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Recruitment at Investment Banks

Posted by Neeraj Kumar on February 6, 2007

Investment Banks are notorious for their endless working hours and their strict recruitment process. Well, the former is mainly a myth if seen in context whereas the latter is there to ensure selection of candidates who have what it takes to excel – something that Investment Banks thrive on. I will in this post go through the stages a candidate has to go through for graduate positions in Investment Banks. Although I will outline the recruitment stages of Morgan Stanley in UK, it applies to all Investment Banks with some minor details changed which rarely changes the nature of preparation required.

Applications for Graduate hiring for most Investment Banks open in first week of September. Hiring for almost all of them takes place on rolling basis so apply early. However, merely applying early is not going to do the trick as there is no compromise on the criterias!

Some of the major Investment Banks are Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, UBS, JP Morgan, DrKW, Deustche Bank, Citigroup, Lehman Brothers. (For overseas nationals, these firms do apply for your work-permit if you are successful.)

First Stage: Fill online applications. There is no other way to apply. Forms are to be filled at their respective career websites. Online application can take considerable time. At least don’t submit your application in haste. Pay particular attention to the essay type questions which will be your chance to stand out at application stage. Remember, you are as good as you express! Think about the long answers for 3-4 days and refine it everyday. If possible, ask somebody to check your answers. Its no use filling 100s of applications and getting no interviews. It is always advised to concentrate on the quality rather than quantity.

Second Stage: Second stage (apart from Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Deustche Bank) is online tests. Tests will be numerical and verbal. There are numerous practice tests around. Use Google to good effect.

First round of interviews: Morgan Stanley has two set of interviews, personal and technical. Personal interview is about your past experiences, team working and other soft-skills. I will talk in the context of applications to “Technology Division” as far as Technical Interview is concerned. You need to be comfortable in atleast one programming language for Morgan Stanley. They try to gauge scope and depth of your knowledge. Tip: Prepare couple of topics very well and direct the interview in that direction. Increase the scope of your technical knowledge but make sure that you know atleast couple of topics very well.During the interview show eagerness to learn. If there is something that you fail to answer, make sure you ask them the solution. Don’t keep falling over after saying “Yes, I know it!”. Technical interview is something that you can prepare for. Make sure you do it. More often than not, it is also your chance to stand out.

Assessment Center: For Morgan Stanley, it is a one and a half day exercise. For others, generally, it is a day’s process. First afternoon, you are likely to sit for Diagrammatic Reasoning. Make sure you practice these type of questions. They will send you a practice booklet but there are not many questions. It is advised to google for some more practice questions. You might be in for an unpleasant surprise if you don’t prepare for this. Rest of the evening is trip across the magnificent buildings and nice dinner with recent graduates and a senior executive.
Second day starts early. There are four activities. Technical Interview (Yes, another one!), Problem Solving, Role play and team working exercise.

Technical interview: It is pretty much the same. However, you will get different set of interviewers. Again, it might help to show the scope of your knowledge. If there is something that you know, give some sort of hint to direct your interview in that direction.

Problem Solving: You might find this most challenging. You will be provided with a case study. Based on the problem provided in the case study, you will have to ask questions to somebody who will have set of specific information. This exercise will indicate your problem solving skill based on what you thought was important piece of information for you to be able to solve the problem. Your nature of questions also give assessors idea of the level of your understanding of the problem. You will also get some time to make some recommendations and justify it. It will end up with the assessors providing you with missing piece of information, stuff that you were not able to retrieve during your questions round. You will be asked if you will like to change your recommendation in the light of new piece of information. Think, answer and justify. (Note that time-keeping is very important for this exercise. If you use all your time asking questions, you will not have time to prepare your recommendations and even present it!)

Role play: You will be asked to act as a consultant and prepare a recommendation for some sort of project etc’ based on some fictitious case study. You will need to discuss this with somebody who poses as the Project Manager. The idea here is to see how you cope with pressure, your ability to think on your feet etc’. The project manager will dismiss quite a few of your ideas deliberately and ‘act’ harsh. You will need to act calmly and try and come up with rational explanation for your recommendations.

Team Exercise: It is pretty much what you would expect. Tip: Don’t impose yourself, participate, let everybody speak, listen to what everybody says and make sure your participation is constructive!

Note: Please do not ask for specific case studies. It won’t help. Also, preoccupied mind compromises flexibility and your ability to think on your feet which is very important for the process. However, if there are any questions regarding the process itself, feel free to drop a comment. Also, don’t let the rigorous process put you off. Rigour is the only way to ensure selection of candidates who are responsible, accountable and have the aptitude to work in an environment where huge sums and company’s reputation is at stake.

(Please note that Investment Banks are always looking to improve their recruitment process as you would expect. Thus, structure might not remain same every year but, any changes should be minor. But, then it shouldn’t really matter if you have what they are looking for! And finally, opinion expressed in this post is mine and only mine.)

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