Investment Banking Recruitment

An Overview of the Investment Banking Recruitment Process, Including Networking, Resumes, Internships, and Interviews

Home > Investment Banking > Recruitment

How Does Investment Banking Recruitment Work?

Investment banking recruitment is the process that banks use to interview candidates and then award internship or full-time job offers to those candidates.

Since investment banking is a highly paid, prestigious, and competitive field, banks do not have to do much to “attract” candidates – in a single year, over 100,000 candidates might compete for a few thousand spots worldwide.

So, it’s best to think of the “recruitment process” as the “selection process”: it’s more like applying to a highly selective university than anything else.

To have the best chance of winning investment banking job offers, you should be at a top undergraduate university and start very early (i.e., Year 1) with your initial internships and networking efforts.

If you have already graduated from university, or you are not at a top university, you may still be able to get into investment banking, but it will take more time and effort, and you may need an additional degree such as an MBA or Master’s in Finance.

To understand this process from A to Z, you should start by reading our comprehensive article on how to get into investment banking and then continue to the specific topics below.

Recruitment Pathways into Investment Banking

The main pathways into investment banking (IB) include the following:

Pathway #1: As an Undergraduate

This is the easiest and cheapest way to get into the industry, but you must decide very early on that you want to pursue investment banking.

Pathway #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.

Pathway #3: At the MBA Level

If your full-time work experience has nothing to do with finance, you will probably have to apply to top MBA programs, get in, and use one of them to move into the industry.

Pathway #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 don’t have a realistic chance of breaking into investment banking at the Analyst, Associate, or VP levels. But if you make it to the senior executive level, you may be able to move into IB from there.

If you follow and implement this process, you’ll be better-equipped for investment banking recruiting than ~95% of candidates.

Investment Banking Recruiting Timeline

The investment banking recruiting timeline differs depending on your level, but here’s a quick summary:

  • Undergraduate: You must start in Year 1, win internships, and start networking with alumni ASAP. This is because large banks in the U.S. recruit for third-year (junior year) internships over a year in advance – so you’ll apply and interview in Year 2, and you’ll need some solid experience by then.
  • Master’s Degree (non-MBA): You still interview for Investment Banking Analyst-level roles here, so the timing is similar: you interview over a year in advance of summer internships, at least if you want to work at the biggest banks.
  • MBA Level: Banks cannot recruit you before your MBA program begins, so the timing here is a bit saner. You interview for summer internships following your first year of business school a few months after your program begins. However, you still need to prepare long in advance – before you even set foot on campus!
  • Lateral Hires: The timing here could best be described as “random.” If you’re not in an undergraduate, MBA, or Master’s program, banks hire on an “as needed” basis, which usually means looking for someone when someone else quits suddenly.

If you’re at the undergraduate or Master’s, non-MBA levels, please see the articles below for more tips on super-early recruiting and how to maintain your sanity:

We cover the MBA level and lateral hiring in some of the sections below on this page.

The main takeaway from these articles is that you do not have time to “find yourself” or “experiment” with different career options.

If you are even slightly interested in investment banking, you must win internships early on so that you have a shot at winning that all-important summer internship at a large bank.

If you figure out that you hate IB, great! You’ve ruled out one career option, and you can go back to recruiting for normal jobs with slower timelines.

But if not, and you decide that you want to pursue IB over the long term or get into another field that normally requires it, such as private equity, then you’ll be really glad you put yourself in this position early on.

banner

Investment Banking Internships

Investment banking internships are pretty much required to have a great shot at winning a full-time investment banking offer at the undergraduate, Master’s, and MBA levels.

An “investment banking internship” is an extended job interview where the bank evaluates your performance over several months and decides whether or not to give you an offer based on that.

Decades ago (e.g., the 1990s and 2000s), students could break into the industry and win full-time jobs – even at the top banks – without internships because recruiting started much later, and demand for Analysts and Associates often exceeded supply.

However, these dynamics have changed over time, and you are not very likely to win a full-time role without completing an internship first.

Since an internship is an extended job interview, it’s not enough just to win it – you also have to perform well and get the team to like you if you want a good chance of receiving a return offer.

We cover the different parts of this process, including how to prepare for recruiting, how to prepare for the internship once you’ve won it, and how to perform well in the internship, below:

When your internship ends, there are a few possible outcomes:

  1. Ideal – You win a full-time return offer from the bank and accept it.
  2. Possible But Not Ideal – You win a full-time return offer, but you decide to interview at other banks and win an offer elsewhere.
  3. Not Good – You fail to win a full-time return offer from the bank, so you have to interview around for other jobs.

There isn’t much to say about the first case, but if you want to switch banks, see our articles on accelerated interviews and accelerated recruiting in London.

And if you fail to win an offer, yes, we have an article on that “no return offer” scenario as well.

One final note: in some cases, even today, you can still win full-time IB roles without an internship. Check out the reader interview on last-minute investment banking recruiting for more on that.

Lateral Hires (Post-Graduation Recruiting)

If you’ve already graduated from university, a Master’s program, or business school, then banks might still consider you for lateral roles.

“Lateral” means that you interview and start right away rather than at the same time as the entire class of Analysts or Associates.

You can’t win these types of roles coming from just any job – for example, a 45-year-old plumber will not win lateral IB roles no matter how well he/she knows accounting and finance.

Typically, you must:

  1. Be out of school for less than 2-3 years; beyond that, you start to look over-qualified for Analyst and Associate roles, and banks rarely hire for mid-level positions.
  2. Be working in a closely related field, such as Big 4 valuation or transaction advisory services (TAS), corporate development, or possibly corporate finance.

So, if you are in a very different field currently – even something like audit – you need to move closer before you can switch into banking.

For examples of how to do this, see these reader interviews:

banner

Investment Banking Recruiting in the U.K. and Other Regions

In North America, the investment banking recruiting process usually goes like this:

  1. Network months in advance and submit your application.
  2. Complete a HireVue or other pre-recorded video interview, or possibly a phone interview with a human.
  3. Then, come into the bank’s office for a “Superday,” where you interview with many bankers at all levels (Analyst through Managing Director).

However, there are significant differences in other regions – most notably in the U.K., where the final step of this process is an assessment center rather than a Superday.

At this “assessment center,” or “AC,” you will complete exercises such as group presentations, report writing, role-playing, and e-tray/in-tray (to simulate your responses to emails) in addition to the standard interviews.

ACs test your ability to perform in real life more effectively, but you’ll also have to spend additional time preparing for them.

There are some other differences in the U.K. as well, such as “competency questions” and math/verbal/logic tests in your online applications and “spring weeks” to set yourself up for internships at banks. For more, please see our detailed coverage of these topics:

Other regions tend to be in between the U.S. and the U.K.; for example, banks might give you case studies, group presentations, or other exercises, but they won’t necessarily conduct an entire day of testing at an assessment center.

MBA-Level Recruiting

If you’re using business school to get into investment banking, there are a few important differences.

First, MBA-level recruiting is far more developed in the U.S. than it is in other regions. Yes, banks still hire students from top European schools such as INSEAD and LBS, but the process is more of a “thing” in the U.S.

Second, you still need relevant experience to get in. There is no time to “reinvent yourself” or make a dramatic transformation in the months before interviews begin. As a result, you might need a steppingstone role before business school to boost your chances.

Third, in most cases, you need an industry and geography, such as technology in San Francisco or industrials in Chicago. This pairing should ideally match your pre-MBA background.

You should also know the bank’s deals very well, which means reading through filings and studying the deals.

It can be tougher to get in from part-time and evening programs, and from ones located outside of financial centers, so be careful of all those points before you leap.

Finally, interviewers look for different qualities at this level. Many interviews are more case study-based, and interviewers try to assess your commitments outside of work, humility, and ethics because all of those will influence your long-term success in the role.

The links below are some of our best interviews on MBA-level recruiting:

banner

Investment Banking Recruitment Resources

Investment banking has become a highly competitive and sought-after field.

Banks have shifted from hiring raw graduates and “training them on the job” to expecting new hires to hit the ground running and add value from day one.

That’s why many future investment bankers invest in specialized courses and training to help them get noticed, get hired, and get promoted.

Some of the courses offered by Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street include:

Completing these courses will help you win interviews and job offers for roles that pay $150K+, and position you for top-tier exit opportunities such as private equity.

Recruitment
Commercial Real Estate (CRE)
Recruitment
Recruitment