How to Break Into Investment Banking If You Have a 3.0 GPA, Graduated from an Unknown School, and Only Recently Learned English

162 Comments | Case Studies & Reader Success Stories - From Non-Finance Backgrounds, Case Studies & Reader Success Stories - From Non-Target Schools and Low Grades

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How do you break into investment banking if you don’t have a 4.0 GPA from an Ivy League school?

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For one, you don’t use the “typical” strategies. You need to think less like the average person breaking in and more like a ninja – like the readers in the video above did. Here’s a summary in text form:

Case Study #1: Recent Immigrant at Non-Target with 0 Finance Experience

Here’s his story:

  1. Immigrated to US 4 years ago with minimal knowledge of English at the time – nowhere near enough to work in finance.
  2. Went to an unknown state school with few alumni in finance and no on-campus recruiting.
  3. Had 0 finance experience when he went to look for internships – just the standard on-campus part-time jobs.

That background definitely puts you at a disadvantage – and you’re even worse off if you’re using the wrong strategies:

  1. Poor Positioning – From this background you need to spin and make relevant non-work experience seem like work experience – so if you’ve gone through a bulge bracket training workshop that only lasted a few weeks, that needs to be front-and-center anyway.
  2. Applying Online – This is useless most of the time anyway, but even more so when you’re coming from a non-traditional background.
  3. Mass Cold-Emails – If you have a blue-chip background and brand names on your resume, maybe they’ll respond… but bankers mostly ignore emails.

What Worked

Realizing this was not working, he changed his strategy:

  1. Proper Positioning – Exaggeration is key from this type of background, so he highlighted the workshop experience and minimized his “real” work experience.
  2. Cold-Calling – By using the scripts and templates in The Investment Banking Networking Toolkit, he got a much better response rate. It’s hard to pitch your story properly over email or online – they’re too impersonal.
  3. Being Direct with Alumni – If you only have 1 month before internships begin, forget about “getting to know” them and ask for the job. There were only a few alumni in finance from his school, but that actually helped him in this case: he stood out because hardly anyone else ever contacted them.

The result: 2 finance internship offers, plus “soft offers” from others he had contacted while networking.

Get the full story and see the email where he explains everything right here.

Case Study #2: Recent Graduate from Non-Target with 3.0 GPA

This reader was even worse off:

  1. Non-Target State School – No alumni network to tap into, and no banks that recruited on-campus.
  2. 3.0 GPA – Not terrible, but not good enough to get into banking through the normal channels. Most places don’t pay attention to you if you have under a 3.5.
  3. Already Graduated – He was out of school for a month before he started seriously looking for jobs. Oops.

So coming from this background, how do you even start recruiting? You apply online to hundreds of banks, of course! And you use other ineffective strategies:

  1. Not Filtering Your “List” – You need to track your networking efforts, but you also need to target the right firms – big mistake to aim for bulge bracket and middle-market banks with this background.
  2. Applying Online – It was even more useless here. But it was easy – the barriers to entry are low, so why not just apply to 150 places?
  3. Doostang – I get a LOT of questions on this one. As this reader found out firsthand, it was useless for investment banking jobs because he got a 0% hit rate from the dozens of applications he submitted.

Doostang might work well if you’re coming from more of a “blue-chip” background – but if you don’t have brand-name schools and company names on your resume, you’re at a big disadvantage.

Just look at their “Success Stories” page: Dartmouth, Stanford, Yale… what about the unknown state schools?

They’re not there – because applying online only works if you look “impressive” on paper.

What Worked

Realizing all of the above, this reader signed up for Breaking Into Wall Street and for the Investment Banking Networking Toolkit when we released them in April and changed his strategy accordingly:

  1. Regional Boutiques – You need to filter your list with this type of background – start out somewhere local, and then make the lateral move when you want to move up.
  2. Cold-Calling MDs – He got a 50% response rate from Managing Directors at local boutiques – and no one outright rejected him. Going to the MDs first was a smart strategy, because they decide who gets interviews and offers.
  3. My Calling Scripts – Yes, yes, this one is tongue-in-cheek. But here’s the quick takeaway: if something works, use it. Too often you try to re-invent the wheel, but with networking and cold-calling, use what has gotten other people interviews and offers.

The result: 2 summer internship offers. I emailed him the other day to check in and learned that he’s now a full-time investment banking analyst at the firm he worked at over the summer.

Get the full story from him and read his email right here.

How to Ninja Your Way In

It’s not difficult, but you do need to think outside-the-box and do things differently from the average person with perfect grades at an Ivy League school.

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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162 Comments to “How to Break Into Investment Banking If You Have a 3.0 GPA, Graduated from an Unknown School, and Only Recently Learned English”

Comments

  1. David says

    But what if you are majoring in a highly-quantitative field (say Statistics, Economics or Mathematics)?

    A 3.2 GPA would be considered exceptionally above average. A 2.97 is the average GPA in my school’s Mathematics department.

    I’m currently double majoring in Economics and Statistics, with a GPA of 3.3. Sure, I could easily switch my major to Finance or something less rigorous and earn a 3.5+.

    Moreover, the average GPA for graduate admission into my school’s MsC in Financial Engineering program is 3.2.

    Is the 3.5 GPA threshold adjusted for differences in rigor or major?

    • Ray says

      Hi,
      Junior female majoring in Business with focus in Finance at University of Massachusetts Boston. Investment banking is really appealing to me but everytime i read this blog i get anxiety attack because my GPA will not quite be 3.5 when i get my Bachelor. Is that GPA a requirement for any major and well known investment banks? And what would you suggest me to do if i’m graduating in 2016?

      • M&I - Nicole says

        Yes having a solid GPA (above 3.5) will really help you to make it to the first cut. Get solid work experience in the industry

  2. Dan says

    Hi,
    I was wondering if you would be able to shed some light on my current situation.

    I am a senior at a small unknown school in upstate NY with a major in Business Administration and concentration in Finance. I had a really rough start my first year which hurt my GPA. I have worked my GPA back up to slightly over a 3.0 and managed to keep my finance concentration GPA at a 3.54. I was elected as Comptroller on the Executive Board for the Student Association on my campus this year. I manage the finances for every club our campus has to offer and a large budget that I’m in charge of creating. I’m also interning at a well know financial advising firm where I do a lot of investment analysis for my supervisor. I have experience working with a charity organization doing free tax returns for low income individuals as well. I’m also managing a $40,000 portfolio for my school and i’m the team leader for my school in an intercollegiate portfolio management competition and also the lead researcher in 2 sectors for my team. I also have taken a course on financial modeling which I know is very important.

    I am currently starting to apply for analyst positions at investment banks for this summer but I unfortunately have no connections at any firms other than my roommates father working in a high up position at a bulge bracket but in a field unrelated to finance or IB. I also have no prior IB experience. I am really struggling with the fact that I most likely wont find a position in IB due to my school and average GPA. I’m really trying to not settle for a advising job where i’ll essentially be a salesmen. Any comments or advice will be much appreciated.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      “I’m also managing a $40,000 portfolio for my school and i’m the team leader for my school in an intercollegiate portfolio management competition and also the lead researcher in 2 sectors for my team.” is useful – you may want to highlight that in conversations

      If you’re passionate about the stock markets and good at it, I’d approach a few asset management firms in your area through cold-call and emails. I’d start with an internship and then progress to opportunities at larger firms. Find out 20 firms you’re interested in on the buy-side and start compiling their contacts and cold-email them.

        • M&I - Nicole says

          Sure, I’d try to get your MBA (at a target) after 2-3 years of work experience if possible. The sooner the better it will help you break into IB

  3. Benjamin says

    For someone majoring in finance, would you recommend an MBA with a concentration in Finance or a Masters in Finance? Also, would a top 25 MBA program be good enough to get into IB?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      It depends. If you’re looking for a more quant role, MF maybe better than an MBA. I’d go for a top 10, ideally top 5, to be safe

  4. Extremely worried says

    Slightly different situation.
    I’m a sophomore, female (if that makes a difference), Econ major at a top target school, with a 3.6 GPA. I just found out that I’m going to get a C+ in an economics class…that is about accounting. How closely do banks look at transcripts versus overall GPA? If I do well next quarter and pull my GPA up, will the C+ still matter? Also, I was going to go abroad next fall, but would it be a better idea to retake this course? Summer analyst recruiting takes place mainly during the winter quarter, so if I retook the class in the fall, I would have fixed that grade on my transcript before applying to internships. But would it be so bad/inadvisable to go abroad in the fall, and retake this class in the winter – during recruiting? Unfortunately, I can’t retake this class this year.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      They may still ask about it but I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Be prepared for questions on that and know how to spin why you got a lower grade.

      I wouldn’t retake the class during recruiting because you may be so busy that time that you can’t focus on both at the same time, unless you’re taking less courses.

  5. hbogyt says

    I want to do an internship in the US but am unsure about my grades. I’m doing a double bachelor’s degree in Commerce (finance major) and Engineering in Australia. The university is one of the two in Melbourne IBs recruit from. My numerical average, which is what BB IBs in Australia care about, is 74, which is above the cut-off for BB IBs in Australia, but the GPA is 3.0 and that’s after rounding( I did top the most difficult finance subject though.) The engineering degree is really killing my grades. Is there away I can convince American recruiters that they should count my numerical average? Would they even care to consider someone from non-Ivy universities?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      The easiest path is to transfer to a target university in the States. Otherwise your low GPA and non-US citizenship status can be a challenge…

  6. Geoff says

    I have transferred from a community college to a somewhat notable school. I am wondering if it is acceptable to include my community college GPA into my four year university GPA as a cumulative figure on my resume?

  7. IBorBust says

    Hi Brain,

    Great site. I managed to network into an off-cycle IB interview in a good boutique in New York. However, I didn’t get the offer last week. Now, I am wondering how I can use this new development to my advantage as I carry on with my networking efforts. Got to admit, seriously bummed out now. :(

    • M&I - Nicole says

      I am sorry to hear. I’d give yourself credit for getting the interview though. I’d stay in touch with your interviewers (for future opportunities) and also ask them for feedback on your performance – i.e. how could you have improved in your interview.

  8. Lily says

    Hi, when you do cold calling and no one picks up, should you leave a message with your pitch or call back later until you reach the person?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      I’d cold call around 10AM – say 5:30PM during working days (M-F except public holidays) for IB roles. For S&T roles I’d most definitely cold call after market hours, but before they go home. No I would not leave a message. I may cold-email at the same time.

  9. June says

    Hi,

    Thanks for the great article, it got me thinking about a few things and got me thinking about a couple of questions:

    1. What is considered the cut off for “good GPA?” (and is there a different cut-off based on your school’s “tier”?–whether it’s a target, non-target, etc.?)

    2. If you do have finance experience (sophomore internship), but were not able to do a lot of modeling/valuation due to the internship being short, will interviewers/recruiters look at that badly; if so, how could I put a positive spin to it?

    3. How do the bulge bracket firms in the US perceive finance internships for undergraduates in other regions instead of in the US, specifically Latin America?

    4. If, although, I’ve gotten high As for most classes I’ve taken, I have a B in most of the economics classes I’ve taken, will this matter a lot? Should I specifically take more econ classes and try to get an A in those classes to balance things out, or should that not be a focus? (Note: I’m an International Relations and Economics concentrator).

    Thank you!

    • M&I - Nicole says

      On your questions:

      1. 3.5+
      2. No because you were just a sophomore
      3. Those internships should be relevant, especially if you’re talking about major cities like London and HK. But they are not as relevant as US deals if you’re interviewing for roles in NY
      4. Yes I’d focus on getting As if you can

  10. Xing says

    Hi, I’m a finance/acctg major from university of Auckland, New Zealand -the top Uni in the country but probably wouldn’t matter to U.S. schools. My GPA is 3.2 probably 3.3 when i graduate, 3month intern exerience at venture capital firm in China, average EC’s. Looking to get a good MSF in U.S. to break into BB/Wall st. What are my chances, any advice on how to get there? Thanks

    • M&I - Nicole says

      I’d suggest you to get your GPA up to 3.5 if possible. A target MSF can potentially help you. I’d also suggest gaining relevant industry experience.

  11. Derek says

    If I transferred from UW-Milwaukee to UW-Madison, should I include by UW-Milwaukee GPA on my resume.? UW-Milwaukee GPA is a 3.8 and UW-Madison is a 3.0.

  12. cz says

    Hello. I have a few questions for you, if you don’t mind. I’m a junior, studying ‘International Business and Economics’ at an Uni from Eastern Europe and I was wondering if it’s possible to break into IB, with relatively average grade? Should I move to a finance program in the winter break ? It’s possible to get an Internship in the UK in the summer ? I was also planning to get a MSc in Finance degree at an University from London but considering my grades and financial situation it would be almost impossible to be accepted at a target or even semi-target school. What would be your suggestions ?

  13. Matthew says

    Hi, I’m an Economics/Philosophy double major at Stony Brook University. I was originally on the pre-dental track, but my grades and GPA just plummeted. I’m probably going to have a 3.25 after this semester; however, I think I can raise that GPA to at least over a 3.5 and possibly over a 3.6 since I’ll be doing Economics and Philosophy rather than science. I’ll probably have a 3.9-4.0 PHI & ECO GPA.

    Do you think I have a reasonable shot at getting an investment banking internship with that GPA and background? Any suggestions on what sort of networking I should be focusing on? Also, any tips on how to spin the story about bad grades in science early on in my studies?

    Thank you!

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