by Brian DeChesare Comments (30)

Investment Banking in France: The Best Way to Combine Wine Tasting and M&A Advisory?

France Investment Banking
If you could drink wine while working on a pitch book, would you actually want to work on the pitch book?

Maybe, maybe not… but to answer that question, you’d have to work in France and advise on a few vineyard M&A deals.

There’s a lot more to the industry than that, but it is one of the many perks of working there.

To get there, though, you need to succeed in a very ‘different’ recruiting process, survive 6-month off-cycle internships, and more.

Our interviewee today currently works at a top bank in Paris, and he breaks down the entire process for you – from recruiting to how you can actually work at a vineyard M&A advisory boutique:

A Tale of Two Cities: Recruiting in Paris vs. London

Q: So how did you end up working in IB in Paris?

A: I completed a degree in Math, and then applied and won admission to a top business school here. But I decided to take a gap year (more like a year and a half) to gain more work experience first.

I applied to dozens of boutique and bulge-bracket banks here, completed a 6-month off-cycle internship at a smaller bank, and then moved into my current role.

I won these offers by networking (yes, it still “works” here) and by applying through my grad school’s intranet and through firms’ websites.

The first time around, I applied to ~40 banks, won 6 interviews, and won 2 offers.

Q: I noticed you didn’t mention anything about assessment centers.

A: They’re definitely less common than in London.

I can only think of 2 groups off the top of my head that actually conduct ACs in Paris (Société Générale and EY’s M&A team), but there might be a few others I’m not familiar with.

Here, it’s all about off-cycle internships. These internships last for 6-12 months, during which time you will work like crazy.

But some firms use these internships as a way to get “cheap labor” and never intend to hire any interns full-time, so you really need to do your own research before you join a firm.

If you can’t win one of these off-cycle internships, you’ll have to network your way in via alumni and referrals.

Once you’ve done that, recruiting here is almost entirely about your interview performance.

A few bulge-bracket banks and large French banks give you numerical tests, case studies, and brain teasers, but these are not key factors for most boutique or middle-market firms.

Q: So what interview questions should you expect?

A: They ask the usual “fit” questions (why banking, why our bank, etc.) but they tend to focus on very specific technical topics.

You need to know:

They will also expect you to know a few process-related points:

Questions on the topics above will comprise about 50%+ of what interviewers ask you.

They do not ask the “competency questions” that are common in the U.K. application process.

Q: And how are off-cycle internship interviews different from full-time interviews?

A: The questions are similar, but you’ll meet more bankers and more senior bankers in full-time interviews.

For internship roles, you might meet 2-6 bankers from the Analyst through MD levels, but for full-time positions you might interview with twice as many bankers and you may even meet Partners at the firm.

But it varies a lot; sometimes HR also has an important role in the process (BNP Paribas is one example), while they matter less in other cases.

The Ideal Candidate for France Investment Banking: Sydney Carton or Charles Darnay?

Q: So what types of candidates are they looking for?

I am assuming you need to be fluent in French and attend a top school there to have a good chance.

A: Yes and no; you definitely need to know French, but banks also want candidates who speak English well because we work on so many cross-border deals.

You usually need a Master’s degree in business, finance, or engineering, and experience in finance, audit, or banking, but I have seen candidates without relevant experience win off-cycle placements as well.

A common candidate profile might be:

  • Attends a top-tier business / engineering school here.
  • Is currently taking a gap year.
  • Completed a 6-month audit internship, which he/she then leveraged into a 6-month M&A internship that he/she hopes to leverage into a full-time offer.

Q: You said “yes and no” in response to my question, but so far I’m mostly hearing “yes.”

Where does the “no” come in?

A: It’s because there are arguably more “top schools” than in other countries, and because there are 2 common ways to get in:

  1. Complete a 1-year Specialized Master’s degree. This is not a normal “Master’s degree,” but rather a ” ” that’s different from the typical “Grande école” degree.
  2. Complete a full “Grande école” degree (2 to 3 years).

If you want to complete a Master’s degree, there are about 10 engineering schools and 10 business schools that open the doors. A few examples:

  • Engineering: The member colleges and institutes of the Paris Institute of Technology.
  • Business: HEC (also a member of ParisTech), ESSEC, or EDHEC;
  • Other: Dauphine or Sciences Po.

This list is not exhaustive – these are just a few examples. I don’t want to get into a debate over ranking schools or which school qualifies as a “target.”

In my opinion, it’s still better to get a full “Grande école” degree and learn French at the same time, because recruiters often prefer more traditional-looking candidates.

That may change, though, because business schools are starting to market their 1-year specialization programs more than the GE degrees.

Q: I see. So is there anything else to know about the different educational options there?

A: Yes. A lot of schools in France have “Apprenticeship” programs (example for Dauphine here) where you work part-time for a company that pays your degree tuition (both GE and 1-year specialized Master’s) and your monthly salary.

A few recruiters have a negative view of this arrangement, but others actually prefer students who are doing Apprenticeships. Companies are also starting to offer Apprenticeships rather than off-cycle internships as regulations become stricter.

You won’t be able to complete a traditional IB analyst Apprenticeship because the workload is too unpredictable, but many non-finance firms such as Total and Lagardère offer Apprenticeships in their internal M&A teams.

Also, some large banks do offer Apprenticeships in their Leveraged Finance and Project Finance departments.

The Track of a Storm: The Finance Industry in France

Q: So we talked a lot about recruiting, but what about the industry itself?

Do the bulge-bracket banks dominate, or is it more of a mix between large banks, boutiques, and local French banks?

A: It’s definitely more of a mix.

All the bulge-bracket banks have a presence, but the large French banks (BNP Paribas, Société Général, CACIB, and Natixis) are also here, and there are many well-known boutiques (Lazard – founded by French émigrés to the U.S., Rothschild – much stronger in Europe, Messier Maris, etc.).

And then the European banks (Santander, BBVA, Unicrédit, HSBC, etc.) have Paris-based teams as well.

One difference is that there’s a big emphasis on middle-market deals, so you’ll see quite a few middle-market-focused teams even at bulge-bracket banks.

They exist in other regions as well, but sometimes in places like NYC the middle-market team at a large bank is viewed as “inferior.”

And, of course, there are many middle-market boutiques such as Lincoln, Leonardo, and DC Advisory.

Q: What types of deals are most common? Is there any industry focus?

A: You see all deal types and all industries, but the average deal size is probably smaller than in the U.S. because the middle-market segment is more prominent.

France’s economy is more industrials-driven than the U.K.’s economy, so a higher percentage of domestic deals here involve industrial companies rather than services companies.

A lot of the middle-market deals involve private equity firms and family offices.

I’ve seen a lot of vineyard deals lately, and there’s even a boutique firm that specializes in vineyard deals (Wine Bankers & Co.).

Q: I was wondering when you’d get to the part about wine tasting, or at least wine M&A.

How is the work environment different from what you would find in London?

A: I’m not sure if it’s that much different: Banking is banking.

But some of the elite boutiques here are known for “torturing” their interns and analysts, more so than in other regions.

There was even a (urban?) legend one year that all the interns at a few elite boutiques quit before their contracts were up.

Compensation is significantly lower than in London, but Paris is also a bit cheaper to live in.

You may also earn a different amount depending on your school.

Yes, you may literally get paid less if you attended School Y rather than School Z, even if you’re doing the same job and you have more relevant experience than someone who attended School Z.

Example: One alumnus from my business school told me recently he is earning 10% more, excluding bonuses, than one of his co-workers because he earned his Grande école degree from a well-known school, and the co-worker did not.

Q: This is getting strange. I liked the wine M&A advisory part, but now I’m not so sure.

So what do people do after they leave banking?

A: As in other regions, private equity is a common exit opportunity.

Of course, as in other regions outside the U.S., many bankers simply stay in banking and there isn’t as much of an obsession with “the exit.”

believe there are also fewer large-cap PE funds and hedge funds here, so many buy-side opportunities are for middle-market or smaller funds.

It can also be very “complicated” to get promoted at French banks because you need to have attended the right school (usually HEC or Sciences Po, followed by ENA), know the right people, and so on.

So a good number of people get frustrated with the process and leave to start their own boutiques instead.

Another difference here is that there’s even more of a “revolving door” between the public sector and banks than in other countries.

The prime example is Emmanuel Macron, our current President and an ENA graduate who got into Rothschild at the Director level, despite having no previous experience in banking.

Somehow he performed brilliantly, closed a massive deal between Nestlé and Pfizer, and was promoted to Partner very quickly… after which he moved back into politics.

A former President of BNP Paribas was also a graduate of HEC and ENA; people here place an inordinate importance on your school.

Q: I’m guessing you don’t see many “unknown school to bulge-bracket bank” success stories there…

A: These stories do happen, but you pretty much have to rebrand at a top school to make the move.

For example, I have heard of people getting degrees from non-target schools, then doing 1-year specialization degrees at the top schools (examples mentioned above), and then winning off-cycle internships at top boutique and middle-market firms.

I’m sure someone will now leave a comment describing an incredible non-target-to-Goldman-Sachs success story, but from what I’ve seen, it is less common here.

Q: So what are your next steps?

A: I want to get into Restructuring in a few years because it seems more technical and challenging than standard M&A.

But I also have to finish my business school degree, so I’ll see if I can get placement in another group or location before that.

Q: Great. Thanks for your time!

A: My pleasure.

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, lovely article. I have been fast tracked for an off-cycle opportunity for an Australian mid market bank based in France. I am extremely keen on this opportunity however, I do not speak french. I am taking french classes tho in Jan and will be intermediate level by the time I am due to start. Should I carry on with this opportunity? I am really keen on this! Do you think I stand a chance?

    1. You should interview, sure, but you need to tell them upfront that you don’t know French. Odds are against you getting hired, but crazier things have happened. At the very least, you’ll get interview practice.

  2. I just realized now that France’s job market relies on which business school a person graduated. I came from Myanmar for my master degree in European Business Administration. I am looking for an opportunity to land my career in investment banking in France. But now I see it won’t be that kind of easy way. My school is IAE Business School in France, not a Grand-Ecole. I got admission one named ESCP Europe but I canceled it due to its massive tuition fees. Thank you for your article, it’s really helpful to prepare well.

    1. Thanks for reading!

  3. Hello,
    im currently doing my Msc in EDHEC and im an international student with no previous experience in corporate finance or banking. At the moment im applying to big banks and boutiques and i would like to establish in France or the UK. Regarding my language sills, i do speak french, but i don’t think is strong enough for a professional environment. Given your expertise, the school im attending and the job market in france, where should i focus my applications? should i apply to boutiques in Paris or should i go for big banks in London? should i go for both?

    Thanks!

  4. Bassem Mneimne

    Hello, I must say great websites and I never thought I would find a very straightforward website giving advise for individuals looking to be employed in IB.

    I have a question that I am eager to have an answer because its hard to get such answers online. I have successfully passed all CFA 3 levels, and I am planning on doing my specialized masters in Investments & Financial Markets in Skema Business School. It is not top tiered like HEC or ESSEC, but however this particular program is ranked 6th in the world. But however given I have passed 3 levels of the CFA does it put me on an advantage for employment in Paris for IB? How is the CFA looked at in the employment process for Investment banking in France?

    As you guessed it I am an international student. I am from Lebanon and I know french.

    I would really appreciate your insight.

    1. Yes, the CFA will help you a bit, but recruiting in Paris is still all about brand name/prestige and previous internships. If you’re not at a top-tier school, it will be very difficult no matter what you do. So, if you cannot transfer to a better school, you might be better off going for roles in other places.

  5. Sonal Choure

    Thanks everyone, got a good idea before planning to work in France, I just have one question, I have done MBA in finance from an Indian institute, worked with a KPO in derivatives for two years, I have plans to settle in the UK or France, is it possible if I only a prepare for CFA ( Chartered Financial Analyst) and on that basis enter in a global market.
    Please advice.

    1. I don’t understand your question. But it is quite tough to move from KPO work to a real investment bank if that’s what you’re asking.

  6. Hi people of M&I,

    I’m very interested by a career in Investment Banking, but where I’m from (Montreal, Quebec, Canada) it is very hard to break in (as it is everywhere else), but i was wondering if it was easy, considering the historical ties Montreal has with France, for someone from where I’m to get a job in IB in France?

    Thank you

    1. I wouldn’t say it’s “easy.” You have somewhat of an advantage because you already know French (I assume?), but people in France also tend to look down on the French spoken in Quebec, so who knows. In the end, local candidates still have a big advantage in France.

  7. Interesting article. I’m also a Master Specialise graduate from a GE and can deffinitely agree that quite a few Grande Ecole students were looking down on “les etrangeres”. It’s the French Ivy League, though more elitistic I’d say. Off-cycle internships in IB are really hard to get from my experience, was even told from one bank that you’d need at least 6 months M&A experience to be considered in the first place… Job market was worse back then (2010/11), though.

  8. TotallyCluelessUndergrad

    Hey M&I :D

    Just got your latest email, Had one question.

    Because of you guys we know that the back office is a forbidden place and should not even be considered, but what about India.

    Most of the large international banks IB divisions here our practically only modelling and technical analysis assisting senior bankers and no client interaction.

    Is transition from that to IB front office later on worth considering?

    1. It’s possible, but still quite tough if you’re referring to KPOs and moving from KPOs to real front office roles at banks. That is largely because there are relatively few roles like that in India. Previous interviewees have stated that it’s tough to make this transition:

      https://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/investment-banking-india/

      So you’re still better off taking a real front office role even at a much smaller bank.

  9. DamianWayne

    All these comments are insanely depressing. There are TONS of boutiques in France with open minded people that recruit from diverse schools and with diverse backgrounds.
    M&A in MM boutiques is an interesting job and can sometimes allow for a life outside of work!

    If you aren’t french, just seek out these firms and let the BB to the elitist snobs.

    1. Thanks for adding that. Yes, it seems boutiques are more open to diverse candidates. Still, I think it is worth pointing out what the situation is at large banks if you’re not from the “ideal” background – everyone seems to agree that it’s much tougher than in other countries.

  10. I’m French from France. My only advice for international students is simple : AVOID PARIS. Unless you’ve been studying in France Top 7 (ESSEC, HEC,ESCP, ENA, Polytechnique, Mines, Centrale) or in highly renowned schools like Harvard, Yale, Columbia, LSE, Oxbridge etc this is way too difficult to get an offer even though you’d been accepted in BBs in other places.

    Keep in mind that the essential difference between French mentality and other places’ state of mind is simple : In France, recruiters don’t want to train you, they are looking for cheap slaves. I know IB is tough everywhere but I think, and this is my opinion so I can understand that people disagree, in places like London or even New York, IB is more about developping strong potentials than simply recruiting people that have fully developped work skills that it is in France.

    Since the system here is simple : Your salary depends of the school you went to, understand that the mentality is odd.

    1. Thanks for adding that. A little depressing, I guess, but it’s good for potential candidates to know the truth. I think there is probably less of a “cheap labor” mentality in other places as well.

  11. Francois Hollande

    Can confirm all of this. I got into one the Grande Ecoles as an international student without knowing French and with a terrible undergrad GPA (had other assets to make up for that – GMAT, EC’s, etc). Currently finishing off a 6-month M&A internship in Paris at one of those MM Boutiques, still without being fluent in French, and all of these observations are true. Hours can be horrendous at some places, but not everywhere. From my friends, and from hearing stories of their friends, there are a few places that do that (BBs and certain boutiques), but for example, on average we will leave around 21:30h. Private Equity is same or better. Similar observations about salary and you have to keep in mind higher tax rates.

    International students here, depending on how fast you pick up French, are looked down on by French Business School students, Keep in mind these are not absolutes, just personal observations across the top Grande Ecoles. French students have to go through a “Prepa” system for entrance exams and compete to be accepted, whereas “les étrangers” do not and just follow a standard application process. From the accounts of my French friends here, there is intense judging going on even between themselves and since the words humility and subtlety don’t exist in this culture you can often encounter bizarre High School-like situations. Not for the feint of heart, but certain other aspects about the country itself make up for it. In addition to Wine M&A, there is also Fashion and Luxury Goods M&A.

    Deals are smaller, advisory ecosystem of players is more fragmented,and recruiting HEAVILY skewed towards Grande Ecole students and connections in general. My first 6 month internship in Corp.Fin. here was a polar opposite of this one, very Western-like approach in dealing with various aspects of business. It really depends on how exposed to the world a company or person is / was. For example, the top brass here gives students from schools outside the Grande Ecoles a chance. Maybe it has to do something with them being more humble, but then again only 1 intern has been hired for full-time and that was after he worked 14 months straight as an intern. For full-time hiring though 6 months of work is rarely enough. Again, this is from my own experience now, that of my colleagues, their friends, my friends, etc. It’s really competitive here and it’s not unusual to see someone have 3-4 internships before going full-time. Even those have to be approved by the school and there are limits on how many you can do and more laws then you can imagine. I was told the requirement of having a lot experience has to do with employee protection laws here and that they want to be sure they are getting quality and commitment when that contract is offered, unlike in the US where you could do one SA and receive a return offer. There is no walking into a boutique and getting an unpaid gig here.

    1. Thanks for adding all of that, very interesting. Not sure how appealing the country is if you’re an international student, though, as you said some other aspects may make up for the tougher parts…

      1. Can you or the guy above , give a list of boutiques,BB’s and other MNC’s where English is sufficient since im applying to France next year alongwith other countries. Im learning German btw and i think learning one European language apart from English is very important

        1. We don’t have such a list, but your best bet is to apply to international firms or boutiques with a presence across Europe rather than just in France.

  12. Iain Beaumont

    With IB such a global industry, who can argue against the benefits of getting a multicultural perspective, particularly across Europe.

    Let’s also not forget the rather exquisite cheeses to go with that wine…

    1. True, but who knows if it’s really the best place for that…

  13. EDHEC is not really a top business school… Yes of course, rankings are subjective but according the system of compensation depending on where you graduated from (which you mention in the article), EDHEC is second tier.
    Top business schools in France are HEC ESSEC and ESCP Europe…

    1. Thanks for adding your thoughts. I believe he might have been referring to the MSc rankings rather than the MBA ones. Not sure if that even makes a difference, but browsing around online there seems to be a difference in rank between them.

    2. It actually depends of which banks we are talking about. French banks such as BNP for instance will pay an EDHEC Graduate according to the same system of compensation as the three schools you are mentioning here. At same bulge bracket banks installed in France as well as well known elite boutiques, as a first year analyst, top 5 Business School have the same compensation. Bonuses depend on the performance.
      In fact, the School you have graduated from enters a lot into account in the screening phase. Top Tier Schools Graduates have considerably more chances to get to the first interview phase.
      It is true that French culture puts emphasis on the School you have graduated from, but, rest reassured, they take into account your performance at the job also. :)

  14. Chuck Bass

    I can confirm this is accurate. Keep in mind also the common snubbing of Specialized Master’s people by Grande Ecole students. A very elitist system, but oh well we have seen where that has brought the country.

    1. Thanks for adding that.

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