How to Apply the 80/20 Rule to Your Recruiting Efforts and Get Into Investment Banking with 1/10 the Effort

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80_20_rule“Pls add periods to all sentences. Pls change spacing to single-spacing everywhere. Change all heading fonts to size 16 everywhere. Have on my desk by morning. Thx.”

You spend a lot of time on useless tasks in investment banking.

I get questions on how you can be more “efficient” – but it’s almost impossible, because you have to do whatever your superiors demand.

The closest you can come to “efficiency” is right here – and it’s more about slacking off and tricking people rather than being “efficient.”

But it is possible to make your recruiting efforts more efficient – by applying the 80/20 rule.

Definitions

For most events, 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

This applies to anything from business to personal matters:

  • 80% of your profits come from 20% of your customers.
  • 80% of your time is spent with 20% of your friends.
  • 80% of your recruiting results come from 20% of your time and effort spent on recruiting.

And it applies in the negative as well:

  • 80% of your frustrations are caused by 20% of your customers.
  • 80% of your stress is caused by 20% of your “friends.”
  • 80% of your time spent on recruiting helps you achieve only 20% of your results.

In some cases, it’s even more skewed: the ratio might be 90/10 or even 99/1.

We’re going to use the 80/20 Rule to make your recruiting efforts more efficient in 2 ways:

  1. What is the 80% that contributes almost nothing? Cut this.
  2. What is the 20% that helps you? Focus on this.

The Rules

  1. Often the tasks that require the most time or money are the least important.
  2. The amount that you worry about something is inversely proportional to how important it is. You should be more worried about what you’re NOT worried about.
  3. If something is not immediately actionable, ignore it.
  4. Focus on output rather than input. Most “news” and information online is useless and a waste of time to consume.
  5. “Batch” your tasks as much as possible so that you spend 1-2 focused hours on recruiting each day rather than being in “The Grey Zone” constantly where you’re multi-tasking and getting nothing done.
  6. No matter what you do, it still takes time and effort to break into finance. You can’t go from unknown school and no work experience to Goldman Sachs investment banking in 30 minutes.

The 80% That Doesn’t Matter

Warning: if you were “offended” when I said the CFA was not a good use of time when breaking into investment banking, stop reading right here. You’re about to get a lot more “offended.”

Revising Your Resume 533 Times

This is (one of) the reasons I stopped resume editing on this site: people were spending too much time on irrelevant details – like whether to end sentences with periods, what font to use, and minor wording tweaks that no one cares about.

This one poster on WallStreetOasis summed it up pretty well:

“This board is always full of requests for fine tweaks to resumes, everyone hoping that rephrasing this one bullet is going to land them the job they’ve always wanted.

That’s all great, and hopefully we are helping some people, but here’s the hard truth that nobody tells you guys: It doesn’t really matter.

If you really want to improve your chances, try to network with someone in the group BEFORE they see your resume, that way when your 15 seconds comes, they might actually recognize you as more than “Mid-tier Private School, 3.6, BB IB Internship.”

If you have a top school on your resume, an internship at a bulge bracket bank, and a good GPA you will get interviews even if your resume sucks.

Yes, if you don’t have that background you need to put in a bit more work, but 1-2 revisions at MOST are all that’s necessary.

Forget about minutiae, whether you should say “Directed” or “Led”, and how you should align dates.

Solution: Write an initial version of your resume using the university student investment banking resume template or investment banker resume template on this site, modifying them where necessary. Then, have a friend help with 1-2 revisions and leave it at that.

99% of the benefits come from 1) Using the right template to begin with, and then from 2) The first 1-2 revisions.

If you’re debating word choices and whether you should use a semi-colon or a comma, STOP!

Obsessing Over Technical Interview Questions

It’s “easy” to practice technical interview questions: just get a friend in banking to quiz you on every single technical topic, ranging from the obscure to the truly obscure.

But it doesn’t matter past a certain point. No matter how much you study, you’re never going to master every single possible technical question, because interviewers can always create new ones.

Do you understand the concepts? Do you know intuitively how to value a company, and how accounting works?

Focus on the concepts rather than memorizing thousands of questions – you need to think on your feet in interviews and reason your way into answers even when you’ve never heard the question before.

Solution: Spend some time learning these concepts and practicing the essential questions, but don’t waste days surfing the Internet trying to find every single “advanced” question – or begging your friends in banking to help you all the time.

Going Through 25 Practice Interviews and Scripting Out Your Answers

Why not just script out every single answer and memorize them word-for-word?

Because you sound unnatural and interviewers pick up on it instantly. I can tell within 5 seconds if someone has “rehearsed” their answer to a question and memorized what to say.

Have a few “stories” in mind that you can use in multiple questions and have a solid idea of what you’re going to say for your “tell me about yourself” and “why investment banking” questions – but never memorize exact answers. Over-preparation is a bigger mistake than under-preparation.

Solution: It’s worthwhile to do 1 or 2 practice interviews, but the best “practice” is the real thing: schedule interviews with places you don’t care about first so you can practice for the ones that matter later on.

Getting Certifications Just to Get the Certifications

Most of the negative commentors on the article about why the CFA is a poor idea missed the point entirely.

It’s not that the CFA – or other certifications – don’t help you at all. And it’s not that they teach you nothing.

It’s that the time required would be much better spent elsewhere.

Hedge fund managers may “like” to see the CFA on your resume. But what helps more with getting into a hedge fund – experience at Goldman Sachs and Harvard Business School, or an exam?

Or even better yet, talking to people in the industry and building your network?

If you’ve already taken some of these exams, you can keep them on your resume. And if work or school requires you to take them, go ahead.

But having conversations with even 10 bankers is a better use of time than spending 10 hours on certifications.

Solution: If your goal is to get into investment banking / front-office finance positions, spend your time elsewhere – unless you’ve already networked with hundreds of people and have absolutely nothing else to do.

Arguing on Message Boards

What better way to take out your frustrations than by arguing online with anonymous people?

Does the San Francisco office ask interview questions similar to other offices, or is it completely different? Just how many people got offers as interns this year? What’s the MOST prestigious office ever?

Who cares?

None of it is actionable, and most of it is hearsay. Browsing these sites looking for that one magic bullet that’s going to get you into finance is also a waste of time.

Solution: Check your favorite sites and message boards once a week to see if anything interesting or relevant came up. But don’t spend your free time consuming non-actionable information.

Worrying About How to Round Your GPA

I had a question once about rounding your GPA from a 3.44 to a 3.5 and whether or not the person would get their offer rescinded for doing this, and I almost started laughing.

Is this what people at Ivy League schools do these days? Worry about decimal points?

Just make a decision and go with it. Unless you’re completely lying and saying you have a 4.0 when you’ve been doing cocaine and skipping all your classes to get a 2.0 GPA, you’ll be fine.

Solution: See the guidelines here and remember that this doesn’t matter assuming you have an inkling of common sense.

Reading News Sites and Checking Facebook/Twitter/Email Constantly

Sometimes people are surprised when I tell them I never read the news.

(They get even more perplexed when I try to answer that boring “What do you do?” question.)

If you’re going through interviews you need to have an idea of what’s going on with economic news and recent deals – because you’ll be asked about it.

But don’t spend all day doing this. Otherwise you’ll be in a perpetual “Grey Zone” where you’re not really working, not really studying, and trying to multi-task while “preparing for interviews.”

Avoid the Grey Zone!

Solution: Limit your news consumption to once per day, preferably at the end of the day so you don’t get distracted when you first wake up.

Spend 20 minutes looking for items of interest. To prepare for deal discussions or “recent event” discussions in interviews, read 2-3 articles on the topic in the WSJ or FT and sketch a 3-4 point outline of what you’re going to say.

Doing Activities Just to Seem Impressive

Who do you think you’re fooling when you create that laundry list of activities? Does it mean anything to be Vice President of 12 student clubs?

No one cares about any of this – when a banker scans your resume, he looks at where you’ve worked and where you went to school.

Unless you’ve done something very impressive with an activity, joining these groups to pad your resume is a poor idea.

Solution: Focus on depth rather than breadth with activities. It’s more impressive to start 1 organization that makes a big impact than to join 20 just for the titles.

Networking with People Who Don’t Like You

As you’ve probably guessed, networking is part of the 20% that matters.

But “networking” in the generic is not useful. You need to focus on your highest-probability “leads” – those contacts most likely to help you.

If you’ve ever been to a speed dating event, you know that some people are just poor matches and always will be. But at least you can discern who’s hot and who’s not in 5 minutes and then move onto the next person.

With networking, though, you might make the mistake of continuing to follow-up with someone who doesn’t care about you.

But remember, it’s not persistence alone that’s good – it’s persistent adaptation. Be like Rocky.

Solution: Yes, reach out to as many people as you can – but focus your follow-up on those who are most receptive.

And “batch” your efforts so that you don’t spend 15 minutes calling someone, then an hour watching TV, then 5 minutes emailing someone, then 10 minutes stalking your ex on Facebook – allot 1-2 focused hours each day for networking.

The 20% That Matters

The list is shorter than you might expect, and that’s a good thing. Minimalism is an underrated virtue in a culture that values more, more, and even more even when it’s pointless.

SOME Preparation

Yes, you do need to spend some time preparing your resume and reviewing topics for interview questions.

But don’t go crazy with it.

Make an initial version using a solid template, do 1-2 revisions, and then go through a few practice interview sessions.

If you have no finance background, you may have to spend time learning the concepts.

That’s fine, but you need to do it efficiently – rather than reading books, either get a friend who knows his stuff to teach you, or go through a program specifically designed to be a finance/accounting crash-course.

Don’t script out or memorize your answers, and if you find yourself saving version 77 of your resume STOP RIGHT NOW.

Your “Story”

This is one of the most neglected parts of the recruiting process. You can’t do anything concrete to prepare for it, and going through books, training, or getting certifications won’t help you with your story.

But it’s essential not only for interviews, but also for networking – you better have something credible to tell people when you call them and explain why you’re interested in finance.

You don’t need to spend days or weeks developing your story, but you do need to run it by friends in the industry to make sure it doesn’t put them to sleep or confuse them.

How to properly craft your “story” is a completely separate topic, but you can look at these articles for some guidance – with more coming soon.

Just remember that having non-clichéd reasons for going into the field is far more important than date alignment on your resume.

The Right Kind of Networking

You can make a couple big mistakes that cost you time with networking:

  1. You might spend too much time trying to “develop relationships” with people who don’t like you or who can’t help you.
  2. You might try to follow-up based on some arbitrary timetable and attempt to contact everyone once a week, or once every 2 weeks… leading to a lot of pointless emails and 0-value communication.

Cast a wide net and reach out to a lot of contacts – but it’s almost impossible to “stay in touch” with hundreds of people. Focus on the ones who seemed most helpful.

And you shouldn’t feel pressured to follow-up every week, 2 weeks, 3 weeks, or any other schedule. Yes, try to keep the conversation going by asking questions at least once every few months, but it’s more important to have a good reason why” when following up.

Solution: Reach out to a lot of people, but focus on the ones that will help you most. Move to in-person meetings and/or weekend trips rather than relying on the phone/email – meeting in-person is always better. Follow-up when you have something real to ask about, and if you want their help getting an interview, ASK FOR IT.

Anyone you contact knows you want a job so it’s silly to trade 500 email messages before getting to the point. Make a good first impression, follow-up once or twice, and when it gets to be recruiting season, ask how you can best position yourself for an interview.

Shouldn’t It Be Harder Than This?

If you want to make your life miserable you could do plenty of extra work.

Why not also take 10 classes to boost your GPA by 0.02 and go through 5 certifications and exams as well? That way you could sleep only 2 hours per night and boost your recruiting chances by 0.01%!

But you’re better served by spending 90% of your time networking and 10% on “preparation.” If you do this properly and actually stay focused, this might take 10-15 hours each week over a couple months.

You can go beyond this if you’re in a time crunch or haven’t networked at all yet, but it’s not always necessary.

So what do you do with the rest of your time?

For starters, slow down. Not every single minute of your day needs to be filled with information overload, work, or constant motion.

And if you don’t believe me, just take a trip to Buenos Aires… and take a siesta while you’re at it.

About the Author

is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys learning obscure Excel functions, editing resumes, obsessing over TV shows, and traveling so much that he's forced to add additional pages to his passport on a regular basis.

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58 Comments to “How to Apply the 80/20 Rule to Your Recruiting Efforts and Get Into Investment Banking with 1/10 the Effort”

Comments

  1. Student says

    How much do cover letters matter if…
    1) You already have an interview
    2) You know someone at the firm and may get one
    3) A firm is coming on campus and has yet to decide if you will be on the interview list
    4) You are applying randomly to smaller firms

    • says

      Very little / effectively 0 in all those cases except for maybe #4. Some small firms actually read cover letters but most larger places just ignore them.

  2. YH says

    Is 3.5 generally the minimum threshold? And does a 3.7 give an applicant a much higher advantage than someone with a 3.5 or is the difference minimal?

    • says

      I mean 3.7 probably helps a bit more than 3.5 but I really don’t think it makes a huge difference. Not worth spending hundreds of hours trying to fix. And yes, usually 3.5 is the minimum where they’ll say, “Ok this person is fine.”

  3. MJ says

    I understand that you want to dedicate time to talk with people over the phone – but it is quite difficult if you are working during the day. Is it alright to try and talk on the weekends? Or maybe just try and ask for that lunch break you usually work through?

  4. Negrão says

    Let´s say that you send a “good” cover letter and a Resume (with I-Bank experiece) to a Boutique, and the Boutique doesn’t gives you any answer.
    [You know you fit on the profile of an analyst position, becouse other firms has answered you saying that they like your profile but at the moment there’s no vacancy.]
    Should I made contact again, (after 2 months) with the boutiques that never answered my first email? I sent the email straight for the Partners.

    • says

      I would always call rather than emailing. Maybe email once initially, and then follow-up in a week if you haven’t heard anything.

      You have to be VERY persistent with cold-calling to get results – I’d recommend allotting a slot each day or each week specifically to cold-call firms and follow-up with ones where you haven’t heard back yet.

      • Negrão says

        tks. I’ll definitely do that…
        This period of finding THE investment bank job is driving me crazy…

        Persistent is the word.

        Thanks for your website and your attention.

  5. Mike T says

    When should you begin the process of looking for a summer internship if you’re going to be a freshman? Also, when is the deadline and when do they give offers? Thanks

    • says

      It’s almost impossible to get an internship if you’re that young but start in the late fall maybe… usually offers are given out in the winter but again as a freshman you’re just not going to get a banking internship.

  6. Emily says

    I have a question-

    I am a Cornell Engineering grad student with a 3.3 GPA (which I am told by friends who work for investment banks is good). Last summer I worked at a bulge bracket in sales and trading as a summer associate, and the previous summer I worked in wealth management. I think that I belong in an analyst job as I am only 22. Should I list my summer associate position as a “summer intern” position since I do not feel that I am either qualified or likely to get a full time associate position to make recruiters more likely to pull my resume for full time analyst positions?

    Thanks, I appreciate the advice

  7. soph says

    Hi, im a sophomore at a top 50 undergrad, public in northeast, fin & econ 3.6. I have summer intern experience with name brand private wealth management regional office, and at a smaller investment advisory/asset management firm in nyc.

    What jobs I should aim for next summer that will impress recruiters and bankers the following year when im going for summer IB analyst and land me the interview (esp. up against ivies). I know the soph rotational programs would be best but.. what else do you think? What would do more than just give you some professional experience or put a good name on your resume?

    I have heard operations or compliance at a BB? I dont feel like PWM really does much. Those are both really just for the names and a bit of prestige. Skill set and work is barely related. I’m trying to intern at a PE doing some research and marketing/presentations, prob some administrative work.

    I can’t do much within the year to improve my credentials so I focus on networking, but I feel like there’s got to be something that might really help me out. Let me know what you think.

    • says

      I would either go for a rotational program at a bulge bracket, or go for PE/banking/hedge fund experience at a smaller, local firm. Either one of those would help more than PWM or back-office work.

  8. z says

    Hi,

    What are your thoughts on resigning without a job and applying full force?

    In my current boutique IB, I’m being forced to work on corporate banking/loans due to zero deal flow, and apart from that the culture is extremely horrendous and demoralizing. Furthermore, it is very hard to go on leave/sick leave to attend interviews.

    Any comments at all? Ppl in Asia seem to believe that it is nonsensical to resign without a job on hand.

    thx.

    in a dilemma

    • says

      Honestly I would not do it unless you have a very large pile of cash saved up and can last for quite a long time. It has taken most friends close to a year to find another job in this market.

      That said, if it really is as horrible as you describe and you’ve already done some networking/interviewing, it’s worth a shot – but I would make sure you have enough cash saved up to last at least 6 months.

      • z says

        Thanks. Assuming finance is not an issue, what is your view in terms of the possible gap on the resume?

        How would you suggest to best answer this issue in interviews?

        Really appreciate it. Thks.

  9. JX says

    Thanks for this. The principles you discuss here apply not only to getting an investment banking job, but also to other kinds of employment situations. Indeed, the commentary about grey zones is really worthwhile reading.

    Being focused in anything you are serious about is important. And the internet can certainly make focusing difficult.

    • says

      Yup. Actually most of the advice on this site applies to almost anything… whether you’re looking for a job, trying to learn a skill, or starting an organization. Intense periods of focus each day always beat “the grey zone.”

  10. Nick says

    Just wanted to let you know that if you type “mergers and” into Google the second most frequent search after “acquisitions” is “inquisitions” (btw, how do you hyperlink from frequent search? does that cost money or is it based on traffic?) . Congrats on a very successful website!

    I have used your site for nearly 18 months and finally broke into banking (Corp., not Investment).

    Anyway, thanks for all your (mostly) free help!

    • says

      Congrats! The hyperlinking is free, they just do it based on frequency of searches. I guess people are searching for this site a lot…

  11. e says

    How likely are the BBs going to go through another round of layoffs? They’re ramping up recruiting, but for those of us who just started, do you think there will be significant layoffs before next summer?

    • says

      Layoffs are always possible, but things seem to be on the up-swing, so who knows. I would not be worried if you just started – it seems unlikely that things will be worse than they are now in 2010.

  12. Gene says

    I just recently graduated from a Target in May and want to break into banking. I know it’s going to be very difficult for me to land a full time offer at a BB or even a boutique for that matter given that I’ve already graduated. I’ve done some networking and all I’ve gotten is “try to work as an unpaid intern for a while and make sure to keep networking.” What do you recommend for someone in my shoes to do.

    • says

      It’s really tough if you’ve already graduated – my advice would be to cold-call local boutique firms in your area and not take “no” for an answer until you get an internship at one of those. Most people are afraid to use the phone, so you can gain a big advantage if you start doing that and calling places directly.

  13. z says

    Thanks. Assuming personal finance is not an issue, what is your view in terms of the possible gap on the resume?

    How would you suggest to best answer this issue of resigning without a job in interviews?

    Really appreciate it. Thks.

    • says

      I would not worry about the resume gap – these days almost everyone has one.

      As far as answering why you resigned without another job lined up, I would just say what you said above: that you wanted to move to a group with more deals / deal flow, but had absolutely no time to interview or find other opportunities. You knew it was risky, but you would rather leave than continue to spend time not working on real deals and not progressing at all.

  14. Monkey says

    Do recruiters look at transcripts (ie. individual grades) or just GPA? I’m talking about top target (HYPW).
    We need to submit an inofficial transcript for OCR but I’m just wondering if people actually look at it, assuming you have a 3.5?

    • says

      They may glance at it but usually don’t pay much attention unless you have unusually low grades in key classes e.g. getting a C in Accounting.

  15. Tristain says

    Hi .. Viewing this site has been extremely helpful and i reli appreciate this . however i have a few Qs …

    1.As im attendin college in london (imperial college london ) nd i didn get internship this yr… i heard its extremely hard to break into this industry at analyst level if u didn do ibd interns ..is that true ??

    2.do i still have any chance to get into ibd after graduation ??

    3. as im from non finance background. will i be better off to do a Msc Finance then try IBD. altho i kno that for analyst level theres no advantage for msc over bsc degrees.

    4. how likely is for me to come over to US and give a go in US, given that each country’s banks mainly take in ppl from their grad skools …. will it be better for me to come over US and do a MSF degree 1st ???

    Thanks..

    • says

      Yes it’s very difficult if you don’t have an internship. You could still do it after graduation but it’s much harder. An MS program is a good choice. The US is very difficult if you’re international because they rarely give out work visas.

  16. Andrew says

    My friend is 26 years old and got his CFA but has 2.5 GPA, and another friend has 3.7 but no CFA, which one has more chance to be hired?

    Thank you

  17. Jenny says

    I still can not tell the difference between persistence and bothering people.

    If I call those bankers again and again to ask for a job, don’t you think i keep bothering them and leave a bad impression?

    How should I avoid that?

    • says

      If someone does not reply after 4-5 attempts, stop contacting him/her once a week and move to once a month instead just to check in occasionally.

  18. AE says

    I tried to call those high-level people but never got through. I guess the reason is they do not want to pick up the phone when see a strange number that’s from school area.

    What should I do to reach them?

  19. Nikolay says

    Hi Brian,

    I’ve been reading your website for over a month. It’s brilliant. I wish I had stumbled upon it before.

    I’m studying MBA at a target university in the UK (at least I think it is), I have little relevant experience. I’ve been trying to network my way in but it’s difficult.

    I went to JPM IB risk simulation to gain some exposure. Do you think it would do any good to put it on my resume? I know it’s nothing but it shows some interest. JPM guys told me that lack of experience is not problematic as they are looking for associates with sector experience. I don’t know how true is that.

    regards

  20. haloyo says

    Dear Brian,

    Have you heard of GS’s Off-cycle internship program in BJ? I am going to have an interview with them and would like to know more details about the program. Thanks.

  21. Lee says

    Hi, I was just wondering what would happen if one round his/her GPA from 3.3 or 3.4 to 3.5 while the unofficial transcript shows a 3.3 or 3.4 GPA? Is it going to get his/her interview opportunity rescinded?

  22. HarveyS says

    Hi, thanks for the article. I’d like to get your opinion on something. I’m going for a study abroad program at a prestigious school next year, but recruiting season is already in full-swing. Should I mention the program on my resume even though it has not taken place yet?

  23. ILG says

    Hi,

    I am a rising junior and I had an M&A advisory internship last summer in NYC. I had Business Advisory Internship at Big 4. I have Capital Markets Internship at a solid boutique this fall. I want to eventually get into Banking and M&A group preferably. Would Capital Markets internship look odd on my resume and show that I am not interested in M&A? And what do you guys think about the “Certificate in Investment Banking” at NYU-SCPS? Thanks a lot. I hope you are doing well!

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Not at all – you just need to articulate why you want to move to M&A. I’m not familiar with the certificate but I’d imagine your work experience will matter more

  24. Jordan says

    Brian,

    I graduated earlier this year, non target but still respected school, 2.5 GPA, no internships. All summer I have been building relationships, studying, getting certificates (I know it’s not ideal, but I can’t turn back the clock to get better grades and internship experience). Obviously been targeting boutiques. Do I have a shot of getting in?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      You’ll be competing against students from target who have had experience in the industry. I believe a rock solid pitch and networking will help you the most

  25. Wally says

    Brian,
    I received an MBA (finance concentration) from a local university 2 years ago and started working as a busines analyst at a large credit union based in the DC area. I really want to get into finance either IB/PE/ or treasury/FP&A and to improve my chances, i attended the Investment Banking Institute 4 week traing course on modeling and valuation. Have been applying with no luck. Is there any hope for me? I worked as a billing manager at a university for 5 years while earning my MBA

    • M&I - Nicole says

      I think it can be challenging unless you’ve had some experience in the industry. The IBI can potentially help slightly, though the best bet is to gain an internship in the industry through networking/cold calling.

  26. Josh says

    Brian,

    I was recently foolish enough to try and add on a double math major, and now I’m going through the process of removing it. I can either drop the two math classes I’m taking now (they will show up as a W on my transcript), or I can tough it out and do my best to ace them both. Personally, I don’t think that 2 W’s on my transcript matter too much, although it may be a different story if I ever want to go to graduate school. I’m interested to know your opinion on this.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      If you can explain the 2 Ws well, I think it’s fine. Better to withdraw than “suffer” for the semester, unless you really enjoy the courses/they can really help your academics/GPA

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