by Brian DeChesare Comments (81)

Investment Banking Recruiting in Europe: London vs. Frankfurt vs. Milan

Investment Banking Recruiting EuropeWhile you’ve learned all about recruiting in Europe before in places like the UK, Germany, and Italy, we’ve never done a direct comparison of what to expect in each region.

Will you really have to go through assessment centers and similar interviews in each place?

Are they only looking for locals or can you break in as a foreigner? What about language requirements and that all-important summer internship to full-time offer conversion rate?

Today a reader who has recruited across Europe – and won 2 internship offers – will share his experiences and answer all those questions, plus a whole lot more.

Introductions

Q: Can you walk us through your background and how you first got interested in finance?

A: Sure. I was born and raised in Italy, and after high school I studied business administration and completed a BSc in Finance from a non-target Italian university.

During my 3rd year there, I took a few classes in corporate banking and first learned about investment banking, M&A, PE, and VC.

The professor was great and we had several financiers as guest speakers – I was most interested in private equity and how they look for small and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs) to invest in. There are so many SMEs here that I knew there would be a lot of opportunity if I could break into PE.

Q: So you tried to get into PE coming from a non-target university with no full-time experience?

A: No, not yet. I looked for information online and spoke with the guest speakers in our class and learned that most people in PE had MBAs, that you had to know accounting very well, and that you had to do investment banking, consulting, or auditing first to break in.

I knew I needed better access to recruiters and more accounting knowledge, so I looked for a 2-year MSc program in Accounting and applied to the only “target” university in Italy.

I moved to Milan to complete the MSc program and then found out about summer internships in investment banking – but my chances weren’t good since I was from a non-target university, hadn’t studied abroad, had no relevant work experience, and didn’t speak a 3rd language.

But I applied to all the banks anyway and ended up getting several interviews and assessment centers, and then won a back office internship in London – which I accepted, since I had no better options. I also figured that having a bulge bracket name on my CV would at least help me with recruiting in the future.

After finishing that internship, I applied to both full-time jobs and internships (internships work a bit differently here) in investment banking in the UK and continental Europe, and went through recruiting in London, Milan, and Frankfurt, finally winning 2 internship offers.

M&I Note: The audit to PE path is more common in Europe. It does happen in the US and other regions as well, but your chances are not as good unless you’ve done something like audit to Big 4 TAS first.

M&I Note 2: While I’ve been critical of the back office in the past, it’s not the end of the world if you accept a back office internship. It’s more difficult to move from the back office to the front office if you’ve already accepted a full-time offer.

Q: That’s quite a story – you must have had a great strategy for winning those offers, or at least something that made you stand out.

A: In high school I wanted to play football full-time at first, and I had also worked as a sports journalist for a local newspaper before.

That wasn’t prestigious, but it did give me something to talk about in interviews for my “interesting fact” – and I could reference that when they asked about leadership, managing stressful situations, and so on.

This story helped me get my first back office internship – I think the 2 IB internship offers were more about solid technical preparation, since I had focused on my corporate finance studies over the past year.

Recruiting

Q: That’s a good one – much better than those interviewees who tell you that their “hobbies” are learning Excel or doing statistical analysis.

So what was the recruiting process in these different cities like?

A: I always started by applying to London first – usually applications from continental Europe are checked by local offices first, even if you apply to London. Sometimes they’ll even call you and say, “There are no spots left in London – are you interested in Milan?”

Then, if you pass the initial CV / cover letter / competency question screen, you’ll get a first round in the local office (Milan in this case) and then the 2nd round in London, or maybe a phone interview and then the AC in London.

With one bank I did the 1st and 2nd rounds in London and was then sent to Milan for the 3rd round since they ran out of spots in London, but that was the exception and not the rule.

My overall experience looked like this:

  • Bank A: Applied for the graduate program in London, did a phone interview, and then an assessment center in London (group work, then 3 interviews with 4 VPs).
  • Bank B: Applied for the graduate program in London, did a 1st round interview there with 2 associates, and then also did the AC in London (business case and presentation to Director, then another 2 interviews with 2 other Directors). But then I was sent to Milan for 3 interviews with the local Directors there and also had to complete an Excel test as well.
  • Bank C: Applied for summer internship in London and was then called and asked if I was interested in Milan – I did the 1st round in Milan with 1 analyst and 1 associate and then the 2nd round in Milan with 2 associates.
  • Bank D: Applied for a 3-month internship in Frankfurt via email – they responded shortly after that, and I then completed 3 interviews in Frankfurt on the same day (with 2 associates and 1 analyst).

Q: Awesome, thanks for sharing that information – I’m sure everyone’s recruiting experience is different but it’s good to have data on what to expect in different places.

So it sounds like you didn’t do much networking to get any of these interviews?

A: That’s correct – I did not do much networking. I already knew one of the VPs that interviewed me at Bank A because I met him during my previous summer internship, so I spoke with him in advance and asked about recruiting, how to best position myself, and so on.

But then another guy won the offer from Bank A, so it wasn’t too effective for me.

Q: What about CV differences? Is there anything that banks in Milan and Frankfurt care about but which offices in London do not?

A: The overall structure of CVs is not that much different, but in local offices they tend to care more about your grades.

In Milan and Frankfurt they asked me specifically for my GPA, while in London HR just scanned it quickly when screening CVs.

Another difference is that for full-time recruiting, they pretty much expect you to have had a previous internship in investment banking – whereas for internships you can get in just by having strong technical knowledge and some kind of previous experience even if it isn’t directly related.

All the candidates that received full-time offers in my final round interviews were former summer interns who had worked in IB at other banks.

Q: Right, so standards tend to be higher for full-time interviews and it’s tougher to break in if you haven’t had that IB internship before.

What about the type of people who recruit in each place? How is that different, and what are the language requirements in those cities?

A: Overall there’s the least amount of diversity in Milan because you must be fluent in Italian. So it’s mostly Italian students who end up there – either voluntarily or because they didn’t get into the London office.

Most of these students are coming from schools such as Bocconi University, LUISS, Politecnico, or ESCP.

In Frankfurt, they didn’t care about language abilities for internships. I don’t speak German but still won the offer there – but for full-time positions it’s different and I was told that you must be fluent in German to do investment banking there.

In London you see the most diversity – people from all countries throughout Europe, Asia, and North/South America.

Obviously there’s no language requirement there except for English, but language skills are still viewed very highly and you’d be at a disadvantage if you don’t speak other European languages.

Q: What about differences with interviews? Did you find a different ratio of “fit” to technical questions, or were the questions themselves any different?

A: Overall, I had the most technical interviews in Frankfurt. They asked pretty much everything you could ask: standard questions about EPS, accretion/dilution, synergies, the control premium, the liquidity discount, what happens post-merger, how to value startup and bio-tech firms, how to adjust for pension plans, leasing and IAS 17, stock options, derivatives, and more.

They asked me to explain how a PE firm works, what the average debt-to-equity ratio in LBOs was, how to value a company, and then how to write down and change all the main items of a P&L, balance sheet, and cash flow statement.

In Milan they also asked a fair amount of technical questions (Beta, WACC, DCF, multiples, etc.) but they didn’t go nearly as in-depth as they did in Frankfurt. They also asked a lot of questions about consolidated statements – what the financial statements for a parent company plus its subsidiaries look like and how to combine them.

In London, the technical questions were the easiest – everything was pretty standard and consisted of questions you can find in most interview guides. They focused more on your background and how well you fit in with the rest of the team there.

Q: Interesting – I’m sure we’ll get a lot of comments from readers there who experienced slightly different (or maybe significantly different?) interviews.

Earlier you mentioned that you won several internship offers even though you’re set to graduate shortly and you said that internships in Italy are “a bit different.” How does that work exactly?

A: In Italy we don’t have structured summer internships like you see in other countries.

You might find them at a bulge bracket bank with local offices in Italy, but local banks here don’t have such programs.

So 6 months before you graduate, when you’re writing your thesis and exams are over, you can apply for off-cycle internships. If you’re good enough to get in and do well there, they’ll just ask you to keep working after the internship, effectively turning it into a full-time offer.

That’s much different from London, where you usually do the internship just before your final year and then you start full-time one year later.

I don’t know what the exact “conversion rate” is in these 2 places, but your chances might actually be higher in Milan since pretty much all full-time bankers at local banks started out by completing post-graduation internships first.

Another difference here is that some banks only want students who have already graduated when they search for interns – and the internships themselves last 6 months rather than 10-12 weeks.

Since banks don’t have structured programs, they just post job openings on their website or on the business school careers page and you submit your CV and cover letter without completing competency questions or numerical tests or anything like that.

You also see that for some international boutiques with offices in Milan, but it’s more common at local banks.

Next Steps

Q: You mentioned before that you applied to both full-time jobs and internships but ended up with the 2 internship offers – do you think it’s harder to get full-time offers in Europe?

A: I think in general it’s more difficult to get full-time offers because people with previous IB internships have a huge advantage, so Europe is no different in that respect.

Q: I see; it’s definitely getting more competitive every year. 10 years ago the people applying to banks for full-time roles had far less internship experience.

So what’s next for you? When do your internships start?

A: Originally I was planning to complete one of my internships over the summer and then start the next one in September, before graduating in December or May.

Recently, though, some personal problems arose and because of those I couldn’t join one of the banks in the summer – so I’m going to focus on my thesis for now.

That would at least give me the option to move back into academia if I decide that I don’t want to do investment banking or can’t stand the hours.

Q: Great. Thanks for sharing your story – I learned a lot!

A: No problem, hope you enjoyed it.

For Even More Practice…

For even more practice with numerical, verbal and logical aptitude tests and assessment centers in general, check out Job Test Prep and all their test prep offerings.

They have our highest recommendation for online tests and assessment center prep – and their courses are the single best way around to prepare for EMEA recruiting.

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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by Brian DeChesare Comments (120)

From Middle-Office Operations to Front-Office Sales & Trading: How One Reader Made the Leap and How You Can Do It Too

From Middle-Office Operations to Front-Office Sales & Trading: How One Reader Made the Leap and How You Can Do It Too

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of the back office.

Much of the work is mundane, and it doesn’t give you many options: advancing is difficult and breaking into front-office roles is even harder.

Or is it?

While it might be difficult to get into investment banking front-office roles, it’s easier if you’re interested in trading – as we’ll find out in this interview with a reader who made the leap from a middle-office trade support role to front-office trading at a major investment bank.

Holla Back, Office

Q: Let’s go back to the beginning. How did all of this start, and how did you wind up in a middle-office support role?

A: My first few years of college, I was set on going to medical school and becoming a doctor – but I kept hearing about finance and investment banking from friends, and got a lot more interested in those over time.

Like many others, I heard about the lavish lifestyle and money and wanted that without really understanding what was involved.

Through cold-calling and networking, I got a couple finance internships with local firms in my area, but these were all “fetch the coffee”-type experiences where I just did grunt work for financial advisors.

I got some full-time interviews when banks came to my campus to recruit, but I never made it past the 1st or 2nd round for any front-office roles.

So I had nothing lined up following graduation. To make things even worse I decided to go on a 3-month trip to Asia with my parents over the summer, right after I graduated.

Luckily, I stayed current with recruiters and always made myself available for phone interviews – otherwise I would have had no chance.

Q: That’s impressive – most people would be freaking out about their lack of post-graduation plans, but you took a 3-month vacation instead. What did you do when you came back to the real world?

A: By this point I had exhausted all my connections – and the ones I could still go to were unhelpful because I had bombed my full-time interviews.

So I tried the next best alternative: I went for the Hail Mary and applied to positions via banks’ websites.

Q: Normally I tell readers that online applications are useless unless you get insanely lucky. Did they actually work?

A: They weren’t helpful for front-office roles, but I managed to find a trading support role on one bank’s website that seemed alright, even though it was a middle/back-office gig.

I sent my resume and application, and actually got a callback – so I went in to interview there.

Q: What were the interviews like? And how did you keep a straight face when they asked if you were really interested in a support role?

A: Interviews weren’t too difficult – and I actually told my interviewer straight-up that I was doing this because I wanted to become a real trader eventually.

He was skeptical because he had heard that line many times before – he pretty much said, “That’s fine, and we hear that a lot, but to be honest a lot of times it just doesn’t work out. Sometimes you have what it takes, and sometimes you don’t.”

On the Job

Q: I’m impressed with your directness. So what happened after you got the offer and started working?

A: It was a standard trade support role – I did a lot of P&L reconciliation, helped with trade settlements, and more tasks like that. I learned a lot about trading, but got bored early on because a lot of the work was repetitive.

Q: So when did you begin making the move to the front-office?

A: I didn’t do much networking at first – especially compared to all my peers.

They took the approach of, “I’ll ask the traders lots of annoying questions, buy them lunch, and suck up to them so that maybe they notice me.”

This backfired and it just annoyed the traders – none of my peers who took this approach advanced to the front-office.

Traders won’t think of you as a peer if you use this strategy – networking in the workplace is different from what you do while in school.

My first week on the job I did some networking with the traders, but I didn’t ask many personal questions – I limited myself to business and asked about how trading worked, why they made certain trades, and so on.

M&I Note: This is an important difference when networking into sales & trading vs. networking into investment banking – bankers don’t like talking about business quite as much, but with traders you’re better off starting conversations by discussing the markets or other business-related topics.

Q: Ok, so how did you actually make the move to the front-office if you weren’t networking aggressively with traders?

A: My chance came when my group was handed a big project – we had to completely revamp the order management system, which controlled the whole flow from how a trader makes trades to how they’re recorded to how everything is synchronized.

That project put me in contact with a lot of traders and people from other groups at our bank, since the order management system affected everyone.

I used that project to take the initiative and to get to know traders better – but I still didn’t do it by sucking up or asking personal questions.

Instead I came in and said, “Hey, I noticed you were making trades this way – but actually if you changed X, Y, and Z, we could increase the efficiency and save xx% more time per trade, which would help you make $xx more money.”

I positioned myself as an asset that could make them more money as opposed to an obnoxious middle-office guy who kept asking annoying questions.

Leapfrogging to the Front Office

Q: So you made a good impression with this big project – how did you make the move once you had done that? Did you jump, or were you pushed?

A: It was a combination of both. As the project was underway, one of the traders left to move elsewhere – so I asked the head trader, “I noticed _____ left, I was wondering if you guys were considering anyone to replace him.”

Make sure you’ve developed good rapport with anyone you ask these types of questions to – you can’t just grab some random MD and ask him for a job.

He said that the trader who left had a lot of experience and that I wouldn’t be able to fill such a senior role, but that my name was on the short list for a junior role that they had. They weren’t sure of their budget for the next year, so it was still up in the air.

I had impressed them with my work on that revamp of the order management system, but 2 other factors helped me as well:

  1. The head trader wasn’t an alumnus, but he had gone to a nearby university and knew my school well.
  2. The head trader had also come from the back-office, so he was more sympathetic to my background.

Q: So the possibility was out there – what happened next?

A: A few months after that, my boss brought me into a conference room – and for a second I panicked because I thought I was getting fired! I blame this one on you because of your article on how you always get fired in the conference room.

Q: Sorry for the scare. At least I set your expectations low!

A: Yeah, I guess. Anyway, after my boss took me into the conference room, he told me that the head trader wanted me to join their desk as a junior trader.

It took me almost a year, but finally I had the offer I had been looking for ever since university.

Needless to say, I pretty much accepted on the spot and made the move over to the trading desk.

Q: Wait a minute, so there was no formal interview process? They just hand-picked you for the role and you got it without going through real interviews?

A: Yup, no real interviews. My entire first year working on that big project was my “interview” – I had proven myself on the job there, so there was no need to interview me again.

But What If…

Q: That’s a great story, but what would you say to someone who wants to move from the back or middle-office to investment banking instead?

A: It’s a lot tougher because you don’t work directly with bankers. I wasn’t that interested in banking after I started my job – a lot of my friends were bankers and they had no lives.

I almost think it’s easier to get into strategy consulting if you’ve done operations at a large bank before – you’re familiar with the business flow of a trading desk and how a company operates, so you might want to think about going to consulting rather than banking as an easier first step.

Q: Interesting. When you made your move, you had the order management system revamp project that gave you major visibility and let you impress the traders – but not everyone is that fortunate.

What would you say to someone who’s working in the middle or back-office right now who doesn’t have that kind of opportunity?

A: I would say, “Make your own opportunity.” Don’t go about your day just reconciling trades and settling positions – solve problems, be proactive and look for ways the traders could save time or make more money.

You can’t be annoying about it or constantly pester them – instead of asking about models and bottles on Thursday nights, go and say, “Hey, I noticed you were doing X, Y, and Z, but I think if you made your trades this way instead you could make a lot more money.”

Wherever you are in a bank or on a trading desk and whatever you do, you are constantly being judged by everyone who is affected by your work. Though back/middle office and other ops jobs may seem trivial, they are quite important to running a good trading desk.

Missed/wrong bookings, missed trade confirmations, and poor reconciliations can lead to lost money and lost clients – don’t focus on impressing the front office directly, but be proactive in your own job and most of the time, it will make theirs a lot easier.

The bottom line: Do your job, do it well, and foresee and fix issues before they happen (very true because of the top-to-bottom flow of the front-back office).

Solve problems that traders don’t even know they have, and then give them solutions that save them time or make them money.

That’s how you get ahead and how you move from a trading support role to real trading.

Q: Great, thanks for your time.

A: No problem – hope you enjoyed hearing my story.

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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by Brian DeChesare Comments (33)

Stuff Investment Bankers Like, Round 3

It’s been awhile, so let’s jump right back into it.

Parts 1 and 2 are here – essential reading if you ever plan to go to Buenos Aires or hit “Reply All” in your email client.

15) Unsolicited Advice

Stuff Investment Bankers Like, Round 3Working in investment banking, you will age more rapidly than the average person.

That’s just what happens when you go to Starbucks 10 times a day, eat junk food all the time, and then work 100 hours a week to boot.

So many bankers start to feel that their true age is higher than the number of years they’ve been on the planet – which is what inspires them to give unsolicited advice.

It happens when senior bankers “advise” the juniors and when junior bankers tell interns exactly what they should be doing at all times:

“You know, you should strive for a long and celebrated career in investment banking. All hedge funds collapse anyway, so don’t even think about going jumping ship and going to one.”

Thanks, but did I ask you or even mention my future plans?

“Check your work very carefully before showing it to anyone.”

Thanks – I was planning to add in a lot of errors just to make it more interesting.

16) Stacks of Unread Newspapers

Stuff Investment Bankers Like, Round 3Almost as much of a badge of honor as how many holidays you’ve worked (see below) is the number of unread newspapers on your desk.

Not realizing that they can check the news by looking online for 2 seconds, any senior banker worth his salt instead gets a daily subscription to the WSJ.

And then they let newspapers pile up on their desks while they’re off traveling 24/7.

When they come back to the office, of course, they immediately ask their assistant to “clean up” or “get rid of all this garbage.”

And you wonder why the rain forest is disappearing…

17) Assistants

Stuff Investment Bankers Like, Round 3While I’ve not been kind to the back office and support teams in the past, I can’t lie: a good assistant will save you time and time again.

A lot of incoming bankers and interns get this one wrong and treat assistants like crap, never acknowledging them or taking 5 minutes to have a friendly chat.

These newbies are surprised later when they suddenly don’t know their VP’s cell # or they can’t figure out what their MD’s schedule is next week when they’re up at 2 AM sending out an email to set up meeting times with a client.

Treat your assistant – or any support person – right, or you’ll suffer the consequences later.

And no, no matter how much you like your assistant you still can’t hook up with her (or him) – only MDs get to do that.

18) Working on Christmas

Stuff Investment Bankers Like, Round 3Aside from how many consecutive all-nighters you’ve pulled, there’s no greater badge of honor among bankers than how many holidays you’ve had ruined by work.

No one considers occasions like Halloween or Valentine’s Day to be real “holidays,” so forget about those – the 2 untouchable ones are Thanksgiving and Christmas (at least in the US – elsewhere it varies by country).

Being a masochistic bunch, at some level bankers enjoy this kind of abuse.

There’s no higher glory than looking at your Blackberry constantly and responding to emails while everyone else at the table is staring at you in disbelief.

And then you get to complain to all your friends about how you had to pull an all-nighter on Christmas Eve – all the while secretly enjoying that you can now complain about it.

19) Models and Models

Stuff Investment Bankers Like, Round 3Everyone gets into finance for different reasons, but there are just 2 core motivators: 1) Money and 2) Prestige.

No one could be interested in talking about bonds or interest rates or EBITDA just for fun, right?

You’d think that, but as soon as you start working you realize that a lot of the job involves administrative work, picking up dry cleaning, and fixing printers.

By comparison, financial modeling seems like the most intellectually engaging activity ever, even though it’s really not rocket science.

So as a banker, you relish opportunities to crunch numbers and do more than just collect data and send emails.

And if you’re looking for other types of models, head to Buenos Aires.

20) Lucites

Stuff Investment Bankers Like, Round 3Whenever you close a deal, along with the Closing Dinner you get to design a “lucite” – a trophy of sorts to commemorate all the man-hours spent on that IPO or that acquisition and all your blood, sweat, and tears.

If you worked on a casino acquisition, your lucite might be in the shape of a roulette wheel or poker table; for a pharmaceutical deal maybe you’ll get to design something in the shape of a vial or pill bottle.

Much like how you’ve lined your walls with all those meaningless awards from high school and college, bankers line their shelves with these lucites to impress visitors.

For the analyst who has gone Patrick Bateman, lucites have another use as well: weapons.

So make sure you design something sharp – you’ll never know when you might need it one night after you’ve pulled one too many all-nighters and they discover the bodies in your apartment.

21) Forecasting the Apocalypse

Stuff Investment Bankers Like, Round 3“Wall Street is over! New regulations will doom the industry! Pay will never recover, time to find a new profession!”

Question: Are those quotes from 1893, 1929, 1987, 1997, or 2007-2010?

The correct answer is “all of the above” because bankers have been forecasting apocalypse as long as the industry itself has been around.

Back in September 2008 everyone really thought it was all over – but it looks like we survived that one as well.

As long as capital markets exist and companies need to raise money, they’ll need bankers.

Just make sure you keep telling everyone the end is nigh, though – you don’t want to seem overconfident.

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.

Break Into Investment Banking

Free Exclusive Report: 57-page guide with the action plan you need to break into investment banking - how to tell your story, network, craft a winning resume, and dominate your interviews

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