by Brian DeChesare Comments (24)

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:

  1. 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.).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

You should also develop specific reasons why you prefer IB to these other fields:

  • 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.

For example:

  • 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:

  1. Aim for internships at smaller PE/VC firms.
  2. Go for Big 4 internships or roles at independent valuation firms.
  3. 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:

  1. Internships at those firms may not even offer the possibility of return offers, and that much cold outreach is soul-crushing work.
  2. 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.

Your Turn

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.

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,

    Thanks for the article, I really appreciate the work that you do.

    I am currently a sophomore business major at a semi-target and I just got a summer finance internship at a big tech company (not exactly banking related). I found out that recruiting is happening this summer for junior internships, and by that time all I’ll have is an asset management and this summers tech finance internship.

    Should I give up this summer’s internship for a boutique, or keep it and try to work at a boutique before summer hits? Thanks again.

    1. It depends on how serious you are at banking. If you want to maximize your chances, yes, try and get a boutique internship before the summer begins (but probably not worth turning down an existing internship for it at this stage).

  2. Hi Brian,
    I have a question. Did my AC in London for Sales&Trading SA at a BB last week. After 4-5 days I sent a follow-up email to 2 of the 3 ED who interviewed me (with whom I was more in confidence). Both of them said they were in favour of me being offered a slot and that they would have checked the situation with HR. Then in the afternoon HR called me, said that my feedback for that day was really strong, I performed well in all the interviews and outperformed my peers in group exercise and numerical test. BUT they think I am too qualified for an internship and that an experienced role would suit me better. So she passed my profile to the Commodities desk and said that someone will contact me – probably next week. She also added that she didn’t know if they have any available role (she is in Graduate Recruitment). I asked if I could do something proactively (contacting people etc.) and she said to wait, that someone will contact me and – if this doesn’t happen – to get back to her.
    My question is: should I wait 2 weeks (or less?) and get back to her if nothing happens, or is there anything that I can actually do? I am also a bit pissed, why bringing me through the entire recruitment process if I am too qualified? This was evident since the beginning, no?
    Thank you in advance!

    1. I would just follow up in a week if you don’t hear anything. Maybe get a referral to someone in the group so you can make your case directly.

  3. Hi Brian,

    Not exactly related to this article but I have an important decision to make within the next week and thought maybe you could help me with it. I currently go to a nontarget and applied for transfer. I was accepted into Northeastern University D’Amore Mckim School of Business as a finance major and also into NYU for Economics. What do you think is better if I want to go into commercial real estate (CBRE, Starwood Capital) or management consulting (BCG, McKinsey)? I was going to go to NYU but realized that I have to take a lot of core classes as an economics major at NYU [2 liberal arts classes, 1-2 science classes, 4 foreign language classes], whereas at Northeastern I would go straight into business/finance classes and would have the chance to do co-op. So I’m in a dilemma right now between these 2 colleges and would love to have some sort of input from your perspective.

    I really appreciate the help!

    Thank You,
    Rishi

    1. NYU is probably better because of its reputation. Northeastern might be fine for real estate (though I don’t really know), but isn’t viable for the top consulting firms.

  4. HI Brian.
    Thanks a lot for a great article.
    I am a student from a non-target in London, and have recently accepted an internship at a London based corporate finance boutique (M&A focus). I have previously done a capital markets research internship. I wish to go into IB at BB’s when I finish my studies next winter, but without a BB summer internship I will have to go alternative ways. I am thinking about applying for industrial placement in spring 2018, but was wondering how would you recommend that I approach the situation?

    1. You don’t necessarily need a summer internship to win a BB offer in London because off-cycle recruiting is more common there. You may want to read this article for tips – one option might be to work at a smaller PE firm and then go for off-cycle roles at large banks, as this reader did:

      https://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/private-equity-internship-to-investment-banking-networking/

  5. Hi Brian,

    I would like to ask you for advice. I am a pre-penultimate student at uni. As I mentioned earlier I will be having an internship with a small PE firm in the summer of 2017. My responsibilities will include
    • Research in support of the investment team, as directed and needed by them, especially in areas related to the firm. This may include;
    o Macroeconomic research (e.g. key indicators in emerging markets, consumption trends etc.)
    o Thematic research
    o Industry/market research
    o Company-specific research
    • Analysis of findings which may include financial analysis, peer group analysis, ratios and other methods
    • Presentation of findings to investment team and/or Partners/Directors.
    • Supporting the investment team in investor relations , including direct communication, investment memoranda and marketing materials
    • Supporting the investment team on financial modelling
    • Ad-hoc office related tasks

    In the internship letter they sent me, they asked me to provide ”learning objectives”. They basically want me to indicate what I want to learn. I would like to kindly ask you, what do you think is appropriate to mention as I my learning objectives?

    I want to focus on a career in PE, AM, Hedge funds or Business divisions of technology companies such as Google. I am also thinking about applying to firms such as Blackstone or KKR in 2018 for an internship as I will have PE experience already which I believe is very uncommon at this stage (penultimate student). Thank you.

    PS: I am from a non-target uni in the UK and I don’t wanna go to IB due to long hours.

    1. Say you want to learn about deals/transaction analysis and gain more exposure to valuation and the technical skills

  6. I am an international student doing dual degree in BS in Economics and BBA (Finance) with Ross school of Business, University of Michigan. I do not have any prior experience in IB but have experience in accounting,finance and M&A in Asia. Presently I am in top 1% of university( current GPA 4+) and got about 10 summer internship interviews from on campus job offers. All interview went excellent but due to my international status, non called me for super day instead they sent me decent rejection letter with lot of praise . people with low grade got internship who have US citizenships.please advise how to proceed further. I have applied to Banks (IB/Consultancy/m&A/Private Equity/Sales and Trading Jobs) and big 4- these firms only sponsor foreign students awaiting your quick advise.

    1. You might find this article helpful:

      https://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/international-student-investment-banking/

      I would recommend finding firms that are associated with your home country (or your region of the world) and applying to internships there. Also, you shouldn’t need to do anything complicated in terms of sponsorship if it’s just an internship – if you have an F-1 visa, you can use the CPT visa (http://internationalcenter.umich.edu/students/f1-students/cpt) and make it clear to employers that you will do all the paperwork and they don’t need to do anything after they hire you.

  7. Hi Brian,

    Thanks for another great post as usual! I am in the same situation, as many of my peers have signed offers with firms already. As a sophomore, I know that recruiting is slightly later than for juniors and full-time but sophomore opportunities have also been accelerated. I have gotten a few interviews at BBs and have sent out countless applications to firms, ranging from boutiques to tiny shops near my hometown, for IB and Asset/Investment Management but no offer. For some reason, I can’t seem to be able to take these interviews into offers and I really have no idea what is going on – my resume is error-free and I nailed behaviorals/technicals during the interviews. I have no interviews remaining at this point and it has just gotten seriously depressing. Do you have any suggestions for sophomores in this position? My goal is to get some sort of finance experience this summer so IB recruiting next year will be hopefully easier.

    1. Hmm, that is a strange one… it almost sounds like maybe those firms just didn’t want to hire sophomores (or at least, not that many). Did you get feedback from interviewers or from older students? Sometimes it’s tough to say without hearing comments from others. At this stage, you could still apply to smaller PE/VC firms that are more open to taking interns off the normal cycle. Sometimes they’re actually more receptive to interns than boutique banks are.

      1. Yes, I have reached out to upperclassmen for mock interviews and resume review. I do also go to a target school as well, so I am honestly very much confused by this negative feedback loop. For reaching out to smaller boutiques and PE firms, do you suggest cold-calling or cold-emailing? And any tips for doing so? Thanks again!

        1. Cold emailing tends to work better unless you’re extremely good on the phone (most students are not). I would take a look at some of our previous coverage and case studies of readers who used this strategy:

          https://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/private-equity-internship-to-investment-banking-networking/

          https://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/sales-to-investment-banking/

  8. Hi Brian,

    Thanks for the quick read. This is exactly where I am right now in the recruiting cycle. I’ve had 20+ interviews and 6 superdays, but none of them resulted in an offer. I did get placed on the wait lists for two firms but those also ended up in rejections. My problem was that I was too nervous/excited and stormed through most of my answers so they all sounded like I was reading from a script. I wish I’d found out this mistake sooner and but am now looking for other opportunities besides IB. Any chance lateral hires will become more prevalent next year as Trump makes banking jobs “great again”? Thanks!

    1. I think there’s a decent chance lateral hires could become more common next year, especially if M&A activity increases (who knows if Trump will have anything to do with that, though…). It is frustrating, but it’s actually easier, in my opinion, to move in as a lateral hire in a lot of cases. And you shouldn’t necessarily rule out banking completely – I have seen some last-minute networking efforts work well, even in today’s environment.

  9. Hi,

    I’m planning on doing a Masters in Management. I also want to do a summer internship before the Masters in Management. I didn’t have time to study for the GMATs and now it’s too late to get a summer ibanking internship. Should I aim to start my management program next year (Fall 2017) or put off the application process until Fall 2017 so I can get a summer 2018 internship before I start the program in Fall 2018

    1. It’s best to start in 2017 and just look for off-cycle internships or roles at smaller firms for the summer. I don’t think you should delay it for an entire year just to find a slightly better internship – the goal with a Master’s program is to move to a larger bank or other firm, anyway, so you just need some type of internship that looks relevant before you attend.

  10. Ricky Packard

    Hi Brian,
    Great post. For me, I think the problem is that, coming from a non-target school, I feel that I have my story and basic technical skills down, but am missing that one thing that will set me apart from your traditional target candidate. That is something I’ve been working on to intertwine with my story.
    A question for you would be: I’m more interested in the sales and trading route. I’ve heard in the past that their recruiting season is much the same as m&a/capital markets, would you say this is true or might they recruit a bit longer. Also, what would you suggest is good plan B for S&T if you can’t reach a BB. I’ve gone through other interviews at a large asset management firm that invests throughout equities, alternatives, and fixed income (which I’m most interested in).
    Appreciate the insight as always!

    1. Thanks! Yes, that could be a very real issue. You often need something else at that level because banks are still obsessed with stats and prestige.

      I’m not sure that the S&T recruiting timeline is quite as early, but it has moved up in recent years. So you probably have a bit more time there. If you don’t win an S&T offer at a large bank, asset management or a prop trading firm could be good alternatives. The only problem is that prop trading will require a lot of networking and cold outreach, so you might be better off sticking with AM if you can win an offer there.

  11. Hi,

    Thank you so much for the post. I am just in the position as you described. Had bunch of interviews at some BB, didn’t get any superdays, I only realized there might be a problem with my interviewing skills at my very last interview. I took about 1 week to talk to friends who have offer and alum, figured out my problem. I had a unique background which I could leverage, but didn’t emphasize that enough in the interview. I have not so very much familiar with every item on my resume. Some interview didn’t went so smooth, it doesn’t feel like conversation but rather Q&A. Currently, I am trying to get interviews in Asia and see if I can turn things around. And applying to other industries.

    1. Sure, that’s a reasonable approach. If bankers don’t give you useful feedback, ask your friends or older students who have been through the process. Since recruiting doesn’t start/finish quite as early elsewhere, applying to roles in Asia or other parts of the world might still work at this stage. Unique backgrounds always help because interviewers get really, really bored conducting 20-30 interviews per day.

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