Unique Skills Investment Banks Want in its Graduate Employees

Loyalty, diplomacy, and gravitas. You’ll need to show more than boring old “teamwork” and “communication” skills if you want to nab a graduate scheme in investment banking and management.
The gradsingapore Team

Let’s face it: Everyone thinks they have “good communication skills,” are “team players,” or are “effective problem solvers.” Just take a peek at your friends’ resumes if you don’t believe us. Don’t expect to stand out in the eyes of investment recruiters if you just focus on those old clichés!

Investment banks and investment management companies have demanding checklists of skills they look out for in candidates applying for their graduate or internship schemes. On top of that, each firm also seeks unique traits in candidates that match their corporate culture.

If you have a specific investment employer in mind and want to catch their attention, you’ll need to know some of the unique skills they are looking for, and know how to prove you’ve got them.

Key investment skill #1: Intellect

It goes without saying that investment employers place a lot of emphasis on hiring bright candidates. But what specific intellectual skills are their recruiters actually looking for?

Jane Clark, head of campus recruitment (Europe and Asia) at Barclays, says that Barclays seeks candidates who can grasp new concepts quickly.

“People strong in learning agility are sharp and thrive in new and difficult situations,” she said. “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.”

On the other hand, Deutsche Bank places great emphasis on agile-mindedness – particularly the ability to deduce the right questions to ask when in doubt, and to quickly identify the most appropriate leads to pursue while conducting investment research. Think of it as a Sherlock Holmes-esque approach to problems, where you need to arrive at the right conclusion based on a combination of elimination, deduction, and extrapolation on the finer details.

How to prove it: “Tell us about a time when you demonstrated your intellectual ability.” 

Investment recruiters typically judge intellectual ability by your capacity to apply your knowledge to practical situations. They also want to see whether you are quick enough to catch the bigger picture in such situations.

For example, perhaps you worked on a project during a previous internship together with a team of other interns. An agile-minded person wouldn’t just complete their assigned tasks – rather, they would be able to grasp how the project they are working on affects their employer as a whole and discern how the other interns’ tasks might influence that outcome.

Make sure you demonstrate your ability to act on your deductions too! In the above example, you would ideally take a broader interest in your teammates’ work, and do your best to help them see the best outcome for themselves and reach it. You would also clarify doubts with your supervisor, and make the necessary tweaks as the project moved along.

Key investment skill #2: Innovation

The ability to create or identify new opportunities for the business is yet another highly-valued skill in the eyes of investment recruiters.

Morgan Stanley specifically cites entrepreneurial drive as a key requirement in candidates. This means that their recruiters look for an applicants’ ability to spot areas in need of development, and spy opportunities to profit from such a process.

Interdealer broker ICAP, on the other hand, specifies that candidates must be innovative – with the ability to produce new ideas or insights, and to constantly seek chances to improve existing processes. Likewise, UBS also lists an appreciation of the need to “challenge accepted practices” under one of their seven core hiring competencies.

How to prove it: “Tell us about a time when you were innovative.” 

Many investment firms use processes that have existed for years. However, these processes are frequently tweaked for improvements in accuracy and efficiency. Have you done something similar?

For example, perhaps your student society was going to run a food stand for fund-raising. If you decided that you could attract more people to the stand by running a social media marketing campaign and introducing tiered discounts based on word-of-mouth referrals, then you provided a basic innovation to help your society make more profits!

Key investment skill #3: Resilience

The investment banking and investment management industries are well-known as high-pressure working environments. In order to minimise attrition, investment recruiters need candidates who are resilient.

Barclays makes no secret that they require candidates to have the ability to work under pressure, such as dealing with constant deadlines or catering to prominent – and often imposing – clients, particularly for graduate schemes that are meant to fast-track applicants to management or leadership roles.

Standard Chartered Bank emphasises a need for graduates with the ability to adhere to the highest standards even under intense pressure. This often comes in the form of changing deadlines and dealing with the next bit of new information that comes to light. In fact, employees at the bank will tell you to be prepared to be on call almost 24/7!

How to prove it: “Tell us how you have shown resilience in your life so far.” 

Feeling tempted to talk about “balancing” the demands of your degree programme with extra-curricular commitments and a part-time job? We congratulate you for pulling that off, but the truth is that many of your competitors will probably say the exact same thing.  

Instead, talk about a time when you failed at something or received some constructive criticism over something you could have done better. Then, focus your story on how you worked towards improvement despite your disappointment. At the end of the day, a “resilient” person is one who sees a setback as a challenge for growth.

Key investment skill #4: International outlook

Given how investment work functions across time zones and borders, graduates with the ability to operate in an international context are often in high demand.

Barclays Wealth and Investment Management’s competencies include “willingness to work abroad” and additional language skills.

At Goldman Sachs, close to 50 per cent of the bank’s graduate roles require applicants to demonstrate strong linguistic skills.

On the other hand, the Bank of America Merrill Lynch looks for graduates who can demonstrate a “global outlook”. Proficiency in various Asian languages is also required for certain roles in Asia Pacific.

At Nomura, knowledge of a second language and its associated culture – though not essential – is considered a strong plus. As a Japanese firm, knowledge of Japanese business culture would certainly help as well.

UBS’s recruiters once included “international experience” as a key competency. Though it has since been unlisted, the bank still places plenty of emphasis on the global nature of their graduate job roles.   

How to prove it: “Tell us about a recent development in an overseas market. How will it affect our business?” 

Having an international outlook is not just about speaking to a foreign client or colleague in their language. It’s also about being able to relate to them and understand the market they operate in.

Show recruiters that you can identify a key event or socio-economic trend that will affect the markets in other parts of the world. And, more importantly, make sure you can explain why and how it will affect the organisation’s operations in Singapore.

Other skills that investment employers look for

Individual investment employers can also have more interesting requirements – some of which you might not even think of.

Credit Suisse, for example, looks for the ability to “invoke loyalty in others.” And then there’s Rothschild, which lists “presence” – much like a sense of gravitas and authority – as one of their fundamental skills.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, sometimes otherwise great candidates end up letting the air out of their application bids all too easily by trying too hard to showcase their worth, at the expense of forgetting the basics.

Recruiters at Citi, for instance, bemoan the fact that applicants who have strong academic qualifications or a good understanding of the markets end up letting themselves down by failing to show enthusiasm because they were far too fixated on the technical details instead.

Still, at the end of the day, don’t forget that investment careers are – at their core – very much a client-facing line of work. Don’t neglect to showcase the finer points of your people skills, such as HSBC’s requirements for an “outgoing personality” and “good levels of diplomacy.”