Canada and the US… pretty much the same, right?
How different could recruiting and the finance industry really be?
As it turns out, “a lot.”
In this interview with a reader who currently works in investment banking in Canada, you’ll learn:
- Networking ninja tactics – who knew the library could be so helpful?
- How recruiting differs in Canada and how you can break in
- Differences in the finance industry, the work itself, and exit opportunities
Let’s get started:
Breaking Into Banking… via the Library?!
Q: You have an interesting “how I got my first internship” story – let’s hear about it.
A: Sure. I was originally an accounting major and had done a few accounting-related internships, but was pretty clueless when it came to finance.
But I was very curious about the field, and one day I was in the library reading books on investing and learning what I could from each one.
I flipped to the back of one book and the author’s bio said that he was an alumnus from my school, and that he lived in my city – so I Googled him, found his contact information, called him and then proposed interning for him for 3-4 months for free.
He responded by offering a paid internship instead, which is where I got started.
Q: I think that’s one of the best networking stories I’ve ever heard.
It sounds like you were more direct with your networking tactics than most other aspiring bankers – what other stories can you share with us?
A: Once I met another high-level financier at my school – well-known, but not a “target school” – at a presentation there. I got his contact information, then met up with him for coffee and pitched him an investment idea on the spot.
That took him by surprise and impressed him because most people don’t have the nerve to do that.
It didn’t directly lead to a job, but a few weeks later I saw a job posting for another finance firm on the same floor in the same building as his company – so I asked him about it, and got a referral to go around the normal channels and speak directly with people at the firm that posted the ad.
I got into banking by taking a similar approach as well: I simply contacted another acquaintance and asked for what I wanted, getting a referral to a well-known M&A group in the process.
Q: So it sounds like being direct pays off – or at least it did for you.
A: You can’t be too in-your-face, but being direct worked way better for me than sitting around and trading emails for 9 months while you’re afraid to ask for an interview or propose an internship.
You want to show that you’re smart and that you can learn quickly, but you also want to be modest in your approach and not “brag” too much when you call someone.
Q: What about the numbers here – how many people were you calling or emailing each day to get results?
A: I called about 7 or 8 people per day for 2-3 months to get my full-time offer.
I didn’t call anyone on Mondays or Fridays – I just used those days for collecting names. I aimed for around 30 new names each weekend, which was enough for the 7 or 8 people per day I mentioned before.
Of those 7 or 8 people, I got through to about 2 or 3 per day via a combination of emailing and cold-calling.
If you want to get past gatekeepers, being nice to secretaries is essential – if you’re super nice and good at sweet-talking them, you’ll be able to get through to a lot of “unreachable” people.
But a lot of it also depends on the person and the mood they’re in – if someone’s having a bad day, you may just not be successful. And sometimes people get freaked out if they find out that you Googled their name to find them.
Recruiting in Canada
Q: How difficult is it to break into investment banking in Canada?
A: The degree of difficulty is very similar – there are fewer positions, but there are also fewer people applying in the first place, so those two factors even themselves out.
If you’re from Canada then you’ll have a more difficult time recruiting in the US because top schools here are not as well-known in the States, and because of the usual work visa issues.
But sometimes if you’re coming from the US – especially if you went to a top school there – it can be easier to break in here.
Q: You mentioned the work visa problems for Canadian citizens looking to work in the US – do you have any friends who made the move successfully? How difficult is it to get around these issues?
A: I’ve had friends who have done it, but they all came from the top undergraduate business schools for investment banking here, e.g. McGill and Ivey.
I don’t know how difficult it is personally because I focused 100% on banks in Canada instead – I just figured that my chances would be higher and that there would be fewer issues.
Q: Let’s talk about the actual recruiting process in Canada. How are resumes and interviews different from the US and other regions? Are there assessment centers like you see in Europe?
A: No assessment centers. Resumes are pretty much the same, but there are a couple differences in investment banking interviews:
- There’s more of an emphasis on “fit” questions because the offices are smaller, and they want to be 100% certain that you are the perfect candidate.
- I had an additional round of interviews after my Superday interviews – they brought in the top 3 candidates and interviewed us again to determine who would get the offer.
M&I Note: These differences may apply outside of Canada as well.
For example, both of the points above are true at many small private equity firms in the US – they focus obsessively on “fit” questions and may put you through 20 rounds of interviews because they’re tiny and “fit” is critical.
Investment Banking in Canada
Q: So recruiting itself sounds similar, though there are some differences due to the average office size in Canada.
What about the industry itself? How is Canada different from the US?
A: Sure. The industries in both countries are more different than the recruiting processes – here are the key points:
- It’s smaller – Everyone knows everyone else, and there are only a few major financial hubs – Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal
- It’s less structured – Direct promotes from Analyst to Associate after 3 years are more common here, and getting an MBA is not as common. They are also more willing to take on people from unconventional backgrounds.
- The industry focus is different – In Canada, the big industries are mining, natural resources, and energy. In Montreal and Toronto there are some tech, pharmaceutical, and biotech companies, but overall the industries we cover are narrower than what you would find in the US.
Q: You’ve mentioned a couple times now that offices are smaller overall – does this also mean that deal teams are smaller and that Analysts get more responsibility?
A: Definitely. Deal teams are leaner overall, and sometimes entire teams here consist of just 10 bankers (M&I Note: Even at middle-market firms in the US that would be small – sizes in the dozens are more common).
I’ve seen Analysts take deals from A to Z before, and do things that are normally reserved for Associates and VPs.
Q: What about the ratio of clients and deals to pitches?
A: That’s dependent on your bank, your group, your location, and the industry, so it’s difficult to generalize – but overall I don’t think it’s too much different from banking anywhere else.
Right now, I’m working on 7 major projects and of those, 5 are pitches and 2 are deals.
So I’m only spending around 30% of my time on clients, but that’s common for investment banking unless you’re in an extremely busy group.
Q: What are the hours like?
A: I’ve been doing 90 hours a week since I started – pretty much the same as the US and other developed markets.
Don’t come here thinking that you’ll be leaving at 7 PM every day just because it’s Canada!
Q: You mentioned earlier that there are more direct Analyst-Associate promotes in Canada. Does that mean that rather than pursuing the usual exit opportunities, most bankers just stay in the industry?
A: I wouldn’t say “most” bankers here stay in banking, but there is definitely less of an obsession with exit opportunities.
I’ve seen a few people leave for the buy-side, but overall the percentage is lower than in the US, where almost all Analysts move on after 2-3 years.
One other difference is that the MBA to investment banking path is rarer here – I don’t know why exactly, but it’s more unusual to jump into banking if you’ve already gone to business school.
Q: You’ve now worked in a couple fields within finance and accounting – what are you planning to do in the future?
A: At this point I’m planning to stay in banking for a few years and then move into private equity.
Accounting, asset management, and private wealth management were not for me – I like being on the transactional side a lot more, so banking and PE are a better fit.
Q: Great, thanks for your time.
A: No problem.