by Brian DeChesare Comments (180)

How to Spin and BS Your Way to Success in Investment Banking

how_to_spin“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

Not sure why you want to do investment banking?

Don’t know what you did in your last job besides watching YouTube?

Haven’t the faintest clue what your “story” is?

Then you need to learn how to spin.

Lying is bad.

But spinning – making yourself seem more impressive than you actually are – is essential.

Just think: it even got a President elected. Time to learn his tactics.

Why Do You Need to Spin?

Because it’s not always in your best interest to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

A job interview is not a trip to the court room. You’re there to sell yourself – not to tell the jury the whole truth.

You need to spin not only for resumes and interviews, but also when you’re networking, and even for business school admissions.

And once you start working, you need to spin in order to play the office politics game correctly and avoid the pink slip.

The Ground Rules

You can’t lie about easily verifiable facts.

You can’t make up work experience, fabricate your GPA or SAT score, claim that you know how to say “Goldman Sachs” in Mandarin when you don’t, or make up that degree that you never quite finished.

It will come back to haunt you even if you get away with it temporarily – banks conduct background checks just before you start working.

There are a couple items – like job titles – that fall somewhere in the middle. In a lot of cases you don’t have an “official” title, so “Summer Intern” vs. “Summer Analyst” doesn’t matter much.

It’s hard to spin your answers to technical questions – so if you have no idea, it’s better to admit it upfront.

So you have to exercise some judgment – be careful about anything that is easily verifiable or anything that the other person knows a lot about.

Finally, avoid generic “spin” answers – like saying you “Work too hard” as one of your “weaknesses.”

What Should You Spin?

You can spin your way to success in a number of areas: networking, resumes, interviews, and on-the-job.

Here’s how to do it:

Omission of Facts

Didn’t get a return offer from your summer internship?

No one needs to know until you get asked specifically about it – and when you do get asked about it, just Blame a 3rd Party (see below).

There are some facts you can’t omit: “forgetting” your GPA raises red flags, as does months or years of unaccounted time on your resume.

But you need to omit some facts because:

  1. Sometimes if you say too much you come across as negative, which is a big no-no in interviews and once you’re working.
  2. If something does not help you, there’s no reason to say it. Remember, you’re there to “sell” yourself.

Hedged Exaggeration

This is “hedged exaggeration” rather than “exaggeration” because you need to be careful about how and what you exaggerate.

Write that you “Negotiated $50MM higher purchase price for client” on your resume and you’ll get called out very quickly – but write that you “Supported senior bankers in negotiating $50MM higher purchase price by revising valuation” and now you have an exaggeration rather than a lie.

Re-Adjusting the Focus

Studied abroad in Paris for a year, but spent 360 of those days drinking and 5 days studying?

Did an “investment banking” internship but spent 90% of your time fetching coffee?

No one needs to know the whole truth.

Focus on the 5 days, or 10% of your time, where you actually did something worth talking about.

Blaming a 3rd Party

Didn’t get an offer? Had an unusually low GPA your first year in school?

That’s ok – it wasn’t your fault. It was because you didn’t fit in with your group’s culture – or because you had some family/personal issues but then learned how to focus and greatly improved your GPA in later years.

You also need to turn the negative into the positive with this kind of spin. Rather than focusing on how much you didn’t like your internship group, talk about how you like the one you’re interviewing with right now a lot more.

Pure Confidence

What you say often matters less than how you say it.

Try it yourself: make up an absurd story about your background and introduce yourself to strangers, keeping a straight face and showing no hesitation when you tell them your story. I do this all the time.

They may be skeptical – but they won’t call you out if you show no hesitation.

Put yourself in uncomfortable situations, and the more you do it, the more confidence you’ll develop.

How Do You Spin?

Ok, now let’s take a look at some examples of how to spin your way to success using these strategies.

Omission of Facts

Networking Situation: You’re explaining to an alumnus why you’re interested in investment banking, but you only got interested recently and don’t have a long history to point to.

Solution: Don’t mention this “fact.” Instead, talk about how you’ve known a lot of friends in the field and how you were always interested, but became even MORE interested when… [Insert recent event here].

On-the-Job Situation: You finish your work early and need to send out materials to your team, which they need by tomorrow morning. But you’re afraid to send the email too early or they might give you more work.

Solution: Omit the fact that you finished early. Either log in remotely at midnight or go out and do something else, and then come back to the office and send everything late at night.

Interview Situation: You get asked about the “company” you started last year. It didn’t go anywhere and you decided to shut it down because you lost interest – but you don’t want to seem like a failure in interviews.

Solution: Don’t mention how you lost interest – and never give revenue/profit figures. Just say that you learned a lot from doing it and had some success (building a product / getting publicity / customers) but decided to pursue other opportunities instead – which you never would have found out about had you not started the first company.

Hedged Exaggeration

Resume Situation: You don’t have any “results” for your most recent internship, and you’re worried that it will seem like you’ve done nothing at all.

Solution: Borrow other peoples’ “results.” You may not have directly impacted business, but you “supported” or “assisted” the senior guys who brought in additional assets under management, or that new M&A deal, right?

On-the-Job Situation: Your staffer asks you if you have any “bandwidth” to help out with some menial administrative tasks, and you don’t have anything urgent to do… but you still don’t want to do it.

Solution: Say that you could help but you need to finish a client-related task for your SVP. He doesn’t “need it” by tomorrow but he sure would “like to see it” by tomorrow.

Re-Adjusting the Focus

Interview Situation: You get asked to talk about your investment banking internship, but all you did was create company profiles for a potential client and a lot of administrative work. But you don’t want to sound like you did nothing.

Solution: Say that you “Helped out with industry research, and worked on a potential buy-side M&A deal.” Position what you did as a potential deal that never came together rather than admitting it was grunt work.

Networking Situation: You’re meeting with an alum and you’re talking about your experience studying abroad in Japan. He asks about your language skills, but you spent all your time there at all-you-can-drink bars hitting on the waitresses.

Solution: Make up a joke to get around having to answer the question directly: “Language study? I was too busy studying sake. Oh, and I actually had a lot of tough classes that semester so I think I’ll stick to English for now…”

Resume Situation: You have a 3.3 overall GPA, but a 3.7 GPA in your Finance major – but you can’t round the 3.3 to a 3.5.

Solution: List your Finance GPA first and make it bold – then include a semi-colon and feature your overall GPA less prominently.

Blaming a 3rd Party

Interview Situation: Your group gave offers to everyone except for you because you came into work late every day and did nothing. You’re interviewing for another banking job right now and you can’t admit this.

Solution: Say that you didn’t fit in with your group’s culture. But everyone in this group seems much better.

Networking Situation: You’re speaking with an alum and he asks why you haven’t taken any finance classes before this last semester if you’re actually interested in the field. The “whole truth” is that you only became interested recently.

Solution: Say it was always on your mind, but that your major had some tough requirements. Turn it into a joke (works better if the alum also had the same major) and say that you could only pull yourself out of the library / out of the lab recently.

What Next?

Get out there and practice.

We all have skeletons in our closets – even if you haven’t gone Patrick Bateman on anyone, there are questions you’d rather not answer.

Figure out what your top 5-10 most “awkward” questions are in interviews or networking, and then think about which of these strategies you can use to spin your answers.

And feel free to use more than 1 per answer.

Pitch curveballs – not the plain fastball.

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. Self employment

    What is the reasoning behind “never give revenue/profit figures.” when referring to a company you started up if asked about it during the interview?

    1. Because no matter what you say, they can pick it apart or view it unfavorably. If you quote a low figure, such as $50K in sales, they’ll think, “Hmm… is this person really that competent? Was this even a business?”

      And if you quote a much higher figure, they’ll say, “Hmm… are you sure you want to do investment banking? It seems like you did well in your own business, why switch now?”

      The bottom line is that entrepreneurship and investment banking have almost nothing in common until you reach the top levels. As a junior-level person, you’re a monkey following orders.

  2. Does saying I spoke with 20 bankers while I spoke with zero constitute a lie or a spin?

    I am only interested in IB recently but during interviews I want to say that I was interested since long ago and have spoken with 20 bankers.

    I guess they may ask me which banks you have spoken with and not the name of the bankers?

    How risky is this strategy?

    1. No, that is a lie. “Spin” is saying that you spoke with 20 bankers when you only spoke with 15. It’s not a great idea to say this unless you’ve spoken to at least a few bankers – otherwise you’ll come across as uninformed in interviews.

  3. Recruiting for IB SA. How heavily will banks like Greenhill and Houlihan and BAML check references? I pass all the background checks, but a supervisor doesn’t have the greatest opinion of me at an internship because I didn’t do much, and I spun it fairly aggressively in my resume. It’s in China though. Will they still run the full reference check?

    1. Usually they just check to verify that you worked at the firm during the dates you listed. If the internship was in China, and your supervisor doesn’t speak English, it’s unlikely that banks in the U.S. or U.K. will do an extremely thorough check.

  4. Hi Brian/Nicole,

    Just a quick question about resume and past tense.

    What makes more grammatical sense, given that resumes have to be written in past tense.


    Pitched XYZ business to company executives, RESULTING in a $2 acquisition


    Pitched XYZ business to company executives, RESULTED in a $2 acquisition

    1. Only the first sentence is grammatically correct. The second sentence needs a semicolon instead of a comma to be correct.

  5. Hi Brian,

    I did a summer internship at BB 3 years ago and it was in Asia. Will they ask if I got a return offer (I am still applying a summer internship…)? There is no one I have been closely working with still in the firm. When asked for the reference, can I give them some contacts that are in different firm now?

    Thank you.

    1. I doubt it. You can give them contacts from any previous internship since then.

  6. James Sharp

    Hey guys, wanted to ask a quick question about spinning: Recently finished up an internship with a pretty decent buy-side firm. Was initially hired into a middle office role, but networked within the firm and got deal exposure; is it okay if on my resume I don’t directly quote the role I was hired into?


  7. Silverback

    Hi, just wondering if you know if IBs will check reasons why you left your previous employer when they do a background check?

    I am worried I am going to be let go form my current bank because I have been interviewing at other places and my MD found out and is not happy about it. They;ve overhired in my team, so I think I am most likely to be cut.

    If the background check will not specifically pick up on the fact that I was fired then I wouldnt have to mention this at all in future interviews (could just say i left for other reasons) – which would of course be preferable.

    1. It’s possible, yes, but you can’t do anything about it, so don’t worry about it. If someone asks, just say you knew your division would be cut, so you had to interview around to protect yourself.

    2. Were you cut after all?

  8. I finished a sales internship and I am now applying to finance positions. How will bankers think if I write something like “Supported senior managers in increasing revenue by $X through market analysis, revision of workflow process and marketing materials” on my resume? My daily responsibilities were market analysis, contract drafting and creating marketing materials. One day, I proposed a new way of doing those things. My boss liked my new idea and used it while revenues increased. But is it too much of a stretch for an intern to claim credit for that on the resume? What’s the best way to convey this revenue increase on my resume?

    1. Maybe just write that you suggested an idea that the managers later implemented which helped them increase revenue by $XX, so it’s clear that you didn’t implement the entire thing – you just suggested it and they liked it.

  9. I have 3.48 gpa. Can I just say I have 3.5?

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Perhaps – shouldn’t be a huge issue.

  10. Thanks for the useful advice as always. Quick question – what counts as a deal? Or rather, what can I call a deal and get away with it. If I’m conducting due diligence on new accounts being opened and the client is an insto bringing $50M AUM on to their new account, can I say I helped with the DD on a $50M deal? Or does it have to be strictly M&A related?

    1. M&I - Nicole

      I’d say most deals are usually related to M&A activities. So in your case, I’d just say that you’ve “conducted due diligence on new accounts with AUM of c. $50 MM.”

  11. I am an international student in USA from Dubai. Can I make up an internship experience in a small investment bank in Dubai and put it on my linkedin too?

    1. and why the “background checks” page is not found!! can you please tell me more about the background checks procedures ASAP since I will apply in the few coming days.

      1. M&I - Nicole

        We don’t have details background check procedures because it varies according to the company the banks outsource to I believe.

    2. M&I - Nicole

      No we don’t recommend making up experiences especially given background checks

  12. If, in my role in Consulting, my only M&A related experience (I want to work in M&A) is recommended AGAINST an acquisition based on pro-forma adjustments to the balance sheet, will that look bad? I.e. will they think I’m bad for business?!

    1. M&I - Nicole

      No, you just need to spin it in an attractive manner…

  13. I had an “internship” this summer at a bank. I was never hired by the bank directly, but I went to the office with a family member and actually did the work he did on a daily basis throughout the summer. Can I use this experience on my resume?

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Yes you can do that.

  14. Hi,

    I’m a UK penultimate year undergrad (totally unrelated arts degree) doing an internship at a Big 4 firm this summer (Advisory- Transaction Services/ Restructuring). I’m hoping to do a business management MSc and so will be applying for IB internships for next summer.

    My question is- do you think the Big 4 internship is likely to be enough to get me to interview despite my degree subject (I easily meet grade requirements, and online test scores were good for Big 4), and how can I make this internship sound most relevant?


    1. M&I - Nicole

      It can potentially help, you will have to focus on your valuation experience there and spin why you want to move to IB

  15. Hi,

    Regarding background checks, I lied about the division i worked for in my finance internship and my GPA. This is at a mid-sized startup though they do have HR. Would I be fine, especially with the division lie?

    1. M&I - Nicole

      I don’t know if this is fine since this may come up during the background check.

  16. Great article!

    For a grad entry interviews, would it sound questionable to interviewers if I wrote on my CV under an M&A boutique Internship experience:

    ‘Advising a client by assessing potential synergy effects from… and identifying… ‘.

    I did work on advising the client, as the client came from my personal network. However I think some interviewers might assume im just making up stuff.

    And how about putting ‘contributing to deal sourcing from Asia’?
    Thru leveraging my network, I reached out to them and met with them to talk business.

    But again I fear some interviewers may doubt it as this is not what interns normally do. In the past, an interviewer kept telling he wouldnt believe on some certain stuff I did in my previous internship regardless of how well I explained, and it wasted time during the interview.

    1. If you can back it up by explaining that it was a one-off event and a personal contact, then yes, you can write that.

      If you actually helped start conversations with potential clients in Asia, you can write that but as you mentioned interviewers will be skeptical of these types of things in general unless you are more senior.

      So you should probably remove some of that and just say that you “worked with” the client and also helped research potential clients in Asia or something to that effect.

  17. Is it worth my while to pursue a 3 yr intensive Masters in LAw and Mba or is an MBA enough?

    1. Depends on your background, but generally a Master’s in Law doesn’t add anything over an MBA (there are exceptions in some regions).

  18. My friend got away with faking his GPA. I thought it was illegal to ask for GPA from schools.

    1. M&I - Nicole

      I’m sorry to hear. You never know, it may backfire.

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