How to answer the most important question on your Investment Banking application

“Why us?” is a very difficult question in investment banking applications. It sounds vague, open-ended, more of an ice breaker than a real searching question. However, it’s the moment you turn a recruiter’s simple curiosity into their avid attention.

The reason for this is twofold. The question itself is designed to find out just how much you actually know about the bank, how passionate about it you are, and how to view the narrative of your application story. Secondly, this question often receives the same cookie cutter response that a thousand other candidates gave when they were overlooking its importance. You have the opportunity to go against the flow - it’s easier to stand out when everyone else is facing in the same direction.

Make it personal

The first rule of your answer to this question is to make it personal, it’s about you. This doesn’t mean you simply have to say “I like this” “I want this”, it means that you have to explain how this banking role fits into your personal story, and use details from your life that apply to you specifically. For example, “my friend invited me to the uni Finance Society and I was hooked by the society’s programme of events” is much better than “I find Finance interesting”.

…But don’t make it all about you

This question wants to find out how much you know about the bank – and what differentiates them from the others. Therefore, bring up your opinion and knowledge on what makes them different even if you’re not explicitly asked for them. The factors which make a bank different usually include things like their product offering and industry practices, but what they really pride themselves on will be their culture. If you can explain convincingly why their culture is suited to your mindset, the battle’s half won. 

Talk about the past

This question is also your chance to demonstrate the research and effort you’ve put into your application. You should have been to talk to the bank’s representatives at careers fairs, attended their presentations, followed their social media updates and kept up to date with their news. Now’s your chance to remind them you’ve done all that, by linking it to the decision process you took. For example, “I first became interested in this bank through the big deal it announced on Bloomberg, but it was meeting the firm reps at the presentation in November which showed me the human side to the firm and convinced me to apply”.

And your future

The recruiters will want to know where you think their programme at their bank is going to fit in with your development and career plans. The usual buzzwords from candidates here are things like “I want a challenge” and “I want to learn”. Unfortunately, I often hear graduates droning on about challenges and learning opportunities, and I’m just thinking, well go on then, climb Mount Everest or go back to school. This isn’t relevant to Finance.

So, make it relevant. Tie your career “wants” to the bank’s ability to give them. Then, in order to prove you really mean you love learning and challenging yourself, draw on examples in your past when you self-taught yourself, or strove beyond what was expected. 

That way, in your answer to why want to work for that bank in particular, you’ve combined using your detailed knowledge of the bank to explain how it can match your plans for the future, with personal examples from your past, in a way which isn’t all about you. You've managed to prove you're invested in working for the bank, that you would flourish there, and that it makes logical sense for you to join it - a powerful argument.