by Brian DeChesare Comments (79)

Why Not Even a Boutique Investment Bank Will Hire You – And What to Do About It

Why Not Even a Boutique Investment Bank Will Hire You - And What to Do About It
“It’s soooo easy to work at a boutique bank, all you do is cold call them and submit your resume and you’re set.”

“If I have a 2.0 GPA and no work experience, boutiques will still hire me, right?”

“I’m applying to bulge brackets, middle market banks, and boutiques. Can you rank my chances at all of them? Also, can you rank the banks, schools, Excel macros, and the models in AJ’s video?”

No, no, and no.

I’ve got some bad news for you: you’re not good enough to get hired, even at a boutique bank.

I know this because I recently went through a hiring experiment of my own: searching for associate editors and finance wizards.

While this site may not be a boutique bank exactly, the similarities are striking: scarce resources, revenue in a similar range, a relentless focus on ROI, and 150+ applicants for only 1-2 open positions.

I learned enough through doing this to tell you exactly what you need to get hired by a bank – and what you need to get hired by me in the future, if we’re on the lookout for more help.

What You’re About to Learn

This one’s very “meta” because I’m stepping back and telling you something about the site you’re reading and what goes on behind the scenes.

And then I’m somehow linking that to banks, the hiring process there, and throwing in plenty of sarcastic comments and pop culture references.

But hey, people always say I’m “mysterious,” so why not have some fun and reveal more information for once?

Close your YouTube window, get some yerba mate, cocaine, or sugar-free Red Bull, and take your seat – because here’s what’s coming up in this monster article:

  • What (boutique, or any) banks are really looking for – and why you’ve never made a compelling case to them.
  • How banks really review applications and resumes and the single best way to stand out and win offers.
  • Why offering to work for free is often a bad idea, or at least not as enticing a proposition as you might think.
  • The truth about how “big” this business and the size of similar sites – and why the notion that any of us would “go public” is laughable (Hmm, I hope this doesn’t make anyone mad…).
  • Secret, behind-the-scenes information on this business (OK, I might change my mind on that one by the time I finish writing).
  • And oh yeah, an introduction to (some of) the new writers, the new site design and Facebook page we just launched today, and more.

Why Does Any of This Matter?

Simple: because you need to understand what the other person is thinking if you want to be successful in getting hired, being in a relationship, selling products, starting your own investment fund and raising capital from investors, or anything else.

I’ve written a lot about how to apply to banks, how to craft your resume, and so on, but what you’re about to read is different because it’s all about psychology and getting inside the mind of the employer.

Ground Rules

First, do not take any of this personally.

Nothing here is directed at a specific reader who applied for the advertised positions. I received so many applications that it’s impossible to even remember who said what.

Instead, I’ll be referencing general trends I saw, observations of what banks are looking for, and how the readers who are now writing for the site won me over.

If you think I’m too blunt and you’re looking for good “bedside manners,” find a doctor and check yourself into a hospital right now because I’m about to get even more blunt.

Why Would a Bank Hire You in the First Place?

One of the best and most overlooked articles on this site is this fantastic interview with a headhunter at a top recruiting firm, detailing what banks and PE firms are actually looking for.

I know you’re too lazy to read through the whole feature, so here’s what you need to know: a bank will hire you for one of three reasons:

  1. If you help them make money.
  2. If you help them save money.
  3. If you help them improve a process (save time).

Realistically, you’re not going to help a bank make money or save money at the entry-level unless you’re a once-in-a-lifetime superstar or your family owns a $100 billion steel conglomerate in your home country and you can get Fortune 500 CEOs on the phone in 2 seconds.

Which raises the question of why you’d ever want to move down the evolutionary chain from conglomerate mastermind to Excel monkey, but we’ll save that one for another day.

So your only hope of getting hired – at least right out of school – is to save them time.

And that’s why analysts and even associates do so much grunt work: by fixing those PowerPoint slides or grinding through Excel, you’re doing work that the senior bankers no longer have to do – which frees them up to bring in clients and generate revenue.

So, What Could You Do for Me?

The similarities are striking:

  • You’re not going to generate more revenue (with a few exceptions – see below).
  • There’s no way you could save me money, because my main expenses are headcount and infrastructure-related and everything else is minimal (just like at a bank).
  • …But you could save me time. A lot of time – by writing content and answering questions.

In case you’re confused about the first point, here are the only two actions that would generate more sales for this business:

  1. Creating new products (or services);
  2. Marketing those new products (or services); also optimizing existing marketing.

Note that writing articles does not necessarily result in higher sales.

It’s just like equity research at a bank: indirectly, over the long-term, more content means more traffic and more exposure and therefore a higher revenue potential, but you can’t link the two directly.

Some readers who applied figured this out and proposed schemes to promote their own products and split the profits, asked about starting up resume editing and/or mock interviews, offering in-person classes, and so on.

Those applications stood out because they offered a win/win proposition: save me time (it might take me 1 hour to edit a 2,000 word article but 3-4 hours to write and edit it myself), earn more money, and also help them earn more money.

Interestingly, no one asked about helping with one of my most time-consuming but also highest revenue-generating tasks: creating financial modeling courses.

I don’t blame you, though, since the average course takes around 400 hours to create. You’re probably better off studying for the CFA, or at least ordering bottle service for 100 nights straight.

Resource Reality Check

So you understand why no small bank (or small business of any kind) would hire you unless you help them make more money, save money, or save time, right?

Now you must understand the reason why they are so strict with whom they hire: limited resources.

When venture capitalists search for the next Facebook or Google, they’re looking for B2B companies that could potentially serve tens of thousands of businesses, or B2C companies that could serve tens of millions (or more) of consumers.

Think about the math there: 10,000 * $100,000 (average selling price for an enterprise software product, for example) = $1 billion. Which is obviously much cooler than a million dollars.

Or, on the consumer side, 10 million * $100 (average selling price for a new gadget, for example) = also a cool billion dollars.

Those revenue numbers are big enough to support massive companies – maybe not quite Fortune 500, but pretty close.

Now, do you think there are ten million people in the world who are interested in investment banking?


More like 100,000, possibly up to 1 million if you’re feeling aggressive and you want to include related fields.

So no matter what you think or what you’ve heard, no “company” that serves a small market like this one – whether it’s finance, consulting, business school admissions, the GMAT, or anything else – could ever have the resources of a Fortune 500 company.

Boutique banks work under similar constraints: a bulge bracket bank might be able to look past spending $100,000 on a new hire, but to a boutique that’s a massive expense that will significantly impact the owner’s profit.

And then recall another disadvantage for boutiques: if a single deal fails to close, they might have no revenue at all – or at least revenue that’s much lower than what they expected.

So hiring even a single analyst is an ordeal that attracts a lot of scrutiny: the last thing they want to do is pay for your salary and bonus when one of the two deals they were working on that year falls through.

As a result, you shouldn’t assume that working at boutique banks is “easier” just because they’re smaller – they’re more careful about spending money than bulge bracket banks.

But I’ll Work for Free!

This is a common response to limited resources at small banks, and it makes sense intuitively: if they can’t afford to pay you a good salary, why not offer to work for free?

The problem is that nothing is ever “free” because time is often more valuable than money – especially for senior executives.

Here’s a translation of what a Partner at a bank might think when you offer to work for free:

“Great, he’ll take up 20 hours per week of my time and will use this to pad his resume so he can leave for a bigger bank. I’ll have to hand-hold him through everything and answer annoying questions, and I’ll have even less time than usual to wine and dine clients.”

The only way around this problem is to prove that you can hit the ground running.

I used to think that self-study modeling and other training courses were nonsense, but after having weighed in on hiring decisions at banks and now for my own business, I think they make sense if you can use them to establish your ROI to an employer upfront.

Offering to work for free can solve this problem of limited resources, but you still need to make a compelling case for how you’ll make them more money (unlikely), save them money (possible but unlikely), or save them time (we have a winner!).

I sometimes get emails that read like this:

“Hi, your site is awesome! I would like to contribute in any way I can, but I have no skills, I don’t know anyone, and I haven’t worked in the industry. But I’m willing to help you for free! What can I do?”

I appreciate the effort, and it makes me happy to know that you care so much that you’d offer to help out.

But this is not a good way to approach a bank, myself, or any other employer.

State upfront how you’ll be valuable in terms of earning money, saving money, or saving time, or don’t bother.

How They Really Review Applications

OK, so now you understand what banks – actually all employers – look for in applicants, and how boutique banks and small businesses alike have limited resources and must therefore take hiring decisions seriously.

Now consider how most firms review applications.

First, my own story: I had just gotten off a 16-hour flight and was in town for a friend’s wedding.

In the middle of a wedding weekend, I was meeting up with friends I hadn’t seen in 10 years and also dealing with a disaster on another work project, so I ended up sleeping only 6 hours in 3 days.

I ran out of time to finish (or even start) reviewing applications, and got through only a small portion of them while on yet another flight – in the midst of sleep deprivation and barely being conscious.

Oh, and then I had to change around the finance wizard role at the last minute and re-think whether or not I would actually need someone to help with that.

And then I decided to bring on multiple readers to write for the site rather than just 1 or 2.

I mentioned the 6 hours of sleep in 3 days, right?

All of that may sound unusual, but it’s the norm at banks.

They never really know how many people they need until it’s too late and they desperately need to hire more; your resume is most likely to be reviewed by a sleep-deprived analyst who just wants to go home and pass out, so exhausted that he’s forgotten about bottle service.

This is not like college or business school admissions where they take their time to review applications and “get to know you as a person” – application screening is random, unpredictable, and illogical.

That’s why you weren’t selected for an interview at JP Morgan, after all.

And that’s why you need to stand out above everyone else to even have a fighting chance of being selected.

How to Stand Out

Here’s how you might have stood out when applying to work with me:

  1. Writing something good and relevant (i.e. about finance or business and not about your vacation last summer – yes, I left it open-ended but what did you think I wanted to read about?) and presenting a thoughtful list of topics.
  2. Pointing out gaps in existing content (potential to drive more traffic and therefore more sales) or ways to save me time (“I imagine you spend a lot of time editing, but with me you can cut that down to half your current time because…”).
  3. Suggesting ways to earn more money (e.g. creating your own product and splitting profits, starting up resume editing or mock interviews again, etc.).

You might now say, “Wait a minute! But you didn’t ask for any of that, how can you expect me to have read your mind?”

The punch-line: No boutique (or any) bank asks how you’ll earn them more money, save them money, or save them time, either, but you damn well better demonstrate how you’re going to do at least one of those if you want to get hired.

So you need to point out:

  1. How you found a new potential buyer that everyone else overlooked in an M&A deal (potential for more revenue).
  2. How you improved the processes of keeping clients updated, putting together models or pitch books, or otherwise saved senior bankers time.
  3. How you uncovered wasteful spending –subscriptions they’re paying for but no longer using, expensive tools, and so on – or even how you saved a client money by creating an analysis that resulted in a recommendation against an acquisition or certain deal structure.

I’ll admit that being aggressive about these points may seem desperate if you’re focused on large banks – so you have to be more subtle and only bring these up once you’ve gotten to know someone, or when opportunity knocks in an interview.

But there’s a good chance that you’re moving into finance from a different industry, or from a non-target school, or from some other background that isn’t the best match for the Goldman Sachs to KKR to HBS to World Domination “track.”

If that’s the case and you’re going for small banks to get your foot in the door, aggressiveness wins the day because people actually pay attention to what you say – and if you don’t believe me, just check out these reader accounts of aggressively cold-calling their way into boutique banks.

If you’re more senior, you should focus on the revenue-generation / client relations side and less on the “I learned all this stuff on my own so I can save you guys a lot of money by doing all your grunt work for you” angle.

Meeting IRL!!!!

While we’re on the topic of standing out, knowing me in-person also made a huge difference – that’s why I asked Peter to start helping with BIWS last year, and why Nicole is now responding to comments and writing for the site.

I always trust people to uphold their promises more if I’ve met them and known them in-person for some time.

And this applies directly to networking and getting into banks as well: you don’t stand out  if you’re another anonymous application and you haven’t spoken with or met any of the people at the firm.

If you think this is too expensive or too time-consuming, you have the wrong priorities.

Forget about student activity #232 or trying to boost your GPA by 0.02 and focus on what really matters: getting to know people in your industry and positioning yourself for future success.

I’m not saying that you should have attempted to meet up with me in-person to boost your chances: I’m just pointing out that if you had known me before I even published the application, your chances would have been higher.

Why No Boutique Will Hire You – Or Will They?

Oh, they’ll hire you – if you can show how you’d pay for yourself, and then some.

If the bank expects to make $2 million in revenue from a few deals this year and they’re already spending $1 million on existing employees, why would they hire you for an additional $100 – $200K per year?

They wouldn’t – unless by hiring you, they could free up senior bankers to bring in even more revenue than that, or unless you cost them very little but saved everyone a lot of time.

So no more questions about why it’s so hard to get into finance, even at a boutique – OK?

What Next: New Design, Social Media, New Authors, and More

You might have noticed the new design we launched today (I like to do this every year) – it’s not a dramatic change over the previous one, but it does improve a few details, it makes the full list of BIWS courses more obvious, and it adds in some snazzy social media sharing buttons.

I’ve used Twitter for a while now, but there will be more consistent updates and postings from now on – so you should go follow M&I there.

And then we’ve also entered the 21st century and finally set up a Facebook page – it’s brand new, so you can get in early and get a much higher ROI than all your friends. And word around the campfire is that you may even get the chance to win free bottle service in the future.

You can check out (some of) the new authors on the updated About page – not everyone is listed there yet, but more bios will be arriving soon.

In the interest of full disclosure, some of the new authors are using pen names due to sensitive situations at work, or because they want to share stories that their employers would not be happy about.

Given that I used a pen name for the first 1.5 years of this site (“The Inquisitor” did sound cool) and that things worked out OK, I hope you’ll be fine with this.

I’m not going to dramatically change the format of the site and start posting five 10,000-word articles per day or anything –  I don’t have the time to edit and manage all of that, and you don’t have the time to read that much.

Instead, you’ll see more articles and interviews on a wider range of topics going forward – with the first one coming up in a few days.

In the meantime, let me know how those boutique bank applications go – you now have everything you need to know, and even more coming up soon.

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, hope you’re well and interesting article. Is this article applicable/relevant to recent graduates as well? It seems more tailored at experienced professionals. And what stage of the application are you referring to when you say – point out that you can earn money, save money or save time? – Would this be when you randomly go emailing your networks or during interviews, or in cover letters? Clarification on this is greatly appreciated.

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Yes this article is applicable to graduates too. Yes, during interviews, you can point out that you can help them save money/time. Of course its probably easier if you have had some relevant work experience to demonstrate the above.

  2. Hello Brian and Nicole,

    How should I contact one of the MDs who I met up with back in May, in the situation that his firm has no opening this year? I would like to keep in contact with him but our conversation back then was based around the firm.



    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      I’d just send him a follow up email and ask if things have changed on his end. Express your interest in his firm, and ask if he’s available for a brief chat/coffee again.

  3. Avatar


    I started networking really really late (mid-May) for an IB internship. I have built up some good contacts within 2 weeks which I am very happy for. One MD from an elite boutique wanted to bring me in as an intern but unfortunately I contacted him too late, now the programme is full. In my opnion, from our conversation, he wanted to give me a job without going through the formal procedure (as he went to check with the HR).
    He seems really keen to keep in touch with me and asked to meet up again soon. During our initial conversation, he also asked about my financial modeling skills. He wanted me to learn more about it by myself as it is important for the job and offered to meet up when I learn how to build some basic models so he can give me some guildance.
    I am now put on a shortlist in case interns or graduates drop out in the last minute. Otherwise I guess there are no more opportunities for me with the firm this summer.
    I really want to work for this bank. What my next step should be apart from meeting up with him in a few weeks just to catch up? Should I subtly mention being put on a shortlist for the SA next year? I really don’t want to go through the formal recruitment process (I have been through so many with BBs and I just failed constantly). Will he think bad of me if I subtly suggest a SA opportunity next summer without going through interviews etc?

    If it helps, I am an oversea student in the UK.

    Thank you!


    1. Avatar

      Also, should I keep contacting MDs in other firms such as AM and PE in case they need last minute intern?

      1. Avatar
        M&I - Nicole

        Yes, I’d continue to contact other people.

    2. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      I’d just tell him that you’ve been put on the shortlist and ask if there’s any way you can be accepted into the programme sooner. Tell him you’re very keen on the bank, and push for a meeting with him in the next 2 weeks if possible.

      1. Avatar

        Thank you for your reply.

        What if he says there is absolutely no other way I can get in this summer unless people drop out? I don’t want to offer to work for free (or should I?). Should I still mention a place for SA next summer without going through formal application stages?


        1. Avatar
          M&I - Nicole

          No offering to work for free wouldn’t work. I’d network with other firms to broaden your chances. I don’t quite understand your second question.

          1. Avatar

            Thank you very much again for your reply Nicole.
            With regards to my second question, how should I ask this MD for a position for next summer, without me having to go through the usual application stages e.g. online application, interviews, etc? I know now I am on the shortlist, but that doesn’t mean I am guaranteed a place for next summer?

          2. Avatar
            M&I - Nicole

            Yes this does not mean you are guaranteed a place next summer. You may be able to skip the online application if you’ve already filled out the form but you may have to go through interviews again. I’d check with HR regarding the process. If the process requires that you go through certain stages the MD may not be able to do much about it unless he runs the company.

  4. Hello Brian,

    Thank you for posting all these amazing articles, it does make me feel less scared to come out from “my egg shell” now. I have a questions which probably most people would laugh thinking “really you are asking if you can get that for free?” but there is no harm asking anyway: Would there be any chance you could have a 5 sec look at my cv which I completely changed it after reading your posts and your advices. Thank you in advance! O

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Oria, thanks for your comment. We don’t offer quick CV review to readers of the site, in fairness to BIWS customers who have purchased the courses and services. However, if you are comfortable with it, you can post a link of your CV on the comments forum and readers may jump in and give you feedback.

  5. I interviewed for a Boutique in London for an intern/trainee position.
    First they gave me extremely hard numerical and even creativity tests.
    Then I had one on one interview with Vice president and he expected me to fully know about the sector (it was structured finance) and how a deal came about. There were also on the spot questions about Finance and accounting concepts.

    I didn’t pass to be honest because I was grossly under prepared.
    Also I was one of the only guys with no experience interviewed. Some people with extensive experience were interviewing.

    I dont know if its like this at all boutiques…But I’d say be 200% prepared or you will fail.

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Thanks for your feedback. I am sorry to hear, stay persistent and keep on pursuing your dream!

  6. Screw the nitpicking, man this is a great article hitting the biggest and most important of all motivations the wiifm – “What’s in it for me?” that’s addressed in every successful sales or marketing attempt, be it getting a job or getting that chick to give up those digits.

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Thanks for your input!

  7. I am a Junior seeking a full time bulge bracket offer during full-time recruiting. I have two summer internship offers: one is at a small boutique nobody has heard of, and the other is a corporate banking role at a very large bank that everyone knows. Which should I take?

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      I’d probably choose the large bank given its credibility; it will open you doors going forward.

  8. Hey Brian,
    I am a sophomore at a non-target school that is looking into investment banking. While I have some interviews with some boutiques and middle markets coming up, I need a backup plan in case I don’t get into IB. That being said- what would give me better experience/an edge on my peers for when I apply for BB banks next year: working in the finance department of a fortune 500 company or in wealth management as a cold caller?

    Thanks for the help!

    1. Finance department of F500 company.

  9. Hi, in the section “what you are about to learn” in the bullet point “The truth about how “big” this business and the size of similar sites – and why the notion that any of us would “go public” is laughable (Hmm, I hope this doesn’t make anyone mad…).”, the point “why the notion that any of us would “go public” is laughable” unfortunately does not seem to have been addressed in this article. Thus I would like to ask why is the notion that any of us would “go public” is laughable?

    1. The biggest company in this market (Training the Street) has ~$10MM in revenue, hence it could never go public since the threshold is usually $50-$100MM. And everyone else, including this site, is smaller than that revenue-wise. It’s just not a big enough market to support large companies, only small businesses.

      1. Thanks for that Brian, just wanted to say this is probably the best site on investment banking in general ( not just get a job in the industry) in the history of the Internet, I love it). By the way could your site, Training The Street and others list on a smaller stock market (designed for smaller companies like Mergers and Inquisitions) like the UK’s AIM (Alternative Investment Market), does the US have a equivalent of AIM, do you know?

        Also do Breaking Into Wall Street offer, have offered or are going to offer training to pass professional qualifications in investment banking such as Series 7 and other FINRA qualifications, CISI qualifications, CAIA and other professional finance/investment banking qualifications?

        1. I doubt it, the market is just not big enough to interest investors. You do see test prep companies like Princeton Review as public entities but I don’t think that has helped them at all. Don’t think the US has an equivalent of AIM.

          Thanks for your comments! We are going to offer certifications (based on quizzes on the site) very soon and will announce it once they’re available.

          1. Thanks, that’s great news.

  10. Avatar
    Teodora Pherson

    Truly great site thank you so much for your time in writing the posts for all of us to learn about.

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      No problem!

  11. Unfortunately the bullet point “why the notion that any of us would “go public” is laughable” mentioned in the “What you are about to learn” section” did not seem be addressed in this article. Thus what is the answer to “why the notion that any of us would “go public” is laughable”?


    1. These “companies” are all sub-$10 million in revenue and sometimes far smaller than that because a few thousand customers * hundreds of dollars or so each = way less revenue than what is required to be a big company.

  12. Avatar
    Worried applicant

    I applied to barclays capital and J.P. Morgan’s Summer 2012 IBD internships. (I just made the deadline because i wasn’t too sure if i wanted to apply to them). I still havent heard back from them (it has been around a month or more). When i check the application status it still says its “under consideration” or “under review”. I haven’t even received an online test yet.

    Does this mean anything? Have I’ve been rejected? Should I contact the HR office?

    Thank you!

    Worried applicant

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      It means your application is under review. Be patient

  13. I actually received a boutique ibank offer as a nontarget with low gpa precisely because i was significantly more experienced with modeling than all the other candidates.

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Yep. Resume/networking only gets you to the door. Being able to model will set you apart from many candidates who only have a high GPA to show

    2. Dear Couchy,

      I am currently applying to boutique ibanks. Would you mind if I emailed you to pick your brain on your application process?

  14. Excellent article. This was definitely needed. I just had my resume critiqued a few weeks ago and was told my resume was generic. In a sense, it would seem that firms period want to hire heroes, people that have slain dragons, and defused bombs. Appreciate your blunt honesty. Keep up the good work.

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Thanks! You just need to know how to market yourself and gain the relevant experiences to break in

  15. I’m currently at a non-target (Villanova) but I would like to get in the Hedge Fund industry. In your Hf vs. IM post you mentioned how going to CFA society events are great ways to get into the HF industry right out of school. You mention that it is possible to go if a professor sponsors you. I looked at the CFA website and it says for a professor to sponsor someone, he/she needs to be a charter holder themself. The only thing I found on professor sponsorships is this:

    I know that is about scholarships but I couldn’t find anything else on the subject.

    I tried looking in the cfa database about teachers that I have but nothing came up.

    Do you have any information that would be of use since I can’t seem to find it through Google searches. Any other tips (not already on your site) to break into HF out of undergrad?

    Thanks and great site!

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      I’d recommend you speaking to your current professors in Villanova and ask them for their suggestions re sponsoring for your CFA.

      Yes – network. Trade your own portfolio. Understand different HF styles and strategies. Intern with a HF when you can asap. Know why you want to get into a HF. Know who the major HFs are and send them your CV and cover letter.

  16. I was wondering, is an ib boutqiue internship in LA or SF looked lower upon than an ib boutique internship in NY?


    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      NY is regarded as the financial hub of the States, so in a way, you can say so. However, it does depend on your team, your firm’s name/credibility and your industry (tech IB – SF, media/entertainment IB- LA)

  17. Another minor point worth noting on the “Work for free” section of the article. I have found if you do that and are offered to continue working for the firm full time, it puts you in a really low position of power with regards to pay.

    1. that’s true. I’m in the position now.

      1. Yup, happening to me right now also, it’s terrible. Lesson learned for the future.

    2. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole


      1. I actually have deep concerns about how we are gonna negotiate compensation at the next level, if possible at all. Supposedly I’m going from a no name to a top boutique/mm/bb,and I’m getting paid only half of the market rate now. If I don’t lie, would that harm my salary/bonus down the road?

        1. Avatar
          M&I - Nicole

          Yes that might hurt your salary to be honest. However, for BB it might be different if they have a standard rate for analysts/associates; nevertheless, BBs can also use this info and squeeze your rate. You can’t lie because they’ll ask for proof. Just try to avoid telling them your last salary; show them why you deserve what you want to get paid for

  18. Avatar
    Senior Citizen

    In the spirit of the article again, you have improper grammar.

    “I always trust people to uphold their promises more if I’ve met them known them in-person for some time.”

    1. Caught by the grammar police once again. :( I guess I value entertainment over proofreading.

      Although, technically, this was not really “improper grammar” but rather a missing word.

  19. Avatar
    The Deal Maker

    Hi Brian, clean view as usual. Great stuff.
    But I am just wondering, where do you get those cool figures or pics at the beginning of your articles?

    Cheers !

  20. Brian, excellent article.

    Glad to see you’ve adjusted your position on self-study/training as wholly ineffective and of little use in gaining employment.

    1. Yeah, I realize it may come across as self-interested given that I create and sell modeling programs – but to be honest, even when I started out years ago I was skeptical and did it only because I kept getting questions and requests for training.

      But over time I kept hearing from customers that it was actually useful to have that training, and at a lot of banks they do care whether or not you can get started and know what you’re doing right away. So they’re still not the magic bullet solution but they can be helpful when used correctly.

      1. Understood. I’m aware (as you’ve emphasized) that relevant experience and industry contacts trump education/credentials most every time, but it is good to know that there is value in self-study/training – or at least that it can’t hurt.

  21. Up there for best M&I article…just saying

    1. Thanks! Had fun writing this one.

  22. Best advice ever- Never work for free!!!

    Never work for free, unless you absolutely have no other viable choice and it is a front-office summer internship that will help the resume.

    You might be thinking that it sounds like a good deal for the firm since they won’t have to shell out money, but if they not in a position to hire people the proper way in the first place, there is likely little value to add and/or little to learn. If a firm has a real need for people, they will do things the proper way (i.e., offer paid positions).

    Additionally, since you won’t be paid, you won’t be properly incentivized in the first place, so you won’t be properly motivated and you will just be wasting your time.

    Furthermore, when you interview for a real position, and when people ask what is your currently salary, they will get scared when you tell them you are not paid, because it puts no value on you, so they won’t “bid” on you via an offer. And let’s not get into lying during an interview…

    Lastly, “working for free” is a trap that creates a false sense of security. It feels like a job but it is not a job. And you can’t just leave without another job offer at hand because a gap in your work history is much worse!

    I speak from experience- worked for free for a long time and it was a terrible time and my mental health took a serious hit. But I managed to leave that hellhole and have a proper job now.

    1. Great tips! Thanks for sharing. Working for free can work sometimes, but overall it’s less appealing than you might think for all the reasons stated here.

      1. Would you say this applies mostly for jobs after undergrad, or even undergrad unpaid internships as well (especially if it is one’s first banking internship).

        1. It applies to anything. Even if it’s just an internship, you still need to demonstrate some kind of ROI or future potential ROI (maybe you can’t help much now but will be able to add more in the future once you get up to speed).

    2. Another point about working for free – remember that as soon as you step into the bank’s office and have access to the IT system you can walk out with extremely valuable information – client lists/contact details, info on ongoing/upcoming deals, data sent over from the client, (on the markets side) positions the bank/clients have, trading strategies, proprietary data/algorithms…..

      Yes you’ll sign confidentiality agreements and some of these things would be illegal to take without permission, but the theft still can (and does) happen.

      If you offer to work for free, the bank will be very suspect of your motivations, and afraid that you’ll come in and steal from them. They’ll see the resume-building aspect too, but the threat of “other” motivations will stick in their minds.

      Theft can happen from paid employees too, but the issue is really the perception of what your true intentions might be if you offer to work unpaid.

      1. Great point there – confidentiality is huge and something they are not likely to entrust to just anyone.

  23. Avatar
    Banker Aussie

    Brian just in relation to the working for free point, I’m at USC at the moment on exchange from the University of Melbourne and have met lots of students here who are landing internships at UBS and Merril Lynch (etc) and working for free simply to pad up their resume. Just an example, but I’m sure it’s quite prevalent.

    1. Yeah seen that a lot before – working for free can definitely turn out well, but ironically boutiques sometimes find it less appealing than larger banks.

  24. After reading your article, it raises a doubt in my mind. I never worked in an investment bank but desperately trying to break into. I have worked in a corporate in the M&A department and have done excel modeling for valuation and have prepared presentation also.These qualities of mine are clearly stated in my resume and have got a couple of interview calls by cold calling. But eventually was unsuccessful in converting them. Can you give me a reason for this because after reading your article I felt I was also fulfilling point no. 3. Still why this rejection? Also I am a MBA from a top B-School.

    1. Really hard to say without knowing more details, but it might have just been bad luck or bad timing – sometimes banks just won’t hire people no matter what you do or say because they don’t have the need or they’re already spending too much.

  25. Avatar

    I would imagine every firm or industry, regardless of IB or PE, the three things for being a successful finance professional, as the writer pointed out;

    1) help your firm generate more revenue
    2) help save money directly
    3) help free up senior professionals’ time (time = money)

    Amazing article.


    1. Can’t agree more.
      I will re-organize my answer for the coming interviews

    2. That’s definitely true.

      Although I guess if you’re at a non-profit, point #1 doesn’t count as much unless they need to raise funds.

  26. How come I came across this right after i had a third round interview with a boutique! i’m going from a no name to an elite. The questions I got from the VP today were all pinpointed out here. He did look extremely tired by the way…Now upon reflection of his mentality, I felt like I missed out a whole lot. oh well.

    1. Eh, elite boutiques can be a little different but it’s still important to highlight those points if you’ve had FT work experience.

      1. I wrote thank you letter and surprisingly the VP replied me at midnight, saying he will get back to me in a couple days and what’s more, he copied the analyst and associate I talked to…i bet the lateral hiring’s routine is quite different. No matter how it turns out, i’ve benefited a lot from all your articles and products. Thank you Brian!

  27. banking at boutiques really suck because of some of the things you mentioned. I’ve been at 2 myself and refuse to join another small boutique.

    just wondering how one can make the jump from boutique to MM or BB

    1. Avatar

      there’s of plenty of stuff on this to make that jump, one namely comes to mind.


    2. Check out the articles on lateral hiring (there are a couple if you do a search). Never easy but it’s possible as lots of readers have done it.

  28. In the spirit of the article, I noticed an error in the following line.

    Now consider how most firm(s) review applications.


    1. Haha yes good one. Clearly “attention to detail” isn’t on that list of 3 criteria…

      1. *attention-to-detail ;)

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