by Brian DeChesare Comments (22)

How to Spin Your Way to Success in Investment Banking

How to Spin Investment Banking
Ah, learning how to spin – is there anything better?

After all, what else allows you to exaggerate and get results without doing (all) the work first?

Well… not so fast.

Spinning your way to success sometimes works in investment banking, but it can easily backfire, depending on the situation and how you do it.

The previous version of this article generated a lot of “interesting” (read: bad) ideas in the comments, so I wanted to revisit it and update the tips.

In this version, we’ll look at what you can spin and what you can’t spin, the four main spinning strategies, and five specific examples of how to spin without being blacklisted or executed by a firing squad:

Why Do You Need to Spin?

Easy: because it is not always in your best interest to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

For example, if you failed to receive a return offer from your last internship because you kept showing up to work hung over, you probably don’t want to say that.

And if you completed an internship where you did “real work” for only 1 week and played video games for the other 9 weeks, you also don’t want to tell the whole truth.

A job interview is a sales presentation, and you never want to draw attention to your flaws in such a setting.

Ground Rules: How to Spin Without Getting Removed from the Game

You cannot lie about or even exaggerate easily verifiable facts. For example:

  • Your GPA and standardized test scores.
  • Your language skills (a native speaker can verify your claims in ~15 seconds).
  • Your employment dates and job titles.
  • Answers to specific math or technical questions – if you don’t know how to calculate WACC, you can’t “make it up” during the interview.
  • Whether or not you have a job offer or return offer from another bank.
  • Your university, major, and graduation date.

On the other hand, there are plenty of other points you can exaggerate:

  • Your Spark: What made you interested in finance originally? How long ago did you become interested? It’s nearly impossible to verify this story.
  • Unaccounted-for-Time: What did you do every day in your previous internships? What about during that 3-month gap on your resume?
  • Trends and Improvements: Maybe your grades suffered because of your recent performance… but if the interviewer doesn’t have your transcripts, he/she doesn’t need to know that.
  • Preparation for IB: Only started studying accounting and finance a month ago? No worries… if you can answer the questions correctly, you can say you’ve been preparing for much longer. “Self-study” is impossible to verify.
  • Positive/Negative Results on the Job: You didn’t receive a return offer? It’s difficult to verify what happened, so you can spin your story… within reason.

The Grey Areas of Spinning the Truth

Some of the points above are “grey areas” – especially the last one about why you did not receive a return offer.

But the main grey area is what you did in previous jobs/internships.

This one often gets people in trouble when they go too far with the exaggerations.

For example, no one will believe that you “sourced deals” as an intern, even at a boutique bank.

Even if you did bring in a deal, it’s usually just a code word for “nepotism,” which can come across as a negative in an interview.

Candidates can also get in trouble when they heavily spin back or middle-office experience into sounding like front-office work.

You can do that to some small extent, but you have to be careful with your job title and the exact language you use (examples below).

Here are the four main strategies you can use to spin your experience:

“How to Spin” Strategy #1: Omission of Facts

This strategy is often helpful for explaining why you didn’t receive a return offer – just omit the “I showed up to work hung over every day” part – and for making useless internships sound useful.

You can also use this strategy to improve your story by eliminating negative information.

For example, if you hated your Big 4 audit job because the work was dull and repetitive, you shouldn’t mention that in your story.

Instead, say that you wanted to take a more proactive role advising clients on their future activities rather than assessing historical performance.

“How to Spin” Strategy #2: Hedged Exaggeration

This one has “hedged” in front of it because if you exaggerate, you must be careful about your language.

You can use words like “led to” or “supported” or “resulted in” to make it clear that you were not directly responsible for everything.

For example, you shouldn’t say or write something like “Negotiated 10% lower purchase price for client” because as a junior-to-mid-level banker, you don’t “negotiate” anything.

However, you can say that you supported the senior bankers in this negotiation by completing the valuation and finding the histories of comparable deals.

“How to Spin” Strategy #3: Re-Adjustment of Focus

This strategy is useful for explaining unaccounted-for time such as gaps in your resume, study-abroad programs, and do-nothing internships.

If you “studied abroad” in Tokyo for a year and spent 90% of your time drinking and watching robots fight each other in a restaurant, focus on the 10% of your time in which you studied the language or met interesting alumni working at banks.

If your internship consisted of fetching coffee and browsing the web, focus on those ~2 days where you helped find potential buyers for a client.

“How to Spin” Strategy #4: Creation of a “Before/After” Narrative

This one is often useful when you screwed up or started an important process late in the game, and you don’t want to explain the full details or timing.

For example, if performed poorly in your classes because of family or health issues, avoid mentioning that – bankers have heard it 55,623,182 times – and simply admit that you screwed up in your first year but have improved since then.

This strategy can also explain why you became interested in finance late in the process: create or embellish an “event,” such as an internship that convinced you to switch, or an alumnus that made you change your mind.

Example #1: How to Spin When Leveraging Job Offers to Win Other Offers

Relevant Strategies: Omission of Facts and Hedged Exaggeration

If you win an internship or job offer, you’ll often be tempted to trade up and go for something better.

And that strategy can work… within reason.

But it can also backfire if you fail to understand the limitations of how to spin.

For example, in one recent story I heard, a student, the day before his Superday at Bank A took place, called Bank B and claimed that he had already won an offer at Bank A.

People at all the big banks know each other, so within 10 minutes, everyone at Banks A and B had confirmed that he was lying.

Luckily for this student, he had an advocate at Bank A that prevented him from getting tossed out, but he could have easily ended up with canceled interviews at both banks.

In another story, a student won an offer at Bulge Bracket A and then leveraged it to win an offer at Elite Boutique B… which he then tried to leverage into an offer at Elite Boutique C.

He thought that he was “secretive” about this effort, but again, everyone at these firms knows each other, so they caught on quickly and gave him direct advice to stop.

If you want to move from Bank A to Bank D, you should do so directly; don’t go through Banks B and C first.

Also, if you need more time to decide on an exploding offer because you have interviews elsewhere, partial honesty is often the best policy (as opposed to BS excuses like lots of exams or busyness with school).

Just say, “I really appreciate the offer. I received it very early, and it would not be responsible if I just accepted it without at least speaking to a few other banks. There’s no guarantee I will accept or even receive another offer, but I want to do a quick ‘market check’.”

Example #2: How to Spin When Exaggerating Work Experience

Relevant Strategies: Omission of Facts, Hedged Exaggeration, and Re-Adjustment of Focus

With this one, let’s say that you have credit risk experience at a large bank, which is normally considered a middle-office role.

You spend time analyzing clients’ financial statements and conducting due diligence, but it’s not exactly “deal work” in the way bankers think about it because you only look at specific, small parts rather than overseeing the entire deal.

You could easily get in trouble here if you tried to spin this experience as “capital markets work” and pretend that these are the same as deals in DCM or LevFin.

You can still frame this experiencing by using separate bullets for each client or project, but you should stay away from aggressively claiming “results.”

For example, it’s fine to say that you found an inconsistency in the client’s statements that affected its creditworthiness, but you should not claim specific fundraising results from that client’s offering.

You want to tell the technical truth and give visual signals that your experience is relevant, but you don’t want to make straightforward claims that might be questioned or refuted.

It’s not just an issue of background checks, where they typically verify your employment dates, job title, and basic responsibilities.

Instead, exaggerating your experience a bit too much, as in this example, could result in problems if the interviewer ever does an “informal background check” by calling contacts at your firm or challenging you in the interview.

And yes, I’ve seen candidates get their offers rescinded for going too far with the exaggerations.

Example #3: How to Spin When Explaining the “No Return Offer Investment Banking” Mistake

Relevant Strategies: Omission of Facts, Re-Adjustment of Focus, and Creation of a “Before/After” Narrative

We have an entire article about what to do if you do not receive a return offer.

You’ll have to do the networking legwork and normal preparation to apply for other roles, but you can use your knowledge of how to spin to explain why you didn’t get an offer.

If no interns received return offers, or your group collapsed, or the firm shut down, then you have an easy story to tell.

But if that’s not exactly what happened, it’s dangerous to spin too heavily in this situation because you could be caught fairly easily with an “informal background check.”

If other interns in the group received return offers and you did not, it’s usually better to state something closer to the truth, depending on the roles you’re interviewing for:

Non-IB Roles: Say you didn’t fit in with the culture of banking and found it was not for you, and they realized that, too (omit your mistakes and re-adjust the focus to the culture).

Other Banks: Admit that you made mistakes in the beginning, or that you did not have solid technical skills, and say that a negative first impression cost you the offer, even though you improved later on (a “Before/After” Narrative).

Example #4: How to Spin When Explaining Gaps in Your Resume

Relevant Strategies: Omission of Facts, Hedged Exaggeration, and Re-Adjustment of Focus

You can get away with quite a lot when it comes to explaining gaps on your resume because it’s almost impossible to verify anything.

There’s no company or university to call, background checks won’t work, and the interviewer is unlikely to know anyone from the activities you list.

My favorite story came from a reader who was unemployed for half a year and took time out to volunteer on an organic farm as a shepherd.

He only showed up occasionally (maybe a few weeks total of full-time work), but he still listed it on his resume and explained how the lessons he learned from sheep farming also apply to project management.

In another story, a reader was laid off and spent a month or two doing absolutely nothing.

He had experience in internal strategy at a retailer, so he went around to survey struggling retail locations in the area and came up with recommendations for them.

This effort only took a few days, but he still spun it as an “independent research project” and used it to win consulting offers later on.

Example #5: How to Spin When Explaining a Low GPA

Relevant Strategies: Re-Adjustment of Focus and Creation of a “Before/After” Narrative

There are very few good explanations for low grades, as you saw in the article about low grades in investment banking.

If you use any of the traditional explanations – switching majors, supporting your family, saying that someone died, or arguing that your university had grade deflation – bankers will respond by questioning your ability to do the job.

The only not-completely-terrible ways to explain a low GPA are to re-adjust the focus by pointing to your strong results in internships/jobs or to create a “Before/After” narrative to explain that you messed up in your first year but have improved since then.

But even with these strategies, you have to be careful if the bank has your transcripts – pointing to a poor first-year performance won’t work if you earned all C’s in your most recent semester.

Outside of these strategies, you can also reduce the impact of low grades by re-adjusting the focus to high test scores, a solid performance in a continuing education program, good accounting/finance grades, and impressive stock pitches or research reports that you can use for networking purposes.

I have seen candidates with lower GPAs win investment banking offers, but they’ve almost always used one of these strategies to do it.

How to Spin in Interviews: Curveballs or Straight Pitches?

Learning how to spin is essential not just for networking and interviews, but also for advancing on the job and winning buy-side roles.

The cardinal rule is that you should never lie about or exaggerate something that can be easily verified, such as your return offer status, GPA, job title, or employment dates.

On the other hand, you can get away with a lot when you discuss something that no independent source can verify, such as what you did during a 3-month gap in between jobs.

The biggest “grey area” is describing your tasks in previous internships and jobs.

There, you can exaggerate what you did within your role, but you should not try to make it sound like a different role (e.g., back/middle office to front office).

You can also omit facts to make it look better, but you should stay away from claiming “results” that don’t match the job description.

Do all that, and you might be able to spin a winning pitch.

M&I - Brian

About the Author

Brian DeChesare is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys memorizing obscure Excel functions, editing resumes, obsessing over TV shows, traveling like a drug dealer, and defeating Sauron.

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  1. Hi Brian,
    I was wondering how appropriate it would be to claim “results” if it was part of your job and you don’t have verifiable data? For instance, I worked in the admissions & counselling services department of a college, where I counselled prospective students to try to get them to sign up. Would it be appropriate to say ‘counselled students to increase admissions by x%’ if I don’t have the data in reality?

    1. I would not write something or claim something if you do not have any data to back it up. You need to be able to point to some kind of numbers, even if your role in achieving those numbers was exaggerated.

  2. Avatar
    Sanskriti Bajaj

    Hi Brian,

    Firstly thanks for all these awesome resources. Secondly I have a quick question for you, your answer will really help me in planning my next move better so I would be grateful if you can spare a look. I am an incoming MSF student at London Business School, and I am targeting summer internships for 2022. I have two experience first a 6-month long internship with the Govt. of India, whereby I worked on disinvestment and M&A strategy for 300 govt. companies, this project has garnered a lot of media coverage as well. My next job (currently working, will complete 1 year before starting MSF) is as an Analyst at The Economist Group, here I do a lot of forecasting work and analyse the global economy and financial markets to build robust predictions about macroeconomic indicators. My concern is that my current experience is not finance related, how can I spin my story for landing an IB interview. Do you think I am too far out and need to look for a new job that is more with sync with IB? Will be really grateful for your insights! Thanks a lot in advance.

    1. It would help a lot to gain some experience that is slightly more finance-related, such as an internship at a boutique IB/PE/VC firm. If you can’t do that, then you’ll have to spin the Govt. of India job as best you can by saying that it was really an “M&A and Divestiture” role or something similar, and point to all the deal analysis you did (while downplaying your next job after that).

  3. Hi Brian,

    I’m currently in a role that helps originate IB opportunities (M&A and Capital Markets) for middle market companies. The team plays strictly in the business development / relationship building side of IB (vs. doing deals). We meet with companies to assess their capital structure and M&A needs and loop in sector or product bankers to do the situation specific pitches (i.e. bakeoffs or detailed acq fin pitches) and run deals if our firm wins the mandate. My team does not participate in any part of the execution process.

    We do profile books to help generate ideas, trading and transaction comps to give color on the market and industry, and occasionally some simple debt capacity analysis to show that a company has room to do XYZ size acquisition without surpassing xyz leverage. However, no real financial modeling experience (except doing back of the envelop math to see if an idea would “make sense”).

    I would like to transition from my current role to move to M&A, LevFin, or a coverage team that participates in deals. Based on some feedback, these teams are mostly looking to hire candidates with previous deal experience. How do you suggest I spin my current experience to make it more “deal focused” without going overboard?

    1. Maybe just say that you have done deal analysis before proposing specific ideas and take 1-2 of the ideas presented in the profile books and expand on them in your free time so you have more of a real model for each one. Say that while you haven’t worked on entire deals from beginning to end, you do have experience coming up with ideas, pitching them, and doing the initial analysis.

  4. Avatar

    Hi Brian, thanks a lot for this.

    I got a question regarding some spinning (UK based). I have done a Commercial Banking internship, the areas covered by CB are pretty large reaching from rubbish like corporate cards to leveraged acquisition fin for mid markets. The work I did was closer to the corporate finance side and we actually referred to it as “CF” work.

    Can I get away with titling the experience as “Corp Fin summer inter rather than “Comm Bank …” (which is the title on my contract)

    Many thanks in advance,

    1. Yes, I think so, but you should probably still list “Commercial Banking” somewhere on your CV, maybe in parentheses after the name of the bank.

  5. Hi Brian,
    Thx for all the materials you provide. I am from Hong Kong and I have a few questions. Few years ago after I got my bachelor degree, my health deteriorated and I had to undergo treatment. Now I have recovered and will do a master degree. During my recovery period, I had some trading experience in which
    I used the financial models like DCF, comparables to analyse stocks. And I got a handsome amount of profit. I want to ask
    1. Should I list my personal trading experience on my CV? If so, should I write it under the heading of work experience or activities?

    2. Should I mention my health problem during my interview?

    3. Should I mention my health problem in the cover letter?

    I really appreciate your help.

    1. 1) Yes, I would probably list it somewhere, but the amount of space you spend on it depends on your previous job and other internships… devote more space to the trading experience if you don’t have other relevant finance experience. I would describe it as work experience.

      2) I would not say “health problem” – maybe just say that you had a family matter that required you to take time away from work, and while attending to that matter, you learned fundamental/trading skills and traded your own portfolio. And this is only if they ask you about the gap on your resume first.

      3) No.

  6. Hey Brian,

    Can you write an article about breaking into IB as an international student in London? Or is that too specific to ask?


    1. That’s probably too specialized for us + 90% of candidates in London are “international” if you define “international” as “from outside the U.K.” – as London is a hub for all EMEA deals and attracts candidates from all over. There is a distinction between European and non-European candidates, but I don’t know that you have to do that much differently if you’re from Asia or another region, assuming you meet the requirements to get in. Please see:

  7. Hi Brian, Should I put my past experience as “corp fin intern “if the job scope is very corp fin but the company(Big 4) calls it a management intern ?

    1. I think that’s probably fine, but maybe put Management Intern in parentheses next to it.

  8. Hey Brian,

    You mentioned in your other article about checking with you on whether we are over-spinning our experience.

    Currently, work in a PE FoF. I am trying to spin my direct equity co-investment experience as M&A experience. Trying to use this to recruit for IB and PE gigs.

    Is this bullshit?


    1. If you really worked on co-investments, then they should count as deals. But I think you should be spinning them as “LBO experience” unless I’m missing something here. This is probably a 2 / 10 on the spin scale, i.e., much safer than most ideas I’ve heard.

      1. Hey Brian,

        Many thanks for the reply. Would try that out.

        The catch here is that I don’t actually build the models, it is the general partner who builds it. All we do is tweak the assumptions.

        Would this be an issue if the interviewer finds out about this? I figured I could learn modeling myself so shouldn’t really be an issue?

        Thanks once again.

        1. I don’t think it’s an issue as long as you can explain the process. Maybe try to re-build the models yourself starting from a blank sheet or template so you can point to that if they ask. I doubt they would know or find out something as detailed as who builds the models vs. who tweaks them.

  9. Hello Brian!

    Thanks for these articles. They are helping me get through my current career switch.
    I’m looking to apply for an IB internship with a bank that works mainly in M&A. I just started junior year with 0 internship experience (due to two degree changes) and my job experience is limited to retail and a small local coffee shop. I have good grades (3.71) and I do a fair amount of self study.

    Should I focus my resume and cover letter on my grades and self study or should I spin my job experience to make it sound project based.

    Thanks in advance!

    1. Focus on your grades and self study because no amount of spinning could make retail/restaurant experience sound more relevant for finance roles. You can certainly emphasize on the financial aspects of those roles, but you’ll be a stronger candidate if you focus on the other parts.

  10. Avatar

    Thanks for doing this Brian! Its very helpful. I have a question if you dont mind.

    Lets say analyst X has a really bad GPA and they are already in banking. This particular first or second year analyst interviews elsewhere and they ask for transcripts. Hypothetically does having the FINRA licenses count as the person knowing their stuff (even though some shops need their junior people with them anyway)? The CFA is pointless for banking and going back to B-school would be helpful if someone didnt break in a bigger bank in the first place.

    1. I don’t think having the FINRA licenses will completely offset a bad GPA in undergrad if that is your question. They might help a bit, as will deal experience, but questions about your GPA are always going to come up, at least if you interview for entry-level roles.

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