5 Lessons Rocky Can Teach You About Getting Into Investment Banking

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boxer in grunge“Ok, I’ll give you $25 for him.”

“Sold.”

Had it really come to this?

First, his wife’s jewelry and now his dog?

When you really need the money, anything goes, right?

It had all started with dreams of being a movie star, and now he was here – broke, and selling the last of his possessions to stay afloat.

Back in the Day

Since he was a child, Sylvester Stallone had wanted to star in movies – not TV, not plays, not anything else – but movies.

But actually becoming a star?

Well, he had gotten over 1500 rejections from agents in New York so far.

At the time, there weren’t even 1500 agents in the city – but he had been to many of them 5 or 6 times.

The First Job

One day, he arrived at an agent’s office and stayed there overnight when the agent refused to see him.

The next day, around 4 PM, the agent saw him there and gave him his first movie role: he would play a thug that appeared for 30 seconds and then got beaten up.

He played a few more roles like this, but it wasn’t enough to pay the bills – so he had to start selling his possessions.

His wife kept yelling at him to “get a normal job” but he refused – he knew that once he gave up, he would get caught up in the routine.

Hunger was his only advantage.

Becoming a Writer?

Broke, freezing, and depressed, Stallone went to a public library one day and discovered the poems of Edgar Allen Poe – after which he decided to change his strategy: he would write his own film instead.

After several hundred more rejections, he finally sold a script for Paradise Alley – for $100.

That was an enormous sum of money to him at the time, but it wasn’t enough: he had to start selling his wife’s jewelry.

And finally, he had to sell his dog for $25 to a guy at the liquor store down his street.

The Next Day

The next day, he watched a boxing match between Muhammad Ali and an underdog of an opponent – Chuck Wepner.

All odds were on Ali dominating – but Wepner kept bouncing back and actually knocked Ali down in Round 9, almost winning the fight.

Eventually Ali triumphed in Round 15, but Stallone had gotten what he needed from watching: inspiration.

Immediately after the fight, he sat down and wrote for 20 hours straight – until he had the script for Rocky.

Predictable?

Right after that, he went out and started shopping it around to agents, but to no avail.

“It’s too predictable.”

“Haven’t I already seen this 500 times?”

“Yawn.”

After countless rejections, he finally met a few businessmen who believed in it – and they offered him $125,000 for the script.

It was more money than he had ever seen in his life, but there was a catch: they would not let Stallone play Rocky. Instead, they wanted Ryan O’Neal – a “real” actor.

“Take it or leave it,” they said.

Stallone walked out of the room.

Victory?

A few weeks later, they called Stallone again and offered him $250,000 this time.

$250,000 to NOT star in his own movie.

He turned it down again – and they came back with an offer for $325,000, which he also turned down.

Finally, they reached a compromise: they would pay Stallone $35,000 and allow him to star in his own film. To them, $35K was chump change and they figured the gamble would be worth it.

They spent $1 million making Rocky, which went on to gross $200 million and win 3 Oscars.

The first thing Stallone did was go back to the liquor store where he had sold his dog and wait around for the same guy to show up.

On his 3rd day of waiting, he finally found the man, along with his dog.

He offered $500, then $1,000, and the man refused both times.

Stallone finally got his dog back after several more attempts: he had to offer $15K and a part in the next Rocky movie to the guy who bought his dog.

That may sound ridiculous to you – but if you really want something, you will pay anything to get it.

Ok, So Now About Getting Into Finance…

This story is one of Tony Robbins’ most well-known motivational tales.

And it’s often remembered for a simple message: never give up.

At first glance, that’s what the story seems to be about: Stallone never gave up, and eventually he became a star, right?

1. Persistent Adaptation

Persistence is part of the picture, but it’s not the whole story.

Sometimes I get emails that read like this:

“I’ve been through 50 informational interviews and have contacted 500 different bankers, but I still haven’t gotten any interviews. Should I give up?”

If you’ve done THIS much networking and have still not gotten any results, you’re doing something wrong.

Persistence is good, but persistent adaptation is better. If something isn’t working, why would you continue to do it and expect different results?

If something isn’t working in your recruiting efforts, you need to figure out why and then change it. Talk to your friends in the industry, reach out to people you know and see what’s wrong… and then fix it.

Yes, you have to do some testing first to figure out if something works – but make sure that you’re not using ineffective strategies ad infinitum.

Just think what would have happened to Rocky if Stallone had kept starring as a minor thug in movies.

2. Networking Is Not 100% About the Present

You might think that this story had a poor outcome for Stallone: he only made $20K after you subtract the cost of getting his dog back.

But it paid huge dividends in the future: he became a star and made far more fame and fortune in future years.

Too often, you get very focused on getting a job immediately with networking.

Yes, if you want to do a lot of cold-calling that can happen – and if you’re in a crunch for time, you may have to do that.

But more often than not, the true benefits of relationships will only present themselves in the future.

But please, don’t ever take advantage of this to make 20 movies with the exact same plot…

3. If You Want It Bad Enough, You Can Get It

This is why I rarely answer “What are my chances?” questions anymore: most of the time it comes down to a simple question: How bad do you want it?

How else could you get into investment banking or private equity with no finance experience? Or get into a hybrid consulting/banking firm with no experience in either one?

Sometimes you need to hit rock bottom before you get motivated enough to make a dramatic change.

That’s why so many people sit in their comfortable existences doing something boring all the time: they don’t want anything else bad enough.

(And yes, I know the grammar is wrong. It’s intentional.)

4. Predictable Does Not Equal “Bad”

Lately I’ve seen some “interesting” suggestions for how to “stand out” when networking.

Send a box of chocolates to an MD? What about wine bottles? How about figuring out where he lives and camping out in his yard?

There’s a thin line between “creative” and “psychopathic stalker,” and you have to be careful not to cross it.

The hard part about networking is not coming up with brilliant ideas – it’s execution, asking for feedback, and actually having the motivation to call 10 firms each day and refusing to take “no” for an answer.

Hey, it may not be the most glamorous or revolutionary concept ever, but neither was the script for Rocky.

5. Knowing the Outcome Guarantees the Result

This is another type of “advice request” that I stay away from:

“Do you really think I can get into investment banking… I’m not sure… I…”

Ok, let me get this straight: you aren’t confident yourself, but you think that some random guy on the Internet can give you all the answers?

Stallone succeeded because he knew the outcome: he would be a movie star.

Along the way, he changed his strategy and tactics to reach that outcome.

A quick example of this: why would you call someone and say, “Are you hiring anyone right now?”

“I wanted to see how I could best position myself for an interview for…” is much better, because you’re:

  1. Assuming that they are indeed hiring.
  2. Assuming that you will indeed get an interview, and that it’s just a matter of working out the logistics.

A good “advice request” might be:

“I’ve been working for 2 months on getting interviews. So far, I’ve gotten a 10% response rate from 50 alumni using these methods [Describe the action that you've taken]. However, I want to get my success rate higher – which of these points do you think I should do differently?”

Once you visualize success, the details fall into place.

Lessons Not Learned?

Ok, you may not want to copy everything Stallone did on his way to becoming Rocky.

If you stayed overnight at a bank, you might get kicked out or arrested – and you should never offer a company $15K to hire you unless you’re a trust fund baby.

But aside from those, you could learn a lot from Rocky – just like Jack Bauer.

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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56 Comments to “5 Lessons Rocky Can Teach You About Getting Into Investment Banking”

Comments

  1. Tom says

    According to IMDB Paradise Alley (1978) was preceded by Rocky (1976), which would make the whole Stalone story untrue…

    • hksamonkey says

      well… the script was sold but maybe it was never filmed until stalone got famous/rocky came out……………

    • says

      Hahaha I love how I can write something like this and then people pick away at insignificant details… typical bankers.

      Anyway, as hksamonkey said, the script was sold but not produced until Rocky became a success.

  2. Patrick says

    Very inspirational. Those of us who have changed our entire live to get into banking/finance understand what you mean. I.E., selling your business to your partner, selling your car to pay for school, etc. Those were all gut-check moments, and although the hunger can’t be with me 24/7, it seems to show up at the times I need it most.

    Great post.

  3. Ryan from UVA says

    Brilliant and helpful post. Coming from the middle class where everyone does just enough to get by and lives relatively comfortably, it’s nice to hear these rags to riches stories. Well done.

    I recently got my loose leaf yerba mate, and it works much better than the tea bags. Thanks for the advice.

  4. AC says

    2 questions about networking:

    1) When one “cold emails” a banker with their pitch, should a resume’ be attached to the email or should you let them first respond and ask for it?

    2) What are the rules for following up with bankers following a resume’ drop or networking event? In other words, what are the do’s and dont’s of the follow-up email? This may seem a bit open-ended, but any help would be greatly appreciated.

    • says

      1. Yes I would attach your resume if cold-emailing and asking explicitly for interviews.

      2. Try to stay in touch every 2-3 months at the minimum, and make sure you always have a “reason why” when following up i.e. have a question, request, don’t just say, “Hi how’s it going?” This is a really broad question, will be covering in more detail next month.

  5. Semi-target says

    I have a 3.0 and have been able to get some interviews at some of the bigger banks in Chicago and NY. I’ve had a couple of mid-market firms tell me that they have a strict policy against hiring anyone below a 3.5. Why do they think they can automatically eliminate potentially good candidates if almost all firms that are better (i.e. top bb banks in ny) don’t have this policy? I assume there’s nothing around this if I don’t have any major senior personal connection.

    • says

      They do it because they can – it’s stupid, but then so are most things in life related to artificial limits.

      You need some kind of networking/personal connection to get around this – not necessarily someone very senior, but someone will have to push for you to get in.

  6. T says

    Truer words were never spoken Brian.
    Especially about visualizing success and knowing the outcome, and also about persistence in the goal, but flexibility in the method.
    Great summarization of principles of success.

  7. lochmonster says

    Are there seriously people in this world that want to get into banking THAT badly? 120k to be someones slave is really THAT appealling to them? If it really was, instead of spending all your time networking, maybe you should have studied a bit harder in school to get your GPA up instead.

    • Simon says

      Sometimes your best might only give you an average GPA, we all work with what we’ve got.
      120k to be someones slave isn’t great but its about becoming more senior and hitting the higher pay brackets. Read the book Freakonomics with reference to the chapter about why drug dealers work for minimum wage and all will be revealed.

  8. Searching says

    If I can not elicit a response from one cold-call recipient after numerous tries, should I move on to someone else in the same division? Should there be a waiting period in between? And should I just give up on the first “contact” or continue to persist?

    • says

      If you can’t get a response after multiple tries I would move onto other people there and maybe wait a few days to a week. You can continue to try the first person but only do it maybe once every few weeks after that.

  9. A R says

    While I really like the lessons learnt piece and the novel idea of persistent adaptation, the original story itself is definitely questionable.

    “We came up with a tremendous publicity campaign,” recalled Gabe Sumner, then head of marketing at UA. “It was about how this unknown guy named Sylvester Stallone walked into our office with a script and the company was prepared to buy the script, but Stallone said, ‘I’m not going to sell it to you unless I star in the film.’ And we (supposedly) said, ‘No way.’ And he said, ‘Well, you can’t have the script.’ And we said, ‘We will give you $18,000.’ And that was the figure we used. And a deal was made and Stallone could star in this film which he wrote. And he got all of $18,000. Now is this true? It was horsesh*t! But it worked. It promoted the whole underdog concept and kept on going.”

    “I don’t have to tell you how the press feeds on the underdog story,” said Sumner. “It filled up space on entertainment pages, and in columns looking for something for the next day. They ate up the idea that this actor loved his work so much, and was willing to sell it for a nickel and a dime in order to make it, blah, blah, blah. It all became part of the underdog fabric that brought people in. Period. They just totally bought into it.”

    You never know what to believe on the web these days!

  10. D says

    “I’ve been through 50 informational interviews and have contacted 500 different bankers, but I still haven’t gotten any interviews. Should I give up?”

    –> sounds like me, though I haven’t been to 50 informational interviews yet. But over the summer I did a lot of networking to prepare for FT and already have some contacts forward my resume to the right folks (at least they told me so), but I haven’t been contacted by any bank regarding phone interviews. I’m not sure if this is b/c I didn’t build a strong enough relationship (didn’t have enough time anyway, but people told me they really appreciate my boldness since many of them aren’t alumni) or my resume isn’t strong enough (only had financial analysis internship, not banking). But I thought if MD or VP forwarded your resume, you would stand a high chance of having phone interviews. I know that banks filled 80% of their FT class with SAs and accelerated, but there is no way that there is zero spot left for non-target students right? Competition at BBs is fierce, but is a phone interview that impossible? What do you think is persistent adaptation in this case?
    Thanks and sorry for the long post.

    • says

      Did you ask them directly FOR an interview? People forwarding resumes means nothing – you need to be extremely proactive and ask directly for an interview at the bank and explain that resumes being forwarded doesn’t help. Many banks do fill their classes mostly with summer analysts but usually they bring on additional people as well.

  11. John says

    Is it ok to apply on OCR to several positions for one bank. Say a large commercial/investment bank has commercial banking, investment banking and operations. What if they are similar to IB like corp. lending? I would prefer IB, but I feel I need to have back up options. I saw mixed answers from your website and WSO. I don’t plan to apply to S&T. Also I assume it is a bad idea to apply to multiple positions for one firm in different locations (say SF vs NYC). Thanks.

  12. Mitch says

    Hi Brian,

    I’m a high school senior (yeah, one of those lame keeners) in Canada interested in getting some experience in finance (PE, VC, IB), in my final summer before university.

    I noticed on another thread you replied to a college student stating he shouldn’t mention their summer high school internship at CS because it was during high school.

    Is there anyway I could have an internship in finance before university and have it benefit me later in university during recruiting for SA stints at BBs?

    Thanks,
    Mitch

    • says

      If you have some kind of family connection, yes, it might be possible, although I don’t know that it would help that much unless it’s at a huge firm because you will basically just be getting coffee for people

  13. eugene says

    Hi,

    I am interested in an equity research job in a boutique bank and I apparently have the email and phone number of the equity sales director.

    Is it overtly rude to ask for the contacts of anyone from the sales department directly from him? How do I pitch it politely? Thanks:-)

  14. Iris says

    Hi,

    Great site, helped me land my so-desired IB internship. Thanks!

    Long comment here, need to hear from someone reliable (you), sorry. Big picture: I’m an international, 3rd year Economics major at a target school (here we have 5-year programs).
    I know from friends at IB BB that the gateway to JPM & some BB IB is through an internship. Here we don’t have summer internships – it’s part-time study, part-time work. So they like to hire interns instead of analysts because:

    - interns cost a penny
    - interns are young and eager to learn, so easy to shape

    Question: I don’t want to keep my job (middle market, less money than other IBs, plus my new boss – which is “not a good person” to say the least).

    1) If I get an internship abroad, will BB see me as “too old” (6 years of college! whew… and 22 years old!) and “too experienced”?

    2) If I get a non-IB job, does it hurt my chances? (like sales at UBS in China, or even Industry)

    Thank you so much!

  15. A says

    Didn’t know where to put this, so I’ll ask it here.

    Are UCLA and UC-Berkeley “Target Schools”, I’m thinking about applying there?

  16. Joseph Joy says

    How difficult is to get investment banking internship/job as a candian citizen studying at an ivy league? Also if I decide to move into private equity after 2 years will there be complications with my visa?

    • says

      I really can’t comment on visa issues as I am not a lawyer but it will be more difficult than if you were a US citizen, for PE depends on the fund but larger places should be ok smaller ones might have issues

  17. Kkk says

    Dear Brian,
    very helpful indeed. Especially the “how bad you want it” paragraph. That’s the core of it all. I want to ask for your evaluation on an uncommon situation.
    After getting closer to a friend who worked at major IBs, I decided I want to step in. But graduating with a low grade in Chemistry (BSc) from an Italian university would not be helpful in my opinion, so I quit on my 3rd year without graduating.
    I applied to some top Economics schools in London, but got rejected. I got rejected also by a not-top-tier business school in London. I am Italian and 22. I suspect I got rejected by top schools because of my age and of me already giving up a career after 3 years.
    I really want to get into IB, and don’t want to lose too much time. I have three options now:
    - study Financial Economics BSc at a not-too-unknown but not-top-tier university in London, right next to the City. Being this the reputation of the school, that would require me getting into a Masters at a top school afterwards (this making me less and less employable at the lower ranks and at the higher either);
    - go on working for a year and get into the top business school in Italy next year (where they actually accept almost everybody, but hardly recruiters know this);
    - try to get into a top school in the AngloSaxon world next year, but reading Linguistics or something related (this is something that comes extremely easy to me, as I speak 4 languages plus 3 quite fluently and the competition is much less to get in). I’ve seen people with completely unrelated degrees getting into IB, as they were coming from some Ivies. Coming from an ordinary school, I suspect I would normally be asked: “if you’re so clever, why didn’t you get into Oxbridge/Harvard and so on?”. Simple equation: you’re from an Ivy = you’re brilliant already.

    I’m into the finance mentality, I lived in London for a long time. My concerns are about me ageing (I’ll be 25 or 26 upon graduation) and being Italian. I speak English at a native-speaker level, however I see the City is quite snobbish about non-AngloSaxon candidates. Better studying at a top school in my country or at an average school in the UK? How do you consider options in the US after this school? You seem to be culturally a bit less snobbish in the US.

    Two things to consider: I am not the only one to consider myself to be clever and talented, however I am a girl and quite good-looking. Not that I care about this, but do you think it would add to my not-so-favourable situation? Plus, I have no monetary support from my family and constantly feel I am losing time.

    Your advice would be the uttermost and most objective help I could have.

    Cheers

  18. Dre60 says

    If a candidate gets rejected after interviewing, do you advice that the candidate should still keep in touch with the hiring manager afterwards?

  19. Mehmet says

    Hello John,

    I am currently an undergrad soph at Babson College, I study finance and I am looking for any sort of finance related internships, while I would like to get a PE or IB internship for the summer I am not only late but my GPA from last semester was a 2,8 so I do not see this happening (hopefully it will be up to at least a 3.2 – 3.3 and than 3.7+ by my third year)

    I applied for capital market and asset management positions at Fidelity. Also applied for IB trainee programs at America’s growth capital and AGC partners. In addition to this I have applied to other finance related internships at non-investment companies

    At this point I will need to rely on cold calling and networking I suppose and would like to ask for your opinion on what my next move should be and any suggestions you may have

    Thanks again

    Cheers!
    -Mehmet

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Figure out what you’re good at and which companies you want to work for. Find out the contacts of these companies and cold call them!

  20. moneypennyz says

    Hi Brian,

    What is your opinion on higher level education? Does this shows passion or would the employers just perceive this as “you weren’t able to get a job after 4 years of bachelors, so you continued to study”?

    Also, how useful are Masters that aren’t pure Finance? For eg. some Australian universities offer the Masters of Financial Analysis. Their brochures obviously say that the degree is very useful for getting into both Accounting and Finance industries (marketing material), but I’m not really sure if it has the same appeal as a Masters of Finance.

  21. Nader Nazemi says

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading that.

    Especially Persistent Adaptation. It is common sense but most people are so stuck in the same routine that they follow everything they read literally and try to apply to those concepts. They should Adapt and Adopt those ideas and make it their own and based on that customize them to best fit their personality/situation etc..

  22. Liam says

    I’m 17 years old and hopefully want to go into investment banking and up to hedge funds, but there’s a little problem. My highschool grades aren’t that good and my gpa is low. I’m starting at a junior college in the fall to make up for that and I was wondering if I redeem myself in junior college and do extracurriculars etc. will I still have a chance at getting into an ivy league school like Cornell or UPenn or have I messed up my chances already?

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