by Brian DeChesare Comments (21)

Warning: Don’t Give Up on Getting Into Finance Or You Might Miss… a Free Trip Around the World?

One email I’ve been getting lately goes something like this:

“I just don’t know if I can get in anymore, there are so many qualified people out there… what chance do I stand if the market stays like this?”

Everyone agrees that there are fewer finance jobs now than at any time since 2002-2003.

But what about the other part of this statement?  Are there really “so many qualified people out there?”

No, there aren’t.

And thinking otherwise prevents you from achieving your goals.

How Many Princeton Students Does It Take to Overestimate the Competition?

Several years ago, an acquaintance was giving a guest lecture at Princeton University on business and entrepreneurship.

He was speaking to a few hundred highly motivated, intelligent students.

As a “prize” following his lecture, he promised to give a free round-the-world plane ticket to anyone who could contact 3 “impossible-to-reach” celebrities – Bill Clinton, Oprah, Donald Trump, etc.

According to the rules, you didn’t even need to give real proof that you had successfully contacted any of these people – you could just produce some scribbles on a piece of paper and claim it was from a celebrity.  If no one else came up with anything better, you would win.

Of the 40 students who went up to him afterward and asked about the challenge, exactly 0 submitted responses.

Wait, Really?

Yes, really.  And they all cited the same reason: “someone else would win” or “someone would know a celebrity and immediately get a response” or “the competition would be too tough.”

As a result, no one won a free round-the-world plane ticket worth several thousand dollars – when 5 minutes of effort scribbling down an illegible sentence from a half-hearted attempt at contacting J-Lo could have won the prize.

Ok, But Getting Into Investment Banking is Harder Than Contacting Celebrities…

Is it?

In terms of time and effort, yes.  But if you look at it in terms of percentages, it’s probably more difficult to get a response from Tom Cruise than it is to get a response from Goldman Sachs’ HR department.

I realize these 2 tasks are not directly comparable, but that’s not the point – the point is that many intelligent, capable people overestimate the competition, and it’s always to your detriment to do so.

Why You Shouldn’t Overestimate the Competition

These days, there are a lot of people “with finance experience” walking around looking for new jobs.

But how many of them actually have resumes that stand out?  How many of them can tell a good story in an interview?  How many of them can “bankify” their work experience when speaking about it?

Based on my experience interviewing and editing resumes, both on this site and in my old profession, I would say… almost no one.

The Resume / Interview Selection Game: Numbers

I’ve been over the resume / interview selection numbers before, but they bear repeating: we might select 50 people for interviews out of 500 resumes, then select 10 for 2nd round interviews out of those 50; and then give offers to 2-3 of those 10.

What’s more illuminating than those numbers, however, is a different set of numbers: how long it takes to decide on a particular applicant.

Sometimes I can look at a resume and tell within 5 seconds that the person does not have a shot.  In an interview, it usually takes exactly 1 question for the person to be put on my mental “yes” or “no” list.

But it’s not because these people don’t know how to model a dividend recap in an LBO or because they don’t know how to model a reverse merger with the Swedish subsidiary of another company.

It’s because they can’t answer the basic questions (or because their resumes contain elementary mistakes) that they don’t get selected for an interview, or for the next round of interviews.

The Good News

Luckily, there are 2 bits of good news for you:

  1. If you’re reading this site, you’re already in a small minority of those interested in finance – and that alone gives you a huge advantage.
  2. Do not overestimate the competition… assuming you’re actually prepared.

So, What Now?

First off, don’t be like those 40 Princeton students who missed a trip around the world because they thought each of their classmates was directly related to Bono.

Keep preparing, keep doing everything you’ve been doing, and don’t give up because there are “so many qualified people” out there.

Because honestly, there aren’t.

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. Splendid read. This article really does help those who fret about the ‘intense competition’ (using it to underrate themselves).

    Interesting story, here in England, at least, some ‘IB aficionados’ actually use this to scare of the competition. Its true, and you’re right the small minority who read this site do have the advantage, and assumingly have the interest to see if the ‘claims’ can hold water.

    For example: I was told you need all As at A-Level inclusive of Maths, or you’d not be qualified enough. After contacting banks themselves and speaking to actual bankers (via family).
    I can safely say that’s not entirely true. They all told me that so long as you meet at least the minimum requirements (they all have their own; AAA+ not being a minimum, anywhere) then you’ll not be filtered out.

    I was unsure where to post this. However as the exaggerated entry requirements tends to be used to describe why ‘competition’ wouldn’t allow people to possibly get in. I figured this is the best place to post this.

    Once again, amazing article. Personally it helped me a lot when I was going through that “oh noez the competition outstrip me in all ways” phase!

    1. M&I - Nicole


  2. Thank you very much for this website and all the work you’ve put into it.

    Couple of questions. I’m a Jr. at a non-target school (oh and I’m only 20). Not much experience inWord, (non in)Excel, or (non in) PPoint. I’m applying for a internship at BoA (Merrill Lynch). A friends son is a VP there, and got me his son’s contact info [He also talked to his son about me =)]. How can I best prepare for (hopefully) an internship in financial analysis, investment analysis, and such? I’m trying to focus on positive things (in my resume), but don’t feel like I’m ready. Any suggestions? Thanks

  3. I already asked some questions to bankers and ask some questions, like their background and job responsibilities. Then, I will meet them in person. Suddenly, I found out nothing to talk about.

    Could you give me some suggestions what else we should talk about?

    1. Travel, sports, entertainment, hobbies/interests, family/friends, you have to find common ground somewhere.

      1. So anything but work? What if I am interested in their job but know very little about the job?

        1. M&I - Nicole

          You can ask them questions re the job. However pls note that unless people really love their jobs (not all bankers do) people don’t want to talk about their jobs esp if they are already pulling in over 80 hour weeks. The last thing they want to talk about is IB if they are surrounded by bankers. They will find other stuff like adventure traveling, wine, food interesting. Think about what you can give too, not just what you can get from a conversation

  4. So you know Timothy Ferris? Or did you just relate that story from 4-Hour Work Week?

    1. Shhhh, I like to keep a low profile. :)

  5. Thank god I found your article a week ago. I was almost going to stay in Engineering (what I’d majored in) as i was getting several offers in that (my CV must be on google or something without me knowing). I’d applied to pretty much every graduate job in IB and asset management last year and got rejected after a few final rounds. I re-assessed the market and came up with a new strategy, and decided I might go do a Masters in Finance (not an MBA) and take an internship in between. After getting rejected by many places for internships (including several banks that don’t even exist anymore), my parents screaming at me for not going into Engineering, i got myself an internship with JPMorgan. I think this is largely because there are a lot of potential interns who’ve probably decided to give up applying giving me a marginally better chance to get beyond that final-round interview barrier I’d been hitting. I think ultimately persistence pays off.

    1. There we go – yet another success story. And yes, persistence might be the #1 key to success in any field.

  6. I love the enthusiasm you provide. I really like that you help me keep my head in the game!

    Thank you!

  7. So just to check, a person who is obviously less qualified then somebody else stands a higher chance of success if he/she is well prepared with regards to resume, interviews etc?

    1. What I would say is that if you are exceptionally well-prepared and persistent, that can often overcome lack of experience / “qualifications.”

  8. […] don’t give on your dreams of getting into finance and do into overestimate the competition, writes Mergers & […]

  9. stanpolaris

    Agree with lucabrasi. I have a friend in my school, a non-target liberal arts college, who just got into a bulge bracket. I guess he will contact Inquisitor soon since I have sent him the “Looking for contributions” post, which he seemed really interested in. Keep trying, and nothing is impossible.

    1. There we go, proof once again. Thanks for the referral.

  10. Great post. I’m from a non-target, off-cycle (decided I wanted banking late), and I have a final round with Citi, a final round with Lazard (regional office, nyc is done hiring), and 3 other well known MM banks.

    It’s so tough, but if you keep fighting, go to other school’s info sessions, and have a strong resume (GPA, experiences), it can be done. Be persistent, be patient, and all around, just be a decent guy/girl.

    1. There we go, ladies and gentlemen: proof that large, middle-market and boutique banks, are in fact recruiting and that you can get in even from a non-target.

      Good luck with your interviews.

    2. Aleksandra

      Oh man, I wish the comments were dated.

      It’d be great to connect with you, lucabrasi and talk a bit more about what it took and where you stand now (I am sure you got a great offer)!

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