From Sales & Trading to Investment Banking: How to Hop Over the Fence
One disadvantage of sales & trading vs. investment banking is that exit opportunities are not quite as broad.
It’s difficult, for example, to move into PE or corporate development coming from trading.
But getting into investment banking may be a different story, as you’ll see in this interview with a reader who did just that.
Keep reading and find out how he leveraged his sales & trading internship into a full-time offer in investment banking.
Q: Can you tell us about your background and how you got interested in finance?
A: Sure. I’m from the Middle East originally, but I went to Canada for university and attended a well-known business program there.
I started off with an asset management internship but didn’t like the slow pace and reactive nature of the work – though it did give me a good feel for the capital markets.
I started researching the sell-side and speaking with upperclassmen who had done investment banking, and then applied to over 30 banks via my school’s career website.
That led to a grand total of 0 interviews – mostly because I didn’t have investment banking internship experience and because my GPA, around a 3.5, was lower than many of my peers with 3.8+ GPAs.
Q: So you applied to dozens of banks and came up empty-handed – what was your next move? Had you done any networking so you could have a Plan B?
A: Nope. I had done little networking and summer offers were already being handed out – I realized my error too late, so I finally started networking after summer recruiting had finished up.
I went after boutiques and any firms that had not posted jobs on my school’s website – I also focused on VPs and MDs since I had limited time and needed to find something ASAP.
That actually worked out well and I got a much better response rate from senior bankers – I made around 40 calls, set up 10 informational interviews, and made a weekend trip to meet with everyone.
That led to one interview in mid-April, but I screwed up the technical questions completely and had nothing lined up with less than 2 months before the summer began.
Q: So I’m guessing something miraculously worked out at the last-minute?
A: Pretty much. I applied to over 100 banks from January through April, and finally got a lead from an MD in Dubai who asked if I wanted to interview with them, after I had submitted my resume to the default HR person there.
I had also written a short note asking about summer positions and saying I was interested in investment banking – they didn’t have anything in banking, but they did have a few S&T interns and had an open position there, so I decided to go for it.
I prepared for the technical questions, crafted a new story about why I wanted to do S&T, and then interviewed and made it through final rounds.
Off to Dubai
Q: So you were still interested in investment banking, but you now had a sales & trading internship lined up – what was your strategy going in?
A: I knew that the specific desk I worked on would play a big role in terms of spinning the experience for banking.
I could choose between an FX trading desk and a sales desk – and I figured there would be more of a skill set overlap on the sales desk because you do financial statement analysis, meet with clients, and pitch them on specific products.
I did a few rotations and worked in trading at one point as well, but I kept asking to be put in sales.
Q: Was there anything specific to Dubai that you had to consider?
A: Overall it’s a more laid-back culture than what you see in North America, and interns are not given quite as many coffee-fetching / grunt work tasks. That actually made it a lot easier to tell a good story for full-time recruiting because I had more “real” work to point to.
I think your article on investment banking in Dubai was accurate in terms of other features of finance there.
Q: Right, I guess it’s harder to tell a good story when you spend a lot of time each day getting food for traders. Anything else you did during the internship to maximize your chances?
A: At the end of my internship I met with investment bankers at my firm and learned more about what they did on a day-to-day basis – that helped a lot because now I could point to something specific that “sparked” my interest in banking.
I also made sure I could talk about specific clients I worked with and how it was similar to the advisory work that bankers do – and that I could explain why I fit in with banking culture more than S&T culture.
Recruiting: Spin Time
Q: Ok, so you have this internship under your belt and you have some solid stories to point to when networking. What did you emphasize on your resume when it came time for full-time recruiting?
A: I didn’t have too difficult a time with my resume because my experience made me easy to remember – not many people had worked in sales & trading in Dubai.
In terms of my summer experience, I highlighted structured products that I helped pitch to clients and all the financial statement analysis I did.
Rather than acting like it was all about short-term trading, I positioned each client or potential client as a “mini-pitch” and wrote about everything as if we were advising them on long-term decisions instead.
For example, let’s say that I was pitching an institutional investor on investing in a certain company.
A typical salesperson might describe this by writing, “Pitched 50,000 share purchase to Institution; firm later decided to execute trade, earning over $xx in commissions for bank.”
There’s nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t sound like an investment banker’s experience.
I would spin it around and write something like, “Analyzed financial statements for company and concluded they were undervalued by xx%, using that as key data point in pitch to Institution; firm later adopted suggestion and invested $xx of portfolio, which earned bank $xx in commissions.”
Q: Nice. And I guess you could apply that strategy even if you’re on the trading side, as long as you do any financial statement analysis or valuation.
What about networking? I’m assuming you did more of it earlier on this time around?
A: Going into full-time recruiting, I wanted to try larger firms first – but after the first week and 5-10 job postings, I still had no interviews lined up.
Even with a brand-name bank on my resume, recruiters were still not paying attention because I didn’t have that all-important banking internship – so I pounded the pavement once again and did some in-person networking with alumni and contacts from information sessions from the year before, most of whom were at larger firms.
Right before I left Dubai to return to Canada I sent an update email to all my contacts, which made it easier to set up these meetings.
Q: So were you still focusing on larger firms at this point? Or did you go for a more specific set of banks?
A: I focused on 5 banks – a mix of Canadian and international firms – and met with bankers at each of them in-person.
At this point I also rehearsed my story about why I was moving from S&T to banking dozens of times and made sure that I had an answer to every possible question about my background.
I got interviews at 3 out of the 5 banks I focused on – technically those were through my school’s recruiting system, but I never would have made it had I not networked with bankers outside the official process.
Q: And what about the interviews themselves? Given that you had the S&T internship, did bankers focus on anything different when speaking with you?
A: Since I had worked at a well-known bank – even though it was a different division – they asked a lot of technical questions. Nothing too difficult, but more than someone who hadn’t had an internship would get.
They also asked the usual questions about the stress and hours in banking, the cultural fit, and so on, but those were all quite easy to answer since I had met so many bankers and prepared so much by that point.
Having “interesting” interests also helped a lot – I was into martial arts and always talked about it in interviews, which set me apart from everyone else.
Amazingly, a lot of interviewees just say something like “hanging out with friends” when asked about their interests.
In Another Life…
Q: You were fortunate to do a lot of financial statement analysis and work with long-term clients on the sales desk at your bank.
But what would you say to someone who doesn’t have that option? What are the best S&T groups to work in if you want to move into banking?
A: You usually have 3 choices if you’re an intern: sales, trading, or structuring. Of those, sales makes for the easiest transition into banking – but if you can’t get into sales, try to put yourself in a position where you’re working with Equity Capital Markets or anyone on the ECM team.
Another idea is to request a 1-2 week rotation in sales, even if you spend most of your internship doing something different. 1-2 weeks is still enough to network and get some experience to write about – it’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing at all.
Yet another option: let’s say you’re on the commodities desk or in commodities sales. You could leverage that type of experience to move into a metals & mining industry group in investment banking since you already have the fundamental industry understanding.
You have to look for opportunities like that where there’s overlap with industry groups in investment banking, or where there’s a skill set such as valuation or financial statement analysis that you can use in other groups.
Q: Were any investment banking groups more receptive to you moving over from sales & trading?
A: Honestly, bankers always favor people with previous banking experience – S&T internships are valued, but not as much as banking internships.
To find receptive groups, you need industry overlap – like the example I gave above with commodities to metals & mining.
You need to find a group that’s complementary to whatever you did on the S&T side – it’s harder to move in coming from pure trading because there are fewer of those complementary pairs.
Q: Right, that makes sense – those tips should be helpful for anyone looking to switch.
What are you planning to do in the future? Don’t worry; this is not a real interview so you can tell me the truth.
A: I actually enjoy valuation quite a bit so I’m planning to stay in investment banking and M&A for a few years – the only reason I’d switch to something else is to get better hours, but I haven’t experienced the worst of that yet so it’s not on my mind.
I’ll be doing something in finance in the long-term, though I’m not sure exactly what or where quite yet.
Q: Great, thanks for your time. Your story should give hope to anyone else out there who wants to make the sales & trading to investment banking move.
A: No problem – hope you enjoyed it!
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