by Brian DeChesare Comments (408)

Stuff Investment Bankers Don’t Like: The CFA, Your Activities, Your Ph.D., and More


NOTE: This is a really old article. Please see the revised version here and leave a comment on the new version instead. Our views on everything here have changed significantly!

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend lately: many readers have the wrong idea of what will help them with investment banking recruiting.

Thinking that they need to do “something” at the last minute to boost their chances of getting into the industry, they come up with all sorts of “creative” – yet marginally effective – ideas.

Read on to see exactly what not to do to get noticed in recruiting.

NOTE: This is a really old article. Please see the revised version here and leave a comment on the new version instead. Our views on everything here have changed significantly!

1. The CFA

I must get more comments about the CFA than any other topic (yes, even you, models and bottles).

There are hundreds of reasons the CFA (any level) is a waste of time for getting into investment banking (note those highlighted words carefully, and read to the end of these points before leaving an angry comment), but here are the top 3:

a. It’s not necessary for advancement and the majority of investment bankers don’t even have it.

If you want to be a portfolio manager, go ahead… but for the rest of us it’s marginally helpful at best.

b. Studying for the exam requires an obscene amount of time – almost 1,000 hours according to the website.

Think about how much networking you could do in that same amount of time: let’s assume 900 hours of study time for the CFA (300 hours per level).

Assuming you can plan and conduct 1 informational interview in 1 hour total, that’s nine hundred new contacts.

Which do you think will be more useful: a single line at the bottom of your resume, or almost 1,000 people who can help you get interviews?

c. There’s almost no correlation between the CFA and what you actually do as an Investment Banking or Private Equity Analyst / Associate.

Last time I checked, the CFA curriculum did not cover administrative work, due diligence, pitch books, and the financial modeling specific to banking.

Please, no more email or comments on the CFA. Use those 900 hours and do some networking, learn another language, or go on a trip around the world – any of those would be more helpful for getting into finance.

Clarifications to the Statements Above: In some situations and geographies the CFA can be useful – for a full discussion, please read this newsletter article on the pros and cons and when you should think about the CFA.

The reason why I made such strong statements above is this: most comments and questions I get on the CFA are coming from people with low grades at lesser-known schools with no experience who think that the CFA will magically get them into Goldman Sachs investment banking.

It won’t.

It may help, and it is certainly more useful in other fields such as equity research, portfolio management, and (some) hedge funds, but it will not “replace” low grades or limited work experience.

Here’s more on degrees and certifications in investment banking.

2. Your Activities

“But wait,” you say, “I thought it was really important to be ‘interesting’ in interviews?”

It is – but bankers pick resumes mostly based on work experience and whether or not they know you.

Now if you’ve done something truly impressive – like starting a non-profit that built 1,000 schools in Southeast Asia – that can actually help you.

But let’s be honest: many activities are just resume padders, and having 1 name or 50 names won’t make a difference if that’s the case.

If you have absolutely NO finance experience and nothing even related to business on your resume, then you can play up your activities – but otherwise avoid it.

3. That Investment Club You Started

If you can’t get a real internship, start an investment club or student-managed fund instead, right?

Actually, this logic is not terrible: it’s certainly more helpful than the CFA, and in the absence of real business experience, it looks better than being a lifeguard or working at a restaurant.

But no student-run investment club is going to put you on par with the guy who did 2 summers at Morgan Stanley.

You should only do this if you can’t find a part-time, school-year, or summer business-related internship of any kind.

4. Your “Internship” Waiting Tables

Truthfully, being an investment banking analyst is much more similar to being a waiter than it is to most “real” internships.

You need to multi-task, you’re always running around, you have to deal with annoying clients all day, and you have to do a ton of grunt work.

But bankers themselves don’t see it that way and won’t acknowledge this type of work experience as equal to a “real” internship.

You don’t want to write about any of this unless you have nothing else to point to.

5. Bloomberg / FRM / CPA / Other Meaningless Certifications

Similar to the CFA, most other certifications are also useless – although on the up-side they don’t waste nearly as many hours as the CFA.

Some of these certifications – like the FRM and CPA – have nothing to do with investment banking, while others – like Bloomberg – are somewhat relevant but useless compared to, say, calling 5 alumni.

Remember, the only part at the bottom of your resume that most people even read is what’s in the “Interests” section.

Bored office workers always want to meet interesting people, but no one wants to meet well-certified people.

6. The GMAT

While getting a decent GMAT score is important for business school admissions, it’s less relevant for getting into investment banking at the MBA-level. And it’s even less relevant at the undergraduate level.

If you had to take it for business school anyway and earned a good score, you can list it if you want – but if you don’t have room, cut it.

But if you haven’t had to take it for any reason yet, don’t do it in hopes of getting a good score and using that to propel your way into finance: your time is better spent elsewhere.

7. Non-Native-Speaker-Level Language Skills

Ok, this one is not 100% true.

It helps to have some language ability, even if you’re not native speaker-level – something is better than nothing.

But unless you’re at an extremely high level (i.e. you could watch a university-level lecture on economics, understand everything, and then write a brilliant 10-page paper about it in that language), you can’t leverage language abilities to move to offices in other countries – there’s too much reading and writing required.

There are some roles – like trading and certain back and middle-office positions – that don’t necessarily require language mastery. But if you’re reading this site, you’re probably more interested in areas like investment banking and private equity, both of which require a lot of communication and reading/writing.

8. Your Ph.D.

After the CFA, this might be my #2 question received via email:

“Will a Ph.D. help me get in? Do banks care about my quantum physics skills? What if I’m the next Isaac Newton?”

First off, if you’re smart enough to write the next Principia, you should not be in investment banking because you’re going to get a lot dumber. Go write a book about your discoveries and win a Nobel Prize.

The math required in finance is VERY simple. Addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division if you get really fancy.

Most of what you do in M&A is administrative: sending emails, keeping track of different buyers, and updating Word documents.

So the only reason to get a higher degree is if you want better access to recruiting channels at a more prestigious school – and even then, stop at the Master’s level rather than doing unnecessary work.

9. Financial Modeling Courses

“Wait a minute, you just RELEASED your own financial modeling course, and now you’re saying that banks don’t care whether or not we’ve gone through them? Are you crazy?”

No, I’m just being honest.

The *knowledge* you gain from these courses is very helpful, especially if you don’t have a finance background or you want to prepare before you start working.

But listing the course itself on your resume – no matter which one it is, or whether you invest $100 or $10,000 – doesn’t guarantee you anything.

The bottom-line is that if you want to prepare for interviews and for work itself, these can be a good option – but they fail as mere resume padders.

Wait, So What DO They Care About?


  1. Work Experience
  2. Educational Background (more applicable if you’re a student)
  3. How many people you know at their firm and how much they like you (networking)

But there’s a problem if you’re trying to use any of these to boost your chances at the last minute: each one takes years or months of effort – you can’t do it overnight.

But It’s the Last Minute and I Really Need Something!

It’s pretty much impossible to add anything substantial if you only have a week left before interviews begin – but if you have a few months, here are 2 quick examples of how you can make some impressive-sounding last-minute additions:

  1. Study abroad program / some kind of international experience. (doesn’t need to be 3-4 months – something shorter is fine)
  2. Summer, night, or part-time program at a well-known school.

Any type of study abroad program is also great to talk about in interviews, especially if it’s to a completely random country or region. Going on a trek to Antarctica stands out more than going to Paris.

Doing some type part-time or summer program at a brand-name school is more helpful if you’re not going to a well-known school right now – anyone scanning your resume quickly will say, “Aha, I recognize that name.”

Last-Minute Standout?

Of course, none of these tactics will make up for a lack of solid work experience or lack of contacts in the industry.

But if you’re struggling to stand out with only a few months left, you don’t have much of a choice – you have to take what you can get.

NOTE: This is a really old article. Please see the revised version here and leave a comment on the new version instead. Our views on everything here have changed significantly!

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. So I currently work in M&A in a small boutique. They are offering to finance a course of my choosing to help my professional development.

    What qualification do you think is best to go for? Something that will either help me get into bulge bracket or will just be good for my career and worth my time? They won’t support an MBA.

    I understand just working hard here and building experience help’s, just talking about the icing on the cake.

    1. If they won’t support an MBA, then, honestly, there isn’t much worthwhile that will help you get into a larger bank. The CFA is the only other useful, widely recognized course/certification, and that isn’t even too helpful for IB.

      So… I don’t know, maybe financial modeling courses such as the ones offered here or in-person ones, or something more general like management and leadership-type classes.

  2. Hi,

    Do you know if companies would be willing to offer internships to individuals who are not currently enrolled in school?

    I don’t have IB internship experience. I did a summer internship at E&Y and after undergrad, I worked in commercial banking for a little over a year before starting a brokerage for aircraft parts with another partner. I did just complete an MSF (not from a top school) to help with financial knowledge in the meantime as I knew I wanted a career in finance.

    Is it uncommon for non-students to apply for internships to get acclimated in IB? Thanks

    1. Banks usually do not give internships to non-students and non-recent graduates. So I think it would be tough to pull it off here – you would probably have to go for full-time roles in complementary groups instead (think about aircraft leasing in addition to traditional IB).

  3. Is it impossible to get into investing bank with cfa degree?

    1. Did you read the follow up?

      The issue is that yes, the CFA helps you a bit (and it’s not a “degree” – it’s a certification), but it makes a small difference next to having a top-tier university, business school, and internships on your resume. So, yes, you could do it, but it’s not going to magically get you into Goldman Sachs if you’re coming from an unknown school and you haven’t had relevant work experience.

  4. Dear Brian,

    I’ve read some articles you wrote about investment banking and I found it extremely insightful compared to other websites. I also love that you reply to everyone.
    Here’s my situation:
    1)I am graduating in May, at RMIT offshored in Singapore (this isn’t a top tier school), and I am expecting to get a 3.2 GPA for this bachelor’s degree in Business Management (I also have a minor degree in Finance).
    2) My only work experience related to finance is financial analyst internship in Laos at a French commercial bank, where I helped them analyst client’s credits, visited their factories, discussed their plan and so on. I earned a recommendation letter from the head of corporate department here is the link:!AuLqv9gAbCWdmTykLicn2NhfOzSw
    3) In 2017 I stopped my education to build a restaurant using my sibling’s fund, it is now running profitably, and its cash flow adequately covers my living expenses as a student. You can find out more about my restaurant journey in the following link:!AuLqv9gAbCWdlTO5g6L_lgOWx734
    4) I have also written some relevant reports such as industry analysis, equity analysis, excel financial modelling, which can be found here:!AuLqv9gAbCWdgj-g5pGmpSLps7-B

    Do you think I can get an internship from any big investment bank?
    If not what else should I do to increase my chances to land an internship at investment banks?

    Thank you in advance Brian, I hope you have time to reply

    1. First, you should be really careful about posting your real name and information online… what if a recruiter Googles you and sees your questions in the future? It wouldn’t reflect too well on your job search and interviews at the company. I’d strongly recommend deleting those links ASAP.

      I think it will be extremely difficult to win an IB internship, especially in Singapore, if you graduated from a non-top school with a 3.2 GPA and only have 1 internship experience at a commercial bank. Your best bet is probably to complete a Master’s degree and then move in from there, or to take some other job, such as at a Big 4 firm, independent valuation firm, consulting, or something else in professional services first, and then move into IB from there. See:

  5. Hi Brian,

    I got accepted into a target MMS. I have close to 1 year Financial Advising experience, but no IB experience. Will I be able to get a FT time IB role?

    1. Potentially, yes, assuming you complete the required networking and self-study.

      1. Thanks for the response Brian. I’m going to take a look at your courses and start networking now. Apart from those two things, is there anything else I should do to best prepare myself for FT IB recruiting?

        1. Maybe an internship before/during the program that is more relevant

      2. Thanks for the response Brian. Apart from the required networking and self-study, is there anything I could do to best prepare for FT IB recruiting?

  6. Hi Brian,

    I’ll be enrolling in the MSc Finance at LSE beginning September 2018. I have an IB internship under my belt and will have had a full year of working at a central bank by the time recruitment comes around. I intend to go through IB recruitment at LSE.

    My technicals could use some work so I figured writing the CFA level 1 would be a worthwhile way of acquiring a solid foundation in corporate finance, accounting, etc. I’m now considering just studying the material which would be relevant for IB and not writing the CFA I exam. I think I know the answer to my question, but would you say that focusing on the relevant material and spending more time on networking would be a better method of preparing for summer/fall recruitment?

  7. Hi

    What about CFQ offered jointly by ICAEW and CISI. Their curriculum has been recently reworked with the aim to be more practical and useful for individuals working in CF/IB. I have seen few positions advertised recently that specifically require ACA followed by part-qualified CFQ so I just wanted to get your opinion on this one. I feel it may be more relevant to UK/EU market than USA? They also claim to have a large pool of alumni and frequent networking events (though you have to pass Certificate level to gain access to these)

    1. I don’t know it, so can’t speak to it.

      1. Dear Brian,

        May I ask you something about CFA designation. If you are not have a Bachelor’s degree in Finance but you actually gain work experience as financial reporting analyst, what would you suggest instead of CFA for breaking the world of investment banking?

        Thank you very much.


        1. *P.S. Let me clarify to you, I am totally understanding the best way to break into, is networking. But if you have not any credential for proving your desire or knowledge about investments and finance what would you suggest?

  8. Is CFA level1 and BIWS financial modelling course sufficient to land an analyst job in M&A Division of investment bank?

    1. PS- I am a LAW graduate with in depth knowledge corporate law, securities law and IPR

    2. To learn the technical side required? Sure, but it also takes a lot of networking… you need far more than just the technical skills to win the job.

  9. I think it is an interesting article, but i have a question. What about an undergraduate degree in economics? Most of bankers prefer this degree, even when it is useless. For example in M&A you never use advanced econometrics, macroeconomics or microeconomics. Also, many of them think that if you know more math you are better in everything, so you have better opportunities if you have a physics or math degree even when it is useless too.

    1. What about them? Accounting is the most relevant subject to study in undergraduate, followed by finance. Economics is relatively useless. Physics/math degrees can be good as well, but you’ll have to learn the accounting/finance somewhere.

  10. Regarding #6 The GMAT, I’ve heard the opposite regarding the importance of your GMAT score during the interview process. I actually found this out during one of my MBA campus visits as I was networking with several student current entering the recruiting process who wish they knew in advance how much emphasis was placed on what your GMAT score was. One particular student shared how they decided not to retake the GMAT after scoring a ~650 because along with the rest of their application it got them into the school. That said, it drastically hindered this person’s chances during the recruiting process. In one example the student was on a phone interview and after he disclosed his GMAT the conversation quickly came to a close. Another student told me that for many of the banks he was applying to the application asked for your GMAT with a suggested minimum of 700, just like many school applications suggest a minimum of 3.0 GPA.

    I spoke with a admissions counselor at a T15 school that said many already admitted students spend a great deal of time trying to raise their GMAT simply for their IB applications.

    This came as a surprise to me during my visits as I found out that not only did I need the GMAT to get into the school, but I needed the GMAT to get the job.

    Anybody care to elaborate?

    1. I’m not going to respond to that comment in-depth because it’s addressed in the new version of this article, which we linked to at the beginning and end of this article:

      (Yes, the GMAT can potentially be helpful in certain situations)

  11. What do you think about a Masters of Science in Finance degree, and what do you think about a well known school such as Johns Hopkins University (new business school) vs Villanova University (well established MSF program but school isn’t ranked). Thank you.

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      JHU is probably better given its network and brand name. The MSF degree can be useful, but more so if you need it for re-branding / better access to recruiting (see our article on Master’s degrees).

  12. I come across this link and find the discussion interesting. In my personal opinion, I feel that the qualifications such as CFA and FRM is extremely useful in my work as it provides the foundation knowledge in producing coherent thoughts. One will only appreciate if a person has gone through the program.

  13. Hi Nicole, my nephew just finished graduate school (an institution that merges with cfa curriculum), he is 24 years of age,strong educational background with a strong passion for IB. What advice would you render considering he is an international student. Would he be better chanced working at bulge bracket banks.

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Yes, bulge bracket firms have higher probability of sponsoring your nephew’s visa, but your nephew should also have one-year work authorisation post graduation (please check with his career centre) so he can technically work at other banks too. Please go to for more details.

  14. Hi Nicole, I am reading your content and posts on IB. They are very detailed and targeted, thanks. I have always been interested and passionate about finance. I have a bachelors and masters in computer science and an MBA. I have 15+ years of experience in technology – software, hardware and cloud/SAAS based business models. I am currently working as a technology executive and have executive management experience to close to 11 years. I always wanted to get into IB and thought now is a good time to break into it. On reading more of the web, technology IB would seem to be a good transition channel for me. I was thinking of going back to school and get more advanced in finance and financial modelling and maybe get some certifications as well (CFA, CPA…). But, like you suggested, this may not the right approach to break in. I have a decent network with many years of experience in the industry because primarily it has been in financial services, but don’t know of anyone in IB. what would you suggest I do? any recommendations on school, programs, certifications? I have for the advanced financial modeling certification from wall street prep five years back, but again is not something I can leverage to get in like you said. Any ideas you can suggest? Thanks for your help!

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Thanks for your comment. I wouldn’t suggest that you go back to school. I’d suggest that you connect with people in the industry via LinkedIn, set up a few meetings to gain more information on the industry.

  15. Your website has been invaluable. Thank you so much.

    I am a corporate attorney (second year) who is in his late twenties. HYS undergrad (with PBK) and top 10 law school. I’m trying to make the switch to IB. I’ve read your great article on how to break into IB from corporate law. I’m also about to begin your modeling courses. My question is this: should I do CFA level 1 or series 79 as a signaling mechanism pre-interviews? I know networking is most important. But aside from a corporate finance class in law school I don’t have finance experience. I’m wondering if the 79 or part of the CFA would be useful given my background. Would deeply appreciate your advice and rationale.

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      I think a CFA can potentially be useful if you’re interested in the buy side like asset management etc. Otherwise, I think gaining real work experience in finance is probably more useful.

  16. Avatar

    Considering the CFA is useless when following the tradition route to IB, what about the extremely less traditional route?

    ie: Liberal arts degree, no finance internships, junior, non-target.

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      I’d say without the relevant finance experience at a non-target can be challenging.

      1. Avatar

        I do not doubt that one bit, specifically as a non-target w/o a finance degree, would the CFA level 1 demonstrate that I have quantitative abilities and also help land an asset management internship?

        Appreciate the feedback

        1. Avatar
          M&I - Nicole

          Yes the CFA can potentially help you for buy-side roles.

  17. Avatar

    Hi Nicole,

    Would you happen to know if the Quantitative Finance Program offered by Stanford University in Hong Kong would help me break into investment banking? I have been an employee of Deutsche Bank for 6 years doing Sales Support and Cash Management for both Institutional and Corporate Clients of the Bank. Appreciate your response. Thanks!

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Raymond, I am not 100% sure about the program. I think it can potentially be useful for quantitative roles but not necessarily for investment banking roles per se. If you really want to do a Masters/another degree, I’d suggest that you explore target schools abroad like UPenn, Harvard, Stern, LBS given their network and credibility in the industry. You can also use the advanced degree as a tool to rebrand yourself.

  18. Sorry that’s either taking the Bloomberg offer or going for the Msc, btw I landed the offer by reading your interview guides so thank you very much!

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      You’re welcome! I’d go for the Msc assuming its from a target school.

  19. Hello

    I was wondering what do you think is a better route into investment banking, I am currently sitting on an offer from Bloomberg (sales and analytics) and completing an Msc in Finance from targeted school (LSE). I’ve completed an internship in an energy company and another one in investment management but my background is in chemical engineering.

    Thank you

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Perhaps IM is the better option but you’ll have to translate your investment experience to deals.

  20. I was at a networking event recently (GS) and I spoke to one of the visiting VP’s. Being a level 1 candidate, I was curious and so I asked what effect being a candidate/charterholder would have on landing a job at the firm. The VP said that there have been times in the past where job candidates with borderline GPA’s were offered positions, partially because they had earned charters or were close to earning a charter.

    So, at least in my experience, a charter seems worthy of pursuit in that respect. Also, the material is actually really informative and applicable to a wide variety of scenarios in the industry.

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Thanks for your input.

  21. Hi nicole,
    Im currently working in a big 4 bank in australia as a unit pricing analyst wealth management division. From your experience. Do you think a cfa charter is necessary if i want to get into investment analyst role?(beside networking). I do have to admit that cfa is not that popular in oz. Not many job advertise cfa as a or cpa are more highly advertised although its two different field.

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      No, not necessary, especially if it is not popular where you’re from.

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