Everyone thinks they have “good communication skills”, are “team players”, or are “effective problem solvers”. A peek at another’s resume will tell you just that. So don’t expect to stand out in the eyes of recruiters if you just focus on those old clichés!
Companies in the banking and investment industry have demanding checklists of skills they look for in candidates applying for their graduate or internship schemes. On top of that, each firm also seeks unique traits in applicants that match their corporate culture.
If you have a specific employer in mind and want to catch their attention, you’ll need to know what they’re keeping an eye out for, and how to prove you have what they want.
It goes without saying that employers place a lot of emphasis on hiring bright, motivated candidates. But what specific intellectual skills are recruiters actually looking for?
Jane Clark, former Group Head of Graduate Resourcing and Development at Barclays, says that banks seek applicants 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’s 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,” she said.
“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 a greater 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 research. It’s something like 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.”
Recruiters typically judge intellectual ability by your capacity to apply your knowledge to practical situations. They also want to see whether you’re 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’ll also be able to grasp how the project they’re 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 a better outcome for themselves and reach it. You would also clarify doubts with your supervisor, and make the necessary tweaks as the project moved along.
The ability to create or identify new opportunities for the business is yet another highly-valued skill in the eyes of employers.
Morgan Stanley specifically cites entrepreneurial drive as a key requirement in candidates. This means that their recruiters look for an applicant’s ability to spot areas in need of development, and spy opportunities to profit from such a process.
Interdealer broker, ICAP, on the other hand, stipulates that hopefuls must be innovative, with the ability to not only produce new ideas or insights, but to also 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 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 instance, 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’ve provided a basic innovation to help your society make more profits!
Because this industry is well-known for its high-pressure working environments, to minimise attrition, recruiters need graduates who are highly resilient.
Barclays makes it no secret that they require applicants who have the capacity to work under pressure, such as dealing with constant deadlines or catering to prominent – and often imposing – clients. This is especially true for graduate schemes that are meant to fast-track candidates to management or leadership roles.
Standard Chartered Bank emphasises a need for those 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 at almost all times of the day!
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 extracurricular commitments and a part-time job? Congratulations are in order for pulling that off, but the truth is that many of your competitors will probably say the exact same thing. So, what should you focus on, then?
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 initial disappointment. At the end of the day, a “resilient” person is one who sees a setback as a challenge for growth.
Given how banking and investment work functions across time zones and borders, applicants with the ability to operate in an international context are often in high demand.
Barclays Wealth and Investment Management’s competencies include a “willingness to work abroad”, alongside additional language skills. At Goldman Sachs, close to 50 per cent of the bank’s graduate roles require hopefuls to demonstrate strong linguistic skills.
On the other hand, the Bank of America Merrill Lynch looks for candidates who can demonstrate a “global outlook”. Proficiency in various Asian languages is also required for certain roles in the Asia Pacific.
At Nomura, knowledge of a second language and its associated culture – though not essential – is also considered a strong plus. After all, as a Japanese firm, knowledge of Japanese business culture would be extremely beneficial to them.
UBS’s recruiters once included “international experience” as a key competency. While the company still finds candidates with international experience to be appealing, it’s no longer a necessary requirement, and 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.
Individual 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 careers in this sector are – at their core – very much a client-facing line of work. So 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”.