How to Break Into Investment Banking at the Associate Level from a Part-Time / Evening / Weekend MBA Program

46 Comments | Case Studies & Reader Success Stories - From MBA Programs

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Investment Banking - MBA-Level Associate InterviewsIf there’s one feat more difficult than breaking into investment banking coming from a non-target school, it’s breaking in from a part-time / evening / weekend MBA program.

Not only do you contend with inferior access to recruiters and on-campus presentations, but you’re also working full-time and therefore have limited time to network and learn everything on your own.

On top of all that, you also have to deal with borderline “illegal” questions designed to determine whether or not you have a family and kids, and whether or not you can truly “commit” to the job.

But it can be done.

Our interviewee today did just this and moved from a full-time job and part-time MBA program into an investment banking associate summer internship, which he plans to leverage for an… uncommon path in the future.

Let’s dive right in and learn about at least one way to leverage IB experience that you haven’t thought of before:

Statement of Purpose

Q: So, how’d you get interested in banking and what are you planning to do with it in the future?

A: Sure, so I started out completing an undergraduate degree at a “target school” and majored in math and business. Afterward, I worked in consulting for about 4 years.

Then, I moved to a highly acquisitive Fortune 500 company, where I worked in Corporate Finance roles (FP&A specifically).

I’ve been there for the past 5 years, and 2 years ago I started the evening / weekend / part-time program at a well-known business school.

So I’ve been taking classes on nights and weekends while working full-time at my company for the past 2 years, which has been quite hectic.

I became more interested in M&A and banking when the company I worked at went on an acquisition spree and I got firsthand exposure to these deals. The industry was in the midst of major consolidation, and I had a front-row seat to much of it.

As a result, I grew more interested in corporate development roles at my company, but it was tough to get in without an investment banking background.

So I decided to apply for MBA programs to have a fighting chance at getting into IB… which I want to stay in for 3-5 years, and then use to move back to my old company in a corporate development role.

Unlike most other MBA candidates, I’m not aiming to become an MD or even move to the buy-side – my current plan is to reach the VP-level and then switch over once I’ve gained enough transactional experience to move into the corporate development team.

Q: Interesting plan, though I suppose you couldn’t exactly state this one in interviews…

A: No, of course not – but I didn’t view it as any worse than what other people were claiming.

At least I’m not planning to jump ship after only 1 or 2 years.

Q: Yeah, that’s true and I bet if you look at the data, most new Associates actually leave the firm in less than 5 years anyway.

So what was your overall networking and recruiting strategy?

A: Essentially, I was super-aggressive with my networking and also very focused on a specific industry (the one that my current company is in) and a specific geography (think East Coast vs. West Coast vs. Midwest).

The process starts with “investment banking days” at my school, where banks came in September to present 30-minute speeches on their deals, culture, people, and more.

I had signed up for your courses and guides before that, and already knew exactly how to leverage these information sessions.

A couple factors worked in my favor:

  • Relatively few people from my school were going for investment banking this year – I’m not sure if it’s because of the economy, recent industry trends, or because it’s just not as popular here.
  • I really did go crazy with networking. I collected business cards from literally everyone who came to these events, sent out emails to all of them, and attempted to set up informational interviews with all of them.

I set up over 60 informational interviews at 14 banks and I spent around 4 months simply networking.

From that effort, I won 14 first round interviews, several second round interviews, and ultimately an offer at one of my top choices.

I started back in September, well in advance of the December / January summer internship recruiting timeframe.

I also took a diversified approach to banks – with lower hiring and news of layoffs, I really didn’t know where I’d end up or if I’d win an offer at all.

My “top 5” consisted of both bulge brackets and newer, smaller boutiques making inroads in my industry.

Q: Awesome. Did you notice any trends throughout this process? Were MDs, Associates, or VPs most helpful?

A: The main trend: alumni were always the most helpful. It didn’t matter whether they were undergrad alumni, MBA alumni, or even which version of the MBA program they had completed.

I almost always targeted Associates – I would pick 3-4 Associates per bank, read up on deals they had worked on, discuss the culture with them, and set up most of my informational interviews with them.

I never targeted Analysts, and I didn’t even focus on MDs that much; I found that Managing Directors were less responsive than Associates from my school. I met with a few VPs as well.

The Challenges of Part-Time / Evening / Weekend MBA Programs

Q: We’ve gotten lots of questions on whether or not you’ll be at a disadvantage coming from non-full-time MBA programs.

What was your experience?

A: Yes and no. On one hand, you do have more time to recruit if you’re in a full-time program; on the other hand, you can turn around and spin your other commitments as strengths in interviews (e.g. “I’ve already been working 70-80 hours per week due to classes and work, so I can easily do it again”).

You do gain an advantage at most full-time programs because they might offer better access, more fellowships / scholarships, and so on, but it’s not impossible to break in coming from part-time / evening / weekend programs, either.

However, you do NOT want to act like you have a lot of “baggage.”

So do not go into networking or interviews pointing out how you have a family, heavy workload, crazy schedule, and so on – only bring up these points to answer “objections” if they specifically ask you about the work hours and whether or not you can really do it.

Don’t lie, but don’t voluntarily disclose damaging information, either.

“Act like a full-timer” as much as possible, including going out for drinks and dinners after these events.

Q: What about handling your current job while you’re in the midst of recruiting for these roles?

A: You are at a disadvantage due to the time constraints, but if you’re open with your manger about the MBA program and recruiting (and he likes you), he’ll understand and do everything he can to help you.

In my case, my manager knew all along because I was receiving a tuition reimbursement from my company.

Fewer than 5% of part-time / evening / weekend MBA candidates here actually complete internships, but I was upfront with my manager from the start and told him that I planned to do an internship, and he supported it.

So he gave me additional time off, allowed me to work from home and/or build a more flexible schedule, and so on.

He was a bit disappointed that I decided to leave (at least for the summer) to complete the internship, but he never tried to stop me or “demote” me or anything like that.

Q: And did you face any differences in the recruiting process, networking, or interviews as a result?

A: Recruiters sometimes got confused over graduation dates because many of these part-time programs are 3 years rather than 2 years. So you need to explain precisely when you’re graduating.

I studied your guides and networking process diagrams, and I don’t think there were huge differences at the Associate-level vs. the Analyst-level.

A few things I did notice:

  1. Informational interviews are much more likely to turn into real interviews. I was caught off-guard once – in one informational, I was talking about my background and suddenly they leapt into questions about Enterprise Value, Unlevered FCF, and so on. I am in corporate finance, but I don’t necessarily use these concepts all day so I needed more practice.
  2. You need to know a specific industry very well at the MBA-level. Be on top of all deal activity, sub-sectors, legislation, and so on – expectations of industry knowledge are much higher, especially if you’re also working full-time in that specific industry.
  3. Consistency is very important. They record literally every interaction with you, what you’ve said at different events, and who you’ve spoken with. So you need to go in with a clear story and say the same things over and over from the start.

Associate-Level Interviews

Q: Great. What were your interviews like?

A: All my 1st round interviews took place at my school and most of them were 2-on-1. The 2 interviewers usually consisted of a VP and a Senior Associate; MDs were very rarely there for 1st round interviews.

I had at least 3-4 interviews every day, some within 15-20 minutes of each other.

Honestly, the biggest challenge was getting the names and deals correct – I had researched and spoken to so many people by this point that it was tough to keep everything straight.

100% of my interviews started with the “Walk me through your resume” question; after that, they were all pretty standard behavioral and situational questions.

Why investment banking?,” “Why our bank?” and similar questions all came up.

The main difference was that some interviewers focused more on my current job and what I did there in corporate finance, while others would ask about the banking industry and ask me for stock recommendations.

I was caught off-guard once because I had “long” recommendation prepared, but no “short” pitch, so I had to think on my feet and come up with an overvalued company.

Q: Any big twists in the process or the questions?

A: One factor I didn’t consider: I hadn’t met many of my interviewers previously.

My contacts made while networking helped me get my foot in the door, but the interviewers themselves were often brand-new, so my networking didn’t necessarily give me an immediate advantage.

A few unexpected questions came up: some banks actually asked brainteasers (e.g. “How many people have ever lived on Earth since the beginning of civilization?” and “How much does this building weigh?”), and they asked about “client emergency situations” such as what you would do if you had to prepare a presentation for a CEO and had extremely limited time to do so.

They also asked about recent deals in my industry, such as high-profile LBO and M&A deals that had recently been announced – even if I didn’t mention them, they just assumed I would know about those deals.

The “curveball” questions came up in the 2nd rounds more than the 1st rounds.

Q: So how did you prepare for everything?

A: I focused on your interview guide for the first round, along with watching the modeling videos themselves.

Beyond that, I found that it was more important to actually complete the files and do the work myself in your modeling courses – otherwise it would have been very difficult to answer some of the technical questions.

Another difference at the Associate-level: they will ask you more about the specifics of analyses and will go into a lot more depth.

Effectively, many interviews turn into “verbal case studies” where they walk you through a specific company or scenario, and you have to apply the analysis and answer questions about tweaks and special cases.

It’s difficult to answer those questions without actually having completed all this work on your own.

Finally, don’t underestimate the scope of possible questions: they even asked me to estimate the IRR for different amounts of capital invested and returned and different timeframes in one interview.

Q: I get a lot of flak for the “approximating IRR” question and devoting space to explaining it in the interview guide, but I’m glad that it proved helpful…

Did anyone “object” by questioning your commitment to the industry?

A: It never came up as a direct question, but it would have been easy to answer: I had only worked at 2 different companies in the past 8 years, so I wasn’t exactly jumping around all the time.

And, of course, I always said that I saw myself in banking for the long-term.

The way I pitched myself and told my story: banking is a “marriage” of client-facing roles, finance roles, and industry knowledge.

I’ve had experience in both roles (from consulting and corporate finance) and I know my industry very well, so I have the “complete package.” And in the future, I’m going to leverage that package to advise companies in this industry.

Q: Yeah, that type of industry-specific approach tends to work well at the Associate-level.

Did you see any differences at different-sized banks or in different regions?

A: I focused exclusively on one region and one industry, so I can’t say for sure – I actually decided against applying to other places because I wanted to stay in this area.

I did apply to many banks because I wanted to hedge myself: the way I looked at it, my current job was fine, and if I got only poor offers or no offers, I wouldn’t have left.

The questions were very similar across the 14 banks I interviewed with, but the middle-market and boutique ones focused more on the “Why the middle-market?” question (which I didn’t necessarily have a great answer to).

A few places went deep into technical questions and ignored everything else, but that was the exception and not the rule.

Q: And now to a controversial topic: did they ever try to figure out if you were married, or had kids or significant commitments outside work, and “screen you” like that?

A: Technically, they can’t ask those kinds of questions directly because they’re illegal in the US.

But they would always try to find out indirectly by asking questions like, “So, what do you do for fun outside of work?” or “How do you spend your time outside of work?”

That’s an innocuous question for an undergrad, but at the MBA-level it means, “Do you have a family and/or other commitments and, if so, will you really be committed to this job?”

I approached these questions by disclosing some, but not all information.

For example, I might have said, “I spend time with my family,” but I stayed away from, “I have a wife and 2 kids, one 10-year old and one 5-year old.”

But it’s dependent on the bank – some claim to “love their kids,” others are silent on the issue, and others hint that they require your total commitment to the job. You need to figure out these types of office and bank differences when networking.

Don’t be defensive or then say, “… but I can still do this job! Really!” – answer the implied “objection” directly only if they follow-up and ask you more about it (which is unlikely due to the illegality).

Q: Great. Thanks for your time! You have a great story, and I learned a ton about MBA-level interviews in the process.

A: My pleasure. Also, you should write an article on how to negotiate and/or shop around full-time offers coming out of an internship… just an idea.

Q: Oh, it’s on the list. Coming soon, hopefully.

A: Thanks!

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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46 Comments to “How to Break Into Investment Banking at the Associate Level from a Part-Time / Evening / Weekend MBA Program”

Comments

  1. Corn says

    What a great article. Hats off to this guest as I know exactly what it takes doing all the campus presentations, networking, working full time and doing an MBA!! I’m in exactly the same situation doing an Executive MBA at a target school in the UK and applied for a number of summer associate internships last year. I got round to a number of 2nd rounds but didn’t progress beyond as I hadn’t thoroughly grasped the technical side. The hand outs were great but as the guest said, one needs to have done the modelling itself to gain deeper understanding which is what they expect at the associate level and I was no where near – coincidentally as the guest said it seems the bankers like LBO modelling questions at associate level as I had the same, IRRs, investment options etc.

    Brian, I’ve now missed the associate internships but looking to do more modelling, do more networking and consider full time analyst recruitment as I graduate next year. Do you think this is a good plan?

    Ps: I also plan on signing up to your coaching service.

    • says

      Thanks! If you have another year and it’s clear that you need to improve your technical skills, then yes, I think that plan could work, but you may also want to go after broader opportunities just to give yourself a few backup plans. I’m also not sure if you meant to write “full time associate recruitment” or if you’re also considering analyst-type roles at buy-side firms and that’s what you meant – because normally banks only recruit associates from MBA programs.

      Please let me know if you have any questions on the coaching services.

  2. LTCM says

    Thank you Brian… I work in fund raising for hedge funds, have seriously been considering an executive MBA to “re-invent” myself and get the hard skills I need to move over to the investment side. This is a great article!

  3. E says

    Great article. Just this year, there’s an non-finance background MBA in a Professional program at my school that did this successfully. This is at a local-target for the big banks, but not top-10, so we had a fair amount of on campus recruiting for the local office. But ultimately, a lot of networking and his relevant industry experience made the difference I think.

  4. Ryan says

    Really great article. Always wanted a guide for post-MBA associate interviews. Maybe I missed some but is it possible to have more articles for associate or VP level (career banker), like typical day or benefit/life styles?

    Also do you think a quantitative pre-MBA background (quant in buyside fund) is a disadvantage for post-MBA associate hiring? Do some groups prefer people with good math/vba? (i just guess convertible or leverage finance?)

    Thanks.

    • says

      Thanks! We hope to cover an associate or VP-level day in the life soon.

      Quantitative pre-MBA background is probably a “neutral to helpful” in post-MBA associate hiring – not as good as an IB/PE background but much better than doing something unrelated like marketing or engineering.

      Most banking groups don’t use VBA or “real math” too much, but yes, LevFin or Convertibles might be good candidates for that list given that you do more quantitative work in those.

      • Ryan says

        Thanks Brian.

        Also, could you also cover the mid-long term career difference between groups for career bankers? Currently I see most of discussions are for exit-opp at analyst level (which group can ensure me a PE offer etc) but not from perspective of mid-long term career in banking. I understand maybe it is much more diverse and YMMV though

        • says

          Yup that is on the list as well. Traditionally, mid-career bankers either stay in the industry or go to a normal company in the industry they covered in a corporate finance / development / business development role, but it varies.

  5. Jason says

    Brian – Thanks a lot for this site. I followed this since Freshman year. I attended a non-target. I posted a few weeks ago regarding some interviews. I’m currently working in research position at a megafund HF (first job out of undergrad). Thanks to a lot of your articles & guides I managed to break directly into the buyside at megafund from a non-target. It was through off-cycle recruiting not one of those structured programs (I clearly didn’t have access to that). Been at the position for about 1.5 weeks thus far. The process is surprisingly long (maybe it seems longer when you’ve already graduated). My fund has a *unique* training/initiation phase before you get to do any real work but am excited nonetheless. Thanks a lot.

    You don’t know me & probably will never meet me but surprisingly had a notable impact on my life.

    Networking, life & hard work rewards people through a myriad of paths, sometimes extremely painful, but the twist & turns make the journey a lot more interesting.

  6. Student says

    Hey, I’m currently a high school Senior and I’ve been accepted to the following schools:

    UC Berkeley
    University of Michigan (With a 10k Scholarship)
    Vilanova University
    Rutgers University
    Tufts University
    UCLA
    Georgetown SFS

    Which of these schools would you say has the best undergraduate program that will help me get into investment banking!

    I think I saw someone else suggest it, but It would be awesome if you could create a list of “Target” schools, or schools that are highly recruited from.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Thanks for your input! We don’t create this list because there’s no universally agreed-upon list of target schools, 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. http://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/faq/

      I’d choose Georgetown (I’m a Hoya) because its alum network on Wall Street is probably the strongest among the schools you mentioned above.

  7. Darrell says

    Hi Brian

    Any chance you would be doing a post on a fixed income research anytime soon? It seems there is not much information available on fixed income interview technicals except distrssed debt investing and lcd comps website. Would be great if you could do one on investment grade research and one on high yield research.

  8. Julio says

    Hey brian!
    I really enjoy reading your articles! I have signed in several courses at BIWS and I hopefully it would help me for an interview I will have in a couple of weeks at an Investment Bank and also for next year to get full time offers. I have a doubt with IB. It is really so easy to become a VP in IB? I mean is it true that just by staying 6-7 years (3 as an analyst and 3-4 as an associate) you become VP?. I know hours are very hard and not everyone is able to work 100 h/week during 6 years but seams a little bit easy specially for people with a bit of intelligence and insomnium.

    Thank you very much for your time,

    Julio

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Thank you for signing up for our courses! Not necessarily, it can be tough these days. You’ll need to have the skills required to run deals and win clients. Most importantly, you’ll need support from seniors. Your ability to originate deals is crucial. Quite a few associates move firms before they get promoted/so as to get promoted. Some get fired before they get promoted in this environment. There are so many factors at play it is very hard to say. However, if you have talent, passion & the ability to originate deals (a track record as well as rolodex), you will be fine in this environment too.

      This article may shed some light on the promotion process:
      http://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/investment-banking-hierarchy/

  9. sam L says

    Hello guys, I am 20 years old, I want to become a investment banker, but I have a few problems in high school I was a A student, but problems happen, like my dad divorcing my mom, and my mother losing her home and etc, my grades slipped a lot, my GPA at graduation was a 2.3 I’m willing to accept my failure, I studied books, wall street since I was in middle school, I can say with confidence I know all about it like the back of my hand, I’m soon to attend a undergrad school, could be coastal or state is it possible for me to bring my GPA up past a 3.5 to attend a ivy league for grad school, any tips will be helpful thank you.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Yes you can always bring your GPA back up and transfer to an Ivy League school in your sophomore year. Try your best to get your GPA above 3.5 your first semester of your freshman year.

  10. Ben says

    Hi,
    I was wondering for an experienced hire (lateral) into a full time analyst job, what would the process be like?
    I would think that it would be similar to a graduate scheme involving multiple interviews, but without all the Assessment Centers and Superdays? Is that the case?
    What should I focus on the interview in this case?

    Thanks,
    Ben

    • Ben says

      Oh I forgot to say. It is within the same industry, from markets to research department, not from outside industry into banking.

      • M&I - Nicole says

        You’ll have to demonstrate why you want to move into research, your valuation/analytical skills – your thought process of analyzing stocks. You may also want to pick a stock you’re interested in and be able to pitch the stock well to interviewers.

  11. Tony says

    Hey Brian,
    I’m a freshman at the University of Illinois, I know that isnt the greatest finance school in the world, but I really would like to get a career in Sales & Trading at an investment bank, or anywhere to be honest. Are there any tips you would give me moving forward, such as possible clubs to join on campus to look more attractive to employers, attempting to get finance internships at this age, etc. Anything would help.

    Thanks a lot,
    Tony

    • M&I - Nicole says

      For S&T roles, passion is probably the most important. If you don’t have some experience with the financial markets, I’d suggest you to gain some now. Most traders actually enjoy what they do – at least when they first start out – so they want to see that you will also enjoy it.

      You could demonstrate this passion with: Your major – Being a finance major helps; Work experience – Anything where you traded or dealt with the markets; Mock trading accounts – Even if you didn’t trade real money, you still have to be passionate to actively invest via a mock account; Clubs in school – Think of any type of finance or investment society where you present your ideas, talk about possible investments, and so on.

      If you don’t have much experience investing or dealing with the capital markets you should do two things right now:
      Get a subscription to the Wall Street Journal. Open a mock trading account.

      http://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/sales-trading-resumes/
      http://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/sales-trading-vs-investment-banking-part-1-recruiting/

  12. Swedish Banker says

    First off, thank you for making this site and offering all this amazing material for free. I am currently attending a non-target university and will apply for FT analyst positions this fall. I have an SA position this summmer, but if I don’t manage to get a FT position, I am thinking of getting a pre-experience Msc in Finance right after graduation. Since my GMAT i good and my grades are decent, I will be able to get my Msc from a target school, thus increasing my chances during reqruiting. My question is this: Do you think it would be possible to land a summer associate position after my first year of Msc studies if I only have 1-2 SA internships? If not, how do you suggest I use my summer to give me the best shot at a FT position? Thank you for your sage advice!

  13. midguy says

    so recently someone from a mid market IB in hr contacted me to apply for a position. i have since applied its a been a little over two weeks and have yet to receive ny follow up, should contact the hr person again or should i wait it out? thoughts?

  14. amach3 says

    I’ve been struggling to find more information about associates. For post-MBA associates (no prior IB experience), what do the exit ops look like? I read some things that it’s definitely harder than analysts but is there more information somewhere? I understand associates are expected to stay in IB but what other ways are there to get to the buy-side?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      If you don’t have IB experience post MBA, you can still move to finance though chances are relatively slim unless you can demonstrate your passion, relevant skills and have a great pitch. As an associate, you can stay/move out of IB and you can move to buy-side through networking, headhunters, etc. Quite a few people move to the buy-side after a few years in IB, equity research, or trading. Some just go straight to the buy-side.

      http://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/investment-banking-exit-opportunities/

      • amach3 says

        Thanks for the reply. I was wondering what the best path to buy-side would be for someone working in biotech FP&A at a FT200 Co. I would like to get into PE/VC (possibly healthcare/life science focus if it makes the switch a lot easier). Is the best path currently still getting into FP&A->Top MBA->IB->PE/VC or can I do FP&A->Top MBA->PE/VC

        • M&I - Nicole says

          Its probably easier to break in with IB experience though there’s a chance you may be able to break into PE/VC straight after MBA

  15. MBAvsCFA says

    Hi Brian/Nicole

    I graduated cum laude from a non-core school with a BS in Finance back in 2008. Got hired by a BB in their Operations program and was placed within a back office group for two years. Moved on to a middle office role in sept 2010 and have been there ever since. It will be about 5 years since I graduated college and I have still not been able to break into the revenue generating side of the business (IB and/or S&T) despite busting my ass for my trading desk and doing some networking (honestly not a heck of alot until recently – past 8-9 months). At this point I am considering taking CFA level 1, heading to b-school full-time (obviously something at least top 20) or applying for a part-time MBA program such as NYU Stern. I am very concerned about the cost-benefit of these MBA programs which is why I am leaning more towards CFA and hardcore networking at this point. Which path would you recommend? I appreciate your help and insight. Thanks

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Yes, business school at a target (ideally top 5) will help you.

      CFA can help you break into the buyside & networking helps.

      I’d suggest you to apply to business school, while continue to network and see what comes up. If you get into a top b-school, you can then decide.

      • MBAvsCFA says

        What about part-time MBA at NYU for example, is it even worth it since you practically have 0 access to recruiting? Its also not looked at as highly as full-time right? I’m thinking it would be like if I went for the CFA coupled with networking but obviously for a much higher price tag, which doesn’t sound smart to me. Please correct me if I’m wrong though. Thanks!

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