by Brian DeChesare Comments (571)

How to Break Into Investment Banking as an Engineer

how_to_break_into_investment_banking_as_an_engineer“It’s something very personal, a very important thing. Hell! It’s a family motto. Are you ready Jerry? I wanna make sure you’re ready, brother. Here it is: Show me the money. SHOW! ME! THE! MONEY! Jerry, it is such a pleasure to say that! Say it with me one time, Jerry.”

-Rod Tidwell, Jerry Maguire

If you’re like Rod here, you’ve come to the right place.

You’ve done engineering or you come from a technical background, but now you want to break into finance. Show me the money!

So here’s how you break into the industry:

What You’re Up Against

Every recruiting effort is a battle – sometimes you have advantages over the enemy, and sometimes you’re at a disadvantage.

Here’s what other professions are up against:

  • Lawyers: They can work long hours and deal with annoying clients all day, but can they count?
  • Accountants: They can do mind-numbingly boring work and they know accounting/finance, but can they work long hours?
  • Consultants:¬†They understand how to work with clients and how the corporate world works, but can they work banker hours and avoid using the mouse in Excel?
  • Liberal Arts Majors: They can communicate, but can they crunch numbers and burn the midnight oil?

And here’s your key challenge as an engineer:

“I know you’re good at math and making calculations, but can you talk to people? Do you have any social skills? Are you actually interested in finance? Are you willing to work 100 hours a week rather than the 50-60 you’d get at Google, Facebook, or Twitter?”

You need good answers to those, and your interview performance needs to be polished to a waxy shine – otherwise you’ll come across as the engineer who doesn’t know what he or she is getting into.

In Your Favor

But it’s not all bad news. There are some things working in your favor:

  • They won’t doubt your quantitative skills or your attention to detail.
  • Depending on your experience, you can prove that you can work long hours relatively easily.
  • You have options outside of investment banking that other professionals like lawyers and accountants don’t have access to.

Telling Your Story

Here’s how you apply our story-telling template and tutorial to investment banking interviews if you’re an engineer:

“I started off being interested in [Engineering / Technical Field] back [Before College / In College If You’ve Graduated], and thought I would do that for a few years.

But after getting exposed to [Your Finance “Spark” – Meeting Someone, An Event, Student Group, Internship], I realized that I was much more interested in pursuing business because I want to make an impact and work in something much faster-paced.

Since then, I’ve done some research on my own and also [Hopefully Done More Finance-Related Work / Activities], and I’ve realized that starting out in investment banking would be the best fit for me. In the long-term I want to be an investor or trusted advisor to companies, and I see banking as the ideal path to getting there.”

You might expand that in interviews or shorten it if you’re networking, but that’s the basic idea.

If you’re an engineer, you’ll have a much easier time telling your story if you’re applying to groups with a technology focus – whether they’re in banking, PE, or anything else.

It makes it much easier to use the Background In One Field + Finance Experience = Long-Term Success formula discussed in Why Investment Banking.

Networking Ninja Tactics

There’s not too much specific to engineers when it comes to networking: if you’re a student, go through alumni, your friends, family, peers, classmates, anyone in your fraternity or sorority, and so on.

Cold-calling also works well with local boutiques, and some regions – like Silicon Valley – have a high concentration of tech-focused boutique investment banks, so you may have more success there.

If you’re already working, you can go to your co-workers, former co-workers, clients, and former clients for networking purposes as well: just be careful to not say too much too early.

Should you go for bulge bracket banks or target middle-market / boutique firms exclusively?

It depends on how old you are and what you’ve done up to this point. Some rough guidelines:

  • Already Working Full-Time: Forget about bulge brackets unless you have a killer connection – go for smaller places.
  • Graduating Soon, With No Relevant Internships: See above.
  • You’re Applying for Internships in Your 2nd or 3rd Year at School: It’s worth spreading your net wide if you’re still at this stage, though you’ll have more luck with large banks if you’re at a well-known school.

Other Options: Hedge Funds, Prop Trading, Sales & Trading, and Middle/Back Office Roles

I mentioned above that engineers have options available to them that others don’t, because of their quantitative background.

There are 2 main categories here:

You stand a good shot of getting these jobs because they look for people with quantitative and technical backgrounds.

Even if you’re not doing algorithmic trading or any programming, you still need good math and probability skills to succeed in trading.

And if you’re in an IT or support role, programming is essential and you have a huge leg-up with your background.

But there are a few things to watch out for:

  • Even if the work you’re doing is more technical, having a demonstrated interest in finance is still critical. Especially at top schools, engineers are all very, very good at math – but they’re not all genuinely interested in finance.
  • You should avoid IT / support roles unless you truly have no other options – transitioning to the front office is quite tough unless you want to get into sales & trading rather than investment banking.
  • The main disadvantage of all these options is that your exit opportunities are more limited: you either stick with trading or you move into an entirely different industry if you get tired of it.

So they’re not right for everyone, but you should at least consider them and do some networking in these areas if you’re coming from an engineering background.

Spinning Your Resume

So you have your “story” set and you’ve planned out your recruiting strategy, which firms you’ll contact, and what fields of finance you’re most interested in.

Next, you need to craft a winning resume – because almost everyone will ask for it. Here’s how you do that:

Step 1: Use this investment banking resume template if you’re an undergraduate, or use this more experienced resume template if you’re already out of school.

Step 2: Pick the 3-4 experiences you want to highlight – these should be what you’ve done full-time, your summer or school-year internships, or major activities where you’ve held leadership roles.

Step 3: Remove technical jargon and engineer / programming-lingo from your resume and re-frame everything in terms of business rather than C++.

Here’s a poor way to word an example bullet on your resume:

“Inspected client’s customer support code and assisted with migration from Linux 2.4 to Linux 2.6 by implementing support for 64-bit multi-core processors in assembly code as well as support for threaded processes in operating system kernel.”

No one aside from programming geeks knows what the hell that means – so you need to write about the business results instead:

“Reviewed client’s customer support system and found room to optimize process by 20%; recommended and implemented changes, which saved client $10,000 and 10 hours of labor per week over first year.”

Please don’t write about multi-core processors – write about the time or money you saved people, or the additional revenue you brought in as a result of what you did.

In Interviews

Interviewers will focus on the key questions we referenced above:

  • Are you genuinely interested in finance? Do you have a demonstrated track record of interest?
  • Have you learned enough about accounting and finance to answer basic technical questions?
  • Do you have the stamina to work 100-hour weeks?
  • Can you talk to people? Comb your hair? Dress properly?

Here’s how you can answer these “objections”:

  • The 100-hour week one is probably easiest: just talk about all the lab work you had to do, all the last-minute projects you worked on, or any time you hit “crunch time” in your internships or full-time jobs.
  • To prove your interest in finance, pick a few interesting tech (or other) stocks or companies to discuss. Avoid Google, Apple, Twitter, Facebook, etc. as everyone will talk about those. Also talk about any investing you’ve done or any recent tech market news.
  • To answer technical questions, there are interview guides and financial modeling programs that will teach you everything you need to know. You can also go through accounting / finance textbooks or ask your friends for a crash-course.

The last point – proving your social skills – is tough to explain in words, but you need to be polished and you can’t hesitate when you answer questions.

The best way to get good at this one is to practice with any friends who are smooth talkers and imitate them as much as possible.

Also, make brevity a habit – many engineers ramble on endlessly about technical details, but in interviews you want to keep 90% of your answers to 2-3 sentences at the most. If they want more, let them ask.

Technical Questions

Since you don’t have a finance background, bankers will have lower expectations when it comes to technical questions.

But that doesn’t mean you can just ignore them: at the very minimum, you need to know the fundamental accounting and valuation questions – the 3 financial statements, how they link together, how to walk through changes to the statements, and how to value a company.

You could get questions on more advanced topics like merger models and LBO models, but these are more common if you’ve had some type of finance experience: definitely know the basic concepts, but don’t spend time learning every single obscure detail.

If you’re in a time crunch, your best bet here is a comprehensive, concise interview guide that lays out everything in plain and simple terms.

Plan B Options

So you networked your butt off, you spun your resume as best you could, and you nailed your interviews.

But you came out of it with no offers.

What are your options?

1. Consider Finance Roles Outside of Investment Banking

See the section above on hedge funds, trading, and middle / back office roles. While these have some disadvantages compared to investment banking, they’re still much better than sitting around watching TV all day.

You could also think about asset management, private wealth management, consulting, or anything else that takes you closer to business – investment banking is not the be-all end-all that some would have you believe.

2. Business School

It’s never a magic bullet solution, but you can use business school to re-brand yourself… if you do it properly.

Just make sure you get into a top MBA program, that you do some kind of pre-MBA internship, and that you have a few years of full-time work experience first.

3. Keep At It

This one is only applicable if you’re working full-time: if you’re in school, you have deadlines.

But if you’re already out and working, keep in mind that the job search process takes a long time even if you’re spending 8 hours a day on it.

Expect to spend 6-9 months looking before you find anything – and it might take a year or longer in a poor economy.

So don’t throw in the towel until you’ve exhausted Plans B, C, and D.

Series: Career Transitions

M&I - Brian

About the Author

Brian DeChesare is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys memorizing obscure Excel functions, editing resumes, obsessing over TV shows, traveling like a drug dealer, and defeating Sauron.

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  1. Anmol Modi

    I am a mechanical engineering student and I am wanting to shape my career in IB. In order to do that either I have to do master In finance or a MBA. So, according to you which one shouldbe the best option. I am not interested in doing job in field of my study. I live in India where getting a job in IB or Boutique banks after doing engineering is next to impossible. So, what should I be doing in order to not waste my time and get started with my aspiration.

    1. Depends on how much work experience you’ve had… a Master’s degree is better if you’ve had less experience (1-2 years), while an MBA is more appropriate if you’ve had more work experience. But if you’re in India, as you said, it will be almost impossible anyway, so you might want to consider leaving the country or moving into a Big 4 firm instead.

      1. Anmol Modi

        Thank you for the response. I have less than 2 years of experience.
        I am prepared to leave the country but I am in a dilemma which country to choose for studying and then settling down there to work.

        1. The UK is probably the best option coming from India.

          1. Thank you for the response.

  2. Hi …
    I’m basically an engineering graduate (electrical engineering) and worked for 2 years as junior engineer in a Pvt. Engineering company. I left that job and later joined in income-tax department, Central Govt revenue department of Govt of India as assistant (through competitive exam), where my nature of duties among others include, auditing the books of accounts of the assessee, verifying for income escaping tax and assisting my officer in preparation of assessment of order as well as filing appeals in courts etc. Total work experience in IT- department is 4 years with 1 promotion as well. Now I want to get into more finance related positions like financial analyst or into IB in private international banks. So how do I get into IB-Finance with this work .? how do companies view such experience as per your knowledge and how to project my interests in finance.? Is mba in usa from a decent school a good option..? should I also pursue any financial related courses to help my cause. I’m 26years now. Thank you.

    1. At this point, you would need an MBA and some type of pre-MBA internship to make the switch. The job market has become too competitive to do it without both of those. Your experience looks decent, but a lot of people come into business school with audit/tax/IT experience, so you’ll need something else to stand out.

  3. Hi there,
    I recently graduated with a Bachelors In Electrical Engineering, and working as a Project Engineer for a Construction Engineering firm. While in college, I had a part time job working for an event management company hosting music events around New York City, and I gained experience in Strategic Managements, Sales Managements, Recruiting and Training. Moreover, I also have management experience in retail industry. In my current position as a full-time engineer, I also have to collaborate with people from various background, follow-up, coordinate, schedule job progress and participate in efficient planning and bid pricing.
    I am really interesting to change my career track and break into Investing Banking/PE. But I have no business degree or relevant work experience. Moreover how can I make myself more marketable for that industry without having an MBA at this point, even though I am considering getting into a part-time MBA program next time.

  4. Hi,

    I live in Australia and am currently about to finish my first year of engineering with a second major in finance yet I am debating whether to continue engineering. Thus far, I have done more finance units than eng (its how my plan worked out) and seem to be enjoying them more than my eng units. Recently, I have been debating whether or not to change to a commerce degree, I have to make this decision over the summer. I feel my skills are more suited to commerce and I have more potential to create a solid grounding for my future career. I have good people skills and good marks ( finance > eng) and particularly enjoyed corporate finance. I know the information i have provided is vague but any advice on whether i should change and which area of the financial sector would suit me best would be well appreciated.


  5. Currently a sophomore in college, majoring in EE. Most people recommend engineers go for a Msc/Mba/other certification in order to break in. But I m not hoping to go for those because of the opportunity cost.

    I had a finance internship in my freshman summer. My goal is to break into IB after grad. Do you think I have a shot at getting a Ibanking internship this summer and for the next?

    1. Sure. You don’t need an Msc/MBA/other certification to get in as an undergrad… just solid internship experience. See some of our previous interviews with engineers who got into the finance industry.

  6. Currently a 2nd year EE student. 1st summer, I had a boutique PE internship. My grades are not the best right now 3.1/4. I m looking at doing an Ibanking internship this summer.

    I have the PE internship going for me but my grades are a bit low. What is within my reach? What should I do at this point?

    Also, I m looking at learning the technicals ASAP to cover all my bases. And also reading the news daily.

    1. I think an IB internship is within your reach, but more likely at a smaller firm if your GPA isn’t great. At this point, start pounding the pavement and networking extensively… find all the local firms you can, network, cold call, cold email, and so on, and pitch your PE experience while avoiding mention of your GPA until they ask for it.

  7. Karthik257


    I am a mechanical engineer with 6 years of experience. At the same time, I was trading part time for the whole 6 years. I really liked it and wanted to make a career out of this. So I quit the job and started investing using buffett strategy for past 2 years and I am successful in this as well. Now in order to make a lot of money using the skills acquired, I am thinking of joining an investment bank.

    Do you think I am in the right path?

    What will be the chance of succeeding in this route?

    Thanks in advance.

    1. Nicole Lee

      If you’re good at trading I’d suggest that you look at buy-side roles or even trading firms. If you have a good track record and strong interviewing skills I’d say your chances are 50/50

      1. Karthik257

        Thanks Nicole

  8. There is a PE specialised in mining investment. Their analyst position asking for mining engineering degree + 3 years mining industrial experience + proven interest in finance. I satisfy the first 2 conditions but no financial degree nor background. I applied for the job and HR said I don’t pose a proven interest in finance.

    Do you recommend me to go to business school to get a 3 years degree? and give a shot on intern or something. Or shall I keep trying other companies. pl. I will be 32 by the time of graduation. What is your recommendation?

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Unless you get into a top business school (think Columbia, Stern, HBS), I am not 100% sure if it is worth your time. Interning/connecting with other finance companies maybe more relevant at this point.

  9. Is there any reputed distance learning programme in finance or investment banking like high end certification like CFA OR ACCA OR FRM that could allow me to break into investment banking as i am chemical engineer from india?

    1. M&I - Nicole

      I don’t think there are any distance learning programme that does this. New York School of Finance maybe the best bet.

  10. Hi,

    I would like to get some advises as well.
    I have Mechanical Eng. background in Turkey and M Sc. in Management in Germany. In the last 6 month of my Masters Degree, I had an internship at Finance in a well-known automotive company and afterwards 3 months another internship at Marketing in one of Germany offices of a rapid growing airline. For more than 3 years I have been working at Marketing & Sales in HQ of this same airline and got involved in a very broad strategic consulting project.
    Since then, I have been in pursuit of a career either in consulting or investment advisory (ib or pe). How shall I make it? Which steps should I follow?
    Please advise me..

    1. M&I - Nicole

      I am not 100% sure if PE is the right fit for you, but you may find this article useful:

      You may find consulting or even corporate development more relevant to your background. Management Consulted is a good resource for consulting roles:

  11. Hey..
    I’m persuing my bachelor’s degree in engineering and currently in 3rd Yr. CGPA of 9.2 and SGPA of 9.0 throughout. Ever since I wanted to boost up my career as an IB. I don’t have any Work experience, but looking forward to get into a top MBA college after graduation. I would like to know is there any way to switch my career to this field? Suggestions awaited.

  12. Petroleum Engineering Major

    Not Amazing GPA — 3.1… About to graduate in the spring. Not terrible though. Going to bring it up this year.

    If I got some solid O&G experience (say 3-5), would it be possible to make the move into Banking (say an M&A role) or hedge funds later with solid Industry experience (preferably w/o an MBA)?

    From talking to finance people they do not know the oil and gas industry…… at all. (I had a buddy from high school in IB think a rig was a well).

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Yes you may have to network a lot and also understand the O&G modelling. I’d suggest that you approach O&G bankers, O&G researchers at asset management firms/hedge funds. No, you don’t necessarily need an MBA to break in, since your industry knowledge can help. But you’ll probably have to network quite a bit. The articles below should help:

  13. Hi,

    After graduating in electrical engineering with a relatively low GPA, I started working in telecom industry. After about 2 years of work, I completed my master’s in innovation management and entrepreneurship and worked with two failed startups and then came back to engineering roles in telecom industry and have been working here for past 3 years. Now, I would want to make a transition into IB/Venture Capital or PE. What are my options? I have considered MBA from top 10 schools, what are my chances given my GPA was low in bachelors degree but I have excellent grades in my master’s degree! thanks!

    1. M&I - Nicole

      If your GPA is high in your masters, this can compensate for your low GPA in your undergrad years. I’d focus on IB first rather than VC/PE given your experience, unless you’ve started a company, which would be useful for VC roles. Your chances are 50/50 given your lack of industry experience

  14. Hi There,

    I have completed my master of science degree and have some research experience in biotechnology. In due course I have realized that scientific research is not what I want to pursue anymore due to various reasons. The financial sector really excites me. So I am planning to take some financial courses and switch from a science background to the financial sector. Would you be able to guide me and suggest if the move is possible at first. I have been advised to go through CSC (Canadian Securities Course) to start with. I am just looking to get into the the financial sector as a new entrant. Is it possible ?


    1. M&I - Nicole

      Yes this is possible. There are biotech finance roles which you may find useful: That maybe an easier route to move to finance, rather than taking the leap straight into finance

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