by Brian DeChesare Comments (78)

Stuff Investment Bankers Don’t Like: 2016 Edition

Stuff Investment Bankers Don't Like, 2016 EditionDo you get dumber with age?

Maybe not, but you do start noticing more and more dumb things around you.

No matter how much the financial or hiring markets change, people tend to repeat the same foolish tactics over and over.

The last time I addressed what not to do to get into investment banking was in a 2009 article titled “Stuff Investment Bankers Don’t Like: The CFA, Your Activities, Your Ph.D., and More.”

At the time, I thought it would be true “evergreen” content: what could ever make the CFA useful?

But a lot has changed in the past seven years, so the list of what not to do has also changed.

Consider this article an update where I partially or fully retract my previous ideas, present some new ones, and explain what to avoid:

What Has Stayed the Same: A Rose by Any Other Name

In the original article, I listed nine tactics that were useless for getting into banking – and by extension, also useless for eventually getting into private equity, hedge funds, corporate development, and more:

  1. The CFA.
  2. Your Activities.
  3. The Investment Club You Started.
  4. Your Internship Waiting Tables.
  5. Bloomberg / FRM / CPA / Other Meaningless Certifications.
  6. The GMAT.
  7. Non-Native-Level Language Skills.
  8. Your Ph.D.
  9. Financial Modeling Courses.

Of that list, I consider only two to be useless today:

  1. Bloomberg / FRM / CPA / Other Meaningless Certifications – Sorry, these are still not a great use of time. Even recent interviewees with certifications like the CPA have confirmed this point.
  2. Yes, in some markets, such as India and South Africa, becoming a CA is helpful/required to get into banking. But the CPA is viewed a bit differently and doesn’t necessarily help as much in the U.S.

    As for Bloomberg, the FRM, and other certifications, they are just not relevant for most of the roles we cover on this site.

  3. Your Ph.D. – Nope, this one still won’t help you. In fact, it could easily hurt you because you’ll appear over-qualified. Would a Physics Ph.D. be willing to go from a thesis on quantum mechanics to pitch books or “channel check” grunt work?

If you want to be a quant or you want to work at a biotech-focused venture capital firm, a degree this advanced would help, but otherwise, not so much.

What Has Changed: All That Glitters is Not Gold

Most of the other items now fall into the “can be helpful in certain situations” category.

Let’s start with my favorite, the CFA:

The CFA: Now Sort of… Useful?

Ninety percent of the critical comments on the original post completely missed my point about the CFA.

I was not saying it’s completely useless; my point was that for the amount of time invested, you could probably do more useful things (and if you think time is an unlimited resource, think again!).

However, I’ve given up on explaining this nuance because the Internet has made most people too dumb to understand nuance.

Also, I now view the CFA as more useful for two main reasons:

  1. You don’t have to pass even the first level, or come close, to benefit from it. Just write that you’re studying for it, speak to it in interviews, and it will sound impressive if you’re a career changer, or you’ve been working full-time in a demanding job. No, you can’t write “CFA” after your name until you pass and get enough work experience, but the talking point matters more than the letters.
  2. It is useful for certain markets and jobs. Emerging markets seem to value it more highly, and certain hedge funds, asset management firms, and equity research teams do care about it. And yes, even some bankers and PE professionals will be impressed if you’re studying for it or you’ve passed a level while working 70-80 hours per week.

With that said, you still have to prioritize.

If you have a 3.0 GPA from a non-target school, or you haven’t had any internships, please stay away from the CFA until you fix those problems first.

Consider the exam if you’re interested in the public markets, you have good work experience, you know valuation and modeling, you have good stock pitch ideas, and you’ve already done a fair amount of networking.

Your Activities: Useful for Getting Noticed

I’m going to retract most of what I said last time around about bankers picking people primarily based on work experience and networking.

While those are important factors, you also need to stand out.

Internships, even ones at top firms, no longer impress as much as they used to, so “interesting” activities and hobbies matter more.

This one has also become more important because many candidates come across as extremely boring now.

However, one of my original points – it’s better to have 1-2 substantial activities rather than a laundry list of 10+ – still stands.

That Investment Club You Started: A Step On the Path

This one is more useful today because you need to start much earlier to have a good shot at getting into finance.

Be a line, not a dot.

You still won’t win an IB internship at Goldman Sachs if your only experience consists of a student-run investment club, but it can be a helpful stepping stone to an internship at a small firm and then a bigger bank.

Your Internship Waiting Tables: Got Communication Skills?

I’ve noticed lately that many candidates have poor social skills.

Both social skills and communication skills have fallen in the past few years, so why not improve both at the same time?

If you mostly sit behind a computer or in the library and rarely interact with humans, it is in your interest to do an internship where you wait tables, do door-to-door sales, cold call people, or something similar.

Don’t do this in your second or third year, but if you have the time, think about it in your first year of university or right before school begins.

Communication skills are huge and get overlooked all the time.

The GMAT: Cover for Your Low GPA?

As with the CFA, the GMAT should not be the first item on your priority list (well, unless you’re applying to business school).

But a high GMAT score can sometimes “cover” a bit for lower grades.

A score above 700 won’t help much if you have, say, a 2.5, but if you’re more of a borderline case, it’s something to consider.

If you can get a high score in 100-150 hours of study, it might be more viable to do that than to boost your GPA at the last minute.

Non-Native-Level Language Skills: London Calling?

As a practical matter, you have to be freaking good at a language to use it when writing 100-page CIMs or detailed investment memos.

However, in some markets, such as London, being “fluent” in a language can still set you apart even if you’re not good enough to write perfectly crafted 100-page memos with it.

This one depends heavily on your age and experience level: if you’re 21, 22, or already well beyond that, now is not the time to embark on a 1,000+ hour quest to master another language.

But if you’re getting started much earlier than that, and you want to work in London or another market like Hong Kong where you work across multiple countries, studying another language to a high level can be very helpful.

Financial Modeling Courses: Retracted!

I’ll officially retract my views on this one.

These days, it is pretty much expected that you’ll have some knowledge of accounting, valuation, and financial modeling even as a younger university student.

You don’t necessarily have to take a course, but you have to learn this material somehow, especially if you’re a career changer.

Memorizing formulas matters far less than being able to apply these skills to real case studies, stock pitches, and investment recommendations.

New Stuff Investment Bankers Don’t Like: My Kingdom for a Horse!

So that’s my list of partial and full retractions.

But I’ve also observed some new, troubling behavioral patterns.

In other words, new stuff investment bankers don’t like:

  1. Your Previous Investment Banking Internships

“Wait a minute,” you say, “This is crazy talk. How can bankers expect you to have previous internships, but simultaneously not like or care about them?”

You just hit the nail on the head.

It is now tough to impress with a normal IB/PE internship.

These internships have become a “check the checkbox” item: yes, you need them to get interviews, but an internship alone won’t boost your chances dramatically.

I’ve also heard stories of bankers deliberately ignoring internship experience and asking about other topics, though I wouldn’t quite call that a trend.

  1. Being Boring

One coaching client a few years ago had solid internships, high grades, and very good technical knowledge, but still failed to win the offer he wanted.

Why?

He didn’t connect well enough with interviewers because he jumped into proving himself too quickly.

I told him to do volunteer work in another country, take up a new hobby, or otherwise make himself more interesting… and he completely ignored me and got another internship instead.

  1. Double Majors
  2. Yes, you need to know accounting very well, you need decent finance knowledge, and some exposure to computer science and writing helps.

    But none of that means double or triple majors are worthwhile.

    You’re much better off majoring in one subject, getting the highest grades you possibly can, and doing a minor or taking a few classes in the other areas.

  3. Last-Minute Resume Padding and Interview Cramming
  4. For the same reason that delaying your graduation isn’t a great idea, anything that starts with “last-minute” is also a poor idea: you need to start far earlier today.

    A single internship or activity, even if it’s a fantastic one, is unlikely to boost your chances dramatically.

    And since more interview questions now relate to conceptual understanding, memorizing a bunch of questions at the last minute won’t help as much.

    The main exception to this rule is that you can take up a new hobby/interest/activity late in the process and use it to appear more interesting.

  5. Non-Target Schools
  6. It is getting harder to break into the industry from non-target schools.

    It’s still possible – as recent stories show – but in every interview I’ve conducted with a non-target student over the past year, he/she has said something like:

    “It’s really, really tough, and I also got lucky. I came close to transferring, or I did transfer.”

    Transferring is not always the best move, but you should strongly consider it if you’re in your first or second year and you’re serious about finance.

    It’s all about probability: the recruiting process is very random, and you need to boost your chances in any way you can.

    Many large banks explicitly limit the number of slots available for non-target students, which reduces your chances before you even set foot in the room.

  7. Useless Case Studies and Models

Just like my comments about the CFA get misinterpreted, it seems like my other statement, “the level of technical rigor is higher,” also gets misinterpreted.

This change does NOT mean that you should spend days or weeks creating models for companies with 2-page-long Cash Flow Statements.

Instead, it means that you must know the principles very well, and you must be comfortable creating simple models quickly and using them to answer case studies.

And most importantly, you have to be intelligent about picking companies.

No one will be impressed because you built a model for a company with messy financial statements; they’ll be impressed because you can present your findings convincingly in two minutes.

  1. Waiting Around to Recruit You

Just like private equity recruiting seems to move up earlier each year, the same thing has been happening with summer internship recruiting.

It’s not a universal trend at all banks/schools, but I’ve been hearing from a lot of students going in for summer internship interviews in November and hearing back in November (or sometimes October!), as opposed to December, January, and early February as in past years.

If you get a summer offer in early November, you’re extremely likely to accept it because you won’t have anything else by then… and in most cases, you should accept it.

The risk of waiting for a marginally better offer and then getting nothing is just too high.

Stuff Investment Bankers Don’t Like: There is Nothing Either Good or Bad, But Thinking Makes It So

The main difference between 2016 and 2009 is that fewer tactics fall into the “useless” category now.

Just like Hamlet pointed out a few hundred years ago, “there is nothing either good or bad”: many of these tactics can be useful, but only if you have the right background, geography, and career goals.

But the biggest difference is that internships and experiences that used to set you apart no longer do that quite as much.

If you walk in and expect to impress them with a previous boutique banking internship, you might just get a “So what?” reaction.

So more than ever, you need a “hook” to boost your odds.

Bonus points if it’s something bankers like.

(OK, maybe skip the trophy wives…)

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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Comments

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  1. Hey,

    I graduated from Northeastern with a 3.36 GPA in this May 2018. I had a prior internship experience working at BBH in a BO role. I’m working right now as an equity trading assistant. Aside from networking do you believe that a financial modeling course certification will help me break in a BB firm? Do I have any realistic shot to break into wall street?

    1. A course alone will not be enough. You need a better school, a higher GPA, a lot of networking, and more relevant experience… take a look at the coverage of MSF programs on this site.

      1. Hey Brian,

        Thank you for your reply. I just have one more question. I know you mentioned MSF programs but i just graduated so getting my masters isnt an option for another 2-3 years. How would I go about getting relevant experience aside from cold calling/ emailing which i started doing. I know a course alone isnt enough but would a course like WSP or BIWS supplemented with networking help me land a position with a BB or boutique firm? Thanks again!

        1. You can get a Master’s whenever you want. There are different programs. See: https://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/investment-banking-masters-programs/

          The best way to get experience is to win admission to a good MSF program and leverage its name when you network and do cold outreach and try to get an internship before or during the program.

          Sure, you can take our BIWS courses if you want (it’s in my economic self-interest to encourage that), but the truth is that you will need something more than just a course of any type (even something like the CFA) to get in.

  2. Hey Brian. You stated in your FAQ that “even an unknown local boutique will give you a huge leg-up if you can write “Investment Banking Analyst” on your resume.” Is this no longer true? If not, how can we better differentiate ourselves? Go for more known boutiques our sophmore summer? Thanks!!

    1. Internships are now just part of the normal requirements. You won’t really set yourself apart with them unless it’s something amazing, e.g. you worked personally with the founder of KKR or Blackstone on a deal at age 18.

      The basic formula is laid out here: https://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/investment-banking-university-student-high-school-student/

      1) “Good enough” grades and test scores (e.g., over 3.5 in the U.S. and 2:1 or better in the U.K.).

      2) Knowledge of accounting, valuation, and finance gained from classes/books/courses.

      3) One “interesting” activity or experience that few others will have.

      4) One solid, finance-related internship.

      5) Some amount of networking (Moderate if you’re at a top school, and extreme if you’re at a non-target school).

  3. Hi Brian,

    I’m a first-year student studying business administration in Holland (RSM). I know you said it’s not worth it to double your major. But since Business Administration is so broad in topics, and there is not a lot of focus in specific topics. I was thinking about doing a double degree in Tax Law. Furthermore, I am trying to get an internship in a local IB for summer. And I was planning to do volunteer work abroad. Do you think the double degree in Business Administration and Tax Law would make sense in a career in IB. And are there other things I can do as a student (except an internship or volunteer work) to stand out, would lets say something like an honors programme be worth it?

    Thanks in advance.

    1. No, Tax Law will not help for IB. If you really want to do this, pick a second degree that is more relevant, such as finance or accounting. The best way to stand out as a student is to get 1-2 relevant internships and have 1 “interesting” activity/experience/story, so volunteer work might work if it is in an unusual location (for example).

  4. Arzoo Naqvi

    Hii
    I completed bachelor degree of engineering 6.22 CGPI and I have no idea about finance or accounting but with a good reference I got job as investment banker and they want me to do some course so I get idea about IB so can you please help mee which coarse will be beneficial and yes I can not do it full time because I will be working
    I am working in UAE so I want course in UAE only

    1. I don’t know about in-person courses in the UAE. We offer online courses if you check the homepage of this site.

  5. Great read! What roles are there for those with stem majors who have an appreciation for finance (day trade as a hobby, enjoy coding trading algorithms)? I kind of like the idea of being a quant but Ive been told there is limited mobility within that role. I also don’t want my networking or social skills to go to complete waste. Any ideas? Thank you!

    1. Quant funds, quant research (do a search for both on the site), prop trading, sales & trading, and many generalist hedge funds want people with a technical background even if you don’t do quant work there.

  6. Hi,

    You mention talking about studying for your CFA is good during your interview, but what about putting it on your resume when you aren’t actually in a CFA program

    1. You have to be careful with how you list the CFA on your resume (see their official guidelines), but you can list it toward the bottom if you’re studying for it or you’re registered to take it.

  7. Hi Brian,
    You’ve mentioned in the article that you recommended one of your clients to do volunteering work in a foreign country. I went to a volunteering trip in Peru the summer before my freshman year. Is it something that I can put on my resume? If so, where should I put it?

    1. Yes, you can use that. List it in the bottom section unless you can somehow spin it into sounding like work/leadership experience and you do not have 1-2 solid other internships.

      1. Thank you!

  8. What would you recommend for a recent graduate with 1 year work experience who currently works in investor relations and wants to transition to IB or ECM? I went to a target, have been networking with alums and am currently studying for the CFA L1. What else should I be doing? I’m worried if I don’t make the switch soon I’ll have to wait for MBA recruiting.

    1. Probably a Master’s in Finance, or maybe try to use your IR background to move into equity research and then IB from there. Another step might be to do something more closely related to IB first, such as working at an independent valuation firm or in valuation/advisory at a Big 4 firm.

  9. Aman Aryan

    Hello Mr Brian!
    I’m an 11th grade student studying in India at a reputed school(I’m guessing that would be junior college in USA). I have been interested in entering the investment banking industry for quite some time now. I wished to ask you sir as to what all should I do NOW as a student so that I can enter this industry after some years?

    1. https://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/investment-banking-university-student-high-school-student/

      And consider leaving India because it is extremely difficult to get into the industry there due to the low number of positions relative to the size of the country. Recruiting is non-existent outside of the top IIMs (maybe a bit at the top IITs), so if you don’t go to one of those, you have to work at a boutique, in a non-IB role, or go overseas.

      1. Aman Aryan

        Right sir. However I’ve to stay in India till my 12th grade is done as I’ve to give my board exams next year which as you know is extremely crucial. Also sir I’m 16…is it possible to do an internship at 16? Like in India I haven’t seen companies recruiting 16 year old guys? Sir also would you recommend doing undergraduate abroad and if yes then which colleges would be best firniture investment banking because my school doesn’t have any special club for investment bankers??

  10. Networking still be the most important part, right?
    Can you please share your experience?
    Any related articles about it?

    1. There are dozens of articles about networking on this site… do a search… go to the Articles tab…

  11. Hi,

    Thanks for the post. I want to go into leveraged finance/M&A, at the moment I only have an offer from Bloomberg as a syndicated loan analyst.

    Do you think this is a relevant work experience to move into investment banking ?

    Frank.

    1. Yes, potentially it is relevant for those groups.

  12. Hi,

    I was just wondering whether a Computer Science degree (at a target UK university) would put me at a disadvantage in applying for a front-office IB job. I’ve heard that investment banks push certain applications through to technology positions. Is this true?

    Thanks

    1. It’s not a disadvantage if you have the right sequence of internships and you know accounting/finance. However, a computer science degree may not be the best idea because it won’t give you much time for activities/internships, and it will be harder to earn a 2:1 or above with a difficult degree.

  13. I’m currently 18 and in September I’ll be starting a 4 year MA (hons) degree in Economics from the University of Edinburgh here in the U.K. Whilst I’m at university I intend on doing internships with investment banks or asset management firms (if I can) and I’d like to join the universities student led Trading and Investment club (EUTIC). After this I plan on doing an Msc in finance at a great uni in either the UK or US (Oxford, Harvard, MIT etc.). In between my bachelors degree and my masters I was thinking of maybe doing the CFA so I was wondering if a) this would be worth it? And b) if you can think of any other ways I could bulk up my cv and enhance my chances of getting into IB? Thanks.

    1. Get as many internships as possible, and do one interesting, completely random thing that makes you stand out to bankers (e.g., climb Mt. Everest, become a world champion bear hunter, go cross-country skiing in Greenland, etc.).

      1. Thank you, I’ve got a blackbelt in kickboxing if that’s interesting enough?

  14. I’m a sophomore currently majoring finance; however our major have divided into mainly two categories: 1st is advanced corporate finance, entrepreneurial finance, and the 2nd route is more of portfolio and risk management.

    My school is a non-target but has a couple of boutiques, which categories would you recommend for a better job outlook if I intend to get a Master in Finance later to improve my recruitment?

    Also is there any particular courses in finance that can gear me for IBD (M&A, LBO)?

    1. I don’t think it matters, but the first one is probably more relevant for IB/PE roles. I can’t speak to individual courses offered at schools, but my impression is that most of them are too theoretical and therefore not useful for real-life roles.

  15. Tarun Chaudhary

    Hi Brian,

    I’m currently working in Reserve Bank of India, India’s central bank with experience of 4+ years. I have done graduation in mechanical engineering but got job in this bank after a random decision. I have developed interest towards finance industry and have achieved an MBA degree in finance through distance learning mode (which I feel is useless). I scored 57% in my graduation and upwards of 60% in MBA (I don’t know what would be the GPA since we don’t have the concept here in India). The work I do here is pretty boring and general in manner; no specialization in anything. I feel I want to make a switch into finance industry purely because of my interest and the industry’s charm. I have decided to appear for CFA L1 this December. It has been killing me for years to think of the switch which will be a drastic step for me, considering how government job like mine is valued here in India. Please help me with the next step I should take to make a switch to finance industry. I’d be really grateful if you could take some time to address my query. It could change my life.

  16. For Canadian business schools, which one(s) would typically be the highest regarded in the US, particularly in New York/Financial District area? Are there many Canadian business school grads there, and if so which schools are they typically from? (for undergrad studies)
    Thank you.

    1. In Canada, the main target universities for IB are Ivey, Rotman, Queens, Schulich, and McGill. We’ve covered the region before, so please do a search for more information on it.

  17. Who are the best CFA prep providers?

    1. I don’t know, ask for opinions on the Analyst Forum

  18. Hello Brian.
    I’m a 1st year in a French Business School, after I’ve completed 2 years of preparatory classes to get into it. As I’ve been looking around your website recently, I bumped into an article about French Schools, and you are definetly right about it. Your school makes you who you are in here.. As you can notice, I’m from a non-target school, although it’s ranked Top 10 in France and has a good reputation in Finance/Audit. See, I’m struggling to find the actual program that suits me. Our school is a CFA Institute Partner, it’s a 2 year program where you can obtain the two first levels and be prepared for taking the third one, it’s starting off this January 2017 and will take two years to complete, it has a 12 months obligatory interships one that’s taking place in June 2017 and the other one the next year. Upon completing this program your grades are improved automatically by the school, given that I kinda screwed up my first year, that would be interesting as I’m willing to go for an MSc. And there’s an another program where you have a year of interships starting off January 2017, followed by an exchange program of 6months, a specialization (in Finance for example) and a last intership in January 2019, totalizing 3*6months of internships. This is where I get confused, should I go for the first choice, the CFA one where I can get a probable first good intership because of the CFA mention or the other program that has a 6months plus internship and a probably good exchange program?
    Thanks.

    1. Your top priority should be getting the best internship possible. So if the CFA mention will give you access to better internships, go for that one.

  19. Hi Brian

    I am 22 from India and I am CFA level 3 candidate as well CA final candidate. Hopefully in a year span , I will be able to clear both. I have previous experience of internship in audit field.I am confused to what kind of profile I should select for the job . How do I find out that which profile would suit my personality and more important during my past internships I did not enjoy the auditing work and do not have experience in IB or finance field. Indian CA are well respected in middle East – Dubai so I have set my mind to shift there by the Year End. What kind of Opportunities I can find there with these two degrees? .I do not have much of networking out in the market, and those who I know would ask for the relevant experience which I currently do not have. And I do checked the modelling courses provided by you. I am aware they would definitely help me but would the certification has it is relevance in Dubai or India. Or even the skills I would acquire while pursuing these modelling courses would help me to land a job? How can I apply for internships in Dubai or any other countries online and most importantly what should be my road map in this year so that I am preferred over the other job candidates. In India the combination of CA+CFA is considered to be be very good , so I am working my ass off to clear all the exams by the year end.

    1. Well… I think you need to narrow down what you want first.

      If you don’t want to do audit, what are you interested in? Do you like making your own investments? Do you prefer working on deals or longer-term projects? What kind of work environment do you want?

      I wouldn’t think about it in terms of what jobs you can get with a CFA and CA, but instead think about the type of work you want to do.

      And if you don’t know yet, get internships in different areas and see what you prefer.

  20. Hi Brian,

    I’m three years out of college (3.8 GPA, but in humanities), currently working in a financial advisory-type job (mostly risk management and 3rd-party independent valuation of consumer ABS portfolios). I’m looking to make the transition to IB, but not sure how likely it is, or the best way to go about it (outside of just “go to business school”).

    I’m thinking I’m too old to be considered for an analyst job at a BB or well-known boutique, but wanted to know if you saw any avenues to making the switch, or whether it would still even be worth it to devote time to getting good at accounting or better at valuation modeling (we don’t do a lot of DCF-type modeling where I work).
    If the best avenue you see is, in fact, “go to business school” (I took the GMAT a couple years ago and got a 750), that would be helpful too. Thanks.

    1. maybe pursue a big 4 or equivalent valuation position and stay a year or two prior to b-school.

      Just make sure your GMAT score does not expire, 750 is solid.

    2. Personally, I think it would be tough to win an entry-level IB role without business school if you’ve already been working for 3 years.

      But if you want to avoid business school for now, you can do what Airic suggested and transition into the Big 4, get into TAS or a Valuation or IB group there, and then see if you can move to another firm from there.

      I think you could probably move to IB-related work at a Big 4 firm, but it would be tougher to move to a large bank if you already have more than a few years of work experience.

  21. Hi, Brian!

    I am a math major at a non-target school in a non-English speaking country in Europe (Charles University in Czech Republic). Do you think it is at all possible to break into Investment Banking in the US/UK, or will the bulge bracket banks automatically disregard me because I’m not a native speaker? I am currently in my first year of university and I am thinking about transferring to a better school abroad, but I am not quite sure what my options are at this point.

    Thanks a lot!

    1. Sure, you can get in. Most people who work in IB in London are not native speakers of English. They like to hire people from all over who know different languages and have different backgrounds (though I am not sure how much they need Czech speakers compared to, say, French or German speakers).

      Transferring to a better school in another country would definitely help your chances. I am not sure how easy or difficult it is to transfer into the top ones in the UK, but that is probably your best bet if you can do it.

  22. Hello, Brian!

    Nice topic, covers a lot about current trends. I’ve read many articles here, but still got a few questions, so it would be great to reach your advice.

    I am 22 years now, finishing my masters in economics this year, first degree – computer science (5-year program (Russian specialist degree – bachelor’s equivalent)). First GPA is low, I’ve started university at 15 so first 3,5 years I wasn’t really studying, just perfectly completed final tests helped me finish, then I understood that my net worth = 0 and that pure programming is not for me. For now, I have perfect GPA and full scholarship on masters, 750 gmat, took many advanced courses in accounting, finance, economics and math also I know a few programming languages, big data and machine learning technics. I have plans to break into HBS/Wharton and then reach finance industry. But there is a problem. I have no relevant experience for the top level finance industry:

    18-19: Sales
    19-20: Technical director in IT startup
    Then I started credit brokerage project, analyzed a huge amount of investment opportunities to help attract cheap international capital to local businesses, but project failed – economic situation in Russia buried this idea.
    Also I did two internships in Ministry of Investment policy where I was analyzing investment projects and was part-time tutor (Corporate finance Intro courses).
    For now, running my own company – complex consulting and business tools integration for small business.

    Today in Russia it’s impossible to break into top-level finance industry from non-target school, so I am going to reach it directly from HBS/Wharton. I know that my stats are far from ideal for Wall Street, but I know that I can get there and that’s what I really want. I am going to apply to business school at 24, so I have 2 years. I am thinking about BIWS courses after masters and at least first level CFA before MBA, also I am trying to write some financial articles at seekingalpha to gain financial fluency. I will be grateful if you give me any additional advice about these 2 years, because I am sure I need some expert opinion about my current situation.

    Thanks for attention!

    1. I think your plan sounds reasonable, but you might want to consider getting Big 4 experience or something else that looks closer to investment banking. I realize the economic situation in Russia has made it impossible or close to impossible to get into IB from a non-target school, but you might consider other roles that seem closer (e.g., Big 4 firms, commercial real estate, or even corporate finance/budgeting/something like that at a normal company).

      If you go into the process and your only previous work experience is running your own company, banks may be skeptical because they’ll wonder how interested you really are in investment banking (i.e., will you stay or just go back to your own business?).

      1. Thank you for your response!

  23. Luis Augusto

    Hey Brian.
    I was thinking, I can not be an intern nowadays, but I want to gain experience in finance and investment banking interviews.
    It is a bad idea to apply for jobs even knowing you can’t accept? Do you think I’m going to look like a fool?
    Thanks for the attention.
    Luis Augusto Gandolfi

    1. M&I - Nicole

      You can still apply and hone your interviewing skills. Once you get an offer, you can then decide what you want to do with it.

  24. Great article as always, Brian. Just one small point that I’d modify. I’m one of your past interviewees from India and can attest that CA is NOT required to get into investment banking in India, nor does it particularly help.

    1. Thanks for adding that. It’s interesting that you’re saying the CA is not required/not that useful for India, because past interviewees (including one just a few months ago) mentioned it was. But I guess that may be changing.

  25. mergermaniac

    Hi Brian~ Im currently a senior at a non-target. I have an abysmal GPA (2.3-2.5 range). There were personal family related reasons for those results. I have relevant banking internships. I also have good ECs/Leadership experience. However, since banking internships are no longer impressive, how will I obtain interviews for full time positions if firms always almost like to dinge based on academics. You mentioned the GMAT, but I need to focus my efforts entirely on trying to get out of this sticky GPA situation. What should I do? Thanks for reading!

    1. You need to improve your GPA ASAP – maybe delay graduation, consider a Master’s program, or find some other way to stay in school to boost it any way you can. Otherwise it would be tough even to get into business school with grades that low. Even if you have to delay graduation by 1-2 years, it could be worth it if it helps you get a higher GPA.

      1. mergermaniac

        Thanks so much! There are just some issues, I check with my university and they said that I since I have only about 2 or 3 classes left for graduation I cannot take anymore outside my cirriculum or else I would be charged additionally and it wont be factored into my GPA. So do you think my options are:
        1. Get into any Masters program that trumps the GPA
        2. Get any finance experience really to switch into banking later and in hopes that GPA would be overlooked in business school applications
        3. Get a higher GMAT later or getting into an Exec MBA

        Im trying to weigh my options so I feel less panicky.
        Thanks again!

        1. Yes, those are your options. I would say #1 is by far the best option if you can afford it and you can get into a top Master’s program (I am not sure how heavily they weigh GPA). If that doesn’t work, go to option #2, find any job you can, and then either apply to banking directly or go back to #1 and do a Master’s degree at a top school to get in.

          1. mergermaniac

            Perfect, thanks so much Brian for your input!

  26. Can I work in Equity Research without CFA? I’m an ACCA(accounting and finance) and I’m in love with ER, but is it necessary to get the CFA? Because ACCA took me 3 years to complete, and I don’t have the level of patience required anymore.

    By the way, I still think CFA is useless for investment banking. Even if you’re from non target, I think a non paid boutique IB internship is much better than wasting your time on studying things you’ve studied in your undergrad because it opens doors, as it did for me. If your goal is AM/Buy-side, then CFA is great. investment banking is SO easy, I don’t know why someone would need a CFA for that, and I don’t think IB recruiters are that stupid to be impressed by your CFA. It’s almost like doing Master of Financial Engineering just to break into IB.

    1. Yes. It’s not required for ER by any means, it’s just that it may help a bit and some Analysts have it.

      Yes, the CFA is not useful for younger students without internships – but it’s helpful for career changers to show they have a serious interest in finance (again, you don’t need to pass… just put in a bit of study time and speak to it).

  27. Yes! I knew you’d come around to the CFA dark side one of these days, Brian.

    1. I gave in :( I blame the new Star Wars film, I kept associating the dark side with the CFA and eventually gave in… it just seemed so cool.

  28. The bit about non targets, if you did a BSc in a non target but then did a MSc in a target (both in finance), does that cancel out and make up for a non target undergrad?

    1. It may not cancel it out 100%, but it definitely helps your case quite a bit.

      1. Thanks, does this apply to the IB in particular, or FO finance in general?

        Basically if you had to speculate the percentage that’s cancelled out, would you say it is about 50% or less or 70-80% or more?

        1. I don’t think I can give a percentage, but it can help quite a bit as long as your grades there are good. This applies mostly to investment banking, but other front-office finance roles care about the school you went to as well.

  29. Hi Brian.
    Does it matter what my pre mba career is?

    1. Yes, to some extent… but mostly what *type* of career it was (e.g., consulting/finance, non-profits, marketing, engineering/tech…).

  30. Im a recent grad (3.47 gpa) from non-target and no internships to speak of. I was considering taking the CFA but have not yet learned financial modeling, valuation, etc. Your recommendation is to forego the CFA and instead learn financial modeling, valuation, etc first?

    1. I don’t know about the writer of this post, but one of the biggest things I see in forums and through conversation is the level of uncertainty that candidates have. No real drive or passion. A lot of the things written above would not be issues if a candidate possessed the necessary drive to want to learn or want to improve. No one knows what you should do better than yourself. Everyone’s looking for steps 1, 2 and 3 to become this or that but in my opinion its only a guide, not a surefire thing.

      If you’re planning on working in an industry (finance) for a significant amount or time, you should like it. Enjoying what you do makes networking, learning and working a hell of a lot easier. Enough so that you might not find doing the CFA particularly difficult.

      On a side note, while studying for the CFA, I would incorporate what I learned in modeling or master my grasp of the formulas/concepts by practicing in excel. Definitely helps with retention and you kill two birds with one stone. Joining your local CFA society also helps with networking, but above all, learn to make decisions yourself and stop looking for **the way** to get into any career.

      1. Yes, agreed on all counts. You really need to know *why* you’re doing what you’re doing.

        But to be fair, many students are uncertain and are considering a lot of possibilities… it’s hard to know exactly what you want when you’re 18-22 and haven’t had much real-world experience yet.

    2. Yes, I would prioritize valuation and modeling over the CFA. It takes far less time to learn those skills, and they are useful in many more fields. Also, you can still say you’re “studying” for the CFA… just not very much right now.

    3. Funny how I stunbled upon this article one week after paying CAD $2000 for the June Exam….

      1. I do have some valuation / modeling experience, although it is minimal

        1. OK – it really depends on your background and future goals. Like I said above, the CFA can be useful in certain contexts, but not so much if you want to get into IB and have no previous internships…

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