by Brian DeChesare Comments (32)

How to Get into Investment Banking (Updated For 2019)

How to Get into Investment Banking (Updated For 2019)

So, you want to know how to get into investment banking

…despite the fact that:

  • It’s a much less “prestigious” field than it used to be;
  • It no longer pays a huge premium to other career options, such as engineering jobs at big tech companies; and
  • The recruiting process is now hyper-accelerated and crazy.

It’s OK – I understand!

Despite these potential downsides, we continue to receive questions about how to get into investment banking, and our traffic and sales have grown every year.

So, in the spirit of these continued questions, we’ll examine this topic from A to Z and provide a blueprint for banking recruiting.

Is Investment Banking Right for You, and Can You Get In?

Before reading this guide, you need to answer two important questions:

  • Is investment banking (IB) right for you?
  • If so, do you have a viable path to breaking into the industry?

If you are an undergraduate student, especially at a top university, the first question is less important because you do not have time to “test the waters.”

Now that recruiting is hyper-accelerated, you have to think about IB starting in Year 1 of university, and ideally in high school – or your chances aren’t great.

So, your honest reason for pursuing investment banking might be:

“I’m potentially interested, and I need to win an internship since recruiting starts years in advance. If I don’t like it, I can always switch and work in a different industry later on.”

If you attend a “target school” that the big banks recruit at (in the U.S., roughly the top 15-20 schools in the country), it is significantly easier to break in as an undergrad.

You still have to start early, network, and prepare for interviews, but you’ll have a much easier time winning interviews if you have a prestigious university name on your resume/CV.

If you are not currently an undergraduate at a top university, then you need to think long and hard about whether or not you want to put in the mammoth effort required to get into IB.

Even if it is possible to break in, there might be other career options that are far more suitable.

For example, many engineers contact us and say they want to move into finance to make more money, advance, work with clients, or make a bigger impact on the world.

These are valid reasons for wanting to do something outside of engineering, but they are not great reasons for wanting to do investment banking, specifically.

For example, with ~5-10% of the effort required to get into IB, you could satisfy these desires by starting a side business, investing in the stock market, offering freelance coding services, or making small real estate investments.

Or, you could pursue roles like quant research or quant hedge funds where your math and coding skills will be far more useful.

For investment banking to make sense:

  • You must really want to advise companies on debt, equity, and M&A transactions and spend a lot of time in PowerPoint, Excel, and Word; or
  • You must be interested in a specific exit opportunity that normally features investment banking as a prerequisite, such as private equity or corporate development.

For more tips on how to make a decision, please see our articles on “Is Finance Still a Good Long-Term Career?” and “Investment Banking Exit Opportunities.”

If you are still in “exploration mode,” you should read our Day in the Life coverage to get a sense of the different fields in finance.

And, finally, to understand more about the industry itself, see our Investment Banking Overview article.

The rest of this article assumes that you’ve done your homework, you understand the trade-offs, and you are certain you want to get into investment banking.

Now, you just need to know whether or not you have a viable path, and if so, the right set of steps to follow:

How to Get into Investment Banking: The 4 Main Pathways

How to Get into Investment Banking: The Main Pathways
If you’re in a region such as the U.S. or U.K., there are four main entry points into the industry:

  1. As an Undergraduate, Ideally at a Top University – This is the easiest and cheapest way to get into the industry, but you must decide very early on that you want to pursue IB. “Very early on” means your 1st year or the start of your 2nd year. That is tricky, but if you put in a lot of effort, you have a pretty good chance of getting in. Outside the U.S., you might be able to decide a bit later and still have a shot.
  2. As a Recent Graduate – Some students graduate, accept a role that’s related to IB, such as a Big 4 valuation job, corporate banking, or corporate finance, and then move into IB from there. The probability of making this move depends heavily on market conditions and the nature of your full-time job. If your full-time job has nothing to do with finance, you will have to consider a Master’s in Finance or MBA degree. And if you’ve been out of undergrad for 3+ years, or the hiring market is terrible, you’ll probably need a top MBA degree period.
  3. At the MBA Level – If your full-time work experience has nothing to do with finance, or you got interested in investment banking after you had already graduated, you will probably have to apply to top MBA programs, get in, and use one of them to move into the industry. Assuming you get into one of the top programs, you have a pretty good chance of winning an IB offer if you put in a lot of effort and start networking long in advance (i.e., months before the program starts).
  4. Beyond the MBA Level – If you’re well beyond the MBA level – for example, you have 10+ years of experience and are now a mid-level executive at a company – then you do not have a decent chance of breaking into IB at the Analyst, Associate, or VP levels. If you’re in this position, you’re better off pursuing non-IB roles or advancing to a senior executive role and then trying to move into finance from there.

Regardless of your pathway, you will need a sequence of work and leadership experience that demonstrates your interest and commitment.

In addition to this work experience, you’ll also need to devote significant time to networking, learning the industry, and preparing for technical and “fit” questions in interviews.

Finally, you’ll also need at least one “interesting point” such as a hobby, interest, or life experience that makes you come across as a human rather than a robot.

This point is especially important for undergrads because brief internships, no matter how prestigious the firm, won’t be enough to set you apart.

Getting into Investment Banking Around the World: Other Pathways and Other Regions

How to Get into Investment Banking Around the World
In some regions, not all these pathways are viable.

For example, MBA-level recruiting is virtually nonexistent in Australia, so you need to get in as an undergrad or recent grad or move to another region.

In India, recruiting is sparse outside the top 2-3 IIMs (the top business schools there); even if you’re at one of the top IITs, it will be difficult to win a true front-office role.

On the other hand, some of these pathways are also more viable in certain regions.

For example, in the EMEA region, it’s arguably easier to graduate from a top university, complete off-cycle internships after graduation, and win a full-time IB role than it is in the U.S.

There is a culture of longer-term, off-cycle internships there, especially in countries like the U.K. and France; the trick is converting them into real full-time roles.

Banks love cheap labor, so they often string along interns for long periods with no intention of hiring them full-time.

Finally, in some regions, there are other viable pathways.

For example, in South Africa and India, “Chartered Accountants” (CAs) often complete their training, work for several years, and then move into investment banking. Some banks even have programs dedicated to recruiting these candidates.

In the U.S., corporate lawyers can move into investment banking since there’s significant skill set overlap.

I’m not sure it happens frequently enough to be labeled a “pathway,” but it is an option.

“But Wait! I’m a 45-Year-Old Plumber, and I Want to Know How to Get into Investment Banking!”

We’ve received a lot of questions from mid-career professionals in other industries who suddenly “decide” to switch and immediately want to know how to get into investment banking.

The blunt truth is that you have no chance of getting in if you are, say, a 50-year-old professional with decades of unrelated experience.

Yes, there may be a crazy story or two where someone has done it, but these stories are extreme outliers.

If you are having a mid-life crisis and want to make more money or lead a more exciting life, you should read our article about how to move into finance as an older candidate to come up with better ideas.

Some banks now have “Junior Analyst” programs that are aimed at recruiting non-traditional candidates.

If these candidates join and perform well enough, they may be promoted to full Analysts.

These programs are worth exploring, but they may or may not last.

Also, “non-traditional candidate” still does not mean “45-year-old plumber” – it means someone who graduated from a reasonably good university and held a professional job in another industry for a few years.

It’s the type of person who previously would have had to complete an MSF or MBA to get in.

Getting into Investment Banking: The Process and Timing for Each Pathway

How to Get into Investment Banking - Process and Timing
We will cover the first three pathways here, but we’ll skip the last one (“Beyond the MBA Level”) because it’s a low-probability method that’s difficult to generalize.

Path #1 – The Undergraduate

You need to decide on IB in your 1st year of undergrad because recruiting for 3rd year internships begins in your 2nd year.

These 3rd year internships lead directly into full-time roles after graduation; without an internship, your chances of winning a full-time role plummet.

You’re not necessarily doomed if you start late, but you’re more likely to end up at a smaller bank or in a non-IB role; you can also get away with a late start more easily if you’re not in the U.S.

A typical undergrad at a top university will start preparing in his/her 1st year by networking with bankers and learning accounting, valuation, and financial modeling.

He/she will then complete a relevant internship or two over the summer or during the school year and will continue networking into Year 2 to prepare for IB recruiting – whenever it begins at the large banks.

The initial internships might be at search funds, smaller PE firms or VC firms, or startup hedge funds; or in corporate finance at normal companies, Big 4 firms, non-Big-4 valuation or accounting firms, or even non-IB groups at banks, such as corporate banking or wealth management.

You’ll need a sequence of experience that you can turn into a coherent story for interview purposes, which means “more than one relevant internship or activity.”

You’ll also need to start networking with bankers via LinkedIn and email 6-12 months before interviews begin to have the best shot.

Path #2 – The Recent Grad

The timing here is harder to characterize because it depends on your full-time job and your time/money constraints.

But the main rule of thumb is that you need to act quickly, or your chances of getting into IB decrease dramatically.

For example, if you graduate, take an accounting or audit job, and then switch into a valuation role, you could move into IB if you make these moves quickly, i.e., all within 1-2 years of graduation.

On the other hand, if you wait 3-4 years, you will probably need a top MBA program to make the move.

The basic formula here is “Complete internships during undergrad + accept a relevant role right after graduation + network extensively = gain the possibility of getting into IB.”

You’ll still need to begin preparing 6-12 months in advance of interviews, but it’s harder to say when recruiting “begins” if you’re on this path because you won’t participate in a structured process.

Banks make lateral hires mostly when someone quits unexpectedly in the middle of the year – so you need to be on their radar to take advantage of such events.

Turnover at banks is very high because many people hate their jobs, so these “unexpected departures” happen regularly.

My best advice is to keep in mind the time limits and the fact that your chances diminish once you’ve been out of school for more than a few years.

So, you should start the job search once you have “good enough” client, deal, or project experience to speak to in interviews.

That might happen a few months into the job, or it might take closer to a year.

If you’re on this path, a Master’s in Finance degreenot a traditional MBA – might be a good idea so you can re-brand yourself and gain access to recruiters.

If you have done everything above (networking, relevant jobs, etc.) but still have trouble winning interviews because of issues with your undergraduate experience, such as low grades, then the degree might help.

Path #3 – The MBA

The idea here is that you’ll gain full-time experience in a certain industry, such as technology, consumer/retail, healthcare, or energy, and then you’ll move into an investment banking group where you can leverage that knowledge and experience.

The usual path is to work full-time for 3-5 years, get into one of the top MBA programs in the world, and then, if necessary, complete a pre-MBA internship or other ‘steppingstone role’ before you start the program.

You will also begin networking with alumni ASAP, ideally the moment you accept admission and decide to attend a specific program.

Do not be fooled into thinking that you can “reinvent yourself” solely via an MBA program; it’s just marketing hype from business schools.

I’ll quote a reader who moved from a boutique consulting firm to a Big 4 firm to a top MBA to investment banking:

“Banks don’t care about how you’re using the MBA program to ‘make a change’ – they only care about what you did previously and how it relates to investment banking.”

The IB recruiting cycle starts before you even arrive on campus, and while the degree can be a part of your story, it can’t be the only support for your transition.

In some cases, it might make sense to complete a part-time or executive MBA program instead of a normal full-time program, so you get more time to prepare – and so you don’t quit your current job for something that may not work out.

This option makes sense if you’re moving in from something fairly close to investment banking, such as the acquisitions team at a REIT or corporate development at a Fortune 100 company, and your opportunity cost is high.

It makes less sense if your opportunity cost is low, or you are making a 180-degree change, such as non-profits or brand advertising to investment banking.

7 Steps To Breaking into Investment Banking

How to Get into Investment Banking - Path
Once you understand your path and the proper timing, here are the set of steps to follow:

Step 1: Win “Steppingstone” Internships or Jobs

Regardless of your path, you are not going to break into investment banking at a large bank if you have no relevant experience on your resume/CV.

You need “steppingstone roles,” such as some of the ones mentioned above (search funds, small PE/VC firm, corporate banking, etc.) to improve your profile, tell a better story, and show that you know how to get into investment banking.

As an undergrad, recent grad, or incoming MBA student, the best way to win these roles is to network with alumni.

If your school does not have (m)any alumni in the finance industry, do a cold outreach using LinkedIn and email.

Many articles on this site walk you through how to conduct this type of networking effort; for examples and email templates you can use immediately, please see:

As an undergraduate, 1-2 finance-related internships before you apply to large banks should be enough. If you have just one internship, you could use an activity or student group to support your story.

If you’re a recent grad, you need a full-time job that is “somewhat related to finance.” If that does not describe your current situation, you should find a new job.

You could also complete an internship before or during your Master’s program if you apply for a Master’s in Finance degree.

At the MBA level, it’s the same: if your full-time experience is not at all related to finance, then you should do a pre-MBA internship before the MBA begins.

Step 2: Craft Your Story

Once you have the required experience, you need to develop your story, which is your 1-2-minute response to the “Tell me about yourself” or “Walk me through your resume” question in interviews.

This is not only the most important question in any interview, but it’s also what you will use, in abbreviated form, when you network with bankers.

Therefore, you must prepare a “full version” of your story and a “short version.”

Fortunately, we have a detailed tutorial on how to prepare a very solid answer to the “Walk me through your resume” question in less than one hour.

Focus on the points outlined there – The Beginning, the Finance “Spark,” the Growing Interest, and Why You’re Here Today and Your Future – and if you have any doubts, compare your drafts to our examples.

You will use this long version of your story in interviews; the short version is for networking emails, introductory phone calls, and in-person meetings.

This short version should be a maximum of 1-2 sentences so that even bankers with ADD can read or listen to the full thing before getting distracted.

Here are a few examples:

  • Undergraduate: “I’m a [XX Year] student at [University Name] with experience in consulting at [Firm Name] and valuation at [Firm Name] and technical skills which I have developed in my private equity internship at [Firm Name]. I’m currently applying for investment banking roles.”
  • Recent Grad: “I graduated from [University Name], and I’ve worked in commercial banking at [Bank Name] and then in corporate banking at [Bank Name], focusing on investment-grade debt issuances. I am now looking to apply my credit analysis skills to larger, more complex deals in the DCM or Leveraged Finance groups of investment banks.”
  • MBA Student: “I graduated from [University Name], worked in real estate brokerage at [Firm Name], moved to a real estate acquisitions role at [REIT Name], and then attended [Business School Name], where I am currently a first-year student. I am now looking to move into real estate investment banking to combine my industry experience and finance skill set.”

When in doubt, simplify your story mercilessly.

Bankers hear thousands of these pitches, and most of them are awful because the person goes on for too long.

You may think your story is incredibly interesting, but bankers won’t pay attention if you go beyond 1-2 sentences in an introductory call or email, or if you go beyond 1-2 minutes in a formal interview.

Step 3: Bankify Your Resume/CV

Truthfully, you can only do so much with your resume.

People online like to obsess over their resumes and ask for advice about the wording of specific bullets, the font size, and the formatting, but most bankers glance at your resume for a few seconds and look for:

  • The name and reputation of your university or business school.
  • Your academic performance, such as your GPA and standardized test scores (or A-Levels if you’re in the U.K.).
  • The companies you worked at and your positions at those companies.

If you’re an undergraduate, they want to see that you have a 4.0 GPA at Princeton and interned at KPMG in the valuations team and at BAML in corporate banking.

You can start assembling your resume by using one of our templates:

The extent to which you can bend the truth depends on your job titles and the companies you worked at.

With a vague job title like “Consultant” or “Analyst,” you have some leeway to spin your experience.

But if your job title was “Junior Software Engineer” or “Data Scientist,” you have fewer options.

The best way to spin your experience is to focus on the business impact of your work and avoid the technical details – unless those details happen to be accounting/finance-related.

For example, if you have an entry like this:

Research Assistant, Cleantech Group

  • Worked directly with Professor X to collect data and analyze cleantech industries, including ethanol, solar cell, module, and wafer manufacturers

It would appear to be more of a finance role if you presented it as:

Research Assistant, Cleantech Group

  • Gathered data on U.S. ethanol industry and analyzed performance of specific companies; reviewed firm management, history, financial performance and value of IP and technology assets
  • Analyzed financial performance and production methodologies of solar cell manufacturing companies

You can’t lie, but you can make smaller tasks sound more important, you can leave out less relevant experience, and you can cite independent work as part of your job experience.

Note that even if you spin your experience, as in the example above, it still won’t make a huge difference because this entry is still not a real finance internship.

Spin might make this entry more effective as your Finance “Spark,” but you’ll need something better, work experience-wise, to be competitive for IB roles.

Step 4: Network Your Way into Interviews and Offers

Once you have the right experience, a good story, and a solid resume/CV, you can start to network for investment banking roles.

It is almost always best to focus on alumni when you start the process.

Find them on LinkedIn and via your school’s database, and then email them with your initial message in which you ask for advice about the recruiting process (i.e., some version of “how to get into investment banking,” stated less directly).

Cold calls and cold emails where you ask directly for a job can work, but they should not be your top strategies.

Use them if it’s the last minute and you don’t have time to develop relationships, or if you are applying to boutique firms.

Even if you cannot find any alumni, you’re still better off finding professionals on LinkedIn and emailing them, as long as you can highlight at least one common point (e.g., similar classes/major, same state/country of origin, similar sport or another hobby).

You will ideally start networking 6-12 months before interviews begin, which, at the undergraduate level, means “in Year 1” (!).

If you’re a recent grad, you should start networking as soon as you have a finance-related role and enough experience to speak to in interviews.

And at the MBA level, you should begin networking as soon as you have accepted enrollment at your business school.

The tricky part about networking as an undergrad is that you need to balance the earliness of recruiting with sufficient work experience.

It won’t look great if you reach out to bankers and say, “I’m a student with no experience, and I want to know how to get into investment banking. What’s your advice?”

Even if that is your situation, it’s better to point to upcoming or planned internships, activities, or classes in your outreach emails.

For example, maybe say that you’re a student at [University X] majoring in [Accounting/Finance], and you’re planning to intern in corporate finance and then work in investment banking, and you want to get advice on how to do that.

If you do not have 6-12 months because it is the last minute, you got interested very late, or you’re about to graduate, then you’ll have to use other methods.

Cold calling can work well with local/boutique firms that value persistence and that have easy-to-find phone numbers; there’s a great story about how one non-target student did it here.

Cold calls can be painful, but they are nice because if you present yourself well on the phone, you don’t necessarily need a top pedigree to be successful.

By contrast, cold emails tend to work better if you have good credentials, academic results, and relevant experience.

There are stories and examples from students who used cold emails to win internships and full-time offers below:

If you’re taking a long-term approach, your goal in this initial networking is to set up informational interviews and speak with each banker for 5-10 minutes.

Then, follow up with the person once or twice between the time of the call and the start of recruiting, and ask directly about the interview process.

Your follow-up messages can contain updates on your classes, activities, and internships, or you can ask questions about what the person is doing at work lately.

With cold emails and cold calls, follow-up is also crucial, but you focus on volume instead. If you don’t hear back, try again in a few days… and then try again in another few days… and so on.

If you conduct this process correctly and you start early enough, it will give you a serious advantage in winning interviews and offers at banks.

When applications open, apply ASAP because spots are filled on a first-come, first-served basis.

Yes, even if you’ve networked, you still need to submit an application in most cases, either through your school or directly with the bank.

It is not worth delaying your applications to network a bit more – recruiting moves so quickly that you’ll miss the process if you hesitate.

Step 5: Prepare for Investment Banking Interviews

For the full list of what you need to know for interviews, please see our article on investment banking interview questions and answers.

Here’s the short version:

  1. A very good understanding of the technical skills required for IB – accounting, valuation/DCF modeling, and M&A and LBO modeling;
  2. A solid main “story”;
  3. 3 mini-stories you can use to answer “fit” questions;
  4. Your top 3 strengths and top 3 weaknesses;
  5. Answers to the key objections that bankers will raise about your background (low GPA, lack of finance experience, lower-ranked school, too old, etc.);
  6. Several deals you can discuss (your own, if applicable, and also ones that banks have worked on).

It does not take that much effort to prepare for most of these questions. You can be ready with your story, “fit,” and deal questions in a few days.

However, preparing for the technical questions will take much longer, especially if you have no accounting or finance background.

You can find websites that list hundreds of technical questions, and you can find even more in our articles and Interview Guide.

But you can’t just Google “how to get into investment banking,” memorize all the questions and answers, and be prepared.

Banks, especially the elite boutiques, have shifted to deeper conceptual questions that test your true understanding of the material.

Accounting and finance are much simpler than math, physics, or engineering, but they’re still too complicated to learn in a weekend.

You’ll likely need at least 3-4 months, and possibly more than that, to be ready for interviews.

So, you should start learning the key accounting and finance concepts right as you begin networking for IB roles, and the earlier you start, the better.

If you want to learn everything from the ground up over several months, our Excel & Fundamentals course is your best bet.

There’s a lot of content there, but you do not need to complete everything to be ready for interviews – we mark the most important topics in the study guide that comes with the course.

If you just want to review and test your knowledge, the IB Interview Guide is a better bet. It goes beyond the technical side and also covers your story, “fit” questions, and deal discussions.

Step 6: Complete the Investment Banking Interview Process and Win Offers

Assuming you’ve networked, submitted your applications, and won interviews, the next part of “how to get into investment banking” is interviewing successfully to win offers.

The first step is usually a video-based HireVue interview where they ask you a few basic “fit” questions, and you respond by speaking your answers into the camera.

This round is mostly about avoiding silly mistakes: your cat knocking your computer over, your roommate walking in naked, or you forgetting that you’ve dressed up like Gandalf.

If you dress professionally, give articulate answers within the required timeframe, and avoid background noise and distractions, you should advance to the next round.

This next round is normally the “Superday” in the structured, on-campus recruiting process in North America.

In this Superday, you’ll go through 5-10 interviews with bankers at all levels, ranging from Analyst to MD, and you’ll answer questions spanning all the topics above.

If you win an offer, you’ll usually hear back quickly; if not, or you’re on hold, you won’t hear anything for a while (or ever).

Case studies and modeling tests could come up, but they are more likely in Europe or Asia, in interviews with the elite boutiques, and in MBA-level interviews.

If you’re interviewing as a recent grad or lateral hire, the process might be less structured, and you won’t necessarily attend a formal “Superday.”

Instead, you might go through interviews over a few months if the bank does not have an urgent hiring need.

If the bank does need someone ASAP, then you’ll complete your interviews more quickly and hear back more quickly.

If you’re in Europe – especially the U.K. – this process differs significantly.

In the first step, you’ll answer competency questions (written versions of “fit” questions) with your online application, and you’ll complete online aptitude tests for numerical, verbal, and reasoning skills.

Banks could easily reject you if you make a small mistake in one of these, such as a typo in one answer.

They conduct these tests not to find the best candidates but rather to weed out people.

Then, in the final round, you’ll attend an assessment center instead of a Superday.

Instead of pure interviews for the entire day, you’ll complete other exercises, such as group case studies and presentations, report writing, e-tray/in-tray, and test verification to make sure you didn’t cheat on the online tests.

These processes are completely separate topics, so please take a look at our articles on competency questions, assessment centers, and other U.K.-specific interview differences.

Assessment centers are not that difficult, but they often trip up candidates who are a bit more “academically focused.”

In other regions, the process varies and may be closer to the one in the U.S. or the one in the U.K.; places such as Hong Kong, Australia, and South Africa are somewhere in between the two.

One Final Note: If you recruit for off-cycle roles in the U.K., you might not complete the online tests and assessment centers because the process is less structured.

That might be a positive or a negative depending on your real strengths and weaknesses.

Step 7: If You Don’t Win Offers, Reassess and Try Again or Aim for Different Fields

If you complete this entire process but do not end up with any job offers, you need to assess what went wrong.

For example:

  • Was your GPA too low, resulting in too few interviews or too many first-round rejections?
  • Did you not have a firm enough grasp of the technical side?
  • Did you not start networking far enough in advance?
  • Did you not have the work experience that bankers were seeking?
  • Did you get too nervous in interviews and freeze up when answering questions?

Your next steps will differ depending on why you failed to receive offers.

For example, if your GPA was too low or your university was not well-known, then you might think about a Master’s in Finance program at a top school to resolve those problems.

If you didn’t understand the technical side well enough, then you might delay graduation, complete a Master’s program, or do something else to give yourself more time to study.

If you didn’t have the right work experience, you might win a more relevant job first and then come back when you’re better-qualified.

If you’re a recent grad or MBA student, you might have to postpone your plans and pursue related roles, such as corporate development, and try again when you’re more senior.

Finally, there’s no shame in deciding to pursue non-IB roles for now.

Yes, everyone – especially in the online echo chamber – is obsessed with how to get into investment banking and private equity, but there are many other solid careers out there.

For example, there’s corporate banking, real estate private equity, real estate lending, corporate development, CMBS, corporate finance, venture lending, and more that I’m too lazy to type out right now.

These fields are “less prestigious” and have lower pay ceilings, but:

  1. You can still earn into the mid-six-figures (and beyond);
  2. There’s less competition; and
  3. Recruiting is not hyper-accelerated.

Or, you could go in a different direction and do sales at a tech company or work in an engineering or product management role there.

There are many paths to a lucrative business career, and investment banking is just one option.

What’s Next?

If you follow and implement everything above, you will be better-equipped for investment banking recruiting than ~95% of candidates.

The two most common mistakes are also the easiest ones to avoid:

  • Not understanding whether or not IB is right for you; and
  • Not understanding the main pathways into the industry and whether or not you have a shot.

With the first point, if you are not an undergraduate at a top university and you are not planning to attend a top MBA program, getting into the industry will be a bruising uphill battle.

That doesn’t mean you can’t do it – we’ve featured many case studies of readers who have beaten the odds.

But you do need to consider whether or not it’s worthwhile when you could win other finance roles with much less effort.

If you are intrinsically fascinated by deals, or you are very interested in an exit opportunity that typically requires investment banking first, then the time and effort might be justified.

But if not, then banking is probably not for you, and your time would be better spent on other pursuits.

With the second mistake, we receive many inquiries from readers who believe that they are “special” and that they have unique career challenges.

Then, they mistakenly assume that there is a good pathway into investment banking other than from a top university, a top MBA program, or as a lateral hire from a highly relevant field.

But the reality is that you’re not that special, there is a 99% chance that you fall into one of the categories described above, and you should already know whether or not you have a shot.

The sooner you understand that, the sooner you’ll understand how to get into investment banking – despite your urge to tap that “I’m special!” button repeatedly.

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. Avatar
    Ruy Guarita

    Hey Brian,

    First of all thanks for sharing this article.

    I am a junior student at a non-target (Babson College) and I have a low GPA (3.0). On the other hand, I have done a semester abroad at Singapore Management University and I have done two internships: Credit Analysis Unit for Middle market companies at Citibank and I am currently interning at a well-known M&A boutique in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
    I am planning to apply to IB positions in Brazil for the summer of 2020 since I believe the US market is too competitive for myself. I am also applying to positions in the USA but I am not too confident about them. What do you think? Do you have any recommendations/suggestions? I really appreciate it..

    1. Well, what is your goal? Are you trying to work at a large bank? If so, in the U.S. or U.K. or some other region like Brazil? Do you want to stay in banking or eventually move into private equity or something else? It’s too hard to give you advice without knowing that information first.

      In general, it is quite difficult to leverage experience in a place like Brazil and then use it to win offers in bigger/more developed markets because they often “discount” experience in emerging markets. So if you want to work in the U.S. long term, it’s best to start out there.

      It is more competitive and your chances aren’t great with those stats (non-target, lower GPA, relevant-but-not-the-best internships), but another option might be to work in a closely related field such as Big 4 TAS or valuation first and then move into IB.

  2. Hey Brian

    Thanks for all of the great articles. I am a rising junior at a non-target school currently going through Summer 2020 recruiting. After a few of my applications were submitted, I was sent a link to complete the HireVue interview fairly quickly. The speed that the HireVue prompt was sent made me think it was an automatic part of the process, but should I take it as a good sign that I’ve made it to a “first round” of sorts? Thanks.

    1. Possibly, but it might also be an automated response… depending on the bank. But it’s definitely better to get the invitation quickly than to get nothing or a delayed response.

  3. Hi Brian,

    Thank you for the advice. I’m currently one year out of graduation from a non-target (3.5 GPA), and I am interning at a boutique part-time. I had a good sophomore year internship at another boutique. Things didn’t pan out well for me when I tried leveraging that experience for a BB offer. I ended up with no junior year internship. I’m currently trying to find a full-time role or an internship that can lead to a full-time role, however, that has proven to be very difficult.

    I would really appreciate any advice as to what direction I should take? Thanks in advance.

    1. It’s a bit hard to say without knowing why you didn’t get the junior-year internship, but my advice would be to forget about large banks for now and focus on independent valuation firms, Big 4 firms, or maybe something like a corporate finance rotational internship at a large company. You don’t want to complete a string of boutique IB internships repeatedly, especially if you’ve already graduated. It’s much better to get a full-time job in some related field and then use that to move over later on.

  4. Dear Brian,

    I am an incoming sophomore transfer to Emory intending to pursue a BBA with a concentration in finance or accounting at Goizueta.

    Where I Am Now:
    I work a summer door-to-door sales job at an outsourcing sales & marketing firm whose client is Direct Energy, headquartered in Houston, acquired by Centrica(Fortune Global 500) in 2000 (potential Spark or Growing Interest I guess. Also brand name on resume through spinning)

    I do not have any finance-related internship yet.

    In June, mainly through M&I and WSO, I am starting to read and learn about
    1) finance industry
    2) technical knowledge
    3) my story
    4) resume & linkedin
    5) networking

    My Future Goals:
    Short-term: “Steppingstone” Internships
    • off-cycle, during fall 2019-spring 2020 academic year
    • summer 2020

    Medium-term: BB IB analyst internship in summer of junior year(2021)

    Long-term goal: BB FT IB analyst after graduation

    Questions
    1. Wining my first “Steppingstone” off-cycle internship during fall 2019-spring 2020 academic year
    1) You have recommended interning at a small PE/VC firm, boutique, PWM, independent valuation firm, etc. But is there a preference given my goals?
    2) I need industry and technical knowledge so that I do not sound like an idiot when networking. But if I start to network when I feel comfortable enough with the industry and technical knowledge, it may be too late. What should I do now?
    3) In the “Your Future” part of the story, should I tell them straight that I want to intern here because it prepares me to go into investment banking?

    2. What’s the best thing(or sequence of things) for me to work on right now given my situation? And any general advice?

    3. When networking, should I use my gmail(has a proper address name) or Emory email?

    Thank you for M&I and your amazing work!

    Best,
    Gavin

    1. 1) I would focus on boutique PE firms and investment banks because they will be the most useful, especially as a transfer student.

      2) Spend the next few months reading and learning, and then start networking in the fall.

      3) No, never say this. Any story that ends with “I’m only doing this so I can get a different/better job in the future” is a bad story.

      4) Industry research/learning, then an internship, and then networking.

      5) Use your Emory email address, but make it forward to Gmail so that you can read, respond to, and track everything there.

      1. Hi Brian,
        Thank you for your response! I’m trying to strategize, visualize the future, and ensure its probability of success.

        As a sophomore in fall, I will
        1) Jul & Aug: learn the industry, technical knowledge, networking knowledge, interviewing, and my story
        2) Sept: start cold-emailing to gain 2019-20 Off-cycle Internship at small IB/PE/HF
        3) once finishing 2) ideally in fall,
        3.1) start doing informational interviews and weekend trips to network for interview opportunity in winter and spring 2020 for 2021 SA Internship at BB
        3.2) turn that Off-cycle Internship to 2020 Summer Internship

        I would much appreciate your advice and suggestion on this game plan, or pointing out anything wrong with it.

        Q:
        a) What should I do if I do not secure an Off-cycle Internship fast enough in fall, which hinders networking for 2021 SA since I cannot put incoming XXX

        Thank you very much!

        1. Yes, that’s fine. There’s a fairly recent example of the timeline here: https://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/investment-banking-recruiting-timeline/

          Maybe join a finance or investment-related student club and list that on your resume if you can’t get an off-cycle internship.

  5. Avatar
    RecentGradny12

    Hey Brian,

    I am a recent grad as of last month and I never had success finding a finance internship during my undergrad. I have a 3.7/4 gpa from a non-target City University college with a finance and economics degree. I am an Analyst Intern at a Utilities company for the last year, which would be the bulk of my work experience. Trying to apply for full time to lesser divisions as i obviously know i wont be able to interview for IB. What would be the best to aim for in my current situation located in nyc to work towards getting into IB?

    1. Your best bets would probably be to aim for boutique or middle-market banks (if you can say you work in “corporate finance” at a Utilities company, you could still have a shot at those), independent valuation firms, or maybe valuation/transaction groups at Big 4 firms. Other options might be corporate banking at an investment bank or credit analysis at a credit ratings agency.

      But it really depends on the nature of your current experience – if you can call yourself “Financial Analyst” or something similar, and the company is well-known, you’re in a stronger position.

  6. Hi Brian, I am about to graduate from my undergraduate degree from Manchester, UK and will be doing a postgraduate masters in finance at the University of Cambridge this fall. Whilst I failed to break into IB during my undergrads, I am passionate about the industry but have not had any internship/experience in IB as my summer placements are commercial banking and Big 4 advisory only. I would like to hear some two cents of yours based on my current circumstances. In the event where I only have a final shot at IB before I graduate from my one-year masters, should I forego front office roles and focus my attention on middle/back office instead? As I am an international student and given my immigration status, it might be my last shot on securing a job (if any) in the U.K.

    Thanks and appreciate your insight!

    1. I don’t think that’s a great idea – your best option is to win an off-cycle internship and eventually use that to win a full-time offer. Going for middle and back-office roles will just make it harder to switch later on. If you run into visa issues, it’s better to aim for IB roles in some other European country rather than the U.K. But the middle/back office is not a great idea if you’re about to attend a top university for an MSF.

  7. Hi Brian ,
    I am an Engineering graduate from India looking to break into Finance, completed L1 CFA but figured out I need quality work experience and a MBA from a top university to get into IB , I am not sure if I’ll still be able to break in.
    I’m more interested in the exit opportunity of IB and get into corporate finance. Do I have a chance to break in ? Is it worth the effort ?

    1. The problem is that the market in India is extremely difficult because you usually need to be at a top IIT or IIM to have a chance. See: https://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/investment-banking-india/

      Other options might be:

      https://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/startup-investment-banks-india/
      https://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/india-big-4-transaction-services/

  8. Hi Brian, I’m just getting into my second year at a top Canadian university (I’m not sure if non-US schools can be target). I don’t have any real work experience in finance. Are things like the IBP exam worthwhile? I’m wondering how I can get started in IB at a boutique since I didn’t receive any offers this summer. Thanks.

    1. Certifications do not matter. The only one that carries any weight at all is the CFA, and even that is marginal next to your university and internships. You need to get as closely related an internship as possible, as soon as possible. I would recommend reading and following the tips here:

      https://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/investment-banking-recruiting-timeline/

      Recruiting is not quite as accelerated in Canada (yet), but it’s still moving up earlier.

      1. Thanks for the quick response Brian~
        I’m in a math degree majoring in actuarial science (I know it’s not ideal for banking). What are some types of internships that can be relatable? Also, is it much harder for Canadians to break into US firms since we are considered international?

        1. Corporate finance, corporate development, business development at a startup, venture capital, the list goes on. Even actuarial work at an insurance company might work if you could somehow spin it into sounding like banking-style modeling. Yes, it’s still harder for Canadians to win US offers due to visa issues and the increased difficulty of winning work visas under the current administration.

  9. Hi Brian, thank you for an amazing blueprint. I am currently a Junior at a non-target university pursuing a major in Finance and minor in Econ. Although I have a high GPA (3.9/4) and several on-campus leadership positions, as well as Finance/ IB organization position in my resume I have no real finance work experience.

    I am currently focusing on becoming truly comfortable with excel and technicals, as well as preparing my story for interviews; However, I am not sure where to focus my efforts regarding recruitment. I would like to get a chance to interview with BB for Summer 20 to maximize my chances of going straight into IBD out of college.

    What would you recommend/ where should I focus my efforts to maximize my chances of getting into IB?

    1. You’re late for summer 2020 recruitment at the large banks because most firms have already filled their internship spots by this point. I think you should probably:

      a) Network and focus on smaller firms/boutiques and see if anything there opens up since they sometimes recruit later; and/or

      b) Forget about IB for now, go for an internship at a Big 4 firm, valuation firm, or even a normal company (in corporate finance or something similar), and then move into IB from a full-time role in one of those, or from a top Master’s program.

      Not to be the bearer of bad news, but I think it will be challenging to win a summer internship role in IB for next year if you got a late start, you have no relevant internships, and you’re at a non-target school – you need at least 1-2 of those to improve your chances.

      Also see: https://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/last-minute-investment-banking-recruiting/

  10. Hi Brain I would like to know if I stand a decent chance of getting into IB. My first degree was in food technology with minors in business, from where I picked interest in the business world. I made great grades and was accepted to the masters in business management program in strathclyde business school after which I worked in sales marketing and business development for 2 years. I have now settled in the USA (married) and was wondering if I could pursue IB here.
    Great job on sharing your knowledge and experience… it’s been very helpful to me

    1. I don’t think you have a great chance at IB because you’ve already attended undergrad and a Master’s program, and it’s almost always easier to get in when you’re still in school. And your experience, while somewhat relevant, is still not exactly “deal experience” (i.e., not what you would do at a Big 4 transaction services team or something like that). At this point, you would probably need a top MBA to have a good shot at traditional IB roles.

      1. Okies… thank you ??

      2. To be honest tho I’ve always been torn between consulting and investment banking… and although I intend to try and get into an MBA program in the next 2 years(saving up for it).can I try consulting for now?..

        1. Yes, consulting is probably more plausible for you than banking at this stage.

          1. Thank you Brian

  11. Hi Brian,

    I have a very specific question about getting into investment banking in the US:
    I have been doing M&A and fundraising transactions in Russia for over 10 years and recently moved to the US. I would like to find a position within the US investment bank. I have Master’s degree in finance and PhD in economics from the Russian universities.
    Online applications and sending my resume do not work – never got a reply.
    I would really appreciate your advice on getting into IB given my background.

    Thanks

    1. It is extremely difficult to just come to the U.S. and find a job because you need a company to sponsor your work visa, but many companies don’t want to hire you if you require visa sponsorship. It is almost always better to work at a multinational firm in your home country for a few years first and then ask for a transfer to the U.S. because larger companies can handle the visa process more easily, and they have more incentive to help you if you’ve already been there for some time.

      Also, I think you might have too much experience for entry-level roles; 10 years is far beyond what most Analysts and Associates have. So… I’m not sure what to recommend here. The work visa point will be a problem no matter which industry you apply to. Maybe focus on Russian companies that have a presence in the U.S. and see if you can win an offer there?

      Another option might be to look outside of investment banks and go for jobs at normal companies where you do M&A and fundraising – maybe something like corporate development at large companies with exposure to the Russian and FSU markets.

      Applying online and just sending your resume definitely won’t work because of the visa and your 10+ years of experience. If you want to apply, you’ll need to go on LinkedIn, start networking with bankers/other professionals, and contact them via email to build the relationship first.

  12. Hi Brian, I am currently a high school freshman and am wondering what I can do now to better help my chances of securing a job in the field of investment banking. I know it is a highly competitive industry, so I’m assuming that the earlier you start to prepare, the more success you will see. Is there anything specifically important that I should be doing right now in order to reach prosperity in this field?

    1. The best thing you can do at this stage is to read about the industry and see if you can meet a few people working in it. And then get into the best university you can and start networking with alumni in finance right away and aim for an internship within your first 1.0 – 1.5 years. I don’t think you can get a real internship in IB if you’re still in high school, so it’s more about reading/preparing for now and being ready with your networking efforts as soon as university starts.

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