Diversity Recruiting: Your Secret Weapon for Breaking Into Investment Banking?

55 Comments | Case Studies & Reader Success Stories - From Non-Target Schools and Low Grades

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Diversity Recruiting Investment Banking“Can you tell me exactly what I have to do to get into finance?

There must be a combination of grades, certifications, internships, and activities that will guarantee me a spot at Goldman Sachs, right?

Give me the magic bullet solution for breaking in!”

Ah, another day, another email.

And if you don’t believe that questions like this come in all the time, just take a look at some of the articles here that have hundreds of comments asking for similar answers.

Sometimes I’m tempted to say, “Yes, just pass all 4 levels of the CFA and you are guaranteed to become an investment banker,” but I can’t always bring myself to have that much fun.

The truth is that there isn’t a magic bullet for getting into the industry.

Or is there?

Diversity recruiting may just be the best, most “secretive” way to get into the industry that you’ve been ignoring up until now.

So read on to learn how you can use it, what to do if you’re not “diverse,” and just how effective it was for a reader who won a bulge bracket internship offer and who’s sharing her story here.

Controversy?

I expect that this story will cause some controversy because:

  1. You might view diversity recruiting as “unfair” or know someone who abused it before.
  2. It may not apply to you.

I understand where you’re coming from with those 2 points, but I would still encourage you to consider the strategies here – if only to learn about alternate paths to break into finance.

Also, you should do whatever it takes to break in as long as you’re not breaking any laws or doing something clearly unethical like forging documents or lying about an offer.

So yes, maybe this won’t apply to you 100%, but as you read think up other ways you could put your own “unfair advantages” to use.

Feel free to disagree but be civil about it – comments that add no value will be moderated.

Background

Q: Let’s get started with where you were coming from – what type of school did you attend and what experience did you have?

A: For undergraduate I attended a liberal arts college that was well-known but certainly not a “target” – only 1 bulge bracket bank recruited here and a few others had a resume drop, but rarely called students in for interviews.

I was completing an economics-related major, which you pretty much have to if you’re coming from a liberal arts college – it’s hard to convince banks that you’re serious if you major in French Literature and also have no finance experience.

This was my first attempt at internship recruiting so I hadn’t had much experience – just a few informal internships in other industries.

Q: OK, so you’re at this non-target liberal arts college and you don’t have relevant finance experience – how do you go from there to winning a bulge bracket investment banking offer?

A: By using the strategies you’ve recommended before: networking extensively and playing to my strengths.

In my case, I used my uncommon background to my advantage by attending lots of women’s recruiting events put on by different banks, as well as more specialized diversity events.

The advantage of going to these “diversity events” is that you can build much stronger connections with bankers than if you blindly cold call places or email alumni.

The more you have in common with the person – especially when you’re from a completely different background than most others – the better your chances of getting interviews and offers.

The Events?

Q: Right, so what exactly are these “events”? Do you just apply for them online?

A: It varies by the bank and the region you’re in – some of these diversity recruiting events are more like first round interviews and some are more like standard information sessions where an MD or other senior banker will present first and then you get time to network afterward.

At some banks you can just apply online and get invited to the event – for example at Goldman Sachs you can do that and get invited to events like their “Women’s Road Show” (a half-day event) in Boston and New York based on your resume and online application.

At other banks – like JP Morgan – you had to pass a phone screen to be invited to their events, so there it was just part of the process and I had real interviews with several bankers at the event.

Q: So far you’ve been mentioning women’s events – what else do banks do for diversity recruiting?

A: You do see events for other groups as well:

  • Minorities (defined as anyone who is under-represented in banking, for both men and women)
  • LGBT

So you can still get in even if you’re not female.

M&I Note: While not diversity-related, there are events for people in other categories – for example if you want to work in Japan and know the language, there’s the Boston Career Forum; for China and Hong Kong there are events like SuperReturn and AVCJ.

Q: Out of curiosity, how strict are they about letting people in? For example, could I show up to a women’s recruiting event even though I am male?

A: They are not strict at all about screening people.

When I say “not strict,” I mean that they’re not going to do a full background check on you or hire a private investigator to look into your past and see whether you really qualify.

You would probably not get into a women’s event if you’re male – I haven’t seen anyone get away with that before – but for the other groups it’s much harder to verify whether you qualify.

I’ve seen plenty of people attend minority and LGBT events who shouldn’t be there – then you get those who are 1/64th of a certain ethnicity and use that to claim their minority status.

And when events are held at public places like hotels, I’ve seen people who didn’t even apply or who weren’t accepted show up and walk in – sometimes HR kicks them out, but if it’s big enough they may not catch on.

I’m not advising you to abuse the system, but as with resume writing and spinning your experience in interviews, there’s room to stretch the truth.

At the Sessions…

Q: So let’s say that you either legitimately qualify for an event, or you’re a borderline case and you show up anyway.

You mentioned that there are different types of events depending on the bank and the region you’re in – can you give us an overview of what you went through?

A: As I said before, the JPM event was more like a real interview or Superday since I met with multiple bankers.

They also had another event just for the LGBT community that was called “Proud to Be” – at that one they flew in people nationwide and everyone there (around 60 people) got first round interviews.

I mentioned the “Women’s Road Show” event for Goldman Sachs – that was more of a standard networking event where they gave us all the recruiting deadlines and a special code we could use when applying that would get us placed in a separate pool.

GS has another event called “Foundation” that is for minorities across genders and also students at non-target schools.

UBS had one event that was more like a trading competition, and then a more traditional networking session with a panel presentation, networking, and a reception at the end.

Credit Suisse had a “Women’s Day” event, which again was more like a prelude to first round interviews – for summer internships that one usually takes place in December/January.

Q: Those are quite a few events. What do the numbers look like? Is it similar to information sessions where you get 20 people crowding around 1 banker asking what it’s like to be an investment banker?

A: The numbers are much better at these events – there are at most 50-60 people total, and more often it’s in the 20-30 range.

Of those 20-30, 10 might be bankers – so unlike a traditional information session there are only 1 or 2 students per banker at these events.

Sometimes it goes up to a few more than that, but it’s never the 20-30 crowding around 1 banker that you see at information sessions open to the general public.

Q: So it sounds like everything is more personal and you get to have more in-depth conversations with everyone?

A: Pretty much. Also, unlike panels at normal information sessions where the questions you ask don’t matter so much and it’s all about the networking afterward, questions to the panel matter more.

So looking up everyone’s background and preparing intelligent questions is a good use of time.

Beyond just being more personal, these sessions also have more alumni and alumni from neighboring schools – especially if you’re in a region of the country with lots of non-target schools or lots of women’s colleges, for example.

And if you can’t find anyone from your school or nearby schools, you can always just ask the HR reps there for alumni contacts – since it’s such a small and specific group, they are more likely to help you out.

The vibe is also much different at these events – they are not as stuffy and formal as the usual information sessions at schools, and people were more relaxed, especially at the LGBT-type events.

The more specific the group, the more direct the answers they gave were – if you asked about something like work/life balance at a normal event bankers would give diplomatic/uninformative answers, but at these events people were more honest.

Success or Failure?

Q: So you made extensive use of these events – how effective were they? Do you have numbers on how many attendees actually won interviews or offers as a result of attending?

A: I don’t have exact numbers there because I didn’t follow-up with every single attendee, but:

  • I got first round interviews at almost every bank (and eventually an IB summer offer).
  • At many of the events, they’d give first round interviews to pretty much everyone there, but then only a few would win offers.
  • This year most females and minorities who got into GS from non-target schools (not necessarily just in IBD, but more in the back and middle office) came from these events.
  • 80% of the LGBT bankers I met were willing to help me in some way. I don’t care how good a networker you are, you will never get that ratio via alumni informational interviews.

The overall offer rate may not seem that great, but look at the alternative: if you’re at a non-target school and you don’t go to these events, your chances are minuscule. It’s better to get the interview and at least have a shot at winning the offer.

And as I’ve mentioned, you get special codes at these events that you can apply when submitting your resume and online application – they will then review your resume in a separate pool from everyone else, which also gives you a big advantage.

Q: What about the downsides of going to these events? Let’s say you go to a diversity event and you make a huge mistake that results in everyone there disliking you – would that hurt your chances in normal recruiting?

A: Yes, it could, and that is a risk. If you apply via these events and don’t win an offer, it may be harder to get a real interview later on if you go through the normal channels.

But this is not rocket science – if you follow the advice on this site on information sessions, informational interviews, and so on, it’s hard to make blatant mistakes.

I applied all of those strategies, only in the context of diversity events rather than the standard information sessions.

You still have to be interesting, follow-up, speak 1-on-1 with bankers, and so on – it’s just that you’re working with a more specific set of contacts here.

Q: That’s true, but I’m sure there are still some common mistakes attendees make – what have you seen before?

A: Some girls would wear really short skirts or boots or dress up looking like they were about to go clubbing – but it’s still a formal business setting, even if it’s more relaxed than usual.

Other people looked really good on paper, had high grades, and completed solid internships, but then did no work to prepare so they had no idea who would be best to talk to, or which alumni were attending. You still need to be proactive even if it is a smaller event.

Then, other people were horrible at following conversations and reading social cues. Sometimes the banker speaking with us would start talking about lighter topics or activities outside of work, and the other students there would immediately jump back into asking about EBITDA.

One mistake I made was not recognizing someone at an event when I had seen the person previously – right after the event ends you need to write down all the names you can or at least get business cards and make sure you can match names to faces (easier these days with social networks).

Interview Obstacles

Q: You used diversity events very well to get all those interviews and win your offer – did you run into any problems or awkwardness when interviewing?

Even though you met lots of female bankers, it is still a male-dominated industry, so did you run into any resistance?

A: No, not really. I went through dozens of interviews and felt it was more about chemistry with the interviewer and your performance than gender.

I can’t say whether being female hurt or helped me in interviews, but I didn’t see much of an effect either way – going to all those events was essential for getting interviews in the first place, though.

Q: Right, if anything I think you probably had an advantage since most bankers would prefer more diversity in the industry.

But you were also a liberal arts major at a small school – did that present any challenges in interviews?

A: Not really – I don’t think they treated me much differently from anyone else without a finance background.

I never received extremely difficult technical questions, but I got the usual math and brain teaser-type questions for S&T interviews, and for IB got the usual questions on valuation, DCF, how the 3 statements link to each other, and so on.

These were all covered by relevant guides so I never felt unprepared.

Finance or accounting majors would probably get more difficult technical questions, but these days you must have a minimum level of technical knowledge no matter what your background is.

I also ran into the usual interview scenarios that banks like to use – for example the “good cop, bad cop” deal where one interviewer constantly interrupts you and objects to everything you say, and the other one is more laid-back.

Q: That makes sense – you’ll still get the technical questions, but not quite as many as if you were from a finance background. Any more tips or advice?

A: One other point I didn’t mention: try to shadow bankers or traders – this is more common on the trading side, but at a lot of these events banks will let you follow a trader around for a few hours and see what they do.

Take that opportunity to be proactive and meet other traders/bankers there – don’t be shy, just go around introducing yourself and explain what you’re interested in doing.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. This sounds silly, but many people complain endlessly about their situation and never take action to fix it.

I never hesitated to follow-up with people, and in one case I wrote a quick email to a Director at a bulge bracket bank who I hadn’t even spoken to in a year – and got an interview from doing that.

In another case, when I was assigned to shadow traders I said I was more interested in sales so a Director there switched my role and let me shadow someone in sales instead.

Q: Awesome – thanks for sharing your story, that was very informative.

A: No problem – enjoyed speaking with you.

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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55 Comments to “Diversity Recruiting: Your Secret Weapon for Breaking Into Investment Banking?”

Comments

    • says

      If they can’t tell, do what you can to get ahead… apparently quite a few people at these events were actually straight according to the interviewee

      • komodo dr says

        I feel people that pretend they are LGBT or have a non-visible disability are somewhat of a douche-bag.

        But that’s just my standards xP so don’t be hating.

        I don’t believe in special jobs for special people but getting there using the right means is still important.
        Keep in mind that the opportunity you get through these events might be take away from some one who is actually disadvantaged.
        And that it would be fun explaining if you are caught, i.e. when they want papers for your disability.

        If you believe its okay to take opportunity from others and get in IB anyway you can, then go for it.
        But I think people should stick to their own standards.

        • says

          Agreed, I was just pointing out that people do in fact exploit them. So the commenter above wouldn’t necessarily be caught, even if it is questionable.

        • TK says

          fair enough, i do agree that attending such events when you are not eligible is quite unethical
          however i’m sure lots of people do it..

          i asked the question because i recently attended one of these events to accompany a gay friend who is shy/scared of coming out.
          the event was just like any other with a little bit of discussion on discrimination, bullying and other issues which would surely be applicable to any and everyone

    • Sofi says

      Learn something about LGBT culture, though, before you go. They’ll sense if you’re not one of them and don’t understand the issues/topics at hand.

      And if they find out you conned them, be ready to take whatever’s dished out (i.e., having your offer rescinded).

      • CY says

        I have never heard of anyone losing their offer because they get caught cheating in an LGBT event. In fact, I don’t think if there is anyone who actually gets caught. But be prepared to face some uncomfortable situations at those events if you are not gay. People are going to talk about “coming out at work”, your “coming out story” bla bla bla. People might also hit on you.

  1. Jas R says

    I am a black female who wants to go into IB. I’ve tried looking for these diversity recruitment things, but have found very few. The ones I did discover had an obvious preference for the target school students i.e. all there program alums came from target schools. Is there a list somewhere? Or would I have to search each company’s site specifically. Also I was wondering about how early/ what is the most effective way to conduct informational interviews.

  2. sally says

    The 1st round interviews at LGBT event (Proud to be) held by JPM were for only graduate students last year. Undergraduates did job shadow instead. And I learned that people who had to travel underwent phone interviews before they got invited to the event. Regardless, the event was very well planned and organized, and it was a valuable experience.

    • says

      Yeah it may vary a bit by year/region… I think she mentioned the phone screen for JPM so much harder to game that event.

  3. Ben says

    I’m a white male who’s last name ends in berg. Though I’m certainly a minority globally, I have a hunch my tribe is overrepresented in investment banking…

    • says

      Yes, as a fellow white male I’m in a similar position though my last name is incredibly uncommon. Still, I have gotten lots of questions on this topic before from readers so wanted to address it.

  4. Anonymous says

    There is a LOT to be said for diversity recruiting. Many bulge bracket investment banks offer different programs for undergraduate students, both target and non target, of diverse backgrounds ranging from short term events to entire summer internships. Morgan Stanley’s freshman internship, for example, is geared towards minority students and while it is dominated by Harvard/Wharton as they primarily target those schools for the program I was able to break in from a non target. Goldman Sachs has a networking event for freshman minority students as well.

    The SEO (Sponsors for Educational Opportunity) program is another great “back door” into the world of high finance for minorities. Plenty out there; a lot of it is only advertised at target schools but if you do enough digging it’s there for you.

    Most important thing to note is that these are just ways to get your foot in the door; you still have to be qualified to get through the rest of the recruitment process.

    Great article!

    • says

      Yeah SEO is another good one, can’t believe we left that one out. But I’ve had multiple friends get internships through that as well.

  5. Jack says

    As a white male, I was always under the impression that we could claim Hispanic on the diversity question… Especially since many Hispanics are actually white skinned, and the verification process to check if the applicant actually has Hispanic lineage is virtually impossible.

    • says

      Personally I wouldn’t do that unless you’re connected to the culture or know something about it in some way… as others said above it will be obvious to tell if you’re completely making it up.

  6. Szabolcs says

    As a white male from CEE working in IB in Hungary, I am wondering whether geographical diversity is considered by banks / bankers in the US. The question for me is rather important as I am actually considering target business schools to attend an MBA program and try to assess my opportunities as a “possible minority” with US names.

    • says

      You could probably use that to your advantage in interviews by telling a more “interesting” story but I don’t think you would really be counted as “diverse” in the same way that people who look completely different from the dominant white and Asian males in banking are considered diverse.

  7. Lgbt says

    If you get a job under the pretenses that you were LGBT when you werent wouldnt it suck to have to a pretend to be gay your entire analyst stint or risk peoplr finding out you conned your way in? I feel that you will have a tough ass time getting your story straight every day for 2 years

    • says

      It may not be much of an issue because the turnover rate is high, you might not even end up at the office you interviewed at, and so on.

  8. ALee says

    Hey M&I,

    Don’t really have a question here about the article, but just wanted to drop by and say thanks for running this website. I landed a boutique banking internship a few weeks ago after completely switching trajectories in college this time last year. I had absolutely no idea what banking until I read pretty much every article on your site. When interviews rolled around I studied your guide on technicals and it helped a bunch.

    Thanks again, the internship I landed would not have happened without this site and I’m definitely going to keep coming back until I land my FT BB spot.

    -Andy

  9. Jack says

    I guess the big question, for those who plan on faking it on the diversity question, is how many people aside from the HR department know that you are an affirmative action candidate once you get hired?

    I would imagine that the Company would not “out” you as being LGBT, so I can assume that you would not have to act gay around your analyst class.

    Also, given the high degree of turnover at banks, even if someone knew that you applied as a Hispanic, when you are actually Caucasian, how long before its forgotten as new hires get brought into the group.

    • says

      Yes exactly I don’t think the chances of being “caught” once you start working are that high, but if you’re clearly faking it and other people can tell then you won’t make it far along in the recruiting process. Still would not recommend outright lying but for borderline cases (e.g. mixed ethnicities) you might want to be more aggressive.

  10. Fernanda says

    After meeting bankers (either VPs/MDs or analysts) and then trying to send a “follow-up” e-mail, what should one include in it?

  11. 22944 says

    How common is it to find arabs/middle easterners in IB, i only ask because at the end of most applications when they survey you on gender and race its never a listed option. Maybe we are classified under another larger group?

  12. axa says

    I am not sure if diversity recruiting will help an Asian in Australia. In the the University of Melbourne (best business school in australia), 50 percent of the students in undergrad business school is international (mostly asians from china or malaysia), over 70 percent of the students majoring in accounting and finance are international.
    And then you have a huge population of Asian Australian students (probably 20-30 percent of the undergrad) studying in ungrad business school. From what I see in class, Asians outnumber white kids probably 8 to 1.
    and when i say asian, I mean chinese, korean, japanese. Indianas sirlankans not included.

    This is consistent across the business schools in Australia.
    Just thought I would share

    • says

      Australia is 50% Asian so I don’t think it would help (kidding, but not really… I’m in Sydney and my block is 70-80% Asian).

      Diversity recruiting is really a code-word for “Anyone who is not a white or Asian male.”

  13. Ali says

    So I’m a black female, but I also happen to come from a non-target schools with a GPA of 3.0 (exactly). On the flip side, I graduated high school when I was 12 and college at 17 (B.S. Finance). However, I can’t seem to get any interviews and I’m having a hard time getting informational as well. Any suggestions for a graduate no longer eligible for most internships and programs?

    • says

      In that case you would have to go for a Master’s program or MBA program to have a shot at getting in, you can’t go through undergrad recruiting if you’re already out of school.

  14. Lego says

    Hi, thanks for all the great articles. Do you know much about JP Morgan’s winning women leadership event? I got invited, so how should I prepare for it? Thanks a lot!!!

    • says

      Not sure about that one specifically but I assume the advice and prep is similar to what’s here – know the people beforehand, do your background research, and come prepared to ask better questions than everyone else.

  15. Zin says

    I am a black Zimbabwean female studying Masters in Finance at a South African university. My dream is to work on wall street but I’m not sure how to use the “diversity angle” to my advantage, or if I even qualify.
    Also, as African students obviously cannot attend events in the US, do you have any advice on an alternative route into these situations?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      There are diversity programs on Wall Street. I’d network with bankers in Africa and see if I can land a job there. Then I’d ask for a transfer. It can be challenging to find a job in the US if you are physically in Africa and have no contacts there…and the visa is an issue

  16. says

    There’s a women’s event I’m interested in at a company I’ve applied to recently. But it’s far away. The flight would be worth it to me, but I’m not sure how it would come across to the bankers there. Desperate? Other advice on this site seems to say that this industry responds to assertiveness, but I don’t want people to think I’m weird for spending money on a flight (and hotel) just for one event that isn’t even an interview.

    Thoughts?

  17. Teri says

    I am a 35 year old female that has stopped working to finish my degree in finance. I do not have a background in finance or banking, but i want to work in the industry. i dont have problems with self confidence and know that i will have success, but not too sure what to read and where to start. i live in Nevada, the land on gaming, not banking,so i have set my mind to go out of state NEXT summer to intern.forgot to mention that i am african american. any direction or suggestion would by greatly appreciated.
    thanks,
    terri

  18. Eddie says

    Hi There,

    I am a morrocan male, I am not very dark I look more french or italian, I possess a morrocan as well as a french passport. My Grandfather is marrocan the rest of my family is French however. Can I still apply to SEO ? I dont speak arabic, will that look akward ?? And do interviewer know you applied to SEO ?

    eddie

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Not if you were to work in Asia.

      Not sure if that’s the case in the States. There are quite a few Asian women in Ibanks but not a lot

  19. Sophie says

    Hi,

    I’m an LGBT sophomore at a top target with a solid GPA but no related work experience/no biz EC’s. I wanted to know how important networking is for getting into these programs in this case. Would a resume drop be sufficient (minority, target, GPA…)?

    Right now, I’m still figuring out how networking works, and I feel I kinda suck at it. Being from overseas, and very very first-gen, all my convo’s with people at BB’s (esp the fratty kind) from info sessions/career fairs have been super awkward, but I have followed up anyway for the sake of having a contact when it comes to minority recruiting. I haven’t made any “asks” though, and I don’t think 2nd year analysts I talk to have the power to do anything much anyway… And I don’t know if they like me enough…

    What should I do going ahead? I feel my issue is more material for “The Game” than BIWS. I don’t want to do boutique shit because my minority background might hurt me and I have better chances at BB’s thanks to diversity recruiting. Is it even worth mentioning to IB’ers about LGBT? I feel that’s only something that HR would care about.

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