by Brian DeChesare Comments (30)

5 Ways To Boost Your Recruiting Chances In A Tough Hiring Market

Lately one of my most common questions via email goes something like this:

“I’m a rising senior looking at investment banking recruiting in the fall. However, the market is really tough right now, there have been a lot of layoffs, bonuses were down 30%, and it seems like a lot of the bigger banks may not be hiring much. What can I do to break in?”

The market we’re in right now is definitely the toughest since 2002 or so, and even well-qualified students and professionals are faced with the same dilemma: how to get in when hiring is down.

How A Tough Market Affects You

The primary impact of a tough hiring market is to raise “the bar” of recruiting standards. Back in 2004-2006, friends got into investment banking without previous internships, in many cases without previous finance experience at all.

While it’s still possible to do this, a poor market makes it more difficult, especially at bulge bracket firms.

To have a good shot at getting in at the largest banks these days, you’d have to have previous finance experience or some kind of extremely influential connection (the CEO would be a good place to start).

But what should you do if you have neither of those?

1) Networking: Build It Before You Need It (If you Can)

This one is admittedly difficult to pull off at the last minute, but it is the most effective strategy for breaking in when hiring is down.

If you’re anything other than a rising senior in college, whether you’re a younger student or a working professional, the good news is that you have significantly more time to build up your list of industry contacts.

As I wrote in my original article on the basics of networking your way into investment banking, the two best places to start are your alumni network and friends in the field.

If this is last-minute recruiting (e.g. you are a rising senior), you will have to focus on relationships that actually lead to jobs, and you’ll likely have to do some cold-calling in the process.

2) Give Boutique And Middle-Market Firms Some Love

Back when I wrote about working at a bulge bracket vs. a boutique, I recommended that you go to the largest firm possible. Your experience at smaller places tends to be quite random – it could be fantastic or it could be awful, whereas a bulge bracket ensures that you’ll get at least a decent experience.

These rules go out the window in a tough job market. I don’t care if you have multiple degrees from Wharton or have interned at Goldman Sachs for the previous 3 summers, there’s no predicting what will happen in this market, and you want to spread your net as wide as possible.

The logic is simple: the lower end of the market is less affected by downturns than the mega-deals are, and many boutiques out there are still hiring.

A good place to get started is this thread on Wall Street Oasis on regional boutiques – there are some good names on there to review.

By the way, by “boutique” I don’t mean the likes of Lazard, Evercore or Moelis & Company – those are all smaller, M&A-focused firms with great names and reputations that are on par with the bulge brackets. I’m referring to true regional boutiques that are not “famous” and which don’t get much attention.

3) Consider Private Equity, Hedge Funds And Related Finance Jobs

This one might sound crazy – how can you possibly pursue the typical “exit opportunity” jobs when you have no experience yet?

Truthfully, it isn’t possible unless you’ve had a previous internship in one of these fields or have some other experience that makes you especially well-qualified.

Here are a few possibilities:

  1. You have a quantitative degree (math/engineering/science) with some financial knowledge – some hedge funds may hire you even without a previous finance internship.
  2. You worked at a private equity fund or hedge fund last summer – I’ve had friends who have gone directly to one of these following a summer internship.
  3. You’re a mid-level consultant or corporate development executive – rather than going to banking, consider private equity and venture capital, both of which will value your experience more than bankers would anyway.

4) Expand Your Geography – Go East, Young Man (Or Woman)

The topic of geography and working outside the US has been popular in recent reader Q&A sections, and with good reason – many emerging markets have not been hit quite as hard as the US, Europe, and other developed economies.

If you have the appropriate language skills, you should definitely consider this one – everyone wants to start out in New York, but good luck getting hired at a large bank there with current market conditions.

Many banks have been sending some of their top talent to the Middle East and other emerging markets, so they seem to have noticed the trend and adapted as well.

5) Make Your Resume Shine

This is an easy one that takes far less time than networking, cold calling banks, and learning additional languages so that you can work in other parts of the world, but it’s one that few people actually do.

Just from Mergers & Inquisitions alone, I’ve reviewed over 100 resumes since starting the site last year, and I’m always struck by the number of applicants with great experience and internships who don’t properly convey what they did in writing.

Having a great resume is the difference between getting noticed and not getting noticed – between getting a callback and never hearing back.

I’ve already given a lot of resume advice, from investment banking resumes to private equity resumes, and also have my resume review service for those interested in having a professional, line-by-line critique.

Why Try To Get Into Finance Right Now?

Reading about how tough it is to get hired in finance currently, you might wonder, “Why bother at all?” The answer goes back to what I wrote about in my review of 2008 analyst bonuses: it’s always better to “buy” into a market, whether real estate or the job market, when it’s at the bottom.

If you get in now, you could very easily ride the wave when the market recovers and be earning a much higher income a couple years from now compared to anyone who’s just getting started a few years from now.

The other reason, of course, is that there’s little reason to wait. Taking a few years off to travel would be fun but it wouldn’t enhance your chances of breaking in when the market recovers.

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,

    I had an offer for half year placement, which means I have to defer for one semester if accepted. If I do so, I will graduate at Jan 2015, and cannot start my grad job properly like others in Jun 2014. So what should I do to fill up the gap between Jan and May 2015 while waiting for starting my grad job at Jun 2015?


  2. Brian, I have a question for you. Does your personal financial standing (i.e being “self-made”) matter whatsoever? Could having started a successful venture (of any size) be seen as a good thing or a hindrance in the eyes of the interviewer? Is it one of those things that absolutely does not matter or is it one that’ll help a little?

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Yes having a successful venture helps. It also depends on the interviewer and the job you are interviewing for!

      1. That was a quick response. Thank you, Nicole!

  3. Hi Nicole,
    I have a quick question: The market is so down right now, and I just interned at a BB, only 20% of the class got offers and alot of them are sophomores (so they get offers to return next year as interns). What can i dot to leverage this with a BB internship? Can i apply to the same firm but with different divisions? and how can i get accelerated interviews?
    Thank you so much

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Yes. I’d suggest you to speak to HR re accelerated interviews because different firms have different policies.

  4. Great site, some good advice.
    Here’s an observation. I spent several years in ‘back office’ roles (manager in Global Custody), then due to a geographical move, changed out of the industry for a few years. I’m now back in London and trying to break in again – but it’s tough. Most networking associates recognise my transferable skills, but can’t help due to hiring freezes.
    Recruiters and HR are the ‘gatekeepers’ and will not consider you for a role unless your CV matches exactly the role they’re recruiting for (even entry level roles that I used to manage! My experience is considered ‘not current or relevant’).
    Your ‘transferable skills’ count for nought when you’re up against everyone else that was laid off in the last year or two and you’re battling recruiters that aren’t interested if you can actually do the job (most have never worked in the industry anyway!).
    I’ve ‘bankified’ my CV to death, the only other thing I can think of is to ‘massage’ it further for each role – not exactly lying, but being creative!
    Any other advice in these tough times?

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Be persistent and continue to network. Know your story and why you want to break into a certain area. Keep a very positive mental attitude

  5. Hi Brian- I’m a non-target senior looking for FT so I have been cold-calling boutiques and middle-market firms. As you can imagine, almost all places say they are not hiring. It suddenly turns awkward at that point. So I’m just wondering how to respond when they say that. Thanks a lot.

  6. What’s the best time of year to get hired off-cycle? I’ve heard December (since deal-making slows and execs have more time for interviews) or Jan/Feb (after bonuses come out and people leave) are good times? Any truth to this, or are there other times of year you’d recommend reaching out to potential employers for interviews?

    Another corp lawyer here looking to break into finance.

    1. For Analysts the middle of the year is best because everyone gets paid in the summer and many leave or suddenly quit; for Associate-level hires probably December-January/February time frame for the reasons you mentioned.

  7. What do you think about the recent hiring freeze announced by Morgan Stanley? Do you think that the other banks would follow suite? How would you suggest responding to a market that is simply not willing to hire? Thanks

    1. There are always hiring freezes… things change on a daily basis. Go for firms that are hiring… there’s always turnover, and smaller boutiques are always looking for help.

      1. In your guide, “200 IB interview questions & answers you need to know” , are the “Warren Buffet” questions really that pertinent to IB summer analyst interviews?

        On the technical questions, would you be asked technical questions on LBO analysis and DCF in a summer analyst position interview?

        I am asking this so that I can streamline my method of preparation for interviews.


        1. Yes, you could easily get questions such as “Pitch me a stock” in SA interviews… in fact I’d be shocked if you didn’t get that one as a question somewhere. Maybe not some of the more advanced ones there, but definitely the basics like tell me about a stock, a market, and so on.

          DCF questions are definitely possible, LBO questions are less likely unless you’ve had a previous banking internship.

          Also FYI there is a new version of the guide released last year with 400 questions and sample interviews… you should have received an email link to upgrade in December 09.

          1. Thanks a lot for the clarification. Apparently , I never got the link to the new version of the guide. Is there anyway I could get the link to it? I would appreciate it a lot. Thanks.

          2. Sure just email us at and someone will send the new guide information.

  8. “Europe, Asia and the rest of the world have not been hit nearly as hard by the credit crunch and recession as the US has.”

    Actually, Europe has been hit far harder than the USA, so far.

    1. When this article was written (Summer 2008) Europe had not yet suffered as much.

  9. I am applying an internship at IB through the Washington Center and the above question was asked.

  10. Hello again,

    I have a question.

    I have to write about what 500 word essay on recent controversies on the field of finance/ banking industry. I thought I would write about how the investment banking playing field is changing due to consolidation in the industry with Lehman brothers’ bankruptcy and increasing strict government regulations that are intended to stop reckless risky investments. I will also write about how they are coping with this by restructuring and how Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley already changed their business models and turned into more traditional bank holding companies. Do you think this will make a good topic?

    I really apologize for my long question but I hope you will help.

    Thank you!


  11. Hi Brian,

    This comment is not specific to this posting, but you did say that comments are better than email for asking questions. My question is, why are there no dates on postings and comments? For example, this article. When I see an article that starts with the word “lately,” the first thing I want to know is when it was written, since that is an important part of context.

    I definitely do recognize that the articles are fresh enough to be relevant even if I don’t know the exact date. Still, there is something fundamentally weird about published material without a publication date.

    1. There are no dates because with most of the articles on this site, I aim to be timeless. I don’t really view this as a traditional blog – it’s a collection of articles on topics related to finance, with the occasional current events or news-related item thrown in (and usually the date is easy to figure out with those).

      I don’t list dates because it automatically biases you against older information, even if it’s still relevant. Resumes and interview strategies, for example, do not change much – if at all – from year to year..

      You see “Lately” in some of the articles because they were written when the site was still relatively new and I hadn’t taken this approach yet.

  12. Hi Brain,
    If I just graduated this August (as I went to UK for exchange), can I apply for the 2010 analyst program in bulge brackets? Or should I just try to apply for boutiques and not bother with those large banks?

    1. Really depends on your background / networking effort so far… you can always just apply to everything and see what happens, though if you don’t have on-campus recruiting I would not bother with bulge brackets.

  13. Regarding entering finance, your point is well noted about being able to ride out the storm.
    However, I wonder about this as this recession is already shaping up to be one of the worst that we have ever seen and it seems as though there is more bad news to come and plenty of uncertainty.

    There will be limited deal flow unless you work in restructuring and companies/banks that are going bust need to help or need to merge.

    Downsides of going into banking now the way I see it are:
    1. shitty bonuses (if any at all)
    2. total lack of job stability (there still seem to be “toxic” assets on banks’ books and there are definitely more bank failures/mergers to come)
    3. lack of deal flow (volatile equity markets and inability to raise debt finance together mean that less deals will be done and you will be spending more time pitching and getting less transaction experience)

    Furthermore, no one can really predict when the market will pick up. It may happen in 2010 (as it has almost universally been acknowledged that 2009 will be another shitty year) or 2011 or who can really predict it….thus, going into banking now may just mean endlessly waiting for the market to turn without having a clue as to when this will happen

    I worked in banking for a short while at the analyst level and am now debating whether it is worth trying to get back in for the above reasons. I am now considering strategy/ops consulting (even if its not the big MBBBM), corporate development or other types of roles where I can still learn a lot, find the work interesting and work that may potentially offer a better lifestyle.

    1. I don’t think there’s anything such as a “stable” job these days. That idea is from the 70’s, doesn’t exist anymore.

      Ultimately, the best way to proceed is to make yourself into a valuable asset with lots of connections and useful skills – which is one reason why I’m doing what I’m doing right now and not jumping back into the market.

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