Why You’re Not Getting IB Summer Internship Offers – and What to Do About It
What’s the difference between a pattern and a coincidence?
I’m not sure, but I’d say that something that happens dozens of times in a few weeks goes from “coincidence” to “pattern.”
One pattern I’ve been thinking about is summer internship recruiting.
Since recruiting now starts and finishes ridiculously early, we’ve been getting a lot of messages asking variations of the same question:
“Help! I’ve been through 13 interviews, but I haven’t advanced or received a summer offer yet – what do I do?”
Most likely, you’ve already asked your interviewers for feedback…
…and they haven’t given you anything useful or specific (“There were many qualified candidates. Good luck!”).
So, what’s going wrong, and what should you do about it?
Is Internship Recruiting Getting Harder?
“Harder” may not be the right word, but it is changing:
- It Starts Very, Very Early – Summer internship recruiting used to begin in November/December and finish up in January/February; now, it starts a year in advance and finishes up in November/December (applies to North America, not necessarily to EMEA, Asia, etc.).
- You Need a Progression of Prior Internships – It’s far more difficult to win an IB internship without at least 1-2 prior finance internships.
- The Process Starts AND Finishes Quickly – Banks do not like to drag out the recruiting process over several months; they make decisions quickly!
These changes make it more difficult to interview because you have to strike a balance between being interested and being overeager, and you have to explain your prior internships such that you still sound “committed” to banking.
Plus, you may not have time to develop your interesting/unique point.
The Top 3 Mistakes
Here are the top “internship recruiting” mistakes:
Mistake #1: Presenting Your Internships in Strict Chronological Order
Let’s say you completed a corporate finance internship, then you worked at a boutique bank, and then you did a private equity internship.
If you present that entire sequence of work experience chronologically, you’re screwed.
Even if you can come up with plausible reasons for making those switches, interviewers will counter with these questions:
- Why are you going back to IB? Most people stay in PE.
- Are you just going to leave for PE in a few months?
- Can you work longer hours and do more grunt work?
You might be able to get away with a chronological progression if you’ve moved closer to banking over time (e.g., PWM to boutique bank to bulge bracket).
But even there, you’re taking a risk because your story might have too many “hops.”
To fix this problem, you should simplify your story and say something like:
“I did a few internships in private equity, corporate finance, and investment banking, but I became most interested in IB because I want to spend my time working on actual deals, instead of passing on everything, and see the results of my work. Also, I want exposure to many different industries and deal types, which the other fields don’t offer.”
Just like in Christopher Nolan movies, the strict timeline and logic matter less than the impression you give.
- It’s Rare to Work on Deals That Close: Applies to PE and VC roles.
- You Want More Technical/Valuation Analysis: Applies to VC and CF roles.
- You Want to Work on Deals, Not Just Follow Companies: For ER/HF/AM roles.
- You Want to Be Judged on Your Performance in This Year: For PE/VC roles.
- You Don’t Want to Spend Time Monitoring Portfolio Companies: Most buy-side roles.
Mistake #2: Coming Across as Overeager
Another challenge is that you might “push yourself” a bit too much and end up looking overeager/desperate, or like you’re recruiting for the wrong group.
- The End of the Interview: Some students give a short pitch at the end to explain why the bank should hire them. But this could very easily backfire unless you have strong rapport with the interviewer.
- Thanking / Emailing Too Many People: Keep in mind that everyone in the office sits there together… each day… and they’re frequently chatting. It will come across as quite odd if you send 15-20 “Thank You” notes within a few minutes.
- The Wrong Enthusiasm: You don’t want to walk into a generalist interview and act like you’re only interested in tech/TMT – a better approach is to say:
“If I’m fortunate enough to receive an offer, I would be open to any group. My personal interests match tech and consumer retail, and I think I would be a good fit there, but I’m open to different groups.”
- Not Showing Gratitude / Humility: See the response above. Don’t act like the offer is already yours; you may think it shows “confidence,” but it might have the opposite effect.
Another “desperation de-escalation” strategy is to mention that you have offers elsewhere – if you really do – but that this firm or group is your top choice.
Mistake #3: Not Mentioning Anything Interesting/Unique
I’ve heard a lot of stories go like this:
- Beginning: I’m originally from Country X and moved to the U.S. or U.K. at a young age.
- Spark: My family had a small business, and I got interested in finance like that.
- Growing Interest: I came to University Y to learn more, did an internship in PWM, joined the student investment fund, and then did a PE internship at Local Fund Z.
- Future / Growing Interest: But now I want to be an adviser to companies, spend most of my time working on actual deals, and focus on Industry A, which this group is strong in.
Do you see the problem?
This story isn’t terrible, but it’s quite generic.
Being from an “uncommon” country (e.g., Kazakhstan) may be enough to set you apart, but if you’re from, say, China, India, or South Korea, you need something else.
You could make your story more memorable by:
- Inserting a brief mention of a hobby or interest – maybe as part of the reason why you went to University Y.
- Making a joke about why you attended University Y, especially if there’s a stereotype about it (e.g., hippies at Berkeley or future lawyers/politicians at Georgetown).
- Giving more detail about your family’s business.
- Mentioning a study-abroad experience, other activity, or sport.
If you don’t have anything like this, go out and get it.
Find a quirky student group, attend 2-3 meetings, and spin that into sounding like you’re heavily involved.
No, It’s Not About That Single Technical Question You Failed to Answer
The biggest myth, by far, is that your success or failure comes down to individual technical questions.
Here are some claims that I’ve heard before:
- “I didn’t know how to value a convertible bond, so I got rejected.”
- “I couldn’t explain Dividends from Noncontrolling Interests on the financial statements, so I got rejected.”
- “I missed one question about how to use the PEG Ratio, so I didn’t advance.”
No, no, and no.
If you can’t answer a series of basic accounting questions, sure, you’ll probably get dinged.
But you will not be rejected because of a single question – unless that question is about a very basic topic (e.g., you can’t explain how to value a company).
So, unless you have serious gaps in your technical knowledge, memorizing questions is not a winning strategy.
What If You Can’t Turn Things Around in Time?
As I write this in November, summer recruiting is winding down at many firms.
Some boutiques, and even some bigger firms, will continue to post openings for summer analysts, but you may not be able to turn things around in time.
If that happens, your best options are:
- Aim for internships at smaller PE/VC firms.
- Go for Big 4 internships or roles at independent valuation firms.
- Consider commercial banking or other non-IB roles at banks.
You could also cold call or cold email 500+ boutique banks, but I wouldn’t recommend it because:
- Internships at those firms may not even offer the possibility of return offers, and that much cold outreach is soul-crushing work.
- You’re better off getting a brand name on your resume and then networking your way into banking as a lateral hire.
Patterns, or Coincidences?
Because of how summer recruiting – at least in North America – has changed, fixing these problems won’t necessarily improve your success rate overnight.
But if you do have some remaining interviews and you follow everything above, you will start to see a pattern of better results.
If you haven’t been getting the summer internship results you want, what do you think the problem is?
What feedback have you received from interviewers?
Are you wondering what your “Plan B” should be if things didn’t go well this time around?
Leave a comment below, and we can weigh in.
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