The 5 Ingredients to a Winning Investment Banking Resume
In order to impress Investment Banking recruiters, you need to present a consistently excellent brand on paper and in person. I discuss in detail the elements that you need to showcase on a resume to increase your chances of getting noticed by the Investment Bank of your choice. What you will learn is that it takes more than just an outstanding pedigree, a past internship in banking, and impressive extracurricular activities and leadership – you need a great-looking format that fits the style bankers are looking for to make sure that you don’t get rejected off the bat.
What You’re Up Against
Getting your resume past the initial screen indeed requires a lot of luck but you can maximize your odds by minimizing unfortunate and easily avoidable mistakes. Think carefully about what it takes for a recruiting team to get through a resume drop of several hundred to arrive at a short list of 15-20 interviewees. Have more than a puncher’s chance to secure a first round interview by presenting yourself in a way that resonates with the Investment Bank recruiter looking at your profile for the first time. On average, a resume recruiter on a recruiting team will spend less than 30 seconds scanning your file for very specific signals that you could be a fit for the job.
The 5 Ingredients to a Great Investment Banking Resume Explained
1. Conservative Format
The first thing that immediately strikes a resume reviewer on an Investment Bank recruiting team is format. How does the resume look upon initial view? Are the margins consistent and clean? Is the content clear and concise? Are the uses of bolds, italics, and spacing consistent? Is the font size reasonable and not 6-point font in a vain attempt at condensing two pages of material onto one? Are all relevant details in place (city, dates, roles & titles)? Overall, does the resume look like a well-thought out, thorough and aesthetically-pleasing work product sample that reflects well on the individual behind it? Resume reviewers make an immediate judgment in less than 10 seconds of viewing a resume, and a negative impression can put a candidate in a trailing position even before the reviewer starts reading actual content.
To minimize the chances that your resume puts you in a losing position before you even get a shot at stating your case, use one of the generally-accepted conservative resume formats that 95% of successful Investment Banking candidates use. There is no need to try to stand out against the crowd with a gimmicky or overly-stylish resume just to try to grab a reviewer’s attention. It’s actually a really bad idea to veer away from the accepted format standards as it can be very distracting—and hence, annoying—to a reader. Anytime you annoy your resume reviewer, it’s an immediate rejection; they simply do not have the time nor the interest to look any further at you if your resume does not meet their baseline expectations.
So where can you can access to one of these standard resume formats? You can do some digging and Google searching online and there will be free samples available to you that come close to what Investment Banking recruiters will not react negatively to. Your best bet, however, is to try to ask someone you know who is already in the business for a copy of his resume that proved up to the task of getting him invited to interview. Once you have a format that you can follow in hand, make sure that you only include three sections of your resume: Education, Experience, and Additional Information. Do not include a summary or objective statement unless you are an executive (ED-level and above) candidate. As analyst, associate, or VP candidates, you will not be expected to have such a long and diverse career that you need a summary paragraph. Resume reviewers simply hate seeing “Objective” on a resume for an analyst or associate role and consider it a waste of space and proof that the applicant did not do any due diligence on what’s acceptable.
2. Exceptional Academic Merit
It is obviously no mystery that Investment Banks love to hire graduates from Top 10, Ivy League institutions. When times on Wall Street were/are/will be great, researchers estimate that one third of all Ivy League graduates went/go/will go to work in some form or another in Investment Banking. Candidates from the top schools tend to demonstrate the greatest ability to deal with the pressures and expectations of a grueling analyst or associate Investment Banking job over peers from lower-ranked schools, so all things being equal having a strong school tied to your name is a huge plus. So if you attend such an institution – Harvard, Princeton, Yale, MIT, Stanford, etc. the good news is that in many ways the brand name is enough. But what if you didn’t go a top 10 school? How do you showcase your strength as a student? The answer is through a strong GPA, leadership, and exceptional extracurricular commitment.
If you didn’t attend a top 10 school, you can still get a job in Investment Banking. As a company, we help place students from non-target schools all the time. We’ve helped candidates from UC Davis, UC Santa Barbara, Villanova, UNC, Vanderbilt, and Tulane get in front of Wall Street recruiters and ultimately coached several of them to secure full-time job offers. On a resume, what resonates with Investment Banking recruiters in terms of academics and achievement is your GPA, the clearest indicator of how committed you were over four years to your studies. Generally, anything above a 3.5/4.0 is considered good, while a 3.7+ is looked at very favorably as an excellent GPA. If your overall GPA was less than 3.5 but your major GPA was above, then list your major GPA instead. Investment Banking recruiters will know why you are doing that, but generally will not hold it against you for trying to brand yourself with a higher and more favorable number.
A quick point on extracurriculars. Although the stereotype of the love affair between banks and athletes persists, it’s not necessarily the truth. Again what resonates with Investment Banking recruiters is commitment, because a high level of determination and perseverance is required to survive two years and possibly more of 120 hour work weeks. If you were involved in theater, art, community service, student government and it took up 20 hours of your week for the entire time you were in school, banking recruiters will consider you on par with the varsity, multi-sport former All-American athlete who also is looking an Investment Banking analyst job.
3. Strong Test Scores
Yes, your SAT will matter if you are applying for an Investment Banking Analyst job. Even though you probably took it as a 16-year old, how you performed at that test is considered to be a predictor of analytical thinking, problem solving, and quantitative skills. If you scored well on the test (85th percentile or higher, you absolutely should include it). If you don’t have a great SAT score it’s best you don’t include it but know that your resume reviewer will notice its omission and know that you probably didn’t do well on it. The choice is to take the lesser of two evils by not fully disclosing your score on your resume to leave some doubt in the recruiter’s mind while they look at other, more favorable details on your resume instead.
For up and coming associates coming out of business school, generally a score above 700 on the GMAT is the threshold for inclusion on a resume you’re using to win an Investment Banking interview. The same implication is made should you omit your score but usually if you have other great measurable and relevant, impressive experience, it isn’t a deal-breaker if you don’t list it out.
Like college admissions, Investment Banking recruiting loves to see standardized test scores as a way to level the playing field between candidates. Most banks will admit that they do see a correlation between eventual success as a junior Investment Banker with SAT/GMAT scores above the 90th percentile in the same way that a high school senior’s ability to handle the rigors of a top school can be predicted on his verbal, math, and writing scores.
4. Quantitative Interest
You will read and hear from insiders, former recruiters, or current analysts and associates that quantitative skills are absolutely crucial to impressing an Investment Banking recruiter. I will take that one step further and disclose that what it really important isn’t just whether or not you have the math, analytical, and problem solving skills (nearly every grad from a top school can handle the basic arithmetic needed to put together a decent merger model or update comps) but the fact that you enjoy it, want to do the job, and are willing to grind through researching, calculating, and backing into hundreds if not thousands of numbers that may or may not be important to a deal, pitch, or analysis you are asked to perform.
If you are meticulous in nature, love stats, and do regressions in your spare time, you probably have the disposition to be a strong Investment Banking analyst or associate. Quantitative interest is integral to being good at financial modeling – the accuracy, creativity, and ability to fix problems on the fly driven by incorrect coding on Excel requires an affinity and patience for numbers. Financial modeling sounds sexy and everyone who is intrigued by banking hears this buzz word and thinks it’s the key to their career. It is and isn’t, quite honestly. It’s a great skill to acquire and will stay with you forever, but there is a lot more than learning how to model that will come from going into Investment Banking.
So In order to highlight and express quantitative interest, you can achieve that by highlighting specific courses you are taking that would be in scope, you can mention past activities inside and outside of class that required some amount of cost planning and forecasting, or if you have a strong interest in personal investing you should definitely highlight what your track record is in choosing stocks for your own personal portfolio or perhaps your family’s, if helping your parents out for retirement is something you enjoy doing. These are examples of specific interests that can signal to an Investment Banker that you have a taste for numbers and aren’t averse to getting pretty deep in the details should you have to fish out a specific number of explanation from the MD&A section from a 200 page 10-K.
5. Enthusiasm & Passion
The final ingredient to a compelling Investment Banking resume is to demonstrate enthusiasm and passion. Clearly you can’t just say that you are enthusiastic and passionate on your resume and be done with it. You achieve this through the steady written communication of your strengths and achievements that are revealed from where you went to school, how you did academically, what you focused your time on, what activities you excelled in, and where you earned leadership roles. Investment Banking recruiters look for enthusiasm because the reality of the job is that it’s quite hard, somewhat monotonous and hard to stay 100% excited for it week in and week out, especially if you are sleep-deprived. Indeed, once you’ve done one merger or LBO pitch, more than a few former analysts say that you’ve done them all.
If a bank can sense from your background story that you are someone who can overcome adversity, has career ambition, and is willing to pay the dues to belong, you have a great shot at being invited to interview. An outstanding academic record, high GPA, quantitative interest, outstanding standardized test scores, leadership, and a can-do personality can mitigate having attended a college outside of the Top 10. Candidates from non-target schools can most definitely win front office Investment Banking analyst offers–they just need to know what triggers and levers will influence a decision-maker the most to maximize and optimize the chances of making a favorable and lasting impression.
And now to answer the most frequently asked question I get:
Is it true that just one typo on my resume can cost me my chance at an Investment Banking job?
The blunt honest truth is yes, it can BUT it really depends on the reviewer and recruiting team looking at your file, especially if you put them in a position where they need to make a judgment call on a mistake you didn’t catch ahead of time. Indeed, your future career in Investment Banking can hinge on how one person is feeling on a particular day, which can shape how he or she will react to your typo, omission, or misspelling. Catch them in a bad mood, and your shot at getting an interview can be in serious jeopardy; get them on a good day, and you just might squeeze through.
I’ve sat in rooms as a member of the Harvard undergrad and Columbia Business School recruiting teams tasked with deciding who we’d bring in to interview where a typo found on a seemingly great candidate’s resume was immediate cause for that resume to be discredited and discarded. Really tough luck for that person as attention to detail mattered that much to that group I was with and we did in fact pass on what was otherwise an A+ profile.
However, I’ve also been on resume screens where candidates with multiple resume typos were given the benefit of the doubt and still invited for first round interviews. There were other factors influencing that decision that included specific team members advocating leniency based on personal interactions with that candidate during informational meetings and social events. This speaks to the power of networking with insiders can have on your brand and chances of breaking into Investment Banking.