by Brian DeChesare Comments (44)

How to Break into Investment Banking as an Engineer – If You Enjoy the Punishment

Engineer to Investment Banking

I thought that engineers would stop wanting to move into finance.

After all, companies like Google and Facebook now offer higher pay, better hours, and more interesting work than banks.

And students at top universities and business schools are increasingly interested in technology rather than finance.

But despite all that, some engineers still want to get into finance.

You’ve probably landed on this article because you’re in a similar position.

I’ll explain how to do it here, but you should answer a critical question first: Are you sure you want to do this?

Why Do You Want to Do This?

Most engineers point to one of the following reasons to explain their desire to work in finance:

  • They want to make more money; they’ve hit a “ceiling” in their current role.
  • They want better advancement opportunities.
  • They want more interesting, client-facing work.
  • They want to make a bigger impact on the world at large.

These are valid reasons for wanting to do something besides engineering, but they’re not great reasons for wanting to do investment banking, specifically.

In investment banking, you advise companies on financing deals and mergers and acquisitions.

If you have no interest in advising companies on transactions, which means spending a lot of time in PowerPoint, Excel, and Word as a junior banker, you should consider other options first.

For example, if you’re bored of your current job and want to make more money:

  • Start a side business and make money from an app or simple software product.
  • Learn about the stock market and start making your own investments.
  • Become a contractor and offer coding or product management services to other companies.
  • Take the money you’ve saved up, learn about real estate, and start buying small single-family properties.

If you just want to “work in finance,” think about the other options outside of investment banking as well.

If you have deep industry knowledge (e.g., of the semiconductor industry) and you complete significant self-study, equity research might be an option.

If you want to apply your coding skills to finance, you could work in quant research, at a quant hedge fund, or in another sales & trading role.

Or if you want to invest in tech companies, venture capital is an option, though it’s actually tougher than IB in many cases.

Finally, you could also work at a tech company and move to a business or finance role there over time.

Entry Points into Banking

But if you want to ignore everything above, and you’re convinced that you need to do investment banking, there are four main entry points into the industry:

  1. As an Undergrad – This one is the easiest and cheapest way to get in, but you must decide on IB very early. Recruiting now starts so early that if you haven’t decided on IB by the middle of your second year, you probably won’t get in.
  2. As a Recent Grad – This one can also work, but your chances of moving directly from an engineering role into investment banking are almost 0%. You almost always need something finance-related first, such as a stint at a Big 4 firm or valuation firm or a Master’s in Finance degree.
  3. At the MBA Level – If you’ve been out of university for 2-3+ years, you’ll probably have to use a top MBA program to get in. But, again, your chances of going from “Engineer at Google” to “Investment Banker at Goldman Sachs” with nothing in between are almost 0%. You need a more relevant full-time role and/or a pre-MBA internship.
  4. Beyond the MBA Level – If you’re well beyond the MBA level, you have almost no chance of getting into investment banking as an Analyst, Associate, or VP. But if you reach the senior executive level at a large company, you might be able to enter IB at the top levels or move into a field like venture capital or venture debt.

The key point is simple: If you’re an engineer or technical person, you will not be able to get into IB at the last minute without prior internships or work experience.

You need a sequence of internships or other finance-related experience, regardless of your entry point.

You also need in-depth knowledge of accounting/finance, even if your degree had nothing to do with those subjects.

Bankers will be confident that you can do the math and attend to detail, but they’ll be skeptical of your social skills and ability to burn the midnight oil.

They will also be skeptical of your interest in finance: If you want to do investment banking now, why didn’t you get in earlier? Did you “get interested” a few months ago when you heard about your friend’s bonus? Or did you try to get in earlier and fail?

Telling Your Story

The same 4-point story structure applies; we’ve even made available a full template and example of how to tell your story from an engineering/technical background:

You can use these points:

  • Beginning: Where you’re from, your university, and your internships/activities. Insert a brief mention of some interest in finance at a younger age.
  • Spark: A banker you met, an internship project, or an activity or class that sparked your interest in finance.
  • Growing Interest: Networking with bankers, self-study of the technical side, stock-market investing, case competitions, etc.; also give a short example of how you can handle the hours.
  • The Future and Why You’re Here Today: You want to combine your engineering skill set with finance and advise companies on major transactions, ideally in an industry related to your field of engineering, such as TMT, industrials, or healthcare.

This same template applies for undergrads, recent grads, and MBA students because a degree doesn’t change that muchyou must be able to explain why you want to do IB without referencing your degree at all.

Networking

Networking is largely the same for engineers: You still use the alumni database, informational interviews, information sessions, and cold calls/cold emails to win interviews.

Please see the dozens of networking-related articles on this site for the tactics and strategies.

I’ll just add one point here: You should probably not focus exclusively on tech-focused banks or groups (or aerospace/defense ones, healthcare ones, etc.).

As a career changer, you already face an uphill battle to get your foot in the door.

Focusing too much on a specific industry might kill your chances prematurely, especially if you’re at a non-target university or business school.

You also shouldn’t limit yourself to one type of bank, such as regional boutiques or middle-market firms.

The recruiting process is random, and even if you think you have no chance at the bulge brackets or elite boutiques, it’s still worth reaching out and speaking with a few bankers there.

Resumes

We have many resume templates on this site, and you should refer to them to write your own.

The #1 mistake engineers make is focusing too much on the technical details and not enough on the business results. We often see bullet points such as the following:

“Inspected client’s customer support code and led migration from Linux 4.11 to Linux 4.12 by implementing support for 64-bit multi-core processors in assembly code and support for threaded processes in operating system kernel.”

You should focus on revenue generated, money saved, or time saved instead:

“Reviewed client’s customer support system and optimized processes by 20%; saved client $10,000 and 10 hours of labor per week over first year.”

And if you start writing your resume and realize that you have nothing even remotely related to investment banking, you need to re-think your plans.

You can spin technical experience all you want, but it only does so much; bankers mostly care about:

  • The reputation of your university or business school.
  • Your grades and test scores.
  • The reputations of the companies you worked at and what you did there.

If you have a 3.0 GPA from an unknown state school and all technical internships, no amount of resume spinning will get you interviews at banks.

Interviews

We have dozens of articles on interviews, including ones on “fit” questions, technical questions, telling your story, and more.

Not that much is different for engineers, but you should be aware of a few points:

  • Yes, you need in-depth knowledge of accounting, valuation, and financial modeling. IB roles are still highly competitive, and if you don’t know the technical side, bankers will assume you’re not serious about the job.

Majoring in something different is not an excuse. If you can’t learn the material independently, you don’t have the discipline and drive required to get in.

  • Yes, you still need good grades (2:1 or above in the U.K., or 3.5 or above in the U.S. – and probably closer to 4.0 if you’re at a non-target school).

“Engineering classes are harder” is a weak excuse, and bankers won’t care about your explanations. If your GPA is low, they can select from thousands of other candidates.

  • They will probe you heavily on your ability to work long hours, your social skills, and your interest in finance.

It’s best to answer these questions by citing examples of when you used these skills over extended time frames in the past.

For example, to prove that you can work long hours, tell a story about how you woke up at 5 AM, went to sports practice, attended classes, and then worked until 10 PM every day for a year.

Anyone can pull all-nighters for a week, but killing yourself for an entire year is a worthy accomplishment.

It’s tough to “prove” that you have social skills, but you can come across as sociable by talking about your hobbies and interests.

Even if you’re awkward or you get nervous speaking with people, you might be able to convey the opposite image if you talk up your activities.

What Does a Successful Engineer to Financier Look Like?

Here are two examples:

Example #1: The Undergrad

He started out majoring in aerospace engineering and did a first-year internship at Lockheed Martin.

He realized it wasn’t for him, so in his second year, he switched to an accounting/finance degree and made aerospace engineering his minor.

He also interned at a local private equity firm and began networking months in advance of third-year summer internship recruiting.

In the summer after his second year, he interned at an independent valuation firm, and he kept networking on the side to win an IB summer offer at a bulge-bracket bank for the next year.

In the summer after his third year, he completed that internship and converted it into a full-time return offer.

Example #2: The MBA

She completed an undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering and worked in R&D at an orphan drug company after graduation.

After a year, she switched into a business development/sales role, and after another year, she moved to a Big 4 firm to conduct due diligence on pharmaceutical clients.

Then, she applied and won admission to a top MBA program. Before attending, she completed a pre-MBA internship at a healthcare-focused private equity firm.

She also began networking with business school alumni months before the school term began.

When recruiting kicked off, she won interviews with the major banks and ended up accepting a summer internship offer at an elite boutique, which she later converted into a full-time return offer.

Plan B Options

If you do everything above but do not get into investment banking, the worst strategy is to give up and go back to a pure engineering role.

If you’re about to graduate, your best Plan B options are finance-related roles outside of investment banking.

For example, think about corporate finance rotational programs at tech companies, corporate banking, equity research, or a coding role at a hedge fund or trading firm.

Plan to work there for a year or two and then move into IB, perhaps using a Master’s in Finance degree along the way.

If you’re at the MBA level and did not win an investment banking offer, you could consider similar options, but it will be much harder to move into IB later on.

You might be able to take finance experience elsewhere and go to a tech-focused boutique or a small venture capital firm, but you will probably not be able to move to a large bank directly.

Finally, if you’re well beyond the MBA level, more realistic options might be joining a VC/PE firm as an operational partner or “entrepreneur in residence” or joining an equity research team that needs deep subject matter expertise in a highly technical area.

Engineer to Financier?

I made this move – computer science to tech companies to investment banking – a long time ago.

But you would not be able to follow that same path today.

You need finance-related experience and solid accounting/finance knowledge before applying for IB roles, or you won’t have a chance.

So, decide on your career change early on, or skip it altogether.

It might be “boring” to work at a big tech company and hit the pay ceiling, but you’ll have a pretty good life, and you’ll still earn more than 99% of the population.

And if you want to make more money, you can always build an app.

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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Comments

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  1. Hi Brian. You mention you can’t move from Engineer at Google to IB, but can you move from Technology Analyst/Software Engineer at a bank to IB through an MBA program?

    1. or Technology Consulting Analyst

    2. “Can’t” is too strong; the odds are low with no experience in between, but it does happen. I think it would actually be harder to move from an IT role at a bank to IB through an MBA program – if you want to do IT first, do it at a top tech company.

  2. Samvit Agarwal

    Hey, thanks for the great article. I am currently in high school and have a strong interest in both computer science and finance. Currently, though, I am thinking of majoring in computer science, as I think that there are more opportunities for a computer science degree. After college, however, if I do manage to work for 2-3 years(in tech) and then get an MBA at a(hopefully good) school, will it be possible for me to enter Investment Banking?

    Note: In order to show interest in finance, I do plan on participating in finance-oriented clubs in college and do so now too(in high school).

  3. Mayank Garg

    Dear Brian,

    Thanks for your time and expertise shared through this excellent piece of article.
    I have a MS in EE from University of Southern California graduated in 2016. I was top of my class and did 3 internships during my time, one of them leading to $100k+ in savings to a firm (and a letter of recommendation by CEO). I have similar accomplishments in other internships and my first job. I also founded USC Energy Club and was president with the organization (held similar positions in other organizations). I am currently working with a large EPC company in Southern California. Engineering is not as fast paced as I imagined & I am looking to get into IB to have a more aggressive career. I am planning on getting a MS in Finance- online(as I can’t afford to leave my job) and planning to get CFA in the meanwhile. Getting an MBA is an option, but I am almost sure I won’t get into top 10 with my experience, so would rather get relevant experience and accomplishments.
    Please suggest:
    1) Is MSF- online a good idea? (Targeting univs like Penn State)
    2) Working full time will make it impossible to look for an internship in banking, what can be an alternate?
    3) Any input to further guide me will be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks for help in advance.

    1. I don’t think an online MSF is a good idea because you need access to recruiters, which online degrees don’t necessarily provide. If you really want to switch to IB, it will be really tough to do so while working full-time because you need to get some type of finance-related experience. Your best options are:

      1) Leave your job and complete a top MSF or MBA degree and use that to get in (but the MBA is only worth it from a top school).

      2) Stay in your current role, but try to transition to the finance/business side internally. You might be able to move over to a business development role like that (maybe at another company) and then eventually move toward a finance role (but probably not one in traditional investment banking).

  4. Hi, I found this article extremely helpful.

    I am from India and I will be appearing for my grade 12 exams in March this year, with Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics. No commerce background as such.

    I have developed liking for Finance sector because of its direct relation with business or at least that’s what I seem to understand from its mention in newspapers here. And starting my own Luxury Hotel Chain like JWMarriott is one of my dreams.

    For that I was looking at IB as my best bet for in my opinion it is the best way to earn comparatively more money in comparatively less time than an engineering or tech job.

    So, my question is whether I should opt for a career in Finance leading to IB or should I go for engineering? Also, would CFA be a good bet along with a bachelor and master in Finance?

  5. Hi,

    Does Finance have a higher ceiling than Tech? What about higher averages? I would think MDs make more on average than senior Tech people. In addition, only the top companies pay more than Finance I would believe.

    1. The average finance person will earn more than the average tech person, yes. It’s hard to give a definitive answer on ceilings because Jeff Bezos or Mark Zuckerberg are worth far more than any MD in banking, but they’re huge exceptions that nevertheless make “the ceiling” higher.

  6. alok mishra

    hello
    I’m persuing B.tech final year. I really have interest in markets and stocks sector.
    But currently not getting a clear way to be focused on in ebtering in IB line.
    please advice me a best way by which i can achive my goal.
    I really want to become an Investment banker
    My Btech Grades are around 7
    really suggestions required
    Which steps should I follow ?

    please advise me
    thanks
    Regards

  7. I’m a graduate of chemical engineering with no experience in the finance sector. I’m planning on starting my own business in d future more likely in agricultural sector. I don’t want to limit myself to this, so I need help with going into the financial sector. If I’m to pursue my masters, what area in finance or business related area would be advisable to go into. Also jobs should I partake in to enable me gain insight into dis if I’m unable to further my studies for the time being. What are the chemical engineering finance roles avalaible. Thank you

  8. Jayhawkins

    I have an MS in engineering, currently working in big data consulting at the Big 4 where I’ve gotten exposure to working within a department that focuses on relationships with start-ups and VC firms. I’m 27, and am very early in my career. This sparked my interest in going into IB-TMT and eventually VC. Plan was to apply to b school next year, but since IB is now a goal of mine, I’m thinking about trying to transition to a boutique bank focused in tech and putting off b school another year. I had a weak ugrad gpa (2.7) froma non-target, my MS (same school) was a 3.83. I haven’t taken the GMAT yet

    Is IB realistic for me or should I stay true to consulting and shoot for MBB for strategy work and shoot for VC later?

    Thanks, this article was extremely helpful

    1. I think you could get into IB, but at this point you might need an MBA depending on your years of work experience. If it’s more than 2-3, you will probably need an MBA if you want to get into banking eventually. The undergrad GPA will also hurt you, though not the end of the world due to your MS GPA. Also, I don’t think IB will necessarily get you better results in the VC world than consulting.

      https://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/engineer-to-venture-capital/

  9. saurabh singh

    Hi Brian,

    Is Ms in finance a good step to get into investment banking
    ?

  10. I’m starting a Masters in Software Engineering program in the fall. It’s a 2-year program. Will it be hard to get an IB internship?

    1. Yes because a Master’s in Engineering degree has nothing to do with investment banking. You need a more relevant degree and/or more relevant internships.

  11. I am a chemical engineer having work experience of 3 years in fertilizer industry. I want to switch to a role having exposure to both technical and finance

    1. OK… so what is your question?

  12. I am a graduate in computer science, I’ve 2 years of experience in non-finance related things..
    I want to be a programmer in finance sector…
    But I don’t have knowledge about finance field…where to start ??
    I have no idea what should I do ?

    Thanks..

    1. Learn about finance… read up on deals… learn accounting/valuation… see all the articles on this site.

  13. Civil dude

    Hi Brian,

    I’m about to graduate with a Bachelor’s in Civil Engineering in the coming year, but would like to work in investment banking here in Hong Kong.

    I really have no idea what I am doing though, any tips on what I should do to prepare for interviews so I at least have a fighting chance?

    Regards

    1. Please see all our articles on interviews and interview prep here: http://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/investment-banking/#recruiting

      1. Civil Dude

        Thanks Brian?some good food for thought.

  14. Hi Brian,
    First I would like to thank you for the above article, it is very informative and very much applicable in my case. I am pursuing my B.S. in Computer Engineering and will graduate in May 2018. Over the summer of 2017 I did an internship in an IB in New York as a technology analyst (IT corporate). Where I found out that I want to work in the front office roles. Some of the employees there suggested me to pursue CFA. So, I have been looking into it since then but I am still not certain to go for CFA. What do you think about it? Will it be a good investment?

    1. If you’re graduating in less than a year, no, the CFA will not be useful, at least not if you spend hundreds of hours on it. It’s better to say you’re “studying for it,” put in a bit of time, and leave it at that so you get some of the benefit without hundreds of hours of work. At this point, you’re very late to finance recruiting, so you’ll probably have to do a Master’s in Finance program or MBA program and move into the industry from that.

      1. So what do you think about doing a Master’s in Finance and along with it preparing for CFA?

        1. The CFA is only helpful for some roles. Do a search on this site to see which ones it is useful for.

          1. Thank you Mr. Brian, I appreciate your help.

  15. Hi! I´m from sweden and I´m 16 years old. I´m very intressted in the stock market and have been buying and selling shares for a few years now. But I am aswell very intressted in technology developement. Today i read Sience at the “gymnasium” I belive that is the same thing as “upper secondary” in the US. However, I am not sure if I want to get a degree in engineering or maybe industrial economy or Bussiness.

    What would u recommend me to do?

    1. I have no idea what your question is, sorry. Maybe wait until you’re older.

  16. Hi
    I am a Chemical Engineering graduate from a prestigious university in India. I graduated with a CGPA of 8.2/10 and ranked 10th in my batch. I have had internships in companies like ExxonMobil and Schlumberger and they were not rigidly technical. Besides having technical projects, I was also associated with marketing and sales. Then I joined Reliance industries limited as a process engineer. I worked there for 10 months . On the way I had developed strong interest in finance and I also did MOOC on various areas related to IB. Presently I am working on my family business venture. I want to make a career in IB. I have applied for masters in management in the top schools of France and I am quite positive that I will get selected in one of them. I am also CFA level 1 candidate.I have a track record of working long hours specially in Reliance. How should I work from this point to grab a position in top IB firms.

      1. Thanks.. that cleared a lot of my doubts. Thus in conclusion the internships or the apprenticeship programs in the business school will be of real benefit to me.

      2. Hey
        I have some interviews coming up for the masters in management courses. I am concerned about how to answer the question “why did you leave your last job”? Since my start up is still at a very initial stage, how to justify this along with my interests for finance.

        1. Say that you became more interested in the business side and left to work on your own venture. In this venture, you’re responsible for finance and business development, which are directly relevant to your long-term career goals.

  17. Hi There,

    Let me tell you first my situation is. I have completed my B.tech in computer science from India and currently working in TCS (an Indian consultancy company) as a software developer, I am also CFA level-1 candidate right now. As i am interested in working in investment bank ,I have planned to switch after 2 years experience to top investment banks in their tech division and also wanna complete rest of the CFA levels. After this can i get into front office roles? Do you think i am on the right way? Any further suggestion will be helpful for my career.

    P.S. I am also planning to do Executive MBA from top B-schools after 5 year experience.

    Thanks. .

    1. It is really difficult to move into IB in India because of the small size of the industry relative to the population. You might have a better chance if you focus on boutique banks there, go outside the country, or maybe if you can get into one of the top two IIMs and apply from there. Please see:

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

  18. Hi Brian and Nicole,
    I graduated in May with a mechanical engineering degree. During under grad I did three engineering internships, and a year as an analyst and investment officer with our $3MM real money student investment fund (also my “spark” for IB), and currently am working interim at a law firm doing corporate legal services. On my resume and in my story I play up the analyst position and law firm experience and working with clients. I’ve taken finance/accounting courses and BIWS prep courses and am becoming confident on the technical end. I’m targeting MMs and tech boutiques by brute force cold calling / emailing, and have gotten some interviews but no offers. 1) Should I change my strategy and go for something outside of IB? I am confident and want IB, so I don’t want to give up, but I want to take the best path there. 2) How can I better position myself to get an offer?

    1. If you’ve been winning interviews, I don’t think it’s a problem with your networking approach or resume or anything like that. What has been the feedback from interviews? What’s the main reason why you are not advancing? Can you go back to any of your interviewers and ask what they think about your performance or see if they have any tips?

      It’s hard to say what to do without knowing that. If their main objection is “You’re good, but we need someone with more finance experience,” then you might have to go for something outside of IB first and use that to move in. But if they’re objecting to something else, such as your technical knowledge or interest in the industry, then you might have to change your strategy in interviews.

      In your case, it probably makes sense to focus on smaller banks because it’s incredibly difficult to go from non-finance work experience directly to a role at a large bank.

      Aside from playing up your legal and analyst experience, you can’t do too much more to position yourself more effectively.

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