Skills and competencies

The skills you need for banking and investment graduate schemes

23 Feb 2023, 17:40

Aiming to develop the competencies investment banks want to see when you apply? You’ll need to go beyond ‘teamwork’ and ‘communication’ to stand out from the crowd.

Piggy bank

Great candidates can all too easily let themselves down by forgetting the obvious.

Investment banks and investment management companies have demanding shopping lists of competencies they seek in graduate scheme and internship candidates. No prizes for guessing the obvious, such as teamwork. You need to know what else employers are looking for and how to prove you’ve got it.

Key banking skill 1: intellect

Clearly you need to be bright for a career in banking or investment, but what specific intellectual skills do recruiters require?

Barclays seeks candidates who can grasp new concepts quickly: ‘People strong in learning agility are sharp and thrive in new and difficult situations.

Grasping and learning new concepts quickly – whether it is a task, assimilating new information or data, managing a project, or meeting a new client – is important when working in an industry such as investment banking.

‘New markets, products, deals and opportunities continually emerge and agile learners are needed to deliver results quickly – even in new situations. A commitment to learning and a hunger for dealing with challenging situations is key.’

Baillie Gifford, meanwhile, highlights the importance of intellectual curiosity – particularly asking the right questions and following the right leads during research. It also looks for broadmindedness , specifically not jumping to conclusions or taking anything at face value.

‘Give us an example of a time when you demonstrated your intellectual ability.’ Banking recruiters do not judge intellectual skills by academic grades alone: they like to see that you can apply your knowledge to practical situations. For example, if you completed an academic team project as part of your degree, it is likely that you divided up tasks. An ‘intellectually curious’ person would not simply complete their own objectives, but would instead take a broader interest in the work of their colleagues, and how their own segment fitted into the whole.

Key banking skill 2: innovation

Also highly prized is the ability to create or identify new opportunities to develop the business.

Morgan Stanley specifically cites entrepreneurial skills as vital, meaning the ability to think innovatively and spot areas for development.

Meanwhile interdealer broker ICAP specifies that applicants must be innovative , with the skills to produce new ideas, approaches or insights and seek opportunities for improvements.

MUFG’s desired skills include ‘professionalism and teamwork’.

‘Give us an example of a time when you were innovative.’ Many firms use processes that have lasted for years but are frequently tweaked to create improvements. Have you done something similar? For example, perhaps your student society was planning on promoting itself via a stall at a student fair. If you said, ‘That’s fine, but why don’t we also give out some freebies to attract people to our stand?’ and went about sourcing suitable items, then you provided a basic innovation to improve society membership and increase awareness among students.

Key banking skill 3: resilience

With a highly pressured working environment to adapt to, banking recruiters need candidates who are resilient.

Barclays’ management and leadership competency includes the ability to work under pressure , such as with impending deadlines and for prominent clients.

M&G Investments’ competencies cover resilience under intense pressure , often in the form of changing deadlines and dealing with new information that comes to light.

‘Give us an example of a time when you showed resilience.’ Tempted to highlight ‘balancing’ the demands of a degree and a part-time job during term-time? Whilst commendable, many of your competitors will say exactly the same thing. Instead, you could talk about a time when you took on board some constructive criticism and worked towards improvement despite your disappointment. A ‘resilient’ person sees a setback as a challenge.

Key banking skill 4: global outlook

Graduates with the ability to operate in an international context are often actively sought, and fluency in more than one language is particularly valued .

  • Barclays' competencies include ‘ willingness to work abroad and language skills ’.
  • Commerzbank stressed that languages are highly valued, particularly German.
  • At Goldman Sachs, many graduate roles require strong linguistic skills .
  • Bank of America recruits graduates with a ‘ global outlook ’.
  • At Nomura, knowledge of a second language and the associated culture , while not essential, is described as ‘well received’.
  • UBS’s competencies include ‘ international experience ’.

‘Tell us about a development in an overseas market that will affect our business and what the effect will be.’ A global outlook is not just about speaking to an international client or partner in their language; it is about being able to relate to them and understand their market. Show you can identify a key event or socioeconomic trend that will affect the markets in another part of the world, and, crucially, say why it will have a knock-on effect on the bank in question.

Other skills investment banks seek

Individual investment banks have their own unique requirements, some of which you might not have thought of.

Among the more unusual are ‘ loyalty ’, listed by Credit Suisse among its competencies, and ‘ presence (authority) ’, sought by Rothschild.

‘Give us an example of a time when you demonstrated loyalty.’ In the banking world much has been made recently of clients coming first. When have you shown that you have put a client before yourself, or built a long-term relationship with them? If you have arranged sponsorship deals for a student society or event, this might give you examples to talk about.

‘Give an example of a time when you demonstrated authority.’ A major pitfall is thinking that authority is all about ‘being the boss’ and ‘being right’. Authority actually stems from respect, and building a rapport with others. Have you had to mediate between two differing viewpoints while still maintaining a team’s respect? Have you had to go out on a limb knowing that accountability for a project rested with you?

At the other end of the scale, great candidates can all too easily let themselves down by forgetting the obvious.

Citi recruiters, for example, bemoan the fact that applicants who have strong academic qualifications and a good understanding of the industry have let themselves down in the past by not showing enthusiasm .

‘Why do you want to work for us?’ Simply stating ‘I would love to be a part of this team’ says nothing to an interviewer. Enthusiasm can be shown by research – you wouldn’t bother researching something and keeping up to date with it if you weren’t genuinely interested in and enthused by it. Mention an aspect of the bank’s work that interests you and find a way to link it to your own skills and experience. Read more about how to answer the ‘Why do you want to work for us?’ question in investment banking applications and interviews.

Other individual requirements to keep in mind include HSBC’s hunt for ‘an outgoing nature ’ and ‘a good level of diplomacy ’.

‘Give us an example of a time when you demonstrated diplomacy.’ Think about an occasion when two sides have disputed something, and you have acted to resolve the issue – acting as a sporting official would be an excellent example.

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