How to Break Out of “Harold & Kumar” Mode and Use Investment Banking Information Sessions to Break Into the Industry

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“Uh, this is actually a two-part question. I’m applying for a summer internship at Brewster Keegan, and I was wondering:

a) what it’s like being an investment banker and

b) if you would write me a recommendation.”

-Kenneth, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle

If you’ve been to any investment banking information sessions lately, you might be reminded of that scene in Harold & Kumar with all those Princeton kids crowded around Harold asking him “what it’s like being an investment banker” (oh, and for a recommendation too).

If the sessions are crowded with 10 students surrounding each banker, how do you make a good impression and use them effectively?

You don’t.

Ok, that’s an exaggeration.

Information sessions can be part of your strategy, but you should never rely on them. If you are in the position to use them, here’s how to do so without looking like Kenneth.

Why Most Information Sessions Resemble That Scene from Harold & Kumar

There are a few reasons why information sessions usually range from marginally helpful to completely useless:

  1. The obvious reasons – far too many students attend them, and it’s tough to get 1-on-1 time with any bankers.
  2. The barriers to entry are too low. Anything you can leverage that other people can’t gives you a big advantage when networking – but anyone can attend information sessions.
  3. There are many ways to screw up but very few ways to genuinely impress the bankers there (credit to Management Consulted for this point).
  4. Informational sessions occur late in the recruiting process, right before a resume drop – at that stage it’s hard to spend time developing new relationships, so you can’t gain much of an advantage.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t go to any sessions. It’s just that you shouldn’t focus on them – and you need to spend most of your time networking outside the sessions, even if those efforts start with contacts you made at the sessions.

But They Must Be Helpful for Someone, Right?

2 groups, in particular, have the most to gain from information sessions:

  1. “Early starters” – anyone in his or her 1st or 2nd year at the university level who still has time to develop relationships. This concept is less relevant at the MBA level.
  2. Anyone going to a “non-target school” – somewhere banks don’t recruit at – who attends sessions at a more heavily-recruited school.

The first point should be intuitive: of all the relevant factors when breaking into investment banking (networking, resumes, interview skills), developing substantial relationships through networking helps you the most – by far.

With more time, you can develop deeper relationships and gain a much bigger advantage in recruiting.

On the second point, keep in mind what we said above: anything you do that others don’t automatically gives you an advantage. It’s not common for students to attend information sessions at other schools – so you can stand out quite a bit by doing so.

If the session is focused exclusively on alumni, you may draw some negative reactions – but if it’s big enough, you can usually find at least a few bankers who are receptive to your cause.

Even if you’re not in one of these 2 groups, though, you should still consider attending at least a few information sessions.

What to Get Out of Them

This one’s easy: contacts. Sure, there are other ancillary benefits – such as finding out more about the industry, seeing if it’s right for you or not, and making a good impression on anyone involved in recruiting at your school.

Those are all fine, but with the possible exception of the last one there are other ways to accomplish each one.

The advantage of information sessions is that you get to meet dozens of bankers in the span of a few hours – it’s like speed dating for jobs.

Just like speed dating, you won’t develop real relationships with everyone you meet – but efficiency-wise it’s hard to beat information sessions.

Rules of Engagement

So you’re networking your way into investment banking and have decided that you’ll go to at least a few information sessions as part of your recruiting strategy. You’re contacting alumni and acquaintances on your own and making lots of other networking efforts outside the sessions, but you figure it can’t hurt to check them out, right?

Sure – but you need to make the most of your time.

Recall what we said above about the ease of screwing up compared to the difficulty of impressing bankers – most of the guidelines below are more about not making mistakes rather than being a star.

1. Don’t Be Kenneth from Harold & Kumar

Don’t ask stupid questions that can be easily answered elsewhere. Make your discussion personal and specific to the background of the person you’re speaking with – stay away from “Where is the industry heading?” or “How do you like being an investment banker?” type questions.

Better questions: “What was your background before getting into banking?”; “You mentioned that you work in the Financial Sponsors Group – have you worked on any of the big consolidation deals lately?”

The difference between a poor question and a good question lies in the specificity. To pull this off, you need to spend your time asking open-ended questions and listening to what they say.

2. Don’t Be Urkel, Either

By the same token, you don’t want to be so detailed in your questions that you scare them away.

People often get the idea that it’s good to ask questions like, “So do you provide both bank debt and mezzanine financing to your clients in addition to comprehensive M&A advisory services?”

Pretend you’re meeting a new friend – not that you’re reciting a laundry list of finance terms to your professor.

You should approach interviews the same way as well: go for the personal connection rather than reciting obscure technical concepts.

Yes, it’s good to do your homework and be knowledgeable about the industry – but it’s also good to come across as someone who bankers could stand to be around at 3 AM while fixing typos in a pitch book.

3. Get Business Cards from Everyone

Don’t spend too much time speaking with any one individual – maybe 5-10 minutes at most. Your goal is to make a good impression and come across as likable rather than just another guy/girl from Harold & Kumar.

Most importantly, make sure you get a business card and contact information from each person you speak to – there’s no point in going to information sessions unless you get this information and then act on it.

Focus on anyone who isn’t surrounded by 10 other students (if they exist).

4. Follow-Up Within the Next Few Days

This goes back to the point above on barriers to entry: it’s very easy to go to information sessions. What’s more difficult is following up with bankers you meet there and developing relationships.

From my own speeches and presentations, I know that typically less than 1% of event attendees ever bother to follow-up – even if they’ve made a connection and have direct access to someone who can answer many of their questions.

There is absolutely no point in going to information sessions unless you get business cards and then use them to start conversations with bankers.

5. If There Are 10 “Kenneth”‘s Surrounding a Banker, Don’t Hesitate to Jump in Anyway

So what do you do if there are 10 students surrounding one banker and no one else is free or there aren’t many representatives there?

Jump in anyway – with more interesting questions than anyone else is asking. Remember, most of the students there will not have read this article and are still in Harold & Kumar mode, wondering “what it’s like being an investment banker.”

If you’re bold and ask pointed but appropriate questions, you can stand out and shift the banker’s focus to you right away.

Think about most of the bankers there: they’ve just pulled an all-nighter, gotten off a flight, or dealt with some annoying, high-maintenance client. After the session, they’re about to go back to work for even more of that.

The last thing they want to hear is another “Kenneth” question – so take a bold approach and don’t be afraid to jump into a large group with a question that doesn’t inspire them to dive into an acid-coated shark tank.

They might just like your style.

Other Tips

There are tons of other small tips you could use in informational sessions: dress well (business attire – don’t look like you’re about to go to a concert or like you just got back from a funeral), gravitate toward alumni from your school (if the session features bankers from multiple schools), and don’t spend too much time on anyone you already know.

Combined with the points above, these will set you apart from all the “Kenneth”‘s out there.

Other Breeds of Information Sessions

The type of event covered here is just one breed of information session. Other sessions are more like job fairs, where you walk around and literally have first-round interviews on the spot; still other sessions only have a few representatives from each company and they’re more about exploring rather than breaking in.

The more specific the information session, the more helpful it is for you.

Here’s a real example from my own history:

Right after I returned from Asia several years ago, I attended the Boston Career Forum, an event focused on jobs and internships in Japan.

Since you had to be bilingual and had to have some experience in the region, the barriers to entry were high. And as one of the few Westerners there, I stood out even more.

As you’d expect, there were not as many opportunities as you’d find at a more general US-focused job fair – but the “conversion rate” from interviews to offers was much higher. I won multiple offers from a single weekend of work, even though I spoke with fewer than 10 banks/finance firms.

If you want to gain a real advantage in networking, you should seek out targeted opportunities like this one.

Further Reading

I did some research while writing this article and came to a sobering conclusion: like so many other areas of finance, there’s hardly anything online that’s both valuable and specific. I found some good discussions on message boards, but nothing comprehensive that went through all aspects of information sessions.

The closest resource I could find: Kevin from Management Consulted gives a good overview of consulting information sessions, and many of his insights apply to investment banking information sessions as well.

If you know of other helpful resources on this topic, please let me know or write about them in the comments below.

Breaking Out of Harold & Kumar Mode

If you follow everything here, you’ll be in a better position than 90% of information session attendees.

You don’t want to follow a “Jack Bauer” strategy for information sessions (torturing bankers to get an interview is not recommended), but you definitely don’t want to follow a Harold & Kumar strategy.

So use common sense, and please, no questions on “what it’s like being an investment banker.”

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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300 Comments to “How to Break Out of “Harold & Kumar” Mode and Use Investment Banking Information Sessions to Break Into the Industry”

Comments

  1. Casey says

    Hello,

    I go to a non-target school (UCSB) so any information sessions I go to are at least two hours (UCLA) or more (Cal) away. Is there a good way to follow up with someone who is hours away from me?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Still attend the info sessions if you can. Perhaps you can time it so you can attend more than 1 info sessions a day, though I believe different banks do come at different days. Yes, email/call them – it doesn’t make a difference because assuming BAML NY comes to your school to recruit, unless you live in Manhattan, you won’t be meeting up w your contacts unless you travel to Manhattan and schedule meetings with them

  2. Jack says

    How do you exactly follow-up after the infosession?
    I attended many of them, got business cards from almost everyone, but now what? I don’t think there is any point in sending out an email saying “it was nice talking to you at the infosession” right? What should my post-info-session-follow-up email contain?

    Thanks.

  3. Ravi says

    Hello Sir,

    I am Ravi from India. Thank you very much for answering all queries i have asked you so far.

    I would like to know from you regarding the career scope in Operation Division in Investment Banking.

    What do you think the demand for jobs in Operation division in IB, in India and all over the world ?
    Is it going to be in demand always or to be sluggish ?

    Thanking you,
    Ravi.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Yes there’ll always be demand for that though readers may be able to offer you better suggestions because we focus on front-office related roles

    • says

      There will always be some demand, but there is also greater risk because operations is often the first to be let go in the case of a downturn or recession. There are some benefits, such as better hours and still relatively decent pay, but most readers prefer to be in front office roles due to the greater potential for advancement.

  4. Kamzui says

    Hi I am a bit skeptical about informational interviews at my scholl (the University of Hong Kong). Since in the presentation (before the networking) the presenters will try to persuade students to apply for back office positions (human resources, technology, operations) but during the networking process there are bankers from back office and front office. The problem is that anytime we ask a banker for their business card they say “oh I don’t have any left´´ and if we ask for their email they just say “ask the human resource person if you want my contact´´ and then if we do that then the human resource person will just say “no´´

    What should I do in that case?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Just ask them for their names and figure out their email addresses on your own through google or calling the bank’s switch board.

      I’d also try to strike up a decent & interesting conversation with them and they may speak with you after

  5. craig williams says

    hey im applying for the barclays capital analyst program in the investment banking division….during the application process i got stuck in 1 question….
    describe a recent development in investment banking industry. what implications does it have for the division you applied for?
    …. please help me answer this….thanks

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Find a recent development in the banking industry and talk about how it may impact revenues of the division going forward

  6. Sara says

    Hi I attended an info session & talked quite well with a Senior manager. He said he would not give out business cards in info session, but I found his email address on google. Is it actually adequate to contact him? Cuz I feel like if he refused to give business card then he might be kinda unwilling to be reached? I dunno… Please help me :)

  7. Yuting Zhu says

    Hi,
    I’m currently first year graduate seeking summer intern in financial service. Attending numerous info sessions.
    When talking to the recruiters surrounded by 10s of other I feel embarrassed and rushed if I try connect personal experience with him and free chat. coz other got bunch of position related questions to inquire. Like do u sponsor visa…..which I think could be found on website. Thank you for your guidance! Fantastic blog here!

    Also, do u think I should introduce myself as Yuting or Julia(English name since primary school but seldom used among friends), I think americans can’t remember foreign names.

    Thank you, thank you~

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Introduce yourself with a name you are comfortable with. Haha, I think Americans do remember foreign names – you may stand out more using Yuting

  8. Mika says

    Hey everyone! :)
    How should I follow up after the session?
    I want to get an internship, but I can’t just ask for one, right?
    Should I ask for a informational interview or just thank them and say “I hope to stay in touch with you during the recruiting proces” according to “overview of consulting information sessions”
    Please help!

  9. Rick says

    Hi Brian,

    Do you know of any graphical representations of the Banking Industry as a whole ( AM, IB, S&T, etc) that breakdown the structure of banking to provide a basic framework?

    Basically, i am looking for individual “flow charts” or “breakdowns” for the industries in which i am interested so that i can visualize the exact location of a position and who they interact with or provide support for. But i’m coming up empty handed…

    (ex) a tech coverage group in ECM.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      This simple flow chart should explain the structure

      Corporate clients and PE firms –> IBD –> ECM –> Sales & Trading –> Institutional Clients (Buy Side – Long & hedge funds)

  10. Ronald says

    I am a sophmore student in HIGH SCHOOL at one of the top 10 prep schools in NYC. I see a lot of my classmates who already have a foot in the wall street door because of connected parents or relatives. What can I begin to do as I progress through high school in order to make steps toward become a banker. Are there any internships for high school students in NYC that you can recommend. I love this blog (even though half of it doesn’t make sense to me) and thank you for your help.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Thanks a lot for your comment. Woah! You’re in high school and are already thinking about breaking into finance! Good for you! I’d approach your family friends & friends’ family members, find out if anyone of them is in IB in NYC. If so, I’d ask them for an intro and offer to help out as an intern (paid or unpaid). You’d then get a head start and be able to have some finance experience in your belt before you look at formal structured internships in your junior year in college. I’d suggest getting into a target school like Stern, Columbia, Wharton (even Georgetown, my alma mater) to increase your chances of networking and breaking in

      • Camille123 says

        Hi Nicole,
        Great article. just noticed that you said you attended Georgetown. Did you graduated from MSB, COLLEGE or SFS? i am curious because i want to switch out of MSB to College(i want a liberal arts education for my undergrad and business for grad school. Assume i will still be taking finance classes in the college). I am dead set on banking and many MSB people tell me not to transfer. Do you think staying in the business school will have a better chance getting a wall street offer?

        • M&I - Nicole says

          Yes I believe so. I graduated from the MSB. You can still break in from the College but chances are higher via MSB

  11. John says

    Hi I attended a networking session for a bulge bracket investment bank back in October, approximately 2.5 months ago. I know in this article you said to follow up immediately after the networking session, but would it still be okay to follow up with the person I networked with right now ? They probably forgot who I was, but I was just wondering.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Yes, they probably forgot who you were and it isn’t the ideal situation. Following up might help – you never know, though you have nothing to lose

  12. Shyam says

    Hey, my name is Shyam. I am still a senior in high school but I have a real interest in investment banking. I do not think I am in a target recruiting university… So what is the best way to start. I was also wondering how you learn what to do in investment banking? Like do college finance classes help? Or is it mainly the internships that help? I would really like to start early and preparing for this! So any help is appreciated! Thanks!

  13. zerminz says

    hi, does your major in college matter for ib/management consulting job recruiting? i go to cornell and am majoring in industrial and labor relations(ilr). ilr is seen more as a prelaw major, but im interested more in business (while open to law)and choose the major to have more flexibility. if i have a high gpa and take biz and econ classes, do i have a good shot? would it be a good idea to minor in business, econ, and/or information science with this?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Yes if you have a high GPA, I’d minor in business/econ if you want to do anything related to business. This demonstrates your interest in business to employers

  14. Firat says

    Hi Nicole,

    Firstly I would like to thank you for writing this article. I’ve graduated from a non-target school ( in top 40 in the UK) in Law with Business with a 2:1 in 2011. And I was working as an international sales manager for a textile company. And I’m now thinking to lend a job either in IB or PE. Would you recommend me to do CFA/ACCA or MBA.Or something else? Regards

  15. John says

    Dear Brian,

    I am co-founder of a company and I have just found couple of investors who wants buy my shares &the company. I would like to move into M&A but I’ve graduated from a non-target school in business in 2010. Would you advise me to do certifications or MBA-MSc before applying for a job in investment banking . ?
    Regards.

  16. Carl says

    Hi Brian
    First of all I must say that your Website is amazing!
    I will go to a swiss university in September (to recieve a Bachelor degree it takes only 3 years). I really want to get into Investment Banking. As I know that experience is as much important as high grades, I am looking for an internship after my first year. I contacted some recruiters of UBS, CS and also boutiques, but the general response was that they don’t give any internship before the 3rd year. To maximize my chances to break into the Investment Banking industry, I would be glad if you could tell me if there are other opportunities for a summer internship…
    P.S.: -may it be possible to write a short Report about IBanking in Switzerland?
    Thank you in advance,
    Carl

  17. Joseph says

    Dear Brian and Nicole,

    I live in an eastern European country and am finishing up my Bsc in finance and accounting at a local international business school offering a joint degree at Oxford Brookes Uni. in the U.K. I have gradually developed a genuine interest in financial modelling and corporate finance, and have also worked a year as a B4 auditor whilst completing two years of uni parallel via distance learning (having thus experienced formidable 100 hour weeks with study and work hours considered).
    Upon graduation I will be devoting one year to getting professional education via the ACCA and CFA exams as well as an IB-related course such as BIWS to make myself more internationally competitive and to enhance my knowledge.
    Given my situation, and considering that the IB profession is virtually non-existent in my country, hence there being basically no personal networking and internship/analyst possibilities, how would you suggest I proceed if I wanted to get into the leveraged finance group at a boutique firm such as William Blair?
    Alternatively, if this is virtually impossible do you think that going into the valuations group of a B4 firm would be a valid alternative given my affinity towards corporate finance and financial modelling?

    Many thanks!
    Joseph.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      If there are no opportunities around your area, you can either move to hubs like London (if this is feasible) or you may have to join other firms such as a big4. Yes the valuations group would be a valid alternative.

  18. Malik says

    Brian,

    I attend a non-target university in Michigan. How can I find out about where information sessions are being held?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      They are usually held in target universities. Perhaps you can check out UMich’s schedule and see when banks are going to be on campus. You can then try to see if you can make your way to an info session.

  19. AK Singapore says

    Man you gotta help me. I just graduated from Michigan Ross with a BBA and a Phd in cocaine and weed- I mean rich dad almost OD’ed type of Phd. I did not do shit for 3 yrs hence I have a shitty gpa. Other than that I did do 3 internships coz I would leave Ann Arbor and relatively sober up each summer.
    Now when graduation came along with unemployment I decided to get clean and have been sober for 2 months.
    I was gonna pack up and go home to work for KPMG as a shitty consultant but then found the Work Holiday Program in Singapore. Here I am, I hauled my ass all the way to the far east coz Jim Rogers/Marc Faber and Zerohedge said so, unemployment is 2%, taxes are 2% and the Singaporean govt gave me a work visa.
    Now how do I break into financial services here? I have no good answers for why I-banking/hedge funds, while I do make a great first impression on people coz I’m a 22yr old trying my luck in the big city they get impressed by my risk-taking initiative, I think it fizzles out coz I look like a half-dead coke head.
    The buldge-bracket already hired for this yr, UBS told me to wait 6 months and then apply- suck my d*ck UBS

    Any advice? maybe boutique banks? Hedge funds?
    Private Equity and Venture capital interest me the most but thats hardly what I can get into being just a graduate right.
    I can manage the fit questions well, technicals thats like rocket science

  20. IBD says

    Hi,
    I am a rising senior at a target school. I have had M&A advisory experience at a boutique bank after my sophomore year. I worked in consulting at one of the big 3 firms this summer and recieved a return offer. But I really want to go into banking. The problem I have is that my school thinks that I have violated discipline and under the code of student conduct, I might get suspended upto 1 year. I have appealed the decision but in the meantime I am looking at boutque banks in LA to work during this fall. Do you think suspension on my transcript means every bank will close its door for me? Also, when I network with Alumni I dont know what I should tell them. I really want to tell them the truth but I am afraid they will never talk to me again. I have a very high GPA and everything but I dont know if suspension means everything is over for me. I will really like to know what you think and how banks view suspension on the transcipt.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Not necessarily, you just have to explain why you got suspended. Craft a good story to spin that. Of course, being suspended can be viewed as a red flag. With the above being said, you can spin your story to “rectify” the damage. If you’re just networking with alums, you don’t have to mention your suspension until you’re in discussions with them re internship opportunities at their firm over fall. At some point, you’ll have to be straight up because they’ll eventually find out; this is why I said having a good pitch is very important

  21. Yifei Yang says

    Hi Brian, Nicole and M&I team,

    I came back from a company presentation at my uni yesterday, talked with several bankers and got the business card from a MD. And another associate says he would love to help if we send him email to ask questions although he didn’t give the business card. And I wrote down the name of another director although I didn’t talk to him.(I would figure out his email address.)

    Could you tell me when shall I send a thank-you email and what shall I say in it? Should I directly ask them for informational interviews, or just thank you and later on send them another email to ask for informational interview? Or shall I attach my CV at the thank you note and say how can I position myself for an interview with your firm? (BTW, I’m in London so I don’t know if that will work and even be permitted).

    And, the situation is I’m an non-native speaker and I’m not so good at English at the moment, consider I may run the risk of not knowing how to keep an interesting conversation, should I still asking them? Any advice?

    Thank you sooooooo much!

  22. Josh says

    So what questions should I be asking these recruiters/analyst alumni that I can’t find the answer to already on this blog?

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