FAQ


We receive a lot of questions every day. Here are answers to dozens of the most common ones:

For all questions about resume editing and coaching, please ask via the coaching contact form.

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Undergraduate-Level Recruiting Questions

For undergraduates, the recruiting equation is simple: get an investment banking internship. Or come very close.

1. I’m a student / I have no relevant background – what should I do to get into investment banking?

Get a relevant internship. It doesn’t have to be at a bulge bracket bank – even an unknown local boutique will give you a huge leg-up if you can write “Investment Banking Analyst” on your resume.

Activities and classes are useless next to a solid internship.

See this article and video tutorial for more on how to spin your resume if you’ve had no real work experience.

2. Do I need to be a Finance or Economics major?

No, but it helps because you then have a demonstrated interest in the field.

More on what major to pick for investment banking.

3. What classes should I take?

Specific classes matter much less than internships.

Finance or economics-related classes are good to demonstrate interest and gain some knowledge, but if you are spending hours deliberating whether to take Advanced Microeconomics in Developing Economies I or International Monetary Policy II, please stop because it doesn’t matter.

More on why banking does not require rocket science math.

4. How much do internships matter vs. activities and grades?

Internships are much more important. If you have a low GPA you’ll have trouble getting interviews through official channels, but beyond that a “good” vs. “better” GPA doesn’t matter nearly as much as doing an investment banking internship vs. being a lifeguard.

Someone with a 3.5 GPA who can write “Investment Banking Summer Analyst” on his or her resume will beat the person with a 4.0 who only has experience waiting tables any day of the week.

5. What is the best type of internship to get?

The closer it is to investment banking, the better. Investment banking, private equity, and hedge fund internships are the best; venture capital, corporate development, sales & trading, and consulting are also good.

Asset or wealth management are further removed but are also better than non-finance alternatives, and everything else is below those.

6. If I get a Master’s degree can I start as an Associate? What about a Senior Analyst?

No, and no. You will never start as an Associate unless you have an MBA or unless you’re a direct promote from an Analyst – and you need at least 2-3 years of work experience to pull that off.

And you won’t be anything more than a normal 1st Year Analyst if you’re just out of school and have no full-time work experience, no matter how many degrees you have.

7. Is a Master’s degree worth it?

It might be. If you went to an unknown school and had no access to recruiters, going to a Master’s program at a top school could be a good investment.

For more on this issue, read this article.

Also check out Masters in Finance HQ for more on Master’s programs.

8. What about a Ph.D?

Don’t bother. Investment banking requires only basic arithmetic.

9. What are these “target schools” you speak of?

There’s no universally agreed-upon list, but they are schools that investment banks actively recruit at. In the US these are mostly the top schools according to the US News & World Report.

Recruiting is 100x easier at these schools because banks come directly to you and say, “Hi, would you like to work for us? Please submit your resume here.”

10. Should I delay my graduation if I couldn’t secure a full-time offer?

It might be a good idea, but it depends on why you couldn’t secure the full-time offer. If your interview skills were the problem and everything else was fine, consider it. Otherwise, other strategies like pursuing a Master’s degree are a better idea.

For the more detailed answer, read this article.

11. If I’ve already graduated, can I do a summer internship?

Nothing is impossible, but most places are pretty strict about only giving summer internships to students. It never hurts to ask, though, so you might as well see what turns up and focus on smaller places that might be more receptive to the idea.

12. I’m in elementary school / middle school / high school – can you give me an exact blueprint for how to become an investment banker?

No, but you can check out The Banker Blueprint for what to do once you get to college.

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GPA/SAT Questions

Your GPA is what it is – so stop worrying about it so much.

1. How high a GPA do I need for investment banking recruiting?

Anything above 3.5 is fine. 3.0 to 3.5 is iffy, and with a GPA below 3.0 you will not get in via a formal recruiting process.

2. How much can I round my GPA?

List your GPA with a single digit. You can get away with rounding your GPA by up to 0.09 in most cases. Some examples:

  • Rounding a 3.43 to 3.5 – this is fine.
  • Rounding a 3.65 to 3.7 – this is fine.
  • Rounding a 3.27 to 3.5 – this is not fine.
  • Rounding a 3.33 to 3.5 – this is not fine.
NOTE: If you have, say, a 3.54 GPA and you don’t want to “round down” and list it as a 3.5, then sure, you can list 3.54 on your resume. But this barely makes a difference so don’t spend too much time thinking about what to do here.

3. Can I just list my major GPA? Do I need to include both major and overall GPA?

You need to list either your overall GPA, or your overall GPA and your major GPA. You can change around the order, play with font sizes, bold / un-bold, and more, but you can’t list only your major GPA.

4. How much does SAT score matter? Do I still need to list it?

If it’s good (over 2100/2400 or 1400/1600) then list it – otherwise leave it off unless they specifically ask for it. Banks do look at it, but it matters less than GPA.

5. I have a low GPA. How can I break into investment banking?

Network like crazy, and go around the official channels. If no one at bulge bracket banks will pay attention to you, start small and go to local boutiques first and then work your way up.

Also, read this article.

6. When do banks actually check my GPA?

Usually they conduct background checks just before you start working, though sometimes they have your transcript at interviews – it depends on your bank and school.

7. I’m outside the US – how should I list my grades?

If you’re applying to banks in your own country, list them the way you normally would – for example, in the UK you would just list “2:1″ or whatever your performance was based on their system.

If you’re applying outside the country, you may want to list your grades in the local system and convert them to the system used in the country where you’re applying.

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Prestige Questions

Prestige is my least favorite topic ever, but here are a few common questions and answers.

1. Can you rank the banks / specific groups?

No. Prestige is my least favorite topic ever (even worse than GPA rounding or the CFA) so this will never happen.

If you really want rankings, check out the survey that Vault.com does each year and have fun arguing about the results.

2. What if I don’t work at Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley? Will my life be ruined?

Unless you are 100% set on KKR, Blackstone, or other large-cap PE firms it doesn’t matter.

In school there’s always a competition over who gets the “best” jobs, but after you graduate you lose touch with most people and everyone else stops caring.

3. Ok, but there must be some downside to not working at a top bank.

Your exit opportunities are more limited – you won’t get into the largest PE firms and hedge funds coming from an unknown boutique.

4. I want to move somewhere bigger / better – can I do this? How should I do it?

The same way you do anything else: network, network, network. To move to a bulge bracket bank, cold-calling is rarely effective – focus on professional referrals, alumni, and headhunters to pull it off successfully.

More on lateral hiring.

5. What is the best bank / group to work at?

If you want to work at KKR or Blackstone, go for bulge bracket banks; if you want to do venture capital, work in a well-known tech industry group; if you want to do real estate PE, go to a real estate group, and so on.

We rarely discuss specific banks because the information goes out of date too quickly – the turnover rate in finance is incredibly high.

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MBA-Level Recruiting Questions

Recruiting at the MBA-level is not dramatically different, but you do need to be a lot more polished than undergraduates.

1. Am I guaranteed to get into a top MBA program if I’ve done investment banking?

Nope. It helps, but nothing is guaranteed.

2. What’s the best way to get into a top MBA program?

Excel at something interesting outside of school and work, and tell a good story about what you did and how it relates to your future.

3. I’m interviewing for Associate-level positions and I’m a career-changer. What should I do?

The most important part in interviews is your “story” – read this article for more on that.

For prep before you get there, a pre-MBA finance internship or even something informal on the side while you’re in school is highly recommended so that you can prove you’ve been interested in the field for awhile and so you can present a good story.

More on using business school to re-brand yourself.

4. How can I find one of these pre-MBA internships?

Ask friends, contact alumni at all levels, the career center, and see what turns up – if they are not helpful, just visit local firms, explain that you’re attending a nearby MBA program, and ask about setting up an informal internship.

5. Is it worth to go to a “non-target” business school?

Not if you want to leverage it to move into investment banking.

6. What about part-time programs?

In general full-time programs are better-known and you will have better luck recruiting out of full-time programs, but this is starting to change – you should ask alumni of the program you’re thinking about.

More on part-time MBA programs and another reader’s experience with part-time programs.

7. What about top programs outside the US?

It all depends on where you want to work afterward – if it’s internationally, sure, go ahead. If you want to work in the US, it’s better to go to a top program there instead.

8. How does networking / recruiting / interviewing / resume-writing differ at the MBA level?

It’s not dramatically different from what undergraduates go through, but you need to be more polished and you need to be a better talker.

The competition is also tougher because students in top MBA programs are quite savvy and less naive than undergraduates – everyone else will be networking a lot.

Resume Template & Tutorial for MBAs.

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Working Professional Recruiting Questions

Recruiting questions are simple at this level: business school or aggressive networking, or both.

1. Am I too old to break in?

It’s hard to break in as an Analyst if you’re over 30, and hard to get in as an Associate if you’re over 40. These are not “hard limits,” just general guidelines.

More on age and investment banking.

2. What’s the best path to get into investment banking if I’ve…

  • Been working full-time for less than 2 years: Cold-call / network your way into local boutiques and then move up from there.
  • Been working longer than that: Top business school.
  • Been to business school already: Work your way to the top in another industry and then move in at a more senior level.

3. How can I tell my “story” if I’ve done nothing finance-related before?

Use your imagination. Find something – anything – business-related and use that at as your finance “spark.”

4. I’m a lawyer – how can I break in?

Read this article. You need to do corporate / securities law, spend a few years there, then network with clients, co-workers, and former clients and co-workers to get conversations with banks going and then take it from there.

5. I’m an accountant – how can I break in?

Read this article.

6. Going to business school is not an option for me – how can I break in?

Aggressive networking. Cold-calling, professional referrals, informational interviews – start small, go to local boutiques, and then work your way up once you’re there.

7. How much experience do I need if I’ve graduated recently but want to recruit once again for full-time positions?

It’s best to wait a year so you can get something solid on your resume, and so you can prove that you’re not just changing your plans haphazardly.

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Questions on Certifications & Classes

Certifications and classes can be a part of your strategy for getting into finance, but just having them listed on your resume will not get you in.

1. Are those expensive training courses worth it?

They help you learn finance and demonstrate your interest in the field, but taking a course alone won’t make the difference between getting an interview and not getting an interview.

The key is to apply what you learn – so try for something that covers the job search as well as the finance. A course that lets you network with professionals would be even better.

And, of course, there are more affordable and better alternatives to expensive in-person training…

2. What about the CFA?

It’s more applicable for portfolio managers. Don’t bother for banking/PE unless you have hundreds of hours to spare and you’ve already networked exhaustively (e.g. you’ve met with 100+ bankers).

3. What about some class I took / special workshop I went to / an MBA-level class I took?

You can list it on your resume, but it won’t get your foot in the door in the same way that a summer internship at Goldman Sachs will.

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Networking Questions

We’ve discussed networking on the site a lot and even have an entire product dedicated to it.

1. Help! I can’t find names or contact information for local boutiques. What should I do?

You have several options:

  1. Continue looking online via Google searches and LinkedIn.
  2. Ask friends if they know anything or see if someone has CapitalIQ access.
  3. Sign up for The Investment Banking Networking Toolkit.

2. How do I get started networking? I’m lost.

3. How can I actually ask my contacts for help with recruiting or for a specific job or internship?

“Thanks again for speaking with me the other day. With recruiting approaching, I wanted to ask you how I could best position myself for an interview with your firm.”

4. Is it really worth it to visit people in-person? I can’t afford it / can’t make the time.

Yes. Sell some crap you never use, auction off your kidney, and do whatever it takes to make the money for in-person networking.

More on why weekend trips work so well.

5. Should I go to information sessions at a school even if I don’t go to school there?

Yes – fortune favors the bold. Just don’t be like those Princeton kids in Harold & Kumar.

6. How can I follow-up with my contacts?

Ask a specific question or make a specific request, and keep it short and to the point. Aim to stay in touch at least once every 2-3 months, but don’t write just for the sake of writing if you have nothing to say.

7. Can you hook me up with some of your own personal contacts in finance?

No. Why not?

  1. Thousands of people visit this site every day – we could not possibly refer that many people to our friends and acquaintances.
  2. None of us will refer people we have not met in-person before – nothing against you, but we need to have worked with you in the past for a referral to happen.
  3. Most of our contacts are not even working in investment banking anymore – so such referrals would be of limited help to you.

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Region / Location Questions

Location: another factor that doesn’t matter nearly as much as most people say.

1. Should I start in New York / London? What region is “best” to start in?

Most people would say that New York or London are “best” because you get more flexibility if you want to transfer elsewhere later on – whereas doing the opposite, say transferring from another region to New York, is more difficult.

But if you’re interested in tech or energy and you’d rather go to San Francisco or Houston respectively, don’t feel obligated to start in the major centers.

2. What are the differences in salaries / hours / exit opportunities between different locations?

At the Analyst and Associate levels, base salaries and bonuses are standardized at bulge bracket, middle-market, and well-known boutique banks.

While New York bankers claim they work longer hours than anyone else, you won’t have much time for a personal life as an investment banking analyst or associate no matter where you are.

Exit opportunities can vary significantly, because you’re more limited to the region you’re working in – if you’re in London it would be logistically difficult to fly in and interview for private equity positions in LA, for example.

Most people stick to where they started out when it comes to exit opportunities.

3. How can I move to another region if I started out elsewhere?

Networking, networking, and networking. Get someone in the other office to like you and “go to bat” for you, and you’ll be moving in the right direction.

Usually you need to stay somewhere for at least a year before you think about moving elsewhere, but there are exceptions.

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Questions on Turning Down Offers

Hint: There’s no such thing as “politely saying no without burning bridges.”

1. How can I politely turn down offer(s) I’ve received elsewhere?

Just tell them that you appreciate everything, enjoyed meeting their team, and appreciate the offer, but you’ve decided to accept an offer elsewhere. Email is fine if you don’t feel comfortable doing this via the phone.

2. What if I’ve already accepted an offer elsewhere? How can I renege on it without burning bridges?

You can’t. This is like saying, “How can I break up with my girlfriend / boyfriend without anyone getting upset?”

Just tell them that you appreciate meeting their team and receiving an offer, but that your plans have changed and you have decided to accept an offer elsewhere.

More on reneging on job offers.

3. I got a return offer from a summer internship to go back to the same summer internship next year. If I turn this down, is it the end of the world?

No, but you probably won’t be able to interview for full-time positions with that group.

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Questions on M&I Products & Services

For all product-related questions on the financial modeling course, networking course, and interview guide, please contact Breaking Into Wall Street.

For all questions about resume editing and coaching, please ask via the coaching contact form.

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Clothing & Fashion Questions

When it comes to clothing, think KISS: no one cares what you look like as long as you’re presentable, at least at the Analyst and Associate levels.

1. How much should I spend on clothes for summer internships / for full-time jobs, and how much do I need?

If you’re male, read this article on investment banking fashion for men.

2. Do you have recommended brands for clothing?

Yes, read the article above for men and the one below on fashion for women.

3. I’m female – what should I do?

Read this article on investment banking fashion for women.

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Questions on the Site Itself

And our plans for world domination, of course…

1. Why did you create your company and this site?

I (Brian) saw a market opportunity. Many sites featured financial news and deal-making, but no one else covered how to get into the industry and what you do on a day-to-day basis.

We also all felt that existing solutions for networking, interviews, and financial modeling were inadequate.

2. Do you accept advertisers? / Will you do a link exchange with me?

No. We do not accept advertisers because we sell our own products instead.

3. Can I promote one of your products as an affiliate?

Please contact us via the BIWS Contact Form and give an idea of your audience size and how you want to promote it.

4. I have this great idea… will you partner with me on a new site / an iPhone app / another product / another venture?

Probably not – all of us are also working full-time, in school full-time, or a combination of those, so time is limited and existing projects are going well.

5. Can you write more? / Can you write longer articles? / Can you write shorter articles? / Can you write about this specific topic?

Feel free to send suggestions – keep in mind that we rarely cover the news unless it’s a major event.

If you want to see coverage of a specific group or region, the best way is to find someone who knows about that group or region and then introduce them to the site.

6. Why are there no dates on anything?

  1. 95% of the content here is relevant regardless of whether it’s 2005, 1995, or 2015 – for example, telling your story in interviews and networking with bankers do not change much from year to year.
  2. If we added dates to articles or comments, you would be biased against older content – even if it’s still completely relevant.
  3. There actually are dates on news commentary articles or anything related to current events.

7. Will you accept guest articles? Can you interview me?

Sure. Just make sure it’s something not already covered on the site.

8. Why did you leave the industry?

Few of us ever planned to stay in finance or consulting for life – we just viewed them as steppingstones to other opportunities.

9. How do I know that everything on the site is still applicable if you’re no longer in the industry?

Three reasons:

  1. Because this site is not dependent on specific industry trends or whatever’s hot at the moment. How to write a great resume or how to properly tell your “story” are the same whether it’s 2005, 1995, or 2015.
  2. Because most of the content comes directly from readers who are in the industry right now.
  3. Because it’s constantly being updated based on input and feedback from readers.

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