by Brian DeChesare Comments (15)

From Non-Target School to Elite Boutique: How to Make the Cross-Country Leap

Get ready for business

Can you get into a top bank from a university that’s completely off their radar?


But what if your university is also far away from New York and other financial centers?

And what if you realize you want to do investment banking fairly late in the game?

Then it might be a bit harder.

Our reader today did just this and used every ninja trick imaginable – and some you haven’t imagined – to win a summer internship at an elite boutique.

I spoke with him recently and got him to reveal how he did it, including:

    • How to get banks to pay for you to come to New York so you can conduct informational interviews and practice real interviews.
    • How to use LinkedIn effectively as a student.
    • How far in advance you need to start networking for summer internships.
    • How to turn “No, go away” email responses into interviews.
    • And why elite boutiques might be a better bet if you’re from a non-target school.

Let’s get started:

Q: Can you summarize your background and what you accomplished?

A: Sure. Originally, I went to university on a sports scholarship and wanted to be a professional athlete, but an injury ended my career.

I then transferred to a more affordable university with a better business school, though it was still definitely in “non-target” territory.

I did a few finance internships there, got a mix of well-known names and relevant experience on my resume, and gained modeling and valuation skills by working at an independent valuation firm.

That valuation experience really sparked my interest in investment banking, but I had a late start on other students, and I was competing with candidates from target schools.

So I networked like crazy, starting 1.5 years in advance of the actual summer internship, and went through interviews at several bulge brackets and elite boutiques to win my offer.

The keys to my success were:

  • I never took “No” for an answer, and I often went back to bankers who rejected me at first and argued my case.

How to Send 2,200 Emails and Live to Tell the Tale

Q: Great. So let’s start with networking first.

Can you describe what you did?

A: I started reaching out to contacts in November for summer internships starting two years in the future (i.e., November 20X5 for summer 20X7 internships).

(NOTE: Ideally, you want to start networking even earlier than this because internship recruiting keeps moving up.)

To find names, I got LinkedIn Premium and used that to search for professionals at different banks.

To get a better rate, I called LinkedIn and explained I was a student, and they offered me a subscription for $20 / month (normally it’s $60 / month).

I found each person’s name on LinkedIn, Googled for the email format of the bank, and then contacted the person via email.

The only one that’s tricky is JP Morgan because their email addresses use middle initials, which people rarely include on LinkedIn; the rest are straightforward.

I spent about 1 hour per day searching for contacts in the beginning, and when I reached out to people, I always customized my message.

For example, I saw that one contact had a minor in Chinese from his LinkedIn profile. I had taken a beginning Chinese class one semester, so I mentioned that in my intro email.

Once I got the person on the phone, I always asked about their specific group, the deals they worked on, and how they got into the industry.

I requested an informational interview with each person, and at the end of the conversation I always asked them to pass my resume along to the recruiting team and for referrals to other bankers.

I also mentioned that I might be in NYC in the future and suggested meeting up in-person.

Q: Can you give us a sense of the numbers?

A: Sure. I sent ~2,200 emails total, received ~400 responses, and spoke with 178 people on the phone.

I tried to do 2-3 calls per week in addition to the 1 hour per day spent on finding bankers and sending the initial emails.

I had the most luck scheduling calls for later in the day and early in the morning.

Q: How did you get such a good response rate? Most students are lucky to get even a 5% response rate, but you received responses to nearly 20% of your emails.

A: I kept my messages very short! I wrote 3-5 sentences per message, and I always customized them for the person and group.

So if I contacted someone in a TMT group at a bank, I might send a message like this:

SUBJECT: [University Name] student seeking career advice

“Dear Mr. / Ms. [Name],

My name is [Name], and I’m a student at [University Name] who found your contact information via LinkedIn.

Over the past few years, I’ve become increasingly interested in investment banking as a career choice, and I have been trying to learn as much as possible to break into the field.

Because my background has been at a tech-focused valuation firm, I am specifically interested in speaking with you because of your experience at [Bank Name] in their TMT group.

I know you are extremely busy, but if you have a few minutes to talk so I could learn more about your experience at [Bank Name / Group], it would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks, and I look forward to connecting with you soon.

Best regards,


Q: Thanks for sharing that. Maybe the “Five sentence rule” works!

You started networking months in advance of internship interviews, so how did you stay in touch with everyone?

A: I tried to speak with everyone twice: Once in the initial phone call, and then once again when I visited New York.

That didn’t always work due to scheduling conflicts and emergencies, but I met with at least a few dozen contacts in-person.

I made a total of 4 weekend trips, which proved I was serious; bankers often brush you off until they meet you in-person.

Q: But how were you able to do that as a student who lived far away from NY?

A: Some people might call this unethical, but I applied to a few back and middle-office roles at banks that I wasn’t especially interested in, for two reasons:

  • I would get a free trip to NY if I made it to the final round. And I tried to make my trips start on Thursday and extend to Monday so I could meet senior bankers on weekdays and junior bankers on weekends.

Q: I’m not sure if it’s “unethical”; I guess it depends on how many times you did it.

A: I took 2 weekend trips out of 4 total using this strategy, so I thought it was reasonable.

And I wasn’t completely uninterested in the roles – I just saw them as “backup plans” in case I couldn’t win a front-office role for my sophomore summer and wanted to get a better name on my resume.

Q: Sure. So if you spoke with 178 people and met a few dozen, how many did you stay in touch with?

A: Around 20 of them turned into good contacts who were willing to answer questions and who could make a serious push to help me win interviews.

I dropped anyone who left their firm, and I often contacted multiple people in the same group and then focused on the person I connected with the best.

Networking Challenges

Q: You also mentioned that you ran into some challenges in winning interviews at banks.

What happened, and how did you respond?

A: One time, I emailed a senior banker at an elite boutique and sent my usual pitch.

He responded with: “We don’t recruit at your school, and you wouldn’t stand a chance even if we did.”

I replied, attached my resume, and wrote:

“Actually, I think I would be successful for three main reasons.

First, I’ve always added value in past internships and made management teams’ lives easier.

Second, although I’m from a non-target school, I’ve passed Level I of the CFA, which shows I have a decent understanding of finance.

Third, I’ve completed internships with a lot of valuation and analytical work, and I’ve gained corporate finance knowledge like that.”

That response convinced him to meet up with me in NY, and I later won an interview through him.

Q: When did you reach out to your contacts to ask about interviews, and what did you say?

A: A few months after starting the process, I realized that I would have a decent shot at bulge brackets and elite boutiques.

So, I focused on those firms and skipped the middle markets and regional boutiques, at least initially.

I attached my resume to each email and wrote a message like:

SUBJECT: Follow-up – [University Name] Student – Summer Internships


I hope all is well. Just as a reminder, we spoke [XX] months/weeks ago, and you told me about your experience in the [XX] group at your firm. I’m currently seeking investment banking internships for next summer, and I just wanted to know if you’d be willing to pass along my resume (attached here).


[My Name]

I ended up focusing on elite boutiques, and most of my interviews were at EBs as well.

I focused on EBs because the work seemed more interesting, and I got along better with bankers at those firms.

Q: So do you think non-target students have an advantage at elite boutiques?

A: Potentially, yes.

Students from target schools still focus on the bulge brackets, despite the many disadvantages, so there is sometimes less competition at the EBs.

But you shouldn’t apply exclusively to the elite boutiques – I still went through the process at several bulge bracket firms because interviews can be incredibly random and EB analyst classes are still relatively small compared with those at larger banks.

I definitely recommend diversifying the banks that you network with. As with investing, if you put all your eggs in one basket, you could fail to get the job for reasons outside of your control.

Insurmountable Interviews?

Q: Speaking of interviews, what were the biggest challenges you faced?

Did you have to answer a lot of objections about your university?

A: Not really.

One person did ask the “Why you rather than everyone else?” question, but I answered that by using a response similar to my counter-email above: I’ve always saved management teams time and made their lives easier, and I’ve gained significant accounting and finance skills from past work experience and the CFA exam.

The bulge bracket interviews were very straightforward. They asked the usual questions on Depreciation, WACC and Cost of Equity, how to walk through a DCF, etc.

The elite boutiques asked technical questions that required far more thought – the kind that you wouldn’t find in most interview guides.

Q: Such as?

A: One interviewer asked me, “What’s the average Cost of Equity for a tech company in the S&P 500?”

You don’t have the data to answer that off the top of your head, but they want to see your thought process rather than the exact answer.

So I said, “The Risk-Free Rate is around 1.55% for 10-year U.S. Treasuries. A tech company like Salesforce is more volatile than the market as a whole, with a Beta of around 1.5. So if you assume an Equity Risk Premium of 8%, Cost of Equity might be 13.55%.”

Q: Great. Any other tips for interviews?

A: When you’re practicing technical questions, speak your answers out loud and record yourself.

You’ll often go into too much depth or stumble over your words, so it helps to record what you’re saying and listen to it afterward.

Even if your roommates think you are weird for always talking to yourself, it will greatly improve your confidence and make you a more polished candidate.

Also, don’t underestimate the importance of the bottom few lines of your resume.

I got more questions about one random hobby listed there than anything else – even more than on my previous sports career or internships.

Q: So what’s your advice to other students in your position who want to win offers at the top banks?

A: I would say:

  • Start networking FAR in advance – ideally, close to 2 years before the internship begins.
  • Use LinkedIn to find names, but short, personalized emails to contact everyone.
  • Go to New York any way you can, even if you do it by applying to roles you’re less interested in.
  • Never take “No” for an answer. If a banker responds to you, that means he/she is at least somewhat interested. Turn around the “No” and argue your case.
  • Be prepared for technical questions even in your initial cold calls and informational interviews, and practice out loud to make sure you explain them effectively.

Q: Awesome. Thanks for your time!

A: My pleasure.

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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Read below or Add a comment

  1. Great thanks for sharing this on networking and interviews! Many sophomore summer analyst programs (non-diversity) at US banks are open now, but I’m not really prepared for the applications yet. I’m a rising sophomore a target school and had several non-IB finance internships. Do you think I should take the time to network for referrals and apply now or wait and prepare for next year’s junior SA applications? Would appreciate any advice!

    1. No, just wait and apply next year. If you’ve already had other finance internships, there’s no need to get one of these.

  2. This was and amazing article I am a high school junior looing to get into IB I know what middle and back office roles but how exactly did he use applying for those roles to getting a front office role such as IBD.

    1. Did you read the article? He applied to non-front-office roles at banks so they would pay for him to visit NY. And then he networked with bankers on those trips.

  3. Everything about this article is amazing. I didin’t read it – I just swallowed it in a few minutes. It’s more like a teaser of a good book. I admire such determination and not-giving up attitude. I may say that this article is very inspiring but also a little bit demotivating. I am girl who has her first internship in an investment banking approaching but it made me aware what a long way I have to go through. What division should I choose to make me cv more attractive (my next goal is internship abroad), derivatives, Risk, pricing or hedge fund accounting?

    1. Those are not really IB roles but are more on the S&T or public markets side. And the answer is that it depends on what you want to do in the future – Sales/trading? M&A? Private equity? Hedge funds? It’s tough to answer your question without knowing your goals. Overall, derivatives is best if you want to work in an actually trading role at a bank, prop trading firm, or hedge fund.

  4. I did some networking with investment bankers from Hong Kong and made good rapport with them. Unfortunately, I did not pass the resume screening process for most of the firms. I want to keep the relationships with the bankers. In this case, should I inform my situation to the bankers? If so what should I say?

    1. I wouldn’t frame it like that, just tell them that you remain interested in their firm but have pursued opportunities in [Other Field] for now, and it would be great if you could get their advice for any future applications to their firm.

  5. What is the benchmark of target/non-target school?

    I will be applying to Uni of Waterloo soon, is that a non-target?

    1. A target school is one that all the top banks recruit at on-campus. In Canada, the main target universities for IB are Ivey, Rotman, Queens, Schulich, and McGill. You can get in if you don’t go to one of those, but it will be harder, mostly because the industry in Canada is so much smaller.

    2. i agree with Brian’s comment unless you are doing the WLU/UW Double Degree program.

  6. I do remember I made it past a second round interview to a final round in a Canadian bank probably because of one sentence at the bottom of my resume saying I played poker recreationally. Towards the end of the interview, one guy asked me what I would do in some scenario (can’t remember exactly now) and my answer was essentially to buy the pot with an aggressive bet. They liked my combativeness and that basically sealed that round.

    Unfortunately did not get the final offer, but it was good rapport.

    1. Thanks for sharing. Yeah, poker is a common topic to get questions on… probably more so in trading, but bankers also like it quite a bit.

  7. The interviewee is a friend of mine, he really did put in WORK to get the offer he did. Hopefully I’ll be in his shoes in a year.

    Coming from a non-target, it’s honestly a number’s game, you either succeed or you give up. After a couple thousand emails it may feel futile, but the next one could always be your big break.

    Good luck to all us non-targets vying for an offer.

    1. Thanks for adding that. Yup, it really is a numbers game, which is why it’s so important to start far in advance.

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