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How to get into banking when you have zero finance experience

You're a second year or third year student who wants to work in finance, but you have no finance experience. Does this exclude you from the race? Not necessarily.  Investment banking is a notoriously competitive career choice, particularly if you don’t have an impressive record of banking internships. But don’t despair. Just because you didn’t get around to applying for Spring Week during your first term at university, it doesn’t mean you have to write off investment banking as a career.

You can still get in, but you'll need to follow the strategies below.

Show you're interested

Firstly, you will need to demonstrate financial literacy. Are you trading on your own account? Or spread betting? Have you joined the finance, investment and trading societies at your college? Are you aware of key issues in the industry? Maybe you could even start blogging about finance? Think about taking some online finance courses to supplement your knowledge.

Differentiate yourself

What makes you different to all the other students who want to work in banking (and who have experience?). Every serious applicant is going to be academically excellent. Make sure you flag additional achievements, including prizes, particularly high grades and relevant projects. You’re aiming to convince the reader that you have what it takes to succeed in a demanding and testing industry.

Show that you have skills that can be transferred

Without a history of finance-related jobs, you’ll need to use your involvement in sports, student societies and part-time or voluntary work to stress your suitability for banking.  Identify examples of situations where you showed the skills banks are looking for:  teamwork, leadership, entrepreneurship, resilience and stamina. Any job shadowing or volunteering will have given you plenty of transferable skills. The same goes for drama groups, travel or college projects and internships.

Let’s say, for example, that you did fencing at university. Did you also have a position on the club committee, organize competitions or train as a referee or coach? Or maybe you enjoyed acting and helped put on a play. Did you fund-raise, manage the accounts or run the publicity? Maybe you were interviewed on local radio or negotiated a money-saving deal on costume hire?

Make notes on anything you’ve done that shows you’re an inspiring presenter or are creative at solving problems, finding shortcuts to solutions or spotting opportunities. What examples do you have of situations where you’ve shown initiative, leadership and team work? Write them down. The same goes for demonstrations of numeracy, analysis, attention to detail and time management in your project work.

Interests that show your strength of character and resilience are also impressive. Competitive sports and high energy activities (think mountain climbing or long-distance cycling) are a plus.

Banks also like to think they're hiring entrepreneurs. So, have you (for example), set up your own eBay business, university society, or IT support firm? If you’ve proven yourself in another field – show it. You can’t just say you're good; you need to give concrete examples.

Know where you want to work and use the right language to reference it

A computer will read your CV first. If your CV doesn’t contain the right kind of keywords for your chosen position, you’ll struggle to get past the computer's "applicant tracking system." You'll need to have a comprehensive understanding of the banking job you're applying for. It will help, too, if you also understand the phrases that apply to it. If you make it to interview you'll be asked some very detailed questions about the role.

Drop the clichés 

No one's going to be impressed by a CV that says you're innovative and have a strong work ethic. Instead, start your CV by adding two or three bullet points highlighting the strengths you have that are relevant to the role. As the CV progresses, you'll need clear bullet points emphasizing tangible, quantifiable achievements. Use active verbs in the past tense.  This makes your CV easy to read and shows your clean, uncluttered and decisive approach.

Get the basics right

Triple check everything. Make sure the formatting is consistent, with clear headings and sub-headings and the same font throughout. No one's going to be impressed by a CV that's littered with mistakes.

Victoria McLean is the founder and CEO of City CV, a London-based CV writing service. She was previously a recruiter at Goldman Sachs and the equities division of Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

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AUTHORVictoria McLean Insider Comment

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