So, you want to break into investment banking?
In some countries, I might be legally obligated to stop you – with force, if necessary.
But if you’ve already taken the effort to search online and find this article, I won’t stop you – instead, I’ll show you exactly how to do it.
There are 6 steps to breaking into investment banking:
Now let’s jump in and see exactly what to do for each step so that you land investment banking offers.
Remember how your economics and math classes had prerequisites?
This free, 37-page guide covers everything in this article but goes into more detail in certain parts and has alternate examples.
You should read both The Banker Blueprint and this entire article because they feature different examples and focus on different aspects of breaking in.
Have you downloaded and read the entire guide?
First, understand that banks are extremely rigid with their recruiting.
We’re not talking about innovative tech startups where anyone who can kick ass and take names is welcome: we’re talking about conservative, traditional organizations that stick to what has worked for the past 20-30 years.
Banks have a strong preference for undergraduates and business school students at the top universities: think Wharton, Harvard, LSE, Oxford, and so on.
It is significantly more difficult to break in if you are already working or you’re not at a top school.
Banks assume that if you’re already working full-time, you would never sacrifice your social life and sanity to start working 100 hours a week – they want students who don’t know any better.
They also assume that if you’re not at a top university or business school, you may not be smart enough or hard-working enough to do banking.
Furthermore, banks have developed relationships with all the top schools worldwide and already do very well recruiting just at those institutions – so they don’t see a real need to go beyond that.
The statement above are not my own views – I’m just cutting out the politically correct BS and telling you how banks think about their recruiting.
Next, realize that there are 2 entry-level positions in investment banking: Analysts and Associates.
Analysts are recruited straight out of undergraduate or Master’s programs, or sometimes come in after 1-2 years of full-time work elsewhere. They are like the peons in Warcraft: they are at the bottom of the food chain and do all the work.
If you start out as an Analyst, most of the time you leave after 2-3 years and go into another field like private equity, hedge funds, or venture capital.
Associates either get recruited out of top MBA programs or are promoted directly from the Analyst pool. They manage Analysts, work more directly with clients and senior bankers (Vice Presidents and Managing Directors), and put out fires.
So, which of these 2 entry points – Analyst or Associate positions – should you aim for, and how do you get in?
Let’s break it down by level:
This one’s easy: get an investment banking internship any way you can.
If you’re at a top school, you’ll go through on-campus recruiting and also network with alumni, family, professors, student groups, and so on.
If you’re not at a top school, you’ll need to be much more aggressive with networking and cold-call dozens of small, local banks.
Then, after you get this banking internship, go through the same recruiting / networking process and leverage your experience into full-time interviews and offers for Analyst positions.
Once you’ve graduated, your options are more limited: you either network your butt off or you wait until you have 3 years of full-time experience and apply to top business schools (as in MBA program – not Master’s programs).
Cold-calling will not work as well because you have more experience.
Spend 6 months networking with alumni, professional referrals, organizations like the CFA Society, and anyone else you can find and focus on boutique banks – if you don’t see any results after 6 months of exhaustive effort, apply to top business schools.
At this stage, networking is even more important than at the undergraduate level because everyone else is doing it too.
If you’re at a top school you can still use on-campus recruiting, but you need to begin contacting alumni 6-9 months in advance of business school, setting up informational interviews and doing everything else you can to break in and land Associate positions.
The ship has sailed – you’re not going to become an Analyst or Associate with 10-15 years of work experience.
Either consider a different industry that’s more open to capable, experienced candidates (e.g. prop trading firms) or advance to the C-level executive / Partner level and then move into finance as an Operating Partner.
Once you’ve decided whether or not you can break into investment banking and what position you’re going to aim for, you need to craft your story.
Your “story” comes in 2 forms:
Your story needs to convince bankers that you will excel in investment banking and that you are much better for the job than anyone else.
You do that by structuring your story around 5 points:
Here’s what you could say for each of these points:
You were born in New York but moved to London when you were younger and attended university there, initially planning to major in English literature.
When you were studying abroad in Paris, you met a few friends who owned their own M&A advisory and real estate brokerage firm, which got you very interested in exploring finance.
When you returned to London, you joined the student investment club and also switched to a double-major in finance and economics.
You then interned at HSBC in their M&A group last summer.
Although you had a great experience at HSBC, you want to apply your knowledge of finance and M&A to much larger companies and work on more cross-border transactions.
With your experience in the US, UK, and France, you’re well-equipped to work on deals involving companies in any of those countries.
In the long-term you want to specialize in cross-border M&A deals, and especially anything involving real estate – all going back to your initial “spark.” You see this bank as the best way to gain the skills you need to do that.
When networking, you would cut the outline above down to 2-3 sentences and say that you’re a finance/economics major from [University Name], you worked in HSBC M&A, you have experience in the US, UK, and France, and you’re interested in specializing in cross-border M&A deals involving those countries.
You should now have an idea of how to structure your story.
For more examples, please click right here to download The Banker Blueprint.
So now you’ve figured out whether you can get into investment banking, the best way to break in, and what you’re going to say when you meet bankers.
Now you need to network like a ninja to land interviews and offers at banks.
There are 2 methods of networking: developing relationships and cold-calling.
If you have 6-12 months before recruiting begins – it starts in August-September for full-time positions and December-January for summer internships – you should focus on developing relationships via informational interviews, weekend trips, information sessions, and more.
There are dozens of tutorials on this site covering all types of networking, so I’m not going to repeat everything here – please see this article for the high-level overview:
And then click on “Recruiting” link right here and go to the Networking category to get everything else.
If you’re in a rush and you’re an undergraduate or recent graduate, you will need to do a lot of cold-calling – find small, local banks, call and ask how to get an Analyst position there, and rinse, wash, and repeat until you succeed.
Instead, I’m just going to answer the most common questions I get on the topic:
Start with your alumni database and searches on LinkedIn – go for people with similar backgrounds (schools, interests, geographies, companies, etc.).
Contact student groups, professional organizations like the CFA Society, talk to professors, family, family friends, friends of friends, and leave no stone unturned in your search.
Get access to Bloomberg or Capital IQ or Factset and use those to look up bankers’ contact information directly and call them.
For names and information on 10,000+ banks, PE firms, and hedge funds, click here to sign up for The Investment Banking Networking Toolkit.
The other person will probably object or say, “We’re not hiring,” in which case you respond by saying, “So are you in charge of recruiting?” and not giving up until they put you through to a banker or the head HR person.
When contacting alumni or people you find on LinkedIn and emailing them, send a 5-sentence email to introduce yourself and propose a specific time to speak for 10 minutes.
See the informational interview guide for what to do after that.
More than you think. Never, ever, ever give up after getting just 1 rejection – always check back even after being rejected multiple times.
Put responsive people higher on your priority list, but never give up entirely unless someone has not responded after 10-20 attempts.
You don’t want to do anything crazy like show up to the office with a chainsaw and flamethrower and demand to speak to the Managing Director, but emails and calls are fine.
That seems like a lot but it actually just skims the surface – for even more intensive training, click here to sign up for The Investment Banking Networking Toolkit.
So now you have your story straight, you’re out networking and working the phones like a ninja, and you’re meeting bankers left and right.
When you meet those bankers, you’ll need a resume (also known as a CV for European / Australian readers).
Please ignore all the “generic” resume templates you see online – they are completely inappropriate for investment banking.
Investment banking and finance have very different standards for resumes – if you act like you’re applying for a marketing position or a non-profit, you’ll get rejected in 2 seconds.
Once again, I’ve done all the work for you: just choose from the resume and cover letter templates below, copy them, and fill in your own information:
Since I introduced these templates, they’ve became the standard in the finance industry – just go to a school like Wharton and try to find someone who is not using one of the resume templates above.
Of course, you can change around the fonts, font sizes, margins, and so on – but if you do not use one of those templates, you might look out-of-place next to everyone else.
So it’s in your best interest to use them and adapt as you see fit.
So now you’ve got the templates and you’ve started filling in your own education and work experience entries – let’s go into this in more detail and see how to bankify your experience.
“I’ve been getting a lot of tips on how to write it, mostly from my staff. They really seem to be up on this stuff. They tell me I have to use the active voice for the resume. You know, things like “Commanded U.S. Armed Forces,” “Ordered air strikes,” “Served three terms as President.” Everybody embellishes a little.”
-President Bill Clinton, White House Correspondents Dinner, April 29, 2000
And that’s exactly what you should do: embellish a little.
Craft your resume to emphasize working with financials and numbers and leading rather than following. Here are a few examples of resume makeovers:
That doesn’t exactly scream finance, now does it?
It screams “tech nerd” to me – here’s how we’d apply a makeover to this entry:
This made-over version is better for 3 reasons:
This example is a bit of a stretch because you might not have done everything I’ve listed above – maybe you didn’t achieve specific results, or maybe you didn’t make a budget recommendation.
That’s fine – just try to spin your title and emphasize any recommendations and analysis you did complete.
You do need to be careful with changing around your title, especially if you had an “official” one during your internship/job – check with your former boss first to make sure it’s OK.
With a science or research background, do not try to be Mr. Wizard – the worst thing you can do is write tons of technical jargon that no one understands.
Instead, focus on the business / economics / financial aspect of what you did and how it affects the real world.
Here’s an example:
Ok, so he learned a lot about… solar cells.
That’s nice, but no one would care unless he happened to be interviewing for an alternative energy investment banking group.
Here’s the makeover:
You could argue that this person didn’t do some of the things listed there / that I’ve embellished the truth too much.
It doesn’t matter as long as you can back up what’s written there.
Unless you’re writing about something that bankers know a lot about – like accounting or financial modeling – you won’t get into trouble because they won’t know enough to test you.
There is a limit to this – you can’t lie or make outright ridiculous claims (e.g. “Made $25 million for company by winning clients!”), but you can use the strategies in this article on how to spin your way to success.
Ace Your Interviews
So now you’ve networked like crazy, you have a killer resume/CV, and you have dozens of interviews lined up at banks – how do you seal the deal and land offers?
As with networking, there are dozens of articles and tutorials on this topic on the site so I’m not going to repeat all of that here.
I’m going to take a different approach in this tutorial and focus on the 3 most important traits you need to demonstrate to investment bankers:
Here’s how to demonstrate all 3:
“Alright, I’ll do it. But do me one last favor, will you. Can you give me two hours? That’s all I ask man, just two hours to sleep before tomorrow. I suspect it’s going to be a very difficult day.”
-Raoul Duke, “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas” (1998)
You’re not going to get those 2 hours of sleep, and especially not if you ask for them like that.
You must convince your interviewers that not only do you not need any sleep at all, but also that you would never ask for any.
You need specific stories of when you’ve burned the midnight oil in the past.
When I was interviewing, I talked about how I worked 100-hour weeks at IBM one summer when I led a product team there, and how I lived in the office toward the end.
Here are example stories you could use in interviews to prove that you can work 24/7 and don’t care about having a social life or interests outside of work:
Don’t just say that you studied a lot during your week of final exams – that’s too short a period to prove anything.
Come up with something where you were very stressed out over at least a few weeks, and if necessary, embellish to get your point across.
Work-life balance is view as less necessary than oxygen and food in investment banking: unless you’re willing to sacrifice everything to break in, forget about it.
“To succeed as an analyst…. DON’T SCREW UP!”
-Anonymous VP, Bulge Bracket Investment Banking Training
As a junior investment banker, your most important duty is checking numbers and not making mistakes.
Whether it’s setting up meetings, responding to emails, sending out documents, or valuing companies, screwing up will screw you over far more than over-delivering will help you.
Ideally, you were an open heart surgeon or astronaut in a previous life and you can talk about how making a mistake there would have resulted in death or explosions.
But I’ll assume that you haven’t done either of those – so instead, you should talk about how you did something that involved real, paying customers or something that was read or seen by lots of people.
Wide exposure implies that you must have had your act together – essential for banking.
Here’s an example story:
“I ran a web site about getting into college and answered common questions that students and parents had.
It started off slowly but after awhile we built up an audience of 1,000 readers per day. As editor, I spent hours checking all the material we had for the tiniest of mistakes and errors before making anything public.
There’s nothing that damages your credibility as much as careless mistakes – parents especially notice them.
Early on I published an article with a few glaring mistakes and received a pile of email from readers pointing this out.
From then on I made sure to triple-check everything, paste it into Word and print it out and re-check it multiple times and ask friends to look it over before posting anything.
With such a wide readership I can’t afford to make mistakes and now I require all my writers to check everything before I even look at their work.”
This is perfect because:
Make a list of every single organization you’ve been in and every project you’ve worked on over the past 3-4 years – pick the best example that demonstrates your attention to detail and go with it.
And when you’re picking your 2-3 mini-stories, make sure at least 1 of them demonstrates that as well.
“I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them! The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.”
-Gordon Gekko, “Wall Street” (1987)
Repeat after me: greed is good.
If you are not interested in business, finance, and the economy, why the hell are you wasting my time in this interview?
You don’t need to have actually bought and liquidated companies like Gordon here, but you better have a market, industry, or stock you’re very passionate about.
Example dialog with the interviewer:
Interviewer: “Tell me about an industry or market you’re interested in.”
You: “I really enjoy following the alternative energy industry because it’s up-and-coming and no one knows how things will play out yet.
Within the industry, there has been a lot of activity in the solar cell manufacturer sector, driven by technological breakthroughs that make solar cells cost-effective as well as government subsidies in Germany and Japan and major budget commitments by the Chinese government.”
Interviewer: “So were there any alternative energy companies that you personally invested in? There’s been a lot of IPO activity lately, right?”
You: “Yes, there have been a lot of IPOs lately… but I think most of them were overvalued and riding on hype alone.
After looking at the landscape, I personally invested in ABC Solar a year ago.
I compared their financial performance to the competition, and found that despite growing revenue at 50%, on-par with others, and having 10% profit margins, also on-par with the industry as a whole, they were trading at a discount to the competition.
Their P/E was only 30x rather than the 40-50X that others had and their EBITDA multiples were 30% lower than their competitors as well. It seemed like a bargain.”
Interviewer: “Interesting… but there must have been a reason why they were less highly valued than the competition.”
You: “I did some research into that… the main reason was that they came in below earnings expectations in the quarter just before I invested, and announced expansion plans for new facilities at the same time.
Investors balked and questioned why they were spending more on CapEx and product development if their earnings were already below expectations.”
Interviewer: “A valid question. So why did you not see this as a serious weakness?”
You: “I did some research on growth vs. profitability for solar cell manufacturers, and I found a much stronger correlation between returns and revenue growth than between returns and earnings or cash flow.
Investors were focusing on short-term results instead of thinking long-term – but it’s a nascent, early-stage industry, so growth matters more than profitability at this point.”
You don’t need to have 5,000 pages of financial analysis to give an answer like this: you just need to do a few hours of research and read up on the industry.
At the very least, learn something about the financial metrics of the company or stock you’re picking – and please, do not say something common like Apple/Google/Facebook.
I’m glad you asked – first, click here to read the investment banking interview superday guide – that covers all the categories and types of questions you need to know.
There’s also coverage of what to expect in interviews outside the US and case studies / assessment centers there.
To master investment banking interviews and land offers, click here to sign up for the investment banking interview guide.
There are over 400 “fit” and technical questions there, as well as “story” templates, sample interviews, deal discussions, and more.
It’s the single most comprehensive guide out there – sometimes I think there’s almost too much material.
In addition to the interview guide, you should sign up for the Excel & Fundamentals Modeling Course to learn accounting, valuation, and financial modeling from the ground up.
There are lots of other modeling courses available on Breaking Into Wall Street – our sister site – as well.
Click here and enter your name and email address to get free modeling tutorials and a sneak peek at everything else available on the site.
There’s something for everyone there – whether you’re completely new, you’re more advanced, or you’re looking for industry-specific knowledge.
OK, so this was a long and in-depth guide – but it’s also the most popular article on this site, so it must be working.
Go re-read everything above, take notes, and then take action and start working the phones, networking, and landing interviews and offers.
When you’re done, come back here, leave a comment, and let us know how many offers you got and which bank you’ll be working at.
Sign up for The Banker Blueprint today and enjoy:
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