From Non-Target and No Finance Experience to 2 Full-Time Bulge Bracket Investment Banking Offers
“Help, how can I move from PWM / asset management into investment banking?”
“I have no time left and need to find an internship! What do I do?”
“How do I get internships with no finance experience?”
I love this interview because this reader accomplished all of the above.
Plus, you’ll learn about:
- A ninja trick to find names and contact information for local banks
- How fraternities and sororities can help you – even if they’re not business-related
- Good “not quite banking but pretty close” options for summer internships
Let’s get started.
Q: So how’d you get started breaking into investment banking?
A: Most of my friends and family were engineers, so I started out like them, intending to major in engineering – but after my first semester I realized I didn’t want to spend my life doing that.
I started looking into business and finance, and there were a few finance majors in my dorm, so I got interested like that initially.
At the end of my first year I made the switch over to our business school, and then at the end of my second year I applied to the finance track.
Once I made the switch to finance, I spent the rest of my time after that going after internships.
Q: So did you do a finance internship after your 1st year in university?
A: Nope – I did some technical work for my family’s business and it had nothing to do with finance or business.
Q: Ok, so you have this engineering to finance background and you don’t have a business-related internship after your 1st year in school. How did you get any banks to take your resume seriously when you applied for internships the next year?
A: Mostly by joining related student organizations – a student-run investment portfolio, a business consulting group, and I served as a mentor in a trading group.
I also learned some financial modeling, basic DCF skills, public comps, and more by working for the investment portfolio and learning to value companies there.
All of this helped, but I realized it wasn’t enough by itself to land interviews – I needed to get leadership positions, so I focused on that and moved up within each organization by my junior and senior years.
Q: So you have this engineering to finance background, you have a couple relevant-looking student groups on your resume now, and it’s your 2nd year in school. How did you start looking for an internship?
A: I waited until the last minute – the spring – and suddenly realized that I needed to find some kind of finance internship ASAP to have any kind of chance at the all-important junior year summer internship.
I knew that asset / wealth management internships were easier to get, so I focused on those and cold-called around 20-30 different places in my area, with only months to go before the summer.
Q: I get a lot of questions on how to find contact information for these local firms. How did you do it?
A: I went to Google Maps and typed in “asset management,” “finance” and other related terms along with the name of my city until I found the names and websites of different firms.
This may sound silly, but it worked very well and it’s much easier to sift through search results on a map vs. Google’s main search engine.
Then I went to their websites, got the numbers and contact information from there, and started cold-calling the front desks – those were the only numbers I had in most cases.
Q: Wow, I never thought of using Google Maps like that before. How did you get around the gatekeepers when you were cold-calling? I’m assuming you ran into a lot of resistance if you called the front desks.
A: I called and asked if they did internships, and then asked to be put in touch with whoever was in charge. I would usually say, “I’m a sophomore at ________ and I’m looking to get some experience for the summer – do you have information on internships?”
A lot of it had to do with who the receptionist was rather than how great my “technique” was – sometimes they were helpful and connected me, and other times they were completely useless no matter what I said.
I tried each place at least a few times, but if I kept getting a “Sorry, I’m not sure, why don’t you call back later”-type response then I would put the firm lower on the priority list.
Q: And how well did this work?
A: Even though it was last-minute, I got an internship lined up with a wealth management firm with 10-20 employees, most of whom were financial advisors.
The internship itself was pretty standard for PWM – the same type of work you’d expect, with screening funds and investments for clients, creating P&L reports, and analyzing their existing investments.
Even though it wasn’t amazing, it was exactly the steppingstone I needed to move into something more closely related to banking the next summer.
Leveraging PWM Into Leveraged Finance
Q: Ok, so now you’re back at school in your 3rd year and you have this PWM internship on your resume, which is a huge improvement over nothing. How do you move from that into something closer to banking?
A: My first step was “bankifying” my resume to make it look more relevant to finance and what bankers actually do.
I highlighted everything I had done at the student investment group in terms of DCFs, multiples, and valuation, and made sure all that was on my resume.
I figured that the screening and P&L work I did at the PWM internship would be most relevant, so I focused on that – even though I didn’t spend the most time on those tasks.
M&I Note: Yet another example of how you need to re-adjust the focus when spinning your way to success.
Q: Right, so that explains your resume. But how did you get access to financial institutions in the first place? You were at a school where hardly any banks recruited for front-office roles.
A: I couldn’t use on-campus recruiting because there was none at my school – so I had to network through my fraternity, alumni, and other sources.
Another source for names and contact information was a program at our school that set up graduates with alumni who worked on Wall Street – they brought back lots of alumni and we could contact them directly.
This is one of the advantages of going to a large school – even if not many banks recruit there, there are bound to be lots of alumni and other students interested in finance.
Q: You mentioned your fraternity – I’ve gotten some questions on the value of business or social frats for networking purposes. What was yours like, and how did you use it?
A: It was a social fraternity. When I joined as a freshman, there were lots of seniors working in front and middle office roles at banks, so I got to know them when they were still in school, and then reached out a few years later after they had already graduated.
A lot of times they put me in touch with recruiters directly, and I could get inside information on the recruiting process, how many students they wanted to take, and how to get an interview.
Q: So is that what you used to get your next internship?
A: Yup. I applied to a bunch of places, but ended up with an offer in the Leveraged Finance group of an independent financial services and lending firm – not a bulge bracket or middle-market bank.
I got it via networking with an alum from my fraternity, and then went through the standard interview process with them.
Interviews were definitely more technical than what I faced for the PWM internship, though they didn’t go too far beyond the “How do you value a company?”-type questions.
Q: So what was the day-to-day work like as an intern in this Leveraged Finance group? This was after the credit crunch and financial crisis had struck, so was there much activity?
A: There were actually a fair number of deals going on because we were working on smaller transactions rather than the multi-billion dollar debt offerings that stopped once the crisis happened.
I worked on a couple “big picture” research projects, screening companies in different industries – but I also got to jump on live deals whenever they needed help.
Since the group was small – fewer than 20 people – I worked closely with the Analysts and Associates on LBO models, pricing models for debt offerings, due diligence work, due diligence calls with CEOs, and I got to listen in on a lot of conference calls with bankers.
This experience was actually better than what I would have gotten at a bulge bracket, because we had real deals to work on and because the team was small.
2 Bulge Bracket Offers
Q: It sounds like your internship went pretty well – were you tempted to stay there and take advantage of a return offer rather than going through full-time recruiting?
A: That wasn’t an option – at the end of the summer the firm told all interns that they couldn’t extend offers due to the state of the economy and market conditions, so I had to find something else quickly.
Q: So how did you approach networking once you found out you wouldn’t be getting a return offer?
A: I used 3 main strategies:
- Alumni from my school, via the Wall Street organization I mentioned before.
- I continued going through contacts from my fraternity.
- I spoke to my superiors and actually got some referrals to bulge bracket banks from them.
Q: Wait a minute, you didn’t get a return offer from your internship and then you turned around and asked your bosses for referrals to other places? How does that work?
A: It wasn’t that difficult, because no interns received return offers – they liked me, I had performed well, and they knew that market conditions were the only thing stopping me from coming back.
They had extensive backgrounds in finance, so they had no problems at all referring me to their contacts at bulge bracket banks.
Q: Nice move. So how else did you get interviews at bulge bracket banks?
A: Primarily through alumni – all my first-round interviews at banks were via alumni, some from the organization I mentioned before and some from my frat.
Q: By the time you were going through full-time interviews, you had the PWM internship as well as a Leveraged Finance internship.
Both of those are good, but you also didn’t have a brand-name firm or school on your resume. What kind of reaction did you get in interviews?
A: The question of my school and why I didn’t go to a better-known place did come up a few times, but interviewers were generally not demeaning.
It wasn’t a totally unknown place – interviewers had heard of it, but they didn’t hold it in high regard all the time, so the questions were more like, “Why ________?” rather than “Couldn’t you have gone to a better school?”
I usually answered it by talking about the extensive resources and alumni network they had, and how I wanted to do engineering originally.
My lack of “brand-name” internships didn’t come up that much – they were more focused on what I did as opposed to why I hadn’t worked at bulge bracket banks.
The interviews themselves were not much different from what you’d expect in any investment banking interview.
Q: Great. So you ended up with 2 offers at large banks – how did you decide which one to take?
A: I went with the firm that had a better reputation – the 2 groups were not that much different and I didn’t have a strong preference on the people or teams, so I had to narrow it down by reputation.
The other advantage is that even though I’ll be placed in a specific product group, I’ll get to explore a few other groups in my first few months there – and I’m really looking forward to that.
Q: Awesome. Thanks for your time.
A: No problem.
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