How to Prepare for Your Full-Time Investment Banking Job

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Investment Banking PrepAs a follow-up to the article on investment banking summer internship prep, one reader wrote in asking about how full-time prep would be different.

I never wrote about this because I always thought of them as being the same – you’re not treated too much differently from an intern in the beginning.

However, there is one important difference: with a summer internship, your only goal is to get a return offer. With a full-time job, your goal is to move into something else better in the future (or advance within investment banking, if you’re crazy).

So what do you differently?

Similarities

Let’s start with the similarities.

It’s still a good idea to review or learn basic finance concepts, especially if you’re coming from an engineering or liberal arts background and haven’t had the exposure in school.

And you still need the appropriate attire (I strongly recommend buying this before or during training because you won’t have time later).

But it doesn’t help too much to go crazy with learning everything beforehand, because you learn best under pressure and because each bank does things differently.

For summer internship prep, I said networking and gathering intelligence are the most useful tactics you should use before you actually start, and the same applies to full-time jobs.

However, the reason why they are important (and arguably even more important) with full-time opportunities is that your group and your co-workers often determine where you’ll go next – your exit opportunity.

The Elusive Exit Opportunity

If you’re like most soon-to-be bankers, you don’t have any interest in staying in investment banking for the long-term: who wants to make pitch books forever, right?

You’re probably more interested in getting into private equity, hedge funds, venture capital, or corporate development, and you’re leveraging banking to get there.

And that’s what’s different about preparation: summer interns only need to focus on getting a return offer, whereas you need to think about where you want to be in 2-3 years or beyond (even if you’re coming in as an Associate, let’s be honest: you probably don’t want to stay in banking either).

Decisions, Decisions

This means that you need to decide fairly early on what you want to do afterward, and then act accordingly. If you already know what you want to do before you even start working, you have an even bigger advantage.

How to decide what to do is beyond the scope of this article, because we’re just focused on preparation tactics here.

But knowing the exit opportunities you want to pursue allows you to “prepare” for your full-time investment banking job in 3 distinct ways:

  1. Making sure you get into the right group.
  2. Making sure you get to know and work with the right people.
  3. Making sure you do the right work.

Some of these are more important or less important depending on what you’re pursuing specifically. For example, if you want to go to business school right after, then the right people matter more than your group or what you actually do – because you need strong recommendations.

But if you’re more interested in going to private equity, then being in the right group and doing the right work matter more (getting recommendations from senior bankers is still important, of course).

Right Group

A lot of emphasis is placed on being in the right group, but that may be a mistake: for many exit opportunities, the group you’re in matters less than you realize.

The one exception is for private equity jobs, where they really do care that you had exposure to Mergers & Acquisitions and/or Leveraged Finance – you can get in coming from a different background, but you stand a much better chance if you’re in one of those groups.

Similarly, if you want to do Distressed Investing, then Restructuring is your best bet; if you’re more interested in venture capital, then you probably want to be in a technology or healthcare group.

But if you don’t end up in one of these groups, it’s not the end of the world. Especially for opportunities outside traditional PE, bankers from all different groups get in… so your industry or product expertise matters less than you think it does.

Proper Placement

One of the first articles on Mergers & Inquisitions was a guest post from a former analyst friend on group selection – and as he said within, the process is very random. Sometimes you get a group long before ever starting; other times you get “evaluated” at training and then placed accordingly. And sometimes they just throw darts to determine group selection.

The best way to find out about this and make sure you get placed in the right group is to talk to full-time Analysts you already know at your bank, or go out and find some.

They will be able to tell you all the details behind how you get placed and who makes decisions – and which groups are “best” to be in.

If you can’t find anyone, then your best bet is to speak with the bankers you met in your interview process and ask them directly – usually you have the highest chance of getting placed into a particular group if a lot of bankers in that group know who you are and push for you to end up there.

Right People

Working with the right people matters for 2 reasons:

  1. You want to work with bankers who are likely to give you strong recommendations – whether for business school or for exit opportunities.
  2. You want to maintain your sanity – at least, what’s left of it – and avoid working for crazy people 100% of the time.

Figuring all this out goes along with the points above about proper group placement and asking Analysts and other bankers there about what to expect.

Another tip is to find bankers who are actually going into whatever you’re interested – whether that’s working at KKR or heading to HBS – and asking them about who they got recommendations from and how to approach those people. If someone has already done the work for you, you need to leverage that.

The second tip on maintaining your sanity often goes overlooked, but it’s an important one – your lifestyle will already be bad enough, so why make it worse with senior bankers who care even less than the average senior banker?

Again, the best way to find out who’s reasonable and who gives recommendations is to spend your time asking Analysts who are already there or anyone else you met in the interview process.

Right Work

Similar to getting into the right group, doing the right work matters more if you want to pursue something like private equity where they have specific requirements and want to see that you’ve worked on certain types of deals.

While getting into a group with a lot of deal flow might sound good on paper, keep in mind that that’s not always the best strategy – in fact, sometimes you’re better off going to a group that’s not busy or is known for better hours.

Why?

For exit opportunities like corporate development and venture capital, your network matters more than what work you’ve done or what group you were in – so if you’re interested in one of those, you want as much time as possible to network.

Which is hard to do if you’re working 100 hours per week in an M&A group.

Preparation Zen

Most of the email I get about “preparing for full-time jobs” comes from readers looking for a magic bullet solution: a book, program, or training you could go through that would ensure you are worth $20 million and conquer the world within the next 2 years.

But things are never that simple and the “easier” your preparation is, the less you’ll get out of it and the less prepared you’ll be.

This means that you have to ask yourself the difficult questions that you’ve been avoiding – like where you want to be in the future (as opposed to where you told interviewers you wanted to be) – and then get there by speaking with others at your firm to make sure you get into the right group, work with the right people, and do the right work.

This is difficult to pull off and requires going well outside your comfort zone, but that’s the point – and that’s the best way you can prepare for your full-time investment banking job.

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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45 Comments to “How to Prepare for Your Full-Time Investment Banking Job”

Comments

  1. Dudemaster says

    Very nice post!

    I got an offer from a Tier 2 European investment bank for a position as an analyst with an insurance sub-group within FIG. I was wondering what are advantages/disadvantages compared to a product group like M&A or LevFin? What are the chances for a PE exit after 2-3 years?

    Thanks!

      • Dudemaster says

        Thanks. So assuming that there is a decent deal flow, there will be an opportunity to learn the same skills that people learn while working in a M&A product group? I would like to have some flexibility and not only be limited to an FI-focused PE. Insurance seems to be a very specific and different industry.

        • says

          It really depends how your group is set up – at some places the product groups do most of the modeling work, and elsewhere the industry groups still do a good amount of it. I might check with Analysts who are already there to see.

          You can do something outside FI-focused PE, but keep in mind that you do get increasingly pigeonholed as you move up the ladder – one friend worked on a few telecom deals at a boutique bank, then was placed into a TMT group at a larger bank because of that, then went to a TMT-focused hedge fund because of that, and so on.

  2. SAmonkey says

    I am kind of confused how working a few years in IBD prepares you for a job in a hedge fund. arent the job responsibilities different?

    also, was just wondering if it will be possible in the future to add in dates for your posts? (just wanted to put things in perspective when looking at your old articles, did look at page source and luckily you labeled them there :) )

    • says

      They are different but IBD gives you a general overview of finance, valuation, and modeling which are definitely used at hedge funds, just in different ways.

      Also keep in mind that HFs are extremely varied and some are more like long-term investors whereas others are more like day traders… most bankers go more toward the investing side.

      The knowledge I give here is timeless, so dates are not necessary. :)

      (I may add them in the future, but it depends on the direction the site goes in the future… keep in mind that each year new people find it and start learning about investment banking all over again.)

  3. V says

    I’m going to be be interning in an equity research group over the summer and was wondering if you knew of any resources to learn more about it. Web searches have been marginally helpful, but mainly repeated what I already knew. Any websites like yours for equity research?

    • says

      Not that I know of – equity research is much, much smaller than IBD so there is not as much information about it.

      I do have some friends who have done it so I’ll see if I can do an interview at some point.

  4. associate promote says

    Did you neglect Financial Sponsors groups on purpose or is that just a sign of the times…

  5. says

    Hey random off topic question. Is it possible to switch from IB to consulting? I want to go from a mid / boutique after 2 years to a small / mid sized consulting firm. Preferably small. Yes let the gasps of “not pe not hf not corp fin” scream at me. Anyway just curious checked out management consulted but looks liek it is also for graduates trying to break in. I am ironically trying to do both. After my stint of course

    • says

      Its possible but you’ll probably have to go to a smaller consulting firm, as you mentioned. Only difficulty there is that you’ll need to do a lot of networking for the smaller places, which is difficult in banking due to the lack of time.

  6. Jennson says

    is it worth expressing where you want to go during the interview process if exiting to PE or a hedge fund is your ultimate goal? Not sure if it applies since (as you said) don’t want to be making pitchbooks for the rest of their lives.

      • Ray says

        In 2012, does this still apply? I summered at a bulge bracket last year and now am going to a middle market bank. At both places it seems even mentioning your desire to move to PE or HF’s after your 2 year stint is a no-no. The bulge bracket fired a few analysts for signing offers with PE shops 1 year into their analyst program. At the middle market, it seems even less likely that people are comfortable about discussing an exit to PE of HF’s. How has this aspect of the analyst program changed?

        • M&I - Nicole says

          Yes you wouldn’t want to mention your intention to move to PE/HF when you’re interviewing for an IBD role

  7. b.stark says

    In industry groups what do you spend most of your time on if your group doesn’t handle m&a deals? Do you get a lot exposure to people in that industry for networking?

    • says

      As a junior person, no, not directly. You spend a lot of time on administrative tasks, research, making presentations, etc.

      Actually in any group – even something “technical” like M&A – you spend over half your time on administrative tasks like updating files and sending out emails.

      Which is why I think it’s funny how everyone thinks banking involves super-advanced rocket science quantitative stuff, when in reality it’s just a little bit of addition and subtraction.

  8. Analyst 3 says

    If your goal in the current climate is to leave to join a PE firm, then this may be slightly misguided, given the total LACK of leverage/liquidity? and abysmal recent performance (and ever detriorating junior pay) of most PEs…KKR cough cough. Having said that, excellent opps to join regional (thinking ME) PEs who do not use leverage and are sitting on cashpiles.

    I also cannot see how a juinor I-Banker is a good candidate, versus someone with a markets background, for the vast majority of HF opportunities?

    Another, albeit different viewpoint encombassing, way of looking at the above is; if you have been fortunate enough to be blessed with a job within M&A, then do not focus unneccesarily energy on exit opps before you have even joined!!

    This is not to say elements of the above are not vital, of course working within a team/sector/geography you enjoy or are inspired by is worthwhile, and long term goals are a must… however crying/worrying if you do not get your first choice is frankly woeful. You will have other things on your mind at 2am in the morning…

    Instead concentrate on what makes a good M&A junior; attention to detail, nailing the basics when you first join, absorbing the steep learning curve, growing a thick skin.

    Provided you are talented, the cream always rises to the top over a few years, and the opportunities will be there… :-)

    • says

      In some fields I would agree with you, but the majority of junior bankers need to be thinking about exit opps mere months after they have joined because of how recruiting starts in January – so it seems a little short-sighted not to be thinking of this beforehand.

      As for hedge funds: keep in mind that there are funds with very, very different strategies out there. Obviously traders are more suited for short-term trading, bankers would be better for long-term growth/investment type funds.

      • Analyst 3 says

        Very valid point – just by way of background – I was recruited in London and I think the mind set is slightly different from across the pond.

        Very few members of my intake, across various banks, have managed to get PE jobs three years from joining.

        Indeed I don’t think many even aimed for this… the majority seem to still be stuck in IB (alebeit they might have moed to a rival bank), with a few having been made redundant, and a slightly lower amount having got into Business school.

        Also just wanted to comment how useful this site is, wish I had something like this when I was recruiting.

        Keep up the useful insights!

        • says

          Yeah, that is definitely true.

          Still, I do think most people who go into IBD never intend to stay in it for the long-term judging by emails and comments I’ve received from around the world. The mindset certainly is different in Europe and the UK though.

  9. Sean says

    Hi,

    I wrote a comment on a page and completely forgot which page it was. I have tried sifting through the pages but unfortuneately have been unable to find it. I wanted to see if you wrote a response as well..Anyway, my post was just as follows: I love your site and was referred by a mutual friend. I just graduated from USC in December and have been working as an Investment Accountant Contractor since then. I also had some summer internships (one in M&A) that may help. My GPA is around a 3.3…do you think I have a legitimate chance to making it into IB? Any specific tips/advice?

    • says

      Aside from “cold call hundreds of firms and don’t give up until you get responses,” there isn’t much you can do. It will require a massive networking effort to get in, given your GPA and background.

      Nothing is impossible but keep in mind that it’s also very, very difficult to get in once you’ve already graduated.

  10. Sean says

    Thanks for the quick response! I have been networking and am going to be visiting NY to actually meet some contacts. Any thoughts or suggestions as to what I should be talking to my contacts about? (Most of them are either bankers or have high level positions in PE, one PE guy mentioned on the phone that his specific firm only takes in MBAs or analysts who have completed their terms from top bulge bracket firms). Aside from my contacts, a friend of mine currently working in IB gave me a list of recruiters to call. Do you think approaching them also is a good strategy? I will continue to call boutiques in my area and see what response i get from them. Thanks again for the response and I look forward to hearing from you/reading more of your posts! Also I did want to say that I am looking seriously at your Wall Street site and was experiencing problems viewing a sample video — not sure if that was just me, or if others were facing the same issue.

    • says

      You should listen to the networking podcasts because Kevin and I answer most of these questions within… approach everyone you can, be natural and casual with what you talk about and come across as a person rather than an Excel monkey especially with the senior people.

      There was a brief issue with the videos over the weekend but should be fixed now.

  11. Sarah says

    I know that everyone says it’s near impossible to get into IB after you’ve already graduated if you haven’t gone down that path yet, but I really want to try. My background: graduated from UC Berkeley in Applied Mathematics with a 3.9 GPA, now working at the Federal Reserve Board after graduating (8 months ago). I’d like to take the next 6 months to prepare myself as best as possible for the fall analyst recruiting season; any advice on how to do this? As an undergrad I did a lot of physics and science, with no accounting or finance – should I take a finance course, study and take the CFA Level 1 exam, etc.? Thoughts on my chances at succeeding? Any help at all would be much appreciated. Thanks!

    • says

      At this point you would have to start with boutiques and smaller firms and use a combination of cold-calling and other networking to break in – if you look under the Recruiting tab at the top of the page there are tips and interviews there.

  12. James says

    I’m working as a SA at a BB, but think I want to do banking FT. With no experience in banking (valuation, merger models, etc) how is the best way to prepare/ make myself a competitive candidate with almost no skills in IBD?

    • says

      Try to learn some modeling/valuation on your own (see the books and courses recommended here) and learn how to talk about deals intelligently… do a search for deal discussions on the site for an example.

  13. Jimmy says

    Hi Brian,

    Thank you for this site, it definitely helped me with my job search process.

    I accepted a job offer at a BB to work in FIG. I would like to prepare as much as possible; however, the modeling / concepts seem to be pretty different.

    I have already completed the Training The Street self-study program. However, I’m looking for FIG-focused training materials. It would be great if I were able to build a basic model of a bank or insurance company. At the very least, I would like to know the vocabulary and understand the basics of financial statements.

    Do you have any ideas?

    Thank you.

  14. Bumba says

    Hello,
    I am first year MBA (Top 30 School, FT) student trying to break into IBD (M&A). I will be interning at a small advisory firm (M&A, Corp. Finance) in Switzerland during the summer (3 months). I also have a high chance of continuing with them on a full time basis. My background is that of an Info. Tech. consultant for a bulge bracket bank (around 7 years).
    Do you consider it a good option to continue with a small/boutique (for a year or so), gain some experience and then exit to a bulge bracket IB? How difficult is it to get into a BB IB immediately after my internship (impossible/doable with extensive amount of effort/not advised)? Sorry, for asking too many questions in a single post, but I was also wondering about salary implications.

    Regards,
    Bumba

    • says

      Yes, that’s a good option. It’s difficult to move to a larger bank but not impossible, depends heavily on your deal experience at that bank and probably need at least a year. Salary implications: boutique bonuses are generally 50% less assuming you mean a true regional boutique and not the likes of Evercore, Lazard, etc.

  15. sam says

    Im starting as a IB analyst this summer at a BB and was wondering how to prepare for it…
    SHould I be able to do proper merger analysis etc? or is this something I will learn during the training?
    Also my knowledge of excel is not amazing..should I take a course or wait for the training??

    • M&I - Nicole says

      You’ll learn that during the training program. You can always take classes before training to hone your skills

  16. Curt says

    Hello,

    I recently ended my summer internship with a top 25 endowment management entity, based on assets under management. Before I started, I thought it would be a good way to break into a hedge fund / PE firm after a few years, but after sitting and hearing many PE managers come in, almost all of their associates / analysts did IB before they worked for the respective PE firm. I greatly enjoyed my summer experience, but I am not sure it will get me to where I want to be later down the road, which is leading me to IB or S&T. I go to a target – semi target school, leader of one of the investing groups on campus, and have a modest (3.4-3.5) GPA. Thoughts?

    Thanks in advance,
    Curt

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Your buy side experience may be more useful to research (ER), buy side & institutional sales (in S&T). If you want to be more involved in the public markets, taking the CFA will be useful.

      If you want pure IB roles, I don’t think your internship was too relevant. I’d suggest you to boost your GPA to above 3.5, ideally before you submit your application to banks. I’d also suggest you to network a lot and see if you can find an “off-cycle” internship at a boutique, local IB in the next few months.

  17. Ali says

    Great article – thanks!!

    I’m joining one of the top 3 bulge bracket banks TMT sector team soon having interned there. I have a few months until I start and I’m spending pretty much all my time learning finance and modeling. My thoughts are this is time well spent as it will translate to me performing better = higher bonus.

    Time well spent or do you think this is a floored strategy and that I should just go on holiday or something lol.

    Many thanks!!

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