by Brian DeChesare Comments (37)

If You Don’t Like Brick Breaker, Can You Still Work in Finance? And More Questions (and Answers)

In an earlier article I wrote about my “favorite question ever,” but I might have to take that one back because one reader managed to top it recently.

With a topic near and dear to our hearts: Brick Breaker.  I guess since Leveraged Sellout featured it I should have expected some questions – I just didn’t think it would take this long.

1. I just tried Brick Breaker on my friend’s Blackberry the other day but hated it and could not get past the first level. Am I doomed to never get into investment banking?

It’s ok if you don’t like Brick Breaker, but how could you not even get past the first level?  The beginning levels are pretty easy.

If you can’t even get past level 1, you’ll have no luck working all weekend.

2. Having perused your site, I would find our Singapore client to be most fitting.  I look forward to your response.

What does this mean?  I get inquiries like this all the time that make no sense.

3. Can you put up rankings of all the different groups within banks?  I want to see the most prestigious groups everywhere.

I stay away from “ranking” places as much as possible because things change very quickly and because you should be more concerned with getting in wherever you can as opposed to only focusing on a few groups – especially in this market.

4. What would you invest in right now?  Do you have any tips?

Didn’t you read Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Banker?  We don’t have any “hot stock tips.”

I don’t invest in the stock market at all because I can generate higher returns elsewhere.


5. What is the worst thing you’ve ever seen on a resume?

The worst resumes I see are from college kids who somehow have 3-4 pages describing their “careers.”

I’ve had VP and MD-level customers before and with 10+ years of experience their resumes are not this long – so why is yours?

6. I’m about to get an interview, but they want to see my resume first.  I’m nervous because I haven’t had any finance experience – should I write on my resume that I can work hard and am very enthusiastic?

No, this is a really bad idea.  Remember that “Show, don’t tell” rule you learned in elementary school?  The same applies to resumes.

More resume mistakes to avoid.

7. I’ve had 2 banking summer internships before, but in my most recent one I did hardly any modeling and didn’t do much real work.  Should I leave out the most recent one so I don’t get questions on it in interviews?

If you’ve had a summer internship, you need to list it – you’ll get lots of questions on what you did during the summer otherwise.  I would keep it in but make it clear upfront that it was more of a qualitative role.

Background Checks

8. I had a part-time gig a few years back where I got in an argument with the manager once. Will that show up in my background check?

Unlikely, unless you listed him as a reference… most of the time they just verify that you worked somewhere over a specified time period.

9. My GPA has changed by 0.2 between when I interviewed and now.  Am I going to get in trouble during my background check?

Unlikely.  They understand grades change somewhat between when you interview and when you start, and 0.2 is within the “acceptable” range.


10. I’ve been getting a poor response from alumni I’ve contacted – what should I do?

Assuming you are not saying anything foolish in your emails, you should try to expand beyond alumni and think outside the box to come up with other contacts in the industry… leave no stone unturned when it comes to networking, even if it seems completely random.

11. I have a finance job, but I don’t know how long it will last – I’m thinking of going to New York to do some networking, do you have any tips?

You can go if you want, but I would consider other regions as well… NY has been particularly hard-hit since it’s the center of everything finance-related.  Make sure you have enough meetings lined up to make it worth your time (i.e. not just 1 or 2) and look beyond the larger banks.

12. I am not getting a response from one of my contacts anymore after several emails – what should I do?

I would call him if you have the number – that tends to get peoples’ attention more than email, which is easily ignored.  Failing that, I would make a note to reach out to him every few weeks and check anyway – persistence plays a huge role in networking.

13. I have an information session coming up for a large bank.  How can I do my best to stand out?

Try to speak with as many people as you can and be yourself.  Focus your questions on them rather than talking about yourself and avoid too much mention of work or anything finance-related… they hear more than enough about those topics all day.  Also don’t get drunk or abandon your common sense.

14. I have a list of boutiques I want to interview at, what is the best way to contact them if I have no relationship?

Cold-calling is the way to go, forget about email.  Emails get ignored, whereas phone calls are more difficult to ignore and help you connect personally with whomever you’re trying to reach.

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. How extensive is the background check? Would an academic warning rescind an offer? Do they check everything single activity and position you have had? (including ones on campus?)

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Background check is pretty extensive but I don’t know if they will rescind an offer if you had an academic warning – depends on what it is about. Don’t think they will check every single activity/position you have had though.

      1. Would a violation of the academic honor code be serious?

        1. M&I - Nicole

          Have you disclosed that to your interviewer? Depends on what type of violation. I don’t know.

  2. Regarding point 9, I accepted an offer in November and have since seen my GPA slip from over a 3.7 to a 3.4 (I know, stupid, but it’s a moot point now). Should I proactively notify HR about this or wait until it’s brought up?

    I’ve read on WSO that background check companies mainly confirm your graduation and check dates of attendance and only sometimes GPA.

    Many thanks,

    1. This is a full time BB offer by the way. Thanks!

    2. Never bring up something like that, it just draws attention to your problem…

      1. Thanks for the response. How would you go about handling this then? HR has asked for an updated resume (I’m guessing to pass on to the background check company). Just feeling a bit anxious now. Thanks again.

        1. So update your resume with your new GPA, you already have the offer, they’re not going to rescind it over that

  3. A little outdated, but worthwhile nonetheless I think…

    1. Yup very good points raised within.

  4. West coast banker

    How do west coast salary and bonuses compare with those in new york?

    1. The same at bulge brackets and less at boutiques. Hard to say how much less since it’s very bank dependent, but maybe 10-20%?

  5. Hi inquisitor, I come from the liberal arts side of the world, so I’m not as “exposed” to finance as much as a business student. As such, I’m having trouble discovering that any given boutique even exists. Career services at my college is a joke; do you know of any database of boutiques, or some kind of guide to the industry?

  6. jeez, he was only a 2-year analyst, not a king of the universe. use your brain to figure out if there will be more MFE apps this year, thats the same thing inquisitor can do.

    1. You have no idea how many questions I get that I know nothing about and can’t answer…

  7. I have a general question about the master of financial engineering. Do you think it is a good time to get in? Do you expect more applications this year?

    1. Sorry, I don’t yet offer future prediction services.

      I have no idea if there will be or won’t be and I just don’t know enough about it to say one way or the other. However, I would warn you that such a degree doesn’t help much with getting into banking so take that into account too.

  8. I see, thank you. Sorry to keep bugging you but I swear last question for at least a month! What books would you recommend for learning MS Office (namely Excel, Word, PP)? I’m looking at the “…for Dummies” series but I’m skeptical about whether the content would be useful for bankers.

    1. Hmm unfortunately I haven’t used any of those books before – to be honest, I really wouldn’t worry about it as you learn everything you need when you start anyway.

  9. Do you have any idea what the pay is like for asset management? i.e. for the different levels within the hierarchy

    1. To be honest I don’t know specific numbers at all levels but in general slightly higher base salaries and lower bonuses… overall I don’t know how much lower/higher but hey it’s finance you’ll still make a lot of money.

  10. I tried the cold-calling boutiques thing and asked for the best way to get an interview…and all they told me to do was to apply online. I’m not sure what exactly you mean by “cold-calling”, but it has failed me and I followed the script you suggest on

    Also, how do people have 2 banking internships as undergrads? Did they get the first internship right after freshman year and the second right after sophomore year? Or are they like 6th year seniors?

    And finally, I’m going to be taking an MBA level M&A class at my school…is that something worth noting on my resume or is it strictly overkill?

    1. Try calling the bankers instead of HR or the main line then – bankers tend to be more willing to take the call and help you out especially if you sound well-informed.

      2 banking internships as undergrads – usually they will have them during the school year and then one in the summer.

      And yes, that class is worth nothing.

      1. What about classes/workshops from Training the Street?

        1. What about them? Nothing will be a magical solution that guarantees you get into the field if that’s what you’re asking. They are good if you want to learn financial modeling skills, but they do not help much with actually getting in… we’ve never picked someone because of those classes.

  11. What kinds of strong internships really stand out for an applicant when applying for an SA position? It seems like most people have some sort of PWM experience.

    1. I’ve never heard of PWM being respected within the investment banking community and I’d be surprised if bankers looked upon it with any value because the work and skill set is so different.

      1. So what sort of internships will help an SA applicant stand out? Boutique IB?

        1. Yes, boutique IB/PE definitely help a lot. To be honest, it’s hard to have anything spectacular as an SA applicant because you’re too young.

          But anything beyond the typical retail jobs helps you – even if it’s PWM. Sure, it’s not as “good” as banking/PE but it’s better than nothing.

      2. Actually a lot of my customers have had previous PWM experience and it’s quite common especially for younger candidates who haven’t had the junior year internship yet.

        The work is somewhat different, but bankers would still look at it in higher regard than, say, working in IT or in retail or pretty much anything non finance/business-related.

        1. Hi Brian,

          So its really hard to land a banking gig right now.

          I was wondering about mobility within banks. Would it be possible to take a PWM full time offer, work for a year, and then go into banking? Talking about Goldman specifically, since I have an offer.

          1. It’s possible but never easy – very dependent on how many people you know in IBD and how well you can network.

      3. That’s odd because I know a number of people who have moved from pwm to ibanking mind you if you are successful in pwm no way would you want to move to ibanking associate role it would be going backwards. Many people who work in pwm are usually more entrepreneural and would not fit in the employee mentality of a bank.

  12. Alumni Database

    What do you think is the best way to approach/contact alumni whom I have very little affiliation to? I have a a large alumni database at my disposal (think top3 bschool) but I am not an ALUMNI from that school. My close relation is. I have a fear they will think i’m a lunatic for reaching out saying, “I want to get into banking, but i got your name from somewhere random. can you help me out?” Advice?

    1. I would say:

      “Hello, I’m so-and-so” (brief introduction)
      “I’ve already done lots of work..” (explain what other networking avenues you have tried)
      “I found your name via the alumni database at…”
      “A friend there, so-and-so, referred me.”

      Then go into the rest of your request.

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