Diversity Recruiting: Your Secret Weapon for Breaking Into 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.
I expect that this story will cause some controversy because:
- You might view diversity recruiting as “unfair” or know someone who abused it before.
- 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.
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.
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)
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.
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).
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.
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