by Brian DeChesare Comments (65)

From Liberal Arts to Finance: Shakespeare with Swag, or Mission: Impossible?

From Liberal Arts to Finance: How to Make the Move

“I’m writing in because I’d like to share with you my story of how I broke in against all odds.

I’m a liberal arts major at a non-target university, and I decided at the end of my 2nd year that I wanted to get into investment banking.

I won an internship at a local boutique last year, and now I’m in the midst of interviewing for full-time roles at bulge bracket banks – even as most places have sharply cut back on hiring. Would you like to interview me?”

Um, yes!

And I did interview him. It was an incredible story of how you can defy the odds to get into investment banking.

Yes, even as a liberal arts major at a non-target school who decided relatively late in the process that he wanted to be in finance… in the worst of the recession years.

But his story raised another important point: you can’t just be any liberal arts major and get in.

You need to take the right angle, implement the right strategy, and avoid the biggest mistakes that sink your chances.

And above all else, you must answer the 3 key “objections” that bankers will inevitably raise – and then keep answering them on your resume, when you’re networking, and in interviews.

What You’re Up Against

To refresh your memory, here are the challenges that “career changers” in other fields face as they attempt to break into finance:

  • Consultants: You can deal with crazy people and work long hours, but can you count? Do you know how to use Excel without the mouse?
  • Accountants: You know accounting and you can crunch numbers, but can you put in the hours and give up your life?
  • Engineers: You can stare at computer monitors without sleeping for days at a time, but can you talk to people? Are you really interested in finance?
  • Lawyers: You can deal with psychotic people and work until you bleed, even tracking your time in 6-minute increments, but do you know how to value a company? And give up your career?

The challenges you’ll face as a liberal arts major are similar, but in some ways they’re even tougher:

  • OK, so presumably you can write and communicate well… that’s good… BUT:
  • Can you do math? Do spreadsheets scare you away, or do they bow before your Excel shortcut proficiency?
  • Are you really interested in finance, or are you doing this just because you realized that you would make no money with a degree in Psychology or English Literature?
  • Can you work the hours? After all, your major was “easy” – can you really cut it in investment banking, or even a moderately challenging normal job, for that matter?

To be clear, these objections are not my own personal views – they represent how most bankers think and what prejudices they’ll have as they review your application if you’re from this background.

To answer these objections, you’ll need to prove that:

1) Yes, you can do math, and in fact you’re quite good at it and very comfortable with it;

2) You’re genuinely interested in finance and have been for years; and

3) You can work long hours on a consistent basis, and you’ve done that in the past as well.

In Your Favor… Nothing?

Unlike some of the professionals above, you only have a few things going in your favor:

  • Communication Skills: These are more important in some fields (banking, PE, and sales) and less important in others (quant funds), but they can only help your chances if you pitch yourself the right away.
  • You’re Not Already Working Full-Time: Unlike everyone else above, you’re still in school or you graduated recently. This sounds like a small point, but it’s actually a big deal because it gets much, much harder to break in the longer you’ve been out of university.
  • “Interestingness”: Occasionally, if you’ve majored in something “unusual,” they might give you points on the basis of being “more interesting” than other candidates. This point might sound silly, but remember that many interviewees come across as extremely boring.

Pitching Yourself and Perfecting Your “Story”: What to Say and What to Avoid

Before you even begin networking, you need to plan out your story in advance.

While the same template as usual for the “Walk me through your resume” question still applies, there are a few differences:

  • Establish Your Interest Early On: Even if it’s just a casual mention, you want to state this just after you give your “Beginning” point and before you move onto your “Spark” – otherwise, it’s too easy for them to assume that you’re doing this solely for the money.
  • Use a “Steve Jobs” Spark: Your “spark” needs to be more specific and it should “tie together” liberal arts and finance, sort of like Apple “tied together” liberal arts and technology. We’ll go through examples of this one.
  • Answer the 3 Objections with Your “Growing Interest”: In this part of your story, you must speak directly to your math skills, ability to pull all-nighters, and how you became more interested in finance / business over time.

Here’s the actual “story” outline that the liberal arts reader from the beginning of this article used:

  • The Beginning: Grew up in “The South” (not naming the state to protect his identity), and got introduced to business early on with a family member who was involved in local politics and determined business and sales tax policy; went to “Non-Target School” because of its excellent program in a field he was interested in
  • Finance “Spark”: Majored in Public Policy and worked at a non-profit one summer; while at the non-profit, another non-profit wanted to merge with it, which got him more interested in finance and prompted him to research the details of how that deal would work
  • Growing Interest: Participated in an investment banking case competition, joined the investment club at school, and completed another internship at a local boutique bank, which required 80-hour weeks as he completed 4 classes and activities while working full-time at the bank at the same time. He also took several additional math and finance electives outside his major to hone his skills in those areas.
  • Why You’re Here: He wanted to combine his public policy and non-profit background with his finance experience and contribute to deals and advisory assignments with companies and organizations in similar “unusual” situations (could also tie directly to public finance roles).
  • The Future: Become a trusted adviser and focus on more unusual M&A scenarios like the one he originally worked on (you could position this as “special situations”).

Notice how he accomplishes everything I mentioned above with this “story” outline:

  • Establish Your Interest Early On: He brings up how his family member was involved in a political role that blended policy and business / economics, so he developed an interest from an early age.
  • Use a “Steve Jobs” Spark: This spark is a perfect blend of the liberal arts and finance: a merger at a non-profit (and yes, this is a true story in case you’re skeptical – mergers do happen from time to time in all industries).
  • Answer the 3 Objections with Your “Growing Interest”: He talks about the long hours, the math and finance classes, and the boutique internship, all of which answer those 3 key objections that you’ll face from a liberal arts background.

The most common question at this point: “That’s great, but what if I don’t have anything like those examples? How can I tell my story without having experience that’s a proper fit?”

The short answer: if you don’t have anything that is at least somewhat relevant to the points above, you need to rethink your decision to recruit for the finance industry in the first place.

The longer answer: you can probably come up with something that at least “sort of works,” if you’re creative enough.

Idea Generation Mode

To spur your creativity, here are a few ideas for each of these points:

  • Establish Your Interest Early On: Your parents or family and their jobs / businesses; early investing you did; a small “business” you started; an early teacher or mentor
  • Use a “Steve Jobs” Spark: A internship in journalism / politics / marketing where you had to work with a finance company or cover a finance-related story; a law or history class where a finance-related topic interested you; a study abroad experience where you got good exposure
  • Prove That You Can Work Long Hours: The best examples are times when you worked, did activities, and completed classes over an extended period (i.e. not just 1 week of craziness) – pick the most hectic period of at least 1-2 months that you can think of
  • Demonstrate Your Quantitative Skills: Classes, self-study financial modeling programs, internship tasks, anything math-related or analytical you did for your activities, A-Level Math if you’re in the UK
  • Show Your Interest in Business and Finance: Case competitions, your own investing, classes, self-study, internships (unpaid / part-time / full-time), study abroad experiences

Networking: Inspirational Informational Interviews?

With networking, not too much is different from what we’ve covered elsewhere on the site in all the articles on informational interviews, cold calls, weekend trips, and so on.

The main difficulty you’ll face as a liberal arts major is getting (some) bankers to take you seriously in the first place. You handle that by following the instructions above to make sure your pitch is spot-on and addresses their objections in advance.

You are at a bit of a disadvantage next to career changers who have been working for several years because they have wider networks to draw on – on the other hand, though, you have closer connections to often-overlooked leads like professors, which can be extremely valuable.

The key point is that you should not discount someone just because he/she is not in finance – if you’ve done internships in politics or journalism, for example, it’s almost guaranteed that some of your contacts will know people in the industry.

Past that initial “lead generation” exercise, the networking process itself and the timeframe are the same as what any other undergraduate would face.

Your Resume / CV

Just as your pitch needs to answer those 3 main objections that bankers will have about your background (handling the hours, the quantitative skills, and your true interest in finance), your resume or CV must do the same thing.

Once again, the investment banking resume template for university students still applies and you should use that for your basic structure.

But you need to watch out for the common mistakes:

  • Assuming that because you majored in something “fuzzy” that you “can’t” be quantitative at all on your resume. You still analyze things and use numbers (sometimes), so focus on those aspects of your classes and work experience.
  • Assuming that you should devote equal amounts of space to all your experiences – focus on the most finance-related ones and spin them appropriately. Yes, maybe that 2-day stock competition should take up more space than your internship at the non-profit.
  • Writing too much about classes and not enough about work/leadership experience outside of classes – this is a problem because liberal arts majors are often perceived as too “academic.”

Take a look at the template and tutorial for how to write your resume with no “real” finance work experience if you want to see good examples of how to get around all of the problems above.

Let’s say that you covered a finance-related story such as a major M&A deal – or even something more general like economic news – during your summer internship at a newspaper.

You could adjust the focus and spin that by writing about the extra work you did beyond the story to run the numbers yourself and determine your own opinion on the deal or policy… even if that’s a stretch.

You would focus less on qualitative issues and more on the analysis and quantitative side, even if you only spent 1% of your total time on that.

In-Depth Interviews?

As with anyone else, 90% of your interview success will come down to your “story” and how you pitch yourself in the first few minutes – which is why I went into detail on it above.

If you have good examples to counter their objections (quantitative skills, genuine interest in finance, burning the midnight oil), you’ll get through that part without much difficulty.

Yes, you will still get technical questions in interviews and they will still expect you to know a fair amount, even if you have no background in accounting or finance.

Their expectations might be somewhat lower, but there’s no way that you could win offers these days without a solid amount of technical knowledge.

In some of the other “career changer” articles, I mentioned that the CFA and other rigorous certifications might actually help, if you have the time, to prove your interest in finance and your quantitative skills.

But those certifications are probably overkill for an undergrad looking to get in.

…But a Plan B Just In Case

Your “Plan B” options are similar to anyone else’s, but you arguably have a few more options if you’re attempting to move in at the undergraduate or recent graduate level.

There’s always the Master’s program that you can use to re-brand yourself, or business school if you want to work for a few years first.

And then there’s the possibility of going to work in a related field, like Big 4 accounting / valuation, going the financial journalism route, or moving to a normal company and transitioning into more of a corporate finance career path there first.

The only problem with these options is that they’re not necessarily “easier” because you’re still competing against people with more relevant majors and/or experiences.

The bottom-line is that, as always, it’s best to break in as early as you can because it only gets harder the more experience you gain.

Shakespeare to Second-Year Analyst?

I’ve already dispelled the myth that banks “only” want certain majors – but you are still at a disadvantage if you don’t have the right pitch, the right story, and the right experience.

And those are all common mistakes if you’re not a business/finance major like most other candidates.

But if you follow everything above, you’ll have a fighting chance at breaking in as a liberal arts major – even if your own story never quite makes it to Shakespearean levels.

Series: Career Transitions

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
    Paul Cluiss

    I am Anthropology Freshmen, I am extremely interested in IB — I have high GPA (in High School and first year), High SAT, done research and also am DECA officer. Do I have any luck in the second year at IB?

    1. Sure, potentially, but you need to act ASAP to network and win internships. See:

  2. Great job!

  3. Hi Brian,

    I am finishing math degree this year and I want to enter investment banking. The fact is that school is a non target school and my mark is 6.5 out of 10. I also haven’t done any internship in any important bank (citi, jp morgan, BofML,..).
    It would be a good idea to start a new degree in finance in a top-school? And try to do all the process that normally is required to enter in I.B.? (spring internship, summer internship, and so on?) Or would be better to do MiF in a top-school(get good marks) and try to join a summer internship?

    Thank you so much,

    1. It doesn’t make sense to get a 2nd undergraduate degree if that is your question. Go for the MSF at a top school and get some work experience before/during that. See:

  4. Hi Brian

    I am a 2nd (penultimate) year international student studying Geography at a target university in the UK with a good GPA. I have only decided to break into finance very recently, so I do not have any previous finance-related internships and I don’t fancy my chances at a summer internship offer at a BB, though I will apply anyways for the experience. I have had menial work experience in retail jobs and also an outbound call-centre, plus some volunteering.

    What would be my best alternatives instead? I don’t have much experience from my CV to spin into finance-related stuff at the moment (ran for treasurer in a society but lost, will join investment fund this year). I’m currently completing some online courses which will give me the basic technical skills to hold my own, plus a line on my CV. If networking/informational interviews with alumni/family friends result in nothing, I will cold call local boutiques or smaller firms (IB, corporate finance, M&A) in the months before summer. I suppose refining and pitching my story (genuine interest, dad used to trade stocks, transferable skills) is essential, and leverage my unique background in geography as my key asset. Basically, I need to network, perfect my story and stay away from the bulge brackets for now?

  5. As far as degrees go, would International Affairs with a minor in econ work well at a big bracket bank, given the ideal three internships done in college?

    1. Again, your degree matters less than your internship experience, grades, and university reputation. So if you have good internship experience, high grades, and you go to a top university, sure.

  6. Interested in switching majors to more non-finance after receiving a job offer, would that look bad?

    1. Not really, as long as you get the full-time job offer first.

      1. If I have the full-time offer, should I inform them that I am switching majors (do not want the offer to be rescinded) or do nothing and graduate and tell them later

        1. Avatar
          M&I - Nicole

          Unless your offer is contingent on you completing that major I would not worry about it. I’d yes inform them that you are switching majors and it should be straightforward. You can also do nothing and tell them later, though I prefer the former.

  7. First of all great article; I have read about half of the site over the last couple weeks. I graduated from a semi-target school studying Economics and Biology, playing varsity soccer, and assuming several leadership roles in large organizations. I wouldn’t call myself a liberal arts major, but almost all of my research and work experience is related to Biology or Public Health. The one plus of Public Health (combined with Economics) is that I gained experience with data analysis and I have one publication. I graduated last year-2013-with a below-average GPA (3.2-3.3) and am currently teaching my second of two school years through Teach For America. I am looking for an IB internship for the upcoming summer, but I have no banking/finance work experience. I have just started networking through some family friends and studying (old interview questions from friends in IB, beginning modeling courses). Is it realistic to think I could obtain a decent IB internship for next summer? If not, what other options could I be looking into? If so, do you have any specific advice, such as what kind of firms to target, etc.?

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Unless you have connections it can be difficult to obtain internships in IB. I’d suggest you to target third tier, boutique firms to gain some sort of experience first, even if it is unpaid

  8. Dear Nicole,
    Thanks for the advice earlier. I have since gone with (3) as you suggested, and am aggressively networking through alumni etc.
    In terms of my CV (I am applying for analyst positions as I don’t have enough full-time experience for associate), I know banks are reluctant to take on analysts with too much experience, should I leave the the army and various legal internships out? i.e. just focusing on the full-time experience and Big 4 Corp Fin internship

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Yes I may do that to save space on your resume (make sure it fits one-page)

  9. So this situation is a little complicated. I think my question relates to this article, and a your other article on “How to Break into Banking with a 3.0.”

    That’s right, I’m a liberal arts major- an international relations one to be exact who is expecting to graduate a semester early in December (have to, financial reasons) from a non-target university with a GPA that should be around a 3.2, or if lucky a 3.3 by the time of graduation. My major is part of a small residential college within the university that is known for grade deflation- no excuses, just the way it is. And I’m sure that this is not what most banks look at, nor care about.
    As for internship experience, I’ve worked at a Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Law firm, where I got interested in things like 363 buyouts and substantive consolidation. I also worked at the house of representatives at the state level, where I got to help with budgeting, and discussing and researching policies on Chapter 9 Bankruptcy. In both internships, I was incredibly interested in the financial restructuring aspect of it all. I realized I hated the law and policy aspects. I hated the law aspect, so I decided to try out policy the next year. I realized that the financial restructuring area is preferably where I’d like to work.
    I’ve been teaching myself financial modeling through your courses, online, and several books. I’ve also been learning several excel shortcuts and brushing up on any basic math skills.
    Things that I think ARE going for me are that I have excellent people skills, and oral and written communication skills-I have a paper in review for publication, and all my extracurricular have so far been focused on oral presentation. Despite being a liberal arts major- or maybe because of it, I have great analytical skills. I’m fantastic at seeing patterns, logic, and constructing well thought out evaluations. But that’s about it on the pros, I guess, because I can only show the analytical stuff through things like research papers.
    Apart from learning the substantive matters, I’ve been following your advice and looking at regional boutiques, and looking up people for informational interviews to seriously network.
    Is there anything else that you’d specifically recommend for my situation? Thanks so much.

    1. Just to be clear. By “I can only show the analytical stuff through things like research papers,” I didn’t mean that that’s all I can do, but that’s all I have as tangible evidence of analytical skills right now.

      1. Avatar
        M&I - Nicole

        I understand. So what you need to do is to get a role, even if it is an unpaid/part-time one, to gain such experience and demonstrate your skills.

    2. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      I’d say polish your resume and LinkedIn profile, and start networking with people in restructuring if that is what you’re interested in. Since you’re from a non-target with 3.2 GPA, I think its more effective if you spend substantially more efforts on networking.

  10. Thanks for your time!

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole


  11. Dear Nicole, Brian,

    My background: 1 year’s experience as a lawyer, previous internship with Corp Fin at Big 4, graduated 2.1 from one of 2 top universities in the UK. 27 years old (served army previously), non-EEA resident hence I’ll need a visa.

    1. Is there any point for me in applying to BB 1st year analyst programs now (with the aim of starting after qualification)? Or should I just focus on boutique banks?
    2. I previously turned down the Big 4 offer for a variety of reasons – hefty bond with a law firm, plus I felt that going for Big 4 would dilute my CV. Given that my objective is BB/top tier boutique, what are the chances of transitioning to a BB/top tier boutique from a mid-tier boutique with my CV?
    3. Should I go for a 1-year Masters in Finance at London Business School to re-brand instead? Would I apply for associate or analyst internship/entry-position?
    4. To what extent should I highlight my legal experience as an additional selling point? I’ve had fantastic corporate/transactional experience as a junior (which ironically made me “see the light” much sooner).

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      1. There’s no harm in applying for BBs though focusing on boutiques maybe a better bet for you
      2. You’ve got decent chance though you’ll be competing against people who’ve had experience at BBs
      3. Yes this will help. You may start as an associate after the program, though it depends on the firm’s structure
      4. You should highlight your deal and valuation experience if you have any

  12. Hello, I have worked a year in DCM and would like to move to sales/trading or Investment Banking. Is there still a chance for me to get into those areas? What would be the best way? I majored in Psycholoy and hold an Msc in Risk and Finance.

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Yes moving from DCM to S&T is relatively straight forward. I’d probably go for Fixed Income roles though. Try your best to network with fixed income sales and traders on your floor and look for opportunities internally. You may also want to send short messages to people at other banks using LinkedIn, email or even bloomberg to grab coffee and chat.

  13. First all – fantastic resource. Thank you so much for providing the help!

    Back on point. I attended a target/semi-target LAC with a sub-par GPA (3.3). Econ and Chinese double-major with both language and work experience concentrated in China. No direct work experience in IB’ing. My most relevant experience was working as an SEC financial analyst one summer for a real estate developer in China immediately following their IPO (direct relationship with CFO). Now interested in investment banking jobs at HK or Asian branches.

    Anyway, there are all kinds of weaknesses in my case for receiving competitive investment banking job offers, and all the standard advice applies. My question concerns my status as a student. Having just graduated, I accepted a reputable full-scholarship to a Chinese university for 1-year of additional language training. What advice might you share on offering “my story” and potentially winning over speculative interviewers as a non-traditional post-graduate student? Could I still be treated as a senior? From my perspective, the choice was completely valid because when else would could I master a language potentially crucial to my future work. Let’s hope they see it that way!

    Thank you!

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      I think it depends on the bank. You may be considered a senior though you’ve graduated already. I’d suggest you to speak with banks’ HR re. your situation.

  14. What are these “Masters programs” that the article is referring to, who offers them, and are they worth it?

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole should explain it.

      Check out

      Berkeley and MIT offers strong Masters in Finance programs

  15. Been looking for an article like this — thanks! As a fourth-year Liberal Arts major (just Philosophy with no double major) with no “math skills” (my last experience with any sort of math was back in high school, in grade 12 Calculus), how would you suggest I train myself in the sort of math skills neccessary in Finance?

    Where do I access the information/resources to help me learn the kind of math material needed? Will I need to sign up for “continuing education” courses for adults to get up to speed mathematically? (I live in Canada, if providing geographic context helps.)

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Brush up on basic accounting fundamentals, perhaps our sample videos may help you too

      You don’t need to know a lot of Maths, you just need to understand how valuation works and basic accounting/finance concepts

      1. Thank you for the links! Investopedia is very good for dictionary definitons on jargon and concepts, but I do wish they had a very basic tutorial program which assumes no prior knowledge on the part of the reader. I will have a look at the videos you linked. Thanks!

    2. As a non-finance major, I also employed a # of tricks to get up to speed:

      Subscribe to to get daily technical analysis of the stock market in your inbox, just so you’re forced to start getting familiar with the jargon. It’s ok if you don’t know what he’s talking about, I still don’t after a year of getting his emails.

      I registered for the competition and shelled out $30, even though I never touched a financial model in my life. But spending that $30 encouraged me to check out a few M&A textbooks from the library and ask some friends for their resources to practice making my own financial models.

      Starting from those sources as well as Nicole’s recommendations, I started learning about all the resources out there.

      After a few months of bringing myself up to speed, I landed a solid internship in private equity in Singapore on the investments side. It was well worth it.

  16. I’m in my 2nd semester as a sophomore at a semi-target school and its about time to declare my major. I would love to major in either finance or management. At first glance, management seems like a soft major relative to finance, but at my school, we have an honors program for management and accounting majors but not finance. Should I go ahead and major in management and pursue an opportunity to go for their honors program or stay with finance?


    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      The Honors for Management and Accounting may be useful. Accounting is a very useful subject especially for banks because they want people with solid valuation skills. If its between management and accounting versus finance, I think you can’t go wrong. If its between management versus finance, I’d definitely choose finance because its hard to “learn” how to manage people in school, in my humble opinion.

  17. that’s a really good sharing and as a liberal art student I do agree with the points mentioned

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole


  18. Avatar
    Shaniqua James

    Public Policy is a social science that takes its point of departure from the idea of market failure in economics. Both disciplines are closely related.

  19. I double majored in undergrad at Univ Texas at Austin in communications and asian studies, chinese minor, in 2010. After 2+ years working in sales/marketing/advertising, I’m serious about making a transition to finance.

    I have many friends in the industry and I live in NYC, but I don’t have any experience in business since HS (was president/founder Future Business Leaders of America club chapter at my school). My parents are both entrepreneurs and their own bosses and I’m currently working for an entrepreneur.

    I guess my question is, now as a 25 year old what’s my play and my chances of breaking in? I’m really creative and an execellent communicator / people-person and I have strong math/analytical skills (google analytics certified, SAT math tutor scored 8oo)… Should I go get an MBA in finance first? Would top mba schools even accept me considering my background?

    In a perfect world I’m doing international business deals or business consulting in 4 years.


    1. I just wanted to reply to this, since I feel I have a similar background.
      Double major, Management Science and Communication from UCSD, strong GPA and honors, taught ENGLISH IN CHINA for a year, no related internships in finance, but I know I’m solid with #s (800 on Math SAT too). My parents are both entrepreneurs as well. I’m currently 24.

      I’m in Singapore now looking for finance jobs, and I’ve landed interviews with SocGen, RBS, and PwC. I started preparing for the CFA a year ago. I took an investment banking vocational class (IBI) in Singapore. I also participated in the financial modeling competition (ModelOff) and placed highly. I’m also almost ready to publish my research on Tesla Motors (TSLA) for potential employers to see. Those are basically the only things I can go off of on my CV, but I think it helps a bit. And also Singapore’s 1.8% unemployment rate. But I’m a foreigner here, so it’s still somewhat difficult.

    2. What Ching said above. I wouldn’t necessarily do an MBA right now – you’re better off pursuing some hardcore networking and seeing where that takes you first, following his approach.

      1. I wanted to reply here since I also have a similar yet very specific situation. I double majored in undergrad at the University of Iowa in Finance and Economics (3.2gpa). After graduation in May 2012, I took a job doing Biz Dev for an Entertainment marketing/advertising firm in Los Angeles, which I interned at the previous summer. (only internship)

        After working here for about 6 months I’ve decided advertising is not what I want to do and finance is where my passion is. What would be my best option on breaking into IB? Is networking like crazy and cold calling the local boutiques to inquire about analyst or internship positions my best option or should I think about getting my masters?


        1. Definitely try networking first before committing to a Master’s degree.There should be quite a few entertainment/media-related banks in the LA area.

  20. Hi Brian, how do I phrase this beginning, spark, and interest:

    Beginning—My dad is entrepreneur in telecom sector; he often mentions his friends company IPO since I was little

    Spark—Read a book named “currency war” in gr.12, became interested in finance and decided to go to top finance school in nation

    growing interest–school investment club, pwm internship

    My questions are, does the “currency war” book part seem like I am into trading instead of ibanking?

    Also, how do I spin my pwm interest into ibanking (I am only freshman).

    Thanks a lot for your help! I am planning to purchase your premium package in feb to get ahead :)

    1. The basic outline sounds good, mentioning Currency War is fine as long as you state that you’re nevertheless more interested in banking.

      PWM to banking: say that you like the client work and analysis, but want to focus on large companies rather than HNW individuals and work on deals as opposed to in the public markets.

      You should also add something more on your future plans, even if they’re not precisely defined right now.

  21. Just got an S&T internship offer from a top BB bank and I study foreign literature in a UK university. It is possible but you need something on your CV which makes you stand out. For this reason I suggest doing something totally different like starting a business (not just joining a business club or enterprise society) but go out on your own and try and make some money. Even if its not successful, it will open a lot of doors for you and give you a whole load to talk about in the interview.

    1. Thanks for adding that, that’s a great point… much tougher to start a business than to join a club and shows more commitment.

  22. Do you think a person who have a Elo chess rating of over 2200 (Candidate master), have a shot for BB S&T? Major in philosophy, minor in economics.


    1. I think it would help, but they judge you mostly on how well you answer math / brainteaser questions in interviews. So you have to be good outside of chess as well.

  23. Hi Brian,
    I agree with you when it comes to opportunity cost( time) of CFA Program, however I am Bachelor in Econometrics, and in Poland it’s really hard to break in when you are not studying finance. Secondly studying for the CFA Lvl 1 Program really helped me to get an idea what EBIT or WACC is. In Poland it is also very common that people in M&A, ECM and ER are enrolled in CFA Program. Thats why you can network with them during conferences oranized by local CFA Institute. I guess thats far more effective than cold calling

    1. sorry not this article

    2. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Thanks for your input! Yes CFA is useful in many cases for buy-side and research roles, though it may not necessarily be useful for roles in IBD.

  24. Brian,

    As a sophomore at a liberal arts college, your post is very informative. Having a “story” will be really important for me as I begin to network my way into the field. That said, I was thinking of studying abroad Fall semester of my Junior year to a location in Spain. I would be fluent in Spanish and would be back in January in time for super-days. In your opinion, is studying abroad a valuable asset to my “story?” Do people in the finance world actually care that I can fluently speak Spanish?

    1. It can help you, but more so if you were focusing on Latin American roles specifically or another industry that had a lot of dealings with LatAm companies. It’s a nice addition to your story but less important than a relevant internship.

    2. Currently studying abroad in Spain and just got an offer for ST internship next summer. Sad to say but they don’t really care about language skills at the interview stage (if you are on sales and speak spanish fluently it might help you get a grad job) but it won’t make any significant difference. Of 5 interviews only one asked about year abroad/my language skills (I’m a brit but I also speak french). They will fly you back for super days anyway so don’t worry about that. Spain’s a great place and go if you want to but don’t do it because you wanna break into finance. Start a small business or something if you are serious about it.

  25. I’m from Johns Hopkins university, the newly established business school Carey business school, I’m having internship in property management at a boutique firm. I can speak 3 languages fluently, while I keep my German at conversational level. I’m Vietnamese born in Russia, raised in Czech and Germany. Now I study at Johns Hopkins university in DC-Baltimore. What’s my odd?

    1. Hmm, it really depends on how much recruiting takes place at your school and how much networking you’ve already done. You have a solid internship, but going through some of the points in the article above would help you more (do as much as possible to show that you want to be in finance for the long-term).

      1. Avatar
        Hai Nam Nguyen

        Recruiting at JHU for investment banking is really poor. I’m doing finance internship at property management boutique firm, but all what I’m doing is working with excel, doing data entry. I’m also part of the investment club at Johns Hopkins University. My real problem is, I’m an international student, on average, they have harder time landing a prestigious jobs such as investment banking. My GPA is 3.4.

        1. Yeah, if that’s the case you’ll need to network very heavily to have a good shot. As an international student you’re better off focusing on bulge bracket banks because they’re more likely to be able to sponsor you. See:

  26. Thanks Brian,

    As a liberal arts student (classics major) who has had passion for finance for a while as well as some summer experiences in the industry, it always surprises me to get the “oh you poor soul” look from people when I tell them my major. Way I see it, if you have the opportunity to explore interests outside of finance and still link up with open-minded bankers (the kind you want to be your boss anyways!) later in life, then all the better.

    Still, great to get some tips from you on how to break through the reservations some bankers have regarding areas of study different from commerce or finance. You writing is fluid and exceptionally accessible – I’m always impressed.

    1. Thanks! Yeah, it is pretty surprising how many people have those reactions even though communication skills and interests outside of work are arguably even more important in (certain fields of) finance.

  27. Love this article, thanks for the step-by-step guide. Thank goodness I double-majored in both a liberal arts major and something more quantitative – Management Science B.S., so I usually flaunt that in my job search. But perhaps I could also throw in the Communication degree I picked up as well..

    1. Thanks! Yes, double majors definitely help…

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