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by Vault Careers | October 03, 2012


With the application process for full-time and summer investment banking internships now underway, you might be asking yourself: What makes a successful candidate?

To join any line of business at a top Wall Street firm, it’s perhaps most important to demonstrate a deep interest in the financial industry, personal drive, and the ability to learn quickly. It’s also important to demonstrate your capability to be entrepreneurial and motivated. In addition, you might also have to be capable of generating ideas and independently analysing business situations. Of course, many investment banking roles require analytical and quantitative skills. So those skills can be essential, too. But that doesn’t mean firms are only looking for business, finance, and math majors. Investment banks recruit from all majors and areas of study, including from the arts and humanities.

On-campus recruiting events 

As for learning more about a specific firm, there’s no better way than to meet its employees. And to that end, on-campus recruitment events will enable you to meet recent graduates and senior leaders at a firm, while learning more about the firm and its career opportunities. At these events, you’ll be able to talk to employees in person and ask questions that matter to you.

Indeed, on-campus recruiting events offer a unique opportunity to meet representatives from all areas of firms’ business lines—and for you to leave a positive impression. To make the most of your interactions, advance preparation is key. Before an event, read about the firm’s line of business that specifically interests you and research it. Establish what you hope to achieve by talking to certain people. Think of how to describe yourself, what you’re studying, and which career you hope to pursue. You might also want to prepare questions ahead of the event. (Typically, details about forthcoming events can be found at your university’s careers service center, or from firms’ career websites.) 

Once you arrive at the event, make a good first impression by being organized and confident. Don’t be afraid to approach people and introduce yourself, and remember that a firm handshake goes a long way. When asking questions, ask concise, relevant questions that require more than yes or no answers. Speak to as many people as possible, from all areas of the firm. This may help you to recognize opportunities in business areas you night have not considered before. 

Cover letters and applications

After a recruiting event, if you decide to apply for a role with a firm, your cover letter is your opportunity to sell yourself, and to distinguish yourself from the hundreds of other applicants. This is the place to state, briefly, why you wish to work at a particular firm, and how your background has prepared you for the challenge. Firms want to know that you’ve done some research on their business and that you understand why you want to join their team.

Filling in your application form is equally important. (An application is sometimes accepted or required in addition to or in lieu of a resume). On your application you should include your expected month and year of graduation, and clearly state your role preference. Make the effort to individualize your form rather than copy and pasting from someone else’s form. If you have no previous financial experience, find alternative ways to demonstrate your interest and aptitude, including other jobs that have required leadership and quantitative skills. Finally, correct contact details are vital. If you make a mistake, a firm might not be able to contact you.

The interview

If your application is successful, and you’re invited for an interview, remember that it’s a two-way process. Firms are interested in learning about you and your achievements, while you have the chance to find out about a firm and its culture. Before your interview, learn as much as you can about a firm. Think about why a career in financial services attracts you. If your interview experience is minimal, attending practice sessions arranged by your university careers service can also help.

At the interview, a great first impression can be made through punctuality; a smart, professional appearance; preparation; confidence; and honesty. When speaking, remember to structure your thoughts and demonstrate your interest by having some questions for your interviewee (or interviewees). You should also be able to discuss topical business issues, and remember that, no matter how well you’ve prepared, you’ll be expected to think on your feet.

The offer

If you receive multiple offers following the various interviews you attend, find out if there’s an offer deadline and inform the recruitment team if you need more time. You should also maintain open, honest communications with all your contacts. And, of course, always be professional in the way you manage your offers.

This post was sponsored by J.P. Morgan

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Banking and finance careers with J.P. Morgan (
Technology careers with J.P. Morgan (



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