It’s a question I’ve been getting a lot lately.
“Why didn’t I get an interview at Morgan Stanley New York?”
“Why was my friend selected for JP Morgan Houston but I was not?”
“Why did I get an interview at CS Hong Kong even though my resume had a typo in it?”
Interview selection at individual banks is incredibly random, and you never know what someone’s biases will be.
Yes, if you “bankify” your resume and avoid common mistakes, you have a higher probability of getting an interview. But that doesn’t mean you’ll actually get one – and sometimes even if your resume is awful, you might still get an interview.
Example #1: A Real-Life Jack Bauer
Once, we were sitting around reviewing resumes and someone stumbled across a guy who had served in the military (in a country where it was a requirement).
Alone, that wouldn’t be too impressive – but this guy had served in several well-known battlefields and listed them all on his resume.
One of the bankers in the room was also ex-military so this immediately jumped out at him – and even though this guy had 0 finance experience and his resume was marginal at best, he still got an interview on the recommendation of the ex-military banker.
If you know how to commandeer vehicles, pitch books should be easy, right?
Example #2: My Disagreeable Roommate
We had just received a resume from one of my former roommates. He was transitioning from wealth management to investment banking, and he had all the elements of a successful resume.
I took one look at it and told everyone in the room we shouldn’t interview him.
As roommates, we got into arguments over the smallest issues and there was no way I could ever see myself or anyone else working long hours with him.
You could argue that living with someone is different from working with him, but in banking you basically live with your co-workers.
Example #3: That (Fake?) Private Equity Internship
One time we saw a lot of applicants from one school had all “interned” at the same “private equity” firm. Normally we only spent 30 seconds per resume and never did any outside research, but seeing 5-10 people all with internships at one place raised some eyebrows.
None of us had heard of this firm, so it was either fake or another J.T. Marlin.
We did some digging online and found that it was real – but it was also inaccurate to label it “private equity.” It was more of a “Well, my rich uncle just gave us $5 million to invest so let’s look at some cool startups in the area” type of place.
We did not give an interview to anyone who claimed they “worked on LBOs.”
Example #4: The Failed Fraternity Guy
One guy who had some solid experience and a few banking internships had just submitted his resume.
When we were reviewing it, someone else in the room recognized him – it turned out this same guy had (unsuccessfully) rushed his fraternity a few years back. In fact, it was more than unsuccessful – everyone hated him and wanted nothing to do with him in the aftermath.
There were also suspicions of illegal activities on his part (use your imagination). Deciding that the risk was not worth it, we did not give him an interview.
Example #5: The Guy Who Wouldn’t Take “No” for an Answer
This one appeared in the comments the other day but it was in an article from over a year ago, so I felt it would be worth highlighting here:
“My situation was very bad…I had no prior work experience (neither industrial nor financial), I had no student exchange programs (highly rated in Europe), I had no stellar grades…BUT I had a genuine and strong interest for IB.”
Ok, so far you have an uphill battle…
“I wrote a full-of-passion investment banking cover letter, and they called me for the 1st round; my motivation impressed the Associates I talked with and after two weeks I was called for the 2nd round (a business case followed by a discussion with a VP, and a traditional interview with a Director).
The day after they offered me the job, although other candidates had better resumes (prior Internships in Bulge Brackets!).”
Nothing is impossible.
So What Can You Do About It?
If the recruiting process is so random and you get accepted or rejected for reasons beyond your control, what can you actually do about it?
- Spread your net wide. A great resume is only effective if you apply everywhere, from the tiniest boutique to Goldman Sachs.
- Play nice with others. Finance is a small world, and someone not liking you elsewhere often comes back to haunt you here.
- Don’t be afraid to be interesting – random facts can help you quite a bit (but please, don’t do a video resume, at least not in finance).
- Oh yeah, you still need to have a good resume anyway. Luck won’t help you everywhere, even if you are a real-life Jack Bauer.