Investment Banking & Investment Management

Unique Skills Investment Employers Want in Graduate Employees

Vying for a spot in your dream investment employer’s graduate scheme? You’ll need to prove that you have more than just the usual “teamwork” and “communication skills”!
The gradsingapore Team
The gradsingapore Team
Unique Skills Investment Employers Want in Graduate Employees

Let’s face it. Every candidate applying for a highly competitive graduate scheme in the field of investment banking and investment management is going to add the old reliable “good communication skills”, “able to work in a team” and “problem-solving skills” to their resume. With that in mind, if you’re looking to truly stand out as an outstanding candidate, relying on those old clichés won’t get you anywhere!

So what then? For starters, take a look at your own skill set, and if you have any that you think will benefit your prospective employers, be sure to bring them to attention. Alternatively, you can look to the demanding checklist of skills and traits companies in this sector have when it comes to ideal candidates, and focus on the more unique ones.

Here are some specifics, and how you can prove that you’ve got them!

Key skill #1: Intellect (agile thinking)

Why: In the investment banking and investment management industry, new opportunities can come from anywhere – from investing in technology start-ups to a company looking to sell farming tractors in Cambodia.

Moreover, bright, hardworking candidates are usually able to apply their knowledge to practical areas, as well as have better problem-solving skills.

What: The type of intellect employers usually prefer are in analysis, economics, finance and mathematics. Moreover, because selling and buying securities is a big part of any investment role, candidates must also have the intellectual curiosity to delve deep into their area of specialty, and do up unique proposals for clients and present them, fast.

Companies who look for it: During the recruitment process, Barclays looks for candidates who are “agile learners” and “relationship navigators”.

On the other hand, Deutsche Bank onboards applicants who have an entrepreneurial streak, and are able to thrive in a culture of agile thinking and innovation. They also prefer candidates who are able to ask the right questions when they’re in doubt. In the investment context, the ability to quickly identify the most appropriate leads while conducting research is emphasised.

Likewise, Third500, though a smaller, more niche firm, seeks candidates who are able to offer solutions to clients that “broaden investment opportunities, expand access to financing and maximise value”.

Questions recruiters may ask: Most of the time, recruiters and interviewers will broach this topic and judge your intellectual ability by asking a question like, “Tell us about a time when you demonstrated your intellectual ability”.

Similar questions include: “How do you think you can improve the firm and yourself?” as well as “Give an example of how you solved a problem quickly, without any help”.

How to answer: When recruiters ask this question, they’re looking to see whether you’re quick enough to catch the bigger pictures in such situations. Thus, the way you can prove your intellectual ability to them would be to indicate how during an internship, you clarified doubts with your superior, and managed to discern how your tasks, as well as fellow interns’ tasks, affected your employer.

Keep in mind: You can further demonstrate your ability to act on your deductions by explaining how you took an interest in the other interns’ work, and how you helped them reach their best potential.

A seemingly unrelated question: If the recruiter suddenly asks, “How many packs of Mentos do you think can fit into Marina Bay Sands?”, don’t feel too alarmed. As odd and completely left field as it seems, this strange question is actually a tactic to gauge your thinking skills and leadership potential.

How to answer: Your recruiter isn’t looking for how you use your intellect to quickly evaluate how many packets you would approximately need. Rather, they want to see if you’re able to defend the number you give out, and convince them that it’s correct.

Did you know? Agile thinking has been likened to a Sherlock Holmes-esque approach to problems, where you need to arrive at the right conclusion based on a combination of factors, such as deduction, elimination and extrapolation of the finer details.

Key skill(s) #2: Innovation and/or creativity

Why: Because the investment banking and investment management sector is bound by numerous rules and regulations, employers need smart bankers and managers who are able to come up with solutions for clients that are both within structural confines, as well as in both the client and bank’s interests.

Innovative and/or creative employees also have a higher chance of contributing to a firm’s long-term success, from coming up with new products to better serve clients, to positively impacting internal practices to ensure productivity continues to improve.

What: As key skills sought-after by most employers (including Deutsche Bank), innovation and creativity are defined as the intangible and instinctive ability to analyse and approach problems from multiple angles, and propose the best solution(s) accordingly.

Companies who look for it: Considered one of Singapore’s top employers, OCBC Bank encourages “fresh ideas” from all its employees, whether they’re from a fresh graduate or veteran professional. Investment banking giant Morgan Stanley also welcomes innovators, as does UBS, with the latter seeking to foster innovation among employees. It’s even included as part of their three pillars of company culture!

If you’re looking to join a smaller firm, interdealer broker ICAP specifies that applicants must be able to provide “innovative products and services”. Similarly, investment management company Chartered Investment Managers relies on the ingenuity of their employees to provide clients with “innovative solutions”.

Questions recruiters may ask: Majority of the time, recruiters will phrase questions plainly, such as “Tell me of a time when you were innovative”, or “Describe a time when you thought of a better way to get things done”.

Alternatively, they may ask something like “What’s your thought process when you’re coming up with new ideas and solutions?”

How to answer: If you’re asked the first two questions, explain how you identified areas of improvement and how you revised processes there to boost production.

For the third question, recruiters want to get an idea of how you generate ideas and implement them in a practical way. Give your interviewer a clear explanation of how you look at different angles, and strategise accordingly rather than just waiting for inspiration.

When giving an answer to any of these questions, don’t be afraid to give real examples, such as when you changed a course of action in group projects, or even when you provided feedback to raise efficiency in company procedures during an internship.

A seemingly unrelated question: You might get something like, “What external factors may impact our industry over the next five years?” Despite what you think, this question isn’t unrelated, because recruiters use this question to gauge how you use your creativity and innovation to ideate solutions that can help you navigate future challenges.

How to answer: The true intention of this question is to see how much you understand the current and emerging challenges of the investment banking and investment management sector, as well as how it can affect the firm – and you by extension – on a micro level.

Keep in mind: Recruiters will be looking for how you can link these challenges to their company in a practical way, and if you can meet these obstacles with a positive, forward-thinking growth mindset that can benefit the firm in terms of adaptability and innovative solutions.

Did you know? Most investment banks and fund houses use processes that have existed for years, but which are frequently tweaked for improvements in accuracy, efficiency and effectiveness. Because of this, they need candidates who are willing to challenge the norm, whether by further developing current processes or coming up with entirely new ones.

Key skill #3: Resilience

Why: The investment banking and investment management industry is renowned for its long working hours and high-pressure environments. So, in order to minimise attrition, investment banks and fund houses need to identify, and hire, resilient applicants.

Moreover, graduates who show higher resilience levels tend to also come with honed skills in adaptability and problem-solving. Most also have better self-awareness and emotional intelligence.

What: You might have heard of resilience, but there’s also career resilience. The latter is described as the strength to learn about work-related challenges, as well as tackle them effectively in order to achieve your goal.

On the other hand, resilienceis the ability to adapt to unplanned events, and quickly recover and bounce back when things don’t go as planned.

To succeed in the investment banking and investment management sector, you’ll need both.

Companies who look for it: Because investment management firm Lazard relies on the “strength of [their] ideas in a dynamic global marketplace”, as well as providing clients with the “highest levels of integrity, discretion and professionalism”, they need resilient candidates who can perform up to their expectations.

Similarly, Standard Chartered Bank’s mission is to make a difference in the world. As such, they look for graduates who are able to “tackle some of society’s greatest challenges”.

In the investment banking arena, Barclays makes it no secret that they need candidates who can work under immense pressure, such as dealing with constant – and occasionally changing – deadlines, as well as large and imposing clients.>

Questions recruiters may ask: Questions include more straightforward ones like, “If you come across a setback, how do you deal with it?”, “How do you normally cope with pressure?” and “Tell us how you’ve shown resilience in your life so far”.

A more roundabout question with the same goal in mind is, “Tell me about a time when a project you were working on didn’t turn out as well as you hoped. What did you learn from it?”

How to answer: Be truthful and authentic when discussing past mistakes or outbursts, whether they’re blunders from group projects or during your internship. The most important thing is that you also explain how you dealt with it and learnt from the experience. This can include taking some time off to reflect on your words and actions, along with how you could have done better, or asking for constructive criticism to help yourself improve.

Keep in mind: Interviewers don’t ask these questions to watch you squirm – they understand that no one likes reliving past bad experiences! Instead, they want to assess how you would most likely react to tough times in the workforce, such as tight deadlines.

A seemingly unrelated question: On occasion, recruiters have been known to ask something along the lines of, “Have you made a dream of yours come true?” There’s no need to pick the most relevant dream you made into reality – it can be any dream, from saving up enough money on your own to enjoy a nice vacation in Thailand, to finishing up a basic language course for your chosen third language.

How to answer: Explain the true grit behind your journey in chasing your dream. It can be creating a to-do checklist to keep yourself on track, maintaining the perseverance to follow through on the checklist and even accepting the opportunity cost, such as pumping your internship paycheques into plane tickets or language classes.

By asking this question, recruiters are also able to assess your outlook towards life, like whether you’re a realist or pessimist, and whether you mind putting in the elbow grease to make your dreams come true.

Did you know? Recruiters aren’t looking for perfect candidates or superhumans who remain unaffected by stress. So feel free to delve into relevant times of difficulty, and share how your coping mechanisms helped you maintain a positive outlook. After all, a resilient person is one who sees setbacks as challenges for growth!

Key skill #4: An international outlook and open-mindedness

Why: The investment banking and investment management industry is one of the most globalised sectors in the world, spanning timezones and borders. Because of this, employers prefer graduates who understand different cultures and societies, and are open-minded enough to learn about them, as well.

These types of applicants also tend to have better relationship-building skills, which are vital in engaging, and maintaining, a company’s clientele.

What: An international outlook is the ability to embrace diversity, appreciate different cultures and look through various perspectives to identify potential areas of growth, whether its economic growth or strategic alliances.

Companies who look for it: Global financial services group Nomura seeks to connect markets from the East and West, and thus value candidates who can bring a variety of perspectives to the table. As most of the firm’s assets are in Japan, knowledge of the culture, as well as some understanding of the language, is a huge boon. Similarly, Rothschild looks for candidates who are proficient in at least two languages.

On the other hand, most of the graduate roles at Goldman Sachs requires candidates to show strong linguistic skills, as well as demonstrate an understanding of global affairs. Houlihan Lokey, however, needs employees who can work with “global resources”.

Questions recruiters may ask: Sometimes, questions will centre around examples like, “Describe a time you worked with individuals from different countries and cultural backgrounds”. They might even flip it around into, “Describe when you observed culturally insensitive behaviour”!

Other times, they may go along with “Tell us about a recent development in an overseas market. How will it affect our business?”

How to answer: When responding to these questions, draw on real experiences you had to show off your skills and experience in the area. Don’t be afraid to use the STAR Method as a template, and keep in mind that you can derive your examples from internships and even group projects in school!

For the second question, demonstrate to recruiters your ability to identify a key international event or socio-economic trend, and how it’ll affect markets in other parts of the world. Most importantly, explain why and how you think it’ll affect Singapore’s markets.

Keep in mind: Because investment banks and fund houses typically draw on an international talent pool, they need applicants who not only understand cultural differences, but are able to adapt accordingly.

Did you know? Having an international outlook and open-mindedness isn’t just about being able to speak a few languages – it’s also about being able to relate to different cultures and nationalities, as well as understand their market.

Other skills investment employers look for

Why: Because of their vast range of investment portfolios and different target audiences, some employers have interesting skills requirements.

Examples: Credit Suisse prefers those with the “strong will to go the extra mile”, while Rothschild looks for candidates with “sound, trustworthy judgement”.

On the other hand, Citi prefers enthusiastic applicants, and usually onboards those who show that they not only have the qualifications for the job, but the passion to match it, too.

As for HSBC, they lean towards candidates who are outgoing and bold enough to “be visible and lead by example”.

Use this list as a foundation to boost your list of skills. Then, look further to other in-demand skills to further get a leg up on your competitors. All the best!