by Brian DeChesare Comments (40)

Investment Banking Recruiting as a First or Second-Year University Student: How to Survive the Insanity

Investment Banking Recruiting University Student

This article is a revamped version of an older one, but it is mostly a public service announcement.

If you’ve been paying attention to recruiting deadlines, nothing here should be surprising.

If not, you need to start paying attention now.

Summer internship recruiting now starts insanely early, and it has been starting earlier and earlier each year.

To have a decent shot of getting into investment banking after graduation, you must focus on it from your first year in university.

This trend to move recruiting earlier and earlier is silly, but I don’t make the rules – I just explain how to game the system:

Why the Insanity?

Finance jobs are no longer the most appealing ones available to undergrads and MBAs.

Why chain yourself up in your cubicle when you could join Google or Facebook and earn as much, if not more, and get a much better work environment?

To compete, banks have moved recruiting earlier and earlier so that students don’t realize the range of other options out there.

By recruiting so early, banks also make themselves seem more “exclusive” and, therefore, more appealing.

Also, it’s cheaper to recruit students far in advance of internships and use impersonal HireVue assessments; why waste precious humans’ time on your candidacy?

Finally, banks know that they can’t necessarily get “the best and brightest” anymore – but they can get the most motivated students if they recruit early enough.

So… What Does Super-Early Recruiting Mean, Exactly?

Banks, as of 2017, open their summer internship applications over a year in advance of internship start dates.

The “deadlines” may be much later – maybe 6-9 months before internship start dates.

But recruiting is done on a first-come, first-serve basis, so you put yourself at a huge disadvantage if you wait until the deadline to apply.

That creates a few challenges for you:

Challenge #1: You Cannot “Explore” Whether or Not Finance is for You – You Must Assume It is

If you arrive on campus and you’re not sure if you want to do finance, you don’t have much time to explore your options.

You need to join finance-related clubs and get an internship ASAP.

If you do the internship, hate it, and decide the industry is not for you, you can always move into other areas (corporate finance, Big 4, etc.) that don’t recruit insanely early.

Challenge #2: You Need to Start Networking and Learning the Technical Side Even Earlier

Since recruiting moves at warp speed, you need to start networking at least 1.5 years before the internship start date.

That means “midway through your second year in university,” especially if you’re at a non-target school.

You also need some understanding of accounting, valuation, and finance at that early date because informational interviews frequently turn into real interviews.

Challenge #3: You Won’t Have Much Internship Experience by The Time You Apply

If you’re applying for internships during your second year, or even shortly after it finishes, you won’t have much to write about on your resume/CV:

  • An internship between your first and second year.
  • And… maybe some activities or part-time, school-year internships?

So, you cannot rely on internship experience to “learn the technical side,” and you can’t use detailed work experience descriptions to win interviews and offers.

You’ll also have to list “Upcoming Internships” on your resume/CV, depending on the timing.

It’s silly, but bankers barely even read your resume; they scan it for company names, school names, and position names.

So, What Do You Do?

Think of recruiting as an ingredient list:

  1. “Good enough” grades and test scores (e.g., over 3.5 in the U.S. and 2:1 or better in the U.K.).
  2. Knowledge of accounting, valuation, and finance gained from classes/books/courses.
  3. One “interesting” activity or experience that few others will have.
  4. One solid, finance-related internship.
  5. Some amount of networking (Moderate if you’re at a top school, and extreme if you’re at a non-target school).

Before applications open, you must collect as many of these ingredients as possible.

Sample Action Plans

Here are two examples of students from non-target universities in the U.S. who went through this process to win summer internship offers:

Example #1: The Transfer

This student transferred from a lower-ranked university to a higher-ranked, but still non-target, school.

That gave him some advantages, such as additional time to network and complete internships because of credit transfers:

  • Year #1: Transferred in from a lower-ranked school, where he was an athlete (“something interesting”). Did an accounting-related internship and worked at a valuation firm.
  • Summer After Year #1: Interned in asset management at a local firm.
  • Year #2: Did a school-year internship at a PE fund, completed financial modeling courses, and began a hardcore networking effort midway through the year.
  • Summer After Year #2: Began asking his networking contacts directly about internships the next year, interviewed at bulge-bracket and elite-boutique banks, and won an offer at a top firm for the next summer.

Example #2: The Former Pre-Med

This student entered university intending to go to medical school, but then made a sudden change:

  • Year #1: Started the pre-med track at a non-target school, but did not do so well GPA-wise.
  • Summer After Year #1: Did an unrelated hospital internship.
  • Year #2: Decided he didn’t want to do medicine, switched to the business school, and began a crash course in investment banking. Started networking with bankers at large firms and cold-calling/cold-emailing boutique banks to win the initial internship.
  • Summer After Year #2: Completed a boutique IB internship at a local firm and continued networking for NY-based roles. Made a weekend trip to NY.
  • Year #3: Made 2-3 more weekend trips in the first few months, reduced his credits to get more time for recruiting, and ended up with a dozen interviews and multiple summer offers.

In this case, he got lucky with the timing: Sometimes there’s not much summer internship recruiting, especially for non-target students, going into Year #3.

It would have been safer to complete a school-year internship during Year #2, but he only decided to pursue IB that year, so there wasn’t enough time.

What If You Miss the Recruiting Boat?

If you miss the boat, your best options depend on how big your miss was, and much time/money/effort you can use to fix the problem.

In the best-case scenario, you might still be able to win a full-time offer at a smaller bank: Take a look at this story for some inspiration.

If you do a crazy amount of networking in a few months, you have at least one relevant internship (PWM, corporate finance, venture capital, etc.), and you target smaller firms outside of major financial centers, it is feasible.

However, if you missed the boat by more than that – you have no finance internships, or you only became interested in IB in your last year of university – your options are different.

In that case, your best bet is to aim for related full-time roles, such as corporate finance rotational programs or jobs at Big 4 firms or independent valuation firms.

Then, move over to IB once you’ve worked there for around a year.

If you can’t win one of those roles, then you may want to consider the Master’s in Finance degree.

Another option is the “internship at small PE firm after graduation to off-cycle role at large bank” path, which may be more viable in Europe.

Finally, there’s the nuclear option: Apply to top business schools and use MBA-level recruiting to get in.

That is the most expensive and time-consuming option, and I wouldn’t recommend it unless you decide on IB very late in the game (e.g., after working as an engineer for over a year).

Wait, Is It This Insane in Other Regions? Is It Just a U.S. Trend?

First, note that even in the U.S., not all banks and schools follow this timeline.

As you saw from Example #2 above, internship recruiting can go into Year #3, though it tends to end early in Year #3.

Applications may also open and close later if you’re at a target school.

Outside of investment banking, it’s not quite as crazy in other fields; asset management recruiting follows a slower timeline, for example.

It’s also less accelerated in other regions, such as Europe and Asia, though deadlines are still moving up each year.

For example, applications for summer analyst roles used to open in September, but some large banks in Europe have moved that to July.

Finally, there’s less of an accelerated timeline at the MBA level for obvious reasons: Banks can’t open applications until you’ve started studying at the business school.

Escaping the Insanity

If you’re still in your first or second year of university – or you haven’t even started yet – then you have a decent shot of following everything above to win an internship.

If you missed the boat, then you’ll have to consider one of the Plan B alternatives above.

Or, maybe you could forget about “the boat” altogether and apply for jobs in industries where recruiting doesn’t take place 1-2 years before the start date of the job.

M&I - Brian

About the Author

Brian DeChesare is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys memorizing obscure Excel functions, editing resumes, obsessing over TV shows, traveling like a drug dealer, and defeating Sauron.

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  1. Brian,

    I’m a junior at a super-tippy-top-target with a 4.0 who worked in finance over the summer. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to network too well or prep for interviews, and essentially butchered the 5 IB ones and 6 buyside ones I did get. I didn’t even receive interviews at the vast majority of places.

    I have a strong resume and grades, but there isn’t much left. I don’t keep track of the news too well, and don’t know much about markets, so I don’t think related fields like S&T or AM might work too well. Where do I go? What’s my endgame here? There are a few small banks recruiting on campus – do I just go hard for them? A lot of these boutiques and buyside firms, which are all that remain, say they want “modelling experience” which I completely lack.

    I also spend too much time editing my resume because I can’t back some of these bullets on it up – my internship did not give me relevant work at all. However, I did assist senior bankers with major deals. My question is this: for a single resume bullet, how eloquently and in what depth should I be able to back it up?

    1. Your best bet is to aim for those smaller/boutique banks or the buy-side firms. They may say that they want modeling experience, but you can just exaggerate what you did over the summer and learn the ropes on your own. It’s not exactly rocket science, especially with the resources available today. If that doesn’t work out, go for independent valuation firms or deal-related roles at Big 4 firms. And if that doesn’t work out, think about corporate finance rotational roles at large companies.

      It’s hard to answer your last question without knowing what you’re claiming, but it sounds like you may be over-thinking it. You should be able to back up what you write with a few sentences, but you don’t need an extremely in-depth explanation for everything.

      1. And, it’s October and still nothing. I received superdays with 4 top firms and couldn’t get past the story part, and still approached interviews by memorizing stuff and panicking. Even after the day I posted this, tons of opportunities existed, including at BB/EBs.

        I’m not sure if delaying graduation might be the answer. My academic pedigree is incredibly solid, but relying on that instead of having a good story kinda screwed me. And I think my “vibe”, as you mentioned in another article, is pretty off.

        1. I would recommend doing a few mock interviews with upperclassmen or alumni and seeing what they say. It’s really hard to say what is going wrong without seeing your interactions in real life. Delaying graduation might be an answer, but you could also think about options like an MSF degree or working in a different field first and moving in as a lateral hire.

          1. Would a leave of absence and return later appear more legitimate than just a see-through delayed graduation with no classes plan? I could intern in Boston or head home to China in the time off. Then return and spin it somehow…

          2. Potentially, yes, but in either case, you need some kind of story to explain what you did. They won’t just accept it at face value if you go for either one and don’t explain one.

          3. And how much of a disadvantage would a non-traditional background like that be? It seems like it’d overshadow everything else about my candidacy. Do you have any case studies of students being forced to take a leave of absence and then recruiting successfully again? I noticed one about a “deus ex machina” event happening to someone who recruited again, but revised his resume 46 times and wasted precious time.

            As another question: If I reapply next year, would banks compare my first resume submission to whatever I submit next summer? I’ve rephrased some entries to seem more impressive, and I don’t want it to come across as dishonest.

          4. No, we don’t have “leave of absence” case studies, but I’m sure it has happened before. It will probably hurt you, but if you won interviews the first time around, you can do so again. Yes, banks might compare your submissions if they remember you (but most banks are disorganized and don’t track things well, so…).

          5. That may be complicated by the fact that one of my main problems was the way my resume was phrased (ie not bankified enough) and that fact that I’ve sent very different versions to each place. To have a better chance, could I revamp my resume, or would this be viewed as obvious BSing/dishonesty?

  2. Hi Brian, great article.

    I’m a freshman at a target, and am looking for an “interesting activity” for my resume.

    Would club ping pong count? What about club fencing? Im an athletic person and would like to play a sport on campus, but I’m not sure if this is a good use of my time, resume-wise. I’d rather play ping pong, but fencing is probably “more interesting.” What other activities do you consider “interesting.”?

    Thanks.

    1. Either of those could work. You don’t need something the interviewer has never heard of before, you just need something that stands out a bit more than all the standard things people say. Ping pong is probably more different than fencing if I had to guess.

  3. Hi Brian. You website has been one of the biggest supporter for my career change. I have been looking for this kind of information and i can testify that it has motivated a lot. My home country is Kenya and having completed CPA(certified public accountant) and recently CIFA(certified investment and financial analyst) i had a problem on how to apply it to real life scenario and hence your website bridged that gap. Am working hard to get an internship to an investment bank so that i can disseminate what i have been learning, though to get an internship here is quit hard but am still optimistic on it.Soon i will enroll for a full course as my finances gets better because currently i have no job( i hope too soon because you have awaken in me a fire of financial modelling which i have missed for long). Your free tutorial is substantial as i can even stay all the day long watching and be informed.This is what we have been lacking in Kenya as there is a big difference between what we learn in business school and what there is in the industry.

  4. Hi Brian. I’m about to start my undergraduate program at Queens university in the commerce program. Which is a target school in Canada. I want to work in the U.S after graduation. Should i try to get internships in U.S banks or can i just work at a Canadian bank and apply to the U.S after graduation. Also how hard would it be for me to land an internship or a full time job in the U.S. I’m interested in going to Texas or Florida.

    1. You should definitely go for internships at U.S.-based banks in the U.S. if that is your plan. There is almost no IB activity in Florida, and Texas is mostly energy. You would stand a better chance by focusing on NY or Chicago because there are more jobs and broader roles there.

  5. Hi Brian! Thank you for this informative article.
    I’m about to start my second year of an undergraduate degree in Banking & Finance (UK system). My degree is based online through the University of London and I have thus not had the opportunity to meet with recruiters etc.
    A few questions – will my degree to explore a career in investment banking on a technical basis? Am I looking at getting an internship for next summer (July 2018)? And how do I go about this process on my own, without the backing of a university?

    1. You will need some kind of internship next summer, but not necessarily an investment banking one. The traditional IB one is more important for the summer after that one. To apply independently, you have to network extensively… see some of the previous case studies on this site from readers who did that.

  6. Hi Brian,

    I’m about to start my first year at UVA, but I’ve been thinking about transferring to Cornell (probably Hotel or ILR). Am I overthinking the prestige of target schools? Would it be worth the attempt to transfer? I know McIntire has decent placement, but the OCR and alumni network of an Ivy appears more attractive to me.

    Thanks.

    1. I don’t think Cornell would help that much over UVA – McIntire, especially if there’s a big difference in costs. UVA is already a good school, so a transfer would only help if you could get into one of the top 2-3 schools for IB placement, which is extremely tough when you apply as a transfer student.

      1. Thanks for the reply. So do you suggest that I just try to get into McIntire and go from there? I didn’t think transferring would be that viable, but I thought it might be worth a shot.

  7. Ian Robertsson

    Hey Brian,

    This is an extremely helpful article but I have a few questions to ask. I’m an incoming freshmen at a community college in the Bay Area. I was admitted to a semi-target (Berkeley) from high school, but sadly I had to turn it down because my parents couldn’t afford to help me much so I was looking at about 60k student debt. Anyway, my plan was to keep on doing well and hopefully transfer to Haas (Berkeley’s business school) or some other semi-target/target. If all summer internship recruiting happens during sophomore year now, then that means I won’t be able to have a fair shot at it from the university that I actually transfer to. Is this the case at all schools and for the majority of investment banks? Is there anything I can do to increase my chances of landing a summer internship for junior year? Do elite boutiques or smaller IB recruit later on in the year? Sorry for all the questions but this is pretty significant news given my current situation (and yes I already understand the disadvantage I have for attending community college instead of a selective four-year university).

    1. Basically, the early nature of recruiting means that you need to transfer earlier on to have a good shot at participating now. So you pretty much have to move over at the end of your first year to have the best chance. Most banks are starting earlier and earlier, and it will get even worse in the future. I would strongly recommend transferring to at least a semi-target school because it will be almost impossible to get into IB coming from a community college.

      Some banks may keep recruiting into your 3rd year, but you’re taking a risk if you wait that long. And the transfer alone will cost you some time. So, I would strongly recommend transferring by the end of your first year so you can start your second year at a different school.

  8. Rory Middleton

    A quick question on when best to apply.

    I am a 2nd year student studying economics at LSE (so UK recruiting process). There will be an event in mid September where recruiters will come to our ‘target school’.

    Will it be best to wait until then to apply for an internship for this summer, or get applications in early?

    Rory

    1. Apply as soon as possible. Applications are reviewed on a “first come, first serve” basis, so once the applications open, every minute you wait counts against you. Submit your application ASAP. Talking to recruiters at an event will not improve your chances much vs. applying ASAP.

  9. Halo brian, thanks again for another article. It’ll be out of topic. I’m 24 yo from Indonesia with have 2 yr experience as an auditor in Deloitte (which is completely different with IB). This September I’ll study Msc Finance at University of Amsterdam and wish pursue a career in IB.

    But after reading many of your articles, I am afraid IB wouldn’t be fit for me. I’m not that sociable person nor have good relationship building skills. My competitive advantages are analytical skills, quantitaive, math or something like that. Could you give some thought what career best for me?

    1. Maybe something on the buy-side such as a hedge fund/asset management role, quant fund role, or something like that.

      1. Thanks for the response, Brian. Anw, I still wish to pursue a career in IB. Is there any role with more analytical work (quantitative, etc)? And how abt fixed income research or equity research? Really appreciate any thought. Thanks.

        1. Yes, maybe research, though the prospects for research aren’t great at most banks (fewer job openings, regulations changing the compensation structure, etc.). Maybe something more like project finance, leveraged finance, or other debt-related fields as well.

          1. Thank you, really appreciate your response.

  10. Alexander

    Hey Brian, thank you for writing the article; it was very enlightening. I’m an incoming freshman to the Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business and I have a few questions. I’ve heard Tepper be described as a semi-target for investment banking. Is this true? What “path” would you recommend for someone in my situation to maximize my chances of getting into IB? Thanks again!

    1. Yes, semi-target is a good description for it. Your best option is to a finance/accounting internship during/after your first year, then work at a small PE firm, search fund, or bank during or after your second year, and then network extensively during your second year so you win interviews for the 3rd-year internship a year in advance.

      1. Alexander

        Apologies for the late reply. Thanks for the information! I’ve been reading a few of your other articles and I’ve noticed that you’ve worked in Japan. Having studied abroad in high school in Saitama for a year, I feel the so-called “gaijin bond”. I’m planning to study abroad in Japan again, this time in my sophomore year of college. Do you think that this would be an overall boon or detriment to a pursuit of IB offers/internships, etc. (assuming high GPA and finance classes taken there)?

        1. It is not a great idea in the current recruiting environment to study abroad for an extended period because it will be far more difficult to network and win job offers. The experience is helpful for your story, but if you want to do it, try to do something shorter such as a trip for a few weeks or a month or maybe something only in the first half of your second year that will still let you interview in-person in the second half.

  11. I was speaking to an MD at a recruiting event at the bank’s office, and his prediction about recruiting is that it will get pushed even earlier, and jump/skip the Summer, and move to April. So students will go through superdays and get offers in April 2017 for Summer 2018 internships, and have to answer questions about what they think they will be doing in their Summer 2017 internships that will prepare them for banking.

    It actually already happens with “accelerated” and “diversity” recruiting. It’s all pretty ridiculous, but the MD said this is what happens when students decide to go into investment banking when they are in kindergarten, and write about being “Summer Analysts” at the age of 15 on their resumes.

    How likely is this to happen?

    1. Sadly, I could see that happening. Some people already interview for 2018 internships in May or June of 2017, so why not move it to April? It’s just another month!

      Some of it is because of overly eager young students, but it’s more the fault of banks for using this strategy of “Grab them when they’re young so they don’t know any better.”

  12. Hi Brian,

    Thank you for another great article. With recruiting getting more and more accelerated, I was wondering what the level of difficulty would be for the technical interviews? How much does a rising third year student need to know to do well in these interviews? Thanks!

    1. Thanks. I’m not sure if the earliness of recruiting changes the difficulty of technical interviews. You still have to know the fundamentals well so you can handle outside-the-box questions, but you’re not expected to know about more advanced or less common topics (e.g., the tax implications of different types of M&A deals). There’s now so much information on these topics that bankers expect you to do the research if you’re serious about the industry.

  13. This is spot on. I noticed this trend this year as well when I went to go network with IB in the spring of my sophomore year. After doing the initial networking and having them look at my resume, I had my first interview in MAY, which I thought was nuts. I was working at an internship over the summer and pretty much was already interviewing for summer jobs for NEXT year.

    It’s insane how early everything starts now, and you’re 100% correct in saying that they no longer get the best students, but they try to lock up whoever they can get early on. In the end, I decided IB wasn’t going to be for me, but this is a great article for any freshman or sophomore (a little late but there’s still time) looking to do IB.

    1. Thanks! Yes, it’s a bit crazy… I wonder how much earlier they can reasonably move up recruiting.

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