Investment banking offers high salaries and great perks, making careers in the field very attractive to both recent college graduates and experienced finance professionals. Not surprisingly, the investment banking job market is among the most competitive. Here are the qualities that investment banks look for in job candidates.

Intellectual Abilities

“How many jellybeans can fit in the Empire State building?” is an odd job interview question, but the answer can convey something about how the candidate thinks. The interviewer is trying to assess the candidate’s intellectual ability by asking a question that is out of the left field. There's a reason for that.

Key Takeaways

  • New opportunities come from all directions. Investment bankers need to be nimble thinkers.
  • Selling is a big part of the job. Applicants must be skilled at creating and presenting proposals.
  • Leadership potential is key. Even junior employees will own their own projects.

Imagine being an investment banker and meeting a business tycoon. The tycoon starts musing about the potential for selling tractors in India, a country he knows little about. A good investment banker should be prepared to quickly assess the industry, the market, and the business idea, beginning with an estimate of the number of farmers and the amount of farmland in India and an educated guess at the potential market for tractors there.

New business ideas, deals, products, and opportunities come from all directions in investment banking. Candidates should be adept at identifying and exploring them. That takes a nimble intellect.

Analytical Skills

Investment bankers are often required to present detailed analyses of business ventures and investment plans to highly demanding clients. Analytical expertise, in addition to good number crunching and quantitative abilities, are required to present the business plans and the risk-return tradeoffs, and to back it up with facts and figures when challenged.

Communication Skills

The primary job skill of investment banking is persuading and convincing. Selling an idea takes great all-around communication and presentation skills. These include making good spreadsheets, documents, and slideshows.

Management and Leadership Abilities

Investment bankers often start as junior analysts, and candidates are assessed on their long-term potential. In the short- to mid-term, they are assigned complete ownership of a business opportunity, eventually followed by the assignment of an entire region or business segment. Down the line, they may become vice presidents and above, leading business divisions.

Even in an entry-level position, candidates are required to take responsibility, build teams, seek assistance from across multiple internal divisions, and build partnerships with external vendors and partners.

Management and leadership potential is an integral part of the investment banking job.

Entrepreneurial Skills

Investment banking is a key player in merger and acquisition deals, corporate restructuring plans, initial public offerings, and new business capitalization.

The ability to identify business opportunities in new and unusual areas is a requirement of the job. It may involve funding a team of enthusiasts to help build a business from scratch, or spotting growth potential in an existing business.

Networking Skills

Investment bankers need the ability to make connections with people from many industries and various cultures. Candidates should demonstrate the ability to deal with unfamiliar situations and maintain healthy client relationships.

Other Requirements

Investment banks say they look for loyalty, authority, diplomacy, creativity, and high ethical standards. Common interview questions include, “Give me an example of an occasion when you demonstrated loyalty [or authority, diplomacy, or creativity]?” Another common opener is: “Give me an example of when you faced an ethical dilemma, and how did you solve it?”

Fluency in another language is a bonus, and almost any other modern language could come in handy.