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Investment banking: what makes an outstanding candidate?

Lucy Mair speaks to Nomura's Head of IBD Graduate Recruitment, Antonia Choi, about the bank's recruitment process
Investment banking
Applications and interviews

Why should students interested in banking consider a career at Nomura?

Joining Nomura as a graduate is an opportunity to be part of a bank that has a unique story and that is different in many ways to the other investment banks out there. I think the fact that our business is growing, and that we encourage our people to grow alongside it, really sets us apart. The bank also has an interesting history, from its Japanese heritage through to the acquisition of the European arm of Lehman Brothers in 2008.

The progression Nomura can offer to juniors is quite special. New interns and graduates will be given responsibility very quickly, but they'll also be expected to prove themselves. If somebody comes in with an entrepreneurial spirit and a drive to succeed, it will be an extremely rewarding experience for them.

What does the bank look for in graduates?

There's no real prescription for a perfect candidate. We look for the same basic skill set and key competencies that all investment banks will look for, such as problem solving and analytical skills, collaboration, initiative, and leadership skills. Applicants need to make sure they're working towards developing those competencies, through extra-curricular activities that show teamwork, the ability to learn quickly, and achieve. People often ask whether they should be listing things they did at school, or part-time or holiday work they've done in restaurants and bars. I think, if you can show that you have acquired some transferable skills, don't write off an experience just because it isn't directly related to investment banking.

We don't require students to have a background in finance. In fact, we actively recruit across different degree disciplines because it brings a variety of perspectives and mindsets to the bank, which makes for a more creative business. Having said that, you need to be able to demonstrate why you have an interest in finance. It's a competitive industry and the roles are challenging, so you need to prove that you have a natural passion for it.

What is the typical recruitment process for a graduate role at Nomura?

We always recommend that people consider doing an internship first, and the application process is very straightforward. You start with an online application form and test, CV and cover letter. These are then screened, and hopefully you'll be invited to a first-round interview.

The first-round interview contains two elements: one case study interview, and one competency interview. For the case studies, you'll be given 30-45 minutes to prepare, then you'll present the information to the interviewer in a 30 minute session. In the competency interview, you'll be asked a bit more about yourself, your CV, and your motivations for applying. These interviews are conducted by junior bankers, who will have been through the same process just a few years earlier.

If you're successful at the first-round you'll go through to the final stage, which is four competency interviews with senior bankers, so that's a vice president, executive director, or managing director. Again, they'll want to understand your motivations for wanting to work in the industry and at Nomura, and they may also ask some technical and commercial questions.

People are very important to us, so the interviews are our chance to assess whether you'd be a good fit for the bank, from the junior as well as the senior perspective. We want a candidate who would be happy here, as well as someone who our teams would be happy to work with.

How important is it to do an internship?

Internships are very important. They are our preferred method of recruiting, because it's essentially like a ten-week interview where we can spend time getting to know someone, and vice versa. The best candidate for a graduate role at Nomura is someone who has completed an internship and has essentially become a part of the team because they'll have clearly shown us their motivation and hunger for success.

We receive tens of thousands of graduate applications, but the large majority of graduate hires come through the internship programme.

When graduates enter the bank, how can they expect their role to develop?

You'll spend the first two to three years as an analyst developing the basic skillset, honing your technical skills as well as learning about the industry. You'll also be using that time to build your network, to understand our business, and to get to know your specialisation, whether that's an industry, product or region.

Moving on to associate level, you will begin to take on more of a project-management role. Senior bankers will still guide you, but you'll be expected to take responsibility for the work produced by the analysts. Upwards from there, you will be very client-focused and driven to provide creative solutions for them, thereby winning business for the firm.

What application tips do you have for students?

Take the application process seriously and invest the time in getting it right. It's a golden opportunity to start a very exciting, challenging and rewarding career so don't waste it. Interviews aren't there to catch you out so just make sure you've thought about the questions that are likely to come up, and that you're as prepared as possible.