by Brian DeChesare Comments (5)

Weekly Reader Q&A: Investment Banking From Ph.D., Boutique Summer Internships, Informational Interviews

In this week’s edition of Mergers & Inquisitions Reader Q&A, the investment banking summer internship theme continues to run strong. Offers have already been handed out at most bulge bracket banks, while middle-market and boutique banks will continue recruiting year-round.

I continue to receive many questions on breaking into banking from other industries, so I feature one recent question on that topic here as well.

Breaking Into Investment Banking With A Ph.D.

“I am a Ph.D. scientist actively exploring a different career path. Do you think getting a CFA degree would help me break into investment banking? Also, you recommend going to a bulge bracket on your site, but would such firms even consider hiring me? I’ve gotten consulting interviews but have had trouble with finance interviews. Should I focus on smaller banks?”

A CFA may be helpful for you, but I think there are probably better ways you can spend your time to get an investment banking job. A CFA requires lots of studying, time, and preparation and your time would be better spent reading up on stocks, learning financial modeling, speaking to people in the industry and networking, etc.

I would strongly recommend going for boutique and middle-market banks with your background. It is very difficult to get into bulge brackets with an unusual history, and with the current market environment it’s even tougher, especially without an internship.

Smaller banks, by contrast, still hire even during downturns, and will be more accepting of someone like you.

In terms of other ways to stand out, some friends have worked at “finance-related” firms that are not necessarily banks – companies that provide valuation services, industry research or buyside research, for example.

These firms may be good stepping stones into investment banking.

Boutique vs. Bulge Bracket Summer Internship

“I have 2 investment banking summer internship offers – one from a top boutique in their M&A group and one at a bulge bracket that is not group-specific. I like the people at both equally and am very concerned over exit opportunities. Which one do you think is better for me?”

I don’t think you can go wrong with either choice, as both will have very good exit opportunities and prestige. For a summer internship especially, the specific bank you’re at doesn’t matter too much. Having a banking internship at all puts you at an extreme advantage in full-time recruiting.

I would consider the deal flow and banking culture at both when making your decision. Getting to work on good deals is critical to good exit opportunities, as deals are the centerpiece of your private equity resume and will be crucial in buyside interviews.

Personally I would lean toward the M&A-focused boutique. Since it has not relied as much on its lending capabilities to win M&A deals, the boutique will have good deal flow even in the face of the credit crunch.

[Note: “Top boutique” here refers to the likes of Evercore, Greenhill, Lazard, etc. which are basically comparable to bulge brackets in prestige. The bulge bracket in question suffered a lot of writedowns in the credit crunch.]

Investment Banking Informational Interviews

“I have an informational interview with a Managing Director coming up. Other than his career, is there anything else that I should ask him? Obviously, things about the firm – but what really makes MD’s like candidates and what do they like to see in candidates?”

Besides the typical career questions, I would talk to him about your school, activities, campus happenings, and classes and see if you have anything in common. Alumni connections can be very powerful so you should definitely take advantage of them.

MDs like to make personal connections with candidates and will focus on fit questions rather than going into details on accounting and finance. Make sure you have a really good story about why you want to do investment banking and M&A specifically.

I would also try to come up with a few insightful questions – more than just career goals and background. Maybe ask him how the business has personally affected him, what he learned over the years that he did not expect going into it, and anything else tailored specifically to his own background.

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. Hi Brian,

    I am a PhD specialised in Political Economy in Asia (from the top 5 UK uni. I just received the degree two months ago) and am now seriously considering of going to work in IB. Is the chance very slim? I think my chance in the UK is nearly impossible so I look at Asia, where I come from. Some investment banks in Singapore and HK are still recruiting Summer Associate interns (MBA). But I am very concerned about the degree and age issue (I’m 32, female). My only work experience is that I once worked for one year in politics (before my PhD). What else I can do to get an interview for internship? Or should I just go for Management Associate programmes instead and forget about IB? Thanks a lot.

    1. M&I - Nicole

      I think you can still apply though your chances may be slim. Have you expanded your search to other areas of finance? M’gmt Associate programmes might be easier.

  2. We need more igsnihts like this in this thread.

  3. Brian,

    So I met an MD at an information session. We really hit it off, and since the session was small, I had a chance to do the informational interview there. Also, because I don’t go to school there, he asked me to email him my resume.

    I should not ask for another info interview, should I? Just go ahead and “make the ask”?


    1. Yeah if you already spoke with him I would only suggest another info interview if you’re going to visit his city in-person; otherwise just ask directly.

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