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The Only Skills You Really Need To Get A Job In Investment Banking


When you look online for what skills you need to get a job in IB, you always find the same BS answers: teamwork, analytical skills, rigor, blah blah blah. 

These answers are not wrong per say, but they won’t help you GET a job in IB. At best, they will help you keep one once you’re already in. And that’s a major difference… 

There’s a few critical skills that you must possess if your goal is to land a top IB job at a bulge-bracket bank, and these skills are probably not what you expect… 

I’m talking about real-world skills – the “unsexy” skills that will bring you results: interviews and offers. Which is all that matters when you’re looking for a job. 

In this article, I’ll present these skills while being as honest as I possibly can. They don’t sound as good and fancy as “teamwork” or “strong analytical capabilities”, but they get the job done. What I’m bringing you is the truth, and sometimes the truth can be ugly.  

Work on those skills, and I guarantee your job research will be MUCH easier. 

Key skill #1: Ability to make important people like you
Make people like you

We all heard about the importance of networking. But the most important skill, within networking, the one skill that will bring you loads of interviews, is the ability to make influential people like you. 

That’s the whole purpose of networking: having connections that can help you accomplish your goals. But for these connections to be truly helpful, they need to genuinely like you. 

If the head of European M&A at a bulge-bracket likes you, it won’t be too hard for him to refer you to HR, and it won’t be too hard for you to get an interview…

So, how do you make a senior banker like you? The same way you make any human like you:

  • Ask thoughtful questions about the person, and listen attentively
  • Make the person feel important and valued

For those who think this is manipulation, well it kinda is. But so are many things in life where you have to rely on people to reach your goals. What matters is that you’re doing this with good intentions, and that you’re adding value to the other person – by being genuinely curious, listening to her carefully, thanking for her time, etc. 

The value you have to offer as a candidate is mainly emotional value: your job is to make the person feel good, so that she’ll be more likely to help you in return. 

Key skill #2: Ability to tell stories and anecdotes in a highly compelling way to prove your points

If you want to get a job at a top-tier financial institution, you need to be extremely good at telling stories and sharing anecdotes. 

The best candidates are usually excellent story-tellers, who always have a few stories in their pocket to demonstrate a certain trait or skill about themselves. 

They never say “I possess strong leadership skills”. They say: 

“During my first year at uni, I took the initiative to launch an investment club to broaden my understanding of investing and financial markets. I published a post in the school Facebook private group highlighting the benefits of joining this new investment club, and got over 60 applications within two hours. I had calls with nearly all applicants, and selected 12 of them which I thought were a great fit. Then, for nearly a year, I led the team to publish 3 pieces of equity research per week, organized financial training sessions for students interested in finance, and raised our AuM from $10,000 to $27,000 within a year. Today, the club counts 45 contributing members, and is one of the most popular clubs on the campus for students interested in finance.” 

Which answer do you think is the most convincing to prove that this person has great leadership skills? Don’t answer, it’s a rhetorical question! Of course you know that the second one is 100x better. 

Stories always beat facts when it comes to persuasion. And persuasion is what you’re after if you want to succeed in interviews.

Key skill #3: Having a strong foundational knowledge of corporate valuation and financial modeling
Financial modelling

Obviously, you also need to be strong on the technical side if you want to be successful in IB. That includes a fine understanding of corporate valuation, accounting, and financial modeling.

By fine understanding, I don’t mean to know by heart the answer to 458 interview questions that may be asked during the big day. That is a very stupid, counter-productive way of preparing yourself, for reasons I’ve already explained in other articles.

I mean genuinely understand each key financial concept with high clarity, understand how the three financial statements interact with each other, and know how one slight change in one variable of a financial model affects the output. 

If you want to get the best offers, you need to have a fluid, dynamic understanding of the financial technicals on which you’ll be tested during your interviews. Not a rigid one.

For more info on that, see our dedicated interview prep course here

Key skill #4: A willingness to be mentored, and to execute the advice of the mentor

Finally, if you’re aiming for the best of the best, you absolutely need a mentor. I had THREE different mentors before getting my job at Goldman

Each of these mentors taught me several invaluable lessons that will serve me for my whole life, including the “codes” of networking, optimal strategies for interview preparation, how to navigate office politics, how to perform at the highest level consistently, etc. 

If you don’t have a mentor, find one now. Get in touch with experienced people who are in the position you wish to be in, ask them thoughtful questions that will help you follow their paths, and execute their advice rigorously. 

All the candidates that I know who have been extremely successful (who became top analysts at bulge-bracket banks, PE funds, or hedge funds) had at least one mentor at some point. So take this piece of advice very seriously. 

I know you probably heard it time and time again, but this is very true, and having a great mentor gives you massive leverage to progress. 


A word about the author

Aurelian Tran is the founder of Alpha Lane and an ex-Goldman Sachs analyst who has spent 4+ years working in the investment banking industry.

He founded Alpha Lane to help students and young professionals achieve their highest professional ambitions, by securing offers at top-tier financial institutions.