small margin of error when it comes to your resume or CV. While there is no such thing as the perfect investment banking resume (banks will not expect you to have perfect scores, be the president of every club in your school, and speak five languages), nevertheless applicants do make common mistakes that you should avoid. 

This is our list of investment banking CV common mistakes.

1. Typos / grammatical errors

Typos and grammatical errors simply show that you did not spend enough time on your CV, and therefore, you do not take your applications seriously. Also, a large part of your job as an investment banking associate or analyst will be to check for people's mistakes, so typos in your CV are a good indicator of whether you'll be good at your job! Banks do tend to be reasonable though, and if there is just ONE typo and the rest of your application is outstanding, you should not worry. But why take the risk for such an easy fix? Read all of your applications three times and run a spell-check before sending out anything!

2. Formatting issues

This goes together with the first point. You may think this is trivial, but formatting that is not consistent (company name bolded in one place, italicized in another) or wrong (words or paragraphs misaligned, text going over one page) will be spotted immediately by the banker reviewing your CV. Associates and analysts are trained to spot those kind of formatting mistakes and they can be unforgiving, and they will be the ones making a first cut in CVs. The only solution to avoid this is to print a copy of your CV once you're done with it, see what it looks like, and get at least one friend to review it. Finally, don't try to come up with your own template; just use the one provided by your school. Also, do not try to stand out with some "original" formatting - when it comes to investment banking, being conservative is always the best approach.

3. Listing EVERY small job you ever had during your studies

Do not forget that a CV is meant to be an advertisement for yourself. Space is precious, so limit yourself to what sells ‘you’ best to the investment bank. For example, you don't need to list your job as a sales assistant or as a waiter during your studies if another work experience is more relevant. Expand in detail the relevant experiences, and delete entirely what does not sell you best. The only exception would be mention something like "Achieved 2.1 grade while working 20 hours part-time as a shop assistant at xxx". In this case, it works because it shows that you are a hard worker who can manage multiple demanding tasks, an important quality for an investment banker.

4. Describing your courses in too much detail in the education section

It is fine to mention some of your courses, ONLY if they are relevant (corporate finance, private equity, economics) or stand out and show some very specific interest (19th Century Russian history, quantum physics, etc.). Do not overdo it - your courses should never take more than one line in your CV and should be limited to three or four courses at the absolute maximum, and you do not need to describe those. Bear in mind that 90% of the applicants will write "Corporate Finance" or "M&A" in their list of courses so try to pick another one or two that sound interesting if you can.

5. Being descriptive without highlighting your KEY, SPECIFIC achievements

Bankers don't want to know what you did (we can guess that from the title of your job), but they want to know what you learnt and achieved through your experience. Therefore, be results-oriented and use numbers. For example, do not write the all too common M&A internship description: "Performed valuation using DCF, comparables analysis, calculated WACC, and did benchmarking for associates in the group." Do write: "Led the valuation of a $700 million technology company under associate supervision, which involved building a complex operating model from scratch, full WACC analysis, and benchmarking of 25 companies in four countries." What is the difference? The good version gives more concrete details and clearly demonstrated the complexity of what you were doing. More interesting details will catch the banker's attention and also prove that you understand what you were doing. Note that this also works for any other kind of experience. Another example: Do not write: "Researched the consumer goods industry and helped partner writing industry reports." Do write: "Supported partner's analysis of the consumer good industry by identifying and benchmarking key performance indicators of 50+ retail companies across the UK."

6. Too long or inappropriate level of detail

Give a good, concise overview with some details, but do not go too deep and try to make a job sound more interesting that it was. Bankers will get a good idea of what you did just by looking at job titles and firm names. Be honest and go straight to the point when talking about your responsibilities and achievements. Also, remember to limit your resume to one page only.

7. Clichés!

Clichés can damage your application. Remember, you do not need to mention your skillset - this should be evident from what you have done instead; don't tell it to me, prove it to me! Clichés include being an "analytical thinker", "developed great team-playing skills", "ability to learn fast", "worked under high pressure and had to meet tight deadlines", "leadership ability and skills", and "extremely hard worker."

8. Boring or weird hobbies

Boring ones includes: reading, jogging, travelling (even travelling to 20+ countries, far too common), shopping, cinema, going to restaurants, or eating, fishing. Weird/geek ones: Word and Excel, mental arithmetic, computer games, programming, drinking. You can refer to our section on "What to write in the ‘other interests’ section of my CV."

9. Stating the obvious

This includes: fluent in English, proficient in Word, PowerPoint and Excel, good understanding of valuation concepts, etc.

10. Errors of style

- Using "I". For instance, "I analysed the financial reports of company xxx. I compiled the reports. I used Excel to do tables and charts." You should be using action verbs without the “I”, which makes you sound arrogant.

- Not using action verbs. These are good action verbs for investment banking: leading, analysing, performing, reaching, accomplished, supported, assisted, communicated, presented, contributed, delivered, drafted, ensured, finalised, generated, helped, launched, modelled, negotiated, oversaw, processed, supervised, or volunteered.

- Improper word capitalization, i.e. Worked in the Customer Service Department of a Retail Company.

11. Sharing confidential information

This mostly relates to projects in investment banks. Make sure that all the information contained in your CV is in the public domain.

If you would like your CV to be reviewed by AskIvy, please see our CV Review Service here.

How do I make it to Goldman Sachs?

One of the most common questions that gets asked here is this: "How do Imake it into Goldman Sachs?" Goldman Sachs is consistently ranked atthe top of the investment banking league tables, attracts top talent, andpays the highest bonuses, so no wonder students and bankers all want toget a job at the prestigious investment banking firm.

These are the tips we gathered from a "Goldmanite", who spent 16 years at the firm:

No magic list of courses, study, deals, or anything else will guarantee you to get hired by Goldman Sachs.

Let me explain how this works:

1. Work like crazy to get into a great university.

In the U.S., it takes a REALLY top-tier Ivy League school in the UK, a "red brick / Oxbrige" school, a Grande Ecole in France, etc. This is because thousands of super-smart, aggressive, very hardworking young folks from around the world are constantly banging on the doors of firms like Goldman Sachs trying to get jobs. If your education doesn’t compare favourably, you won’t be considered. If you are not already enrolled at Harvard or Cambridge though, don’t worry, you can overcome that; just read the remaining things on this list and be sure that you blow them away.

2. Get very, very serious about your schoolwork.

Firms like Goldman can afford to be very picky, and they hire only the best and brightest. Your transcript had better prove you are one of them, or you won’t even get an interview. You don’t have to be Einstein; you can get top grades by simply working your tail off.

3. Become a well-rounded person.

Good grades from a top school aren’t enough. Keep current on world events. Understand the economy. Play sports. Play in a band. Act in a play. Learn about wine. Be involved in a variety of activities beyond academics. When you get that interview with Goldman, they will want to see that you are a fascinating, engaging person.You should be someone who has interesting stories to tell, maybe has something to teach them; someone they will want to hang out with. The boss wants to know that if he takes you to lunch with a wealthy client, you’ll be able to participate in the conversation and speak intelligently on a wide variety of topics.

4. Understand how business works.

Subscribe to the Wall Street Journal or Financial Times, and read at least the front page every day. Understand how companies market, sell, and produce goods; understand finance and accounting. Find out how companies buy raw materials, find employees, borrow money, go public, manage their cash, etc. If you want to work for an investment banking firm like Goldman, you must understand exactly what those companies do for their clients. Also, an MBA will really help.

5. Find a mentor.

Within your extended network, there is someone who has been successful in business: a family member, a professor, a former employer, etc. Maybe they even worked in one of the big firms like Goldman. Call them and ask for advice. Tell them what you are trying to achieve and ask for their guidance. If they are well-connected, they might even provide the most valuable help of all: an introduction to someone at a big firm. This is the absolute best way to get your foot in the door.

Finally, if you don’t get a job at Goldman, RELAX! Each of the steps above will lead you to money, even if it’s not at Goldman. For example, if you work hard and get into a top school, many of your fellow students will have rich parents, CEO fathers, Senator uncles, etc. By the time you graduate, you will be “connected”, and you will personally know influential people who can do favours for you and help you on the way to greatness.

However, this is the most important part. DO NOT CONFUSE MONEY WITH HAPPINESS. I personally followed all of the steps above; I worked for the big firms, and I am financially secure. But I’m also 40, unmarried, burnt out on work, and probably a little boring because I spent all those years focusing on dry work stuff. I decided that I wanted money, so I set a course to get it. But if I could do it over again, first I’d figure out what I love most; then I’d go do it with a vengeance regardless of the money. If you sincerely have a passion for investment banking, go for it. But if you simply lust for money, think carefully. Would you marry someone you didn’t love? No, you’d become miserable and regretful. The same thing will happen if you choose a career you don’t love. Good luck finding the answer and making it happen!

Goldman Sachs recommended reading list

The recommended Goldman Sachs reading list that we have compiled below (this is the list they hand out to incoming investment banking employees) is one of the most comprehensive finance reading list that probably exists. This is an extensive library covering a lot of aspects of investment banking - from the history and culture to specific areas in trading or corporate finance. Its is definitely a good starting point to educate yourself on topics of interest, occupy yourself during a quiet winter / summer and get up to speed with some of the finance jargon!

 

Industry Background and Flavour

 

General Industry Reference

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