by Brian DeChesare Comments (374)

Degrees and Certifications: Got CFA + JD + MBA + MD?

Degrees and Certifications: Got CFA + JD + MBA + MD?

Despite my best efforts to bash certifications and give snarky responses to related questions, there’s still confusion on what banks care about, what you can do with different degrees, and the meaning of life.

While I can’t help with the meaning of life (42?), I can tell you which degrees and certifications mean something and help you break into finance – and which will not.

Why the Hate? You’re Already Biased!

I’ve seen lots of aspiring bankers use degrees and certifications as a distraction from more important goals, like getting solid internships, networking, and even getting leadership roles in groups.

You may also think that degrees and certifications are a magic bullet: sure, you have a 2.1 GPA from an unknown school and you’ve worked in telemarketing for 5 years, but if you get that Bloomberg certification, Goldman Sachs will give you an offer right away, right?

Maybe I should get into the business of selling certifications with logic like this…

Definitions: Investment Banking / Private Equity vs. Other Fields

The usefulness of degrees and certifications varies widely by the field of finance you’re interested in.

For example, if you want to be in risk management then the FRM exam is essential; if you’re doing portfolio management or equity research, the CFA is viewed as a requirement. And bankers, of course, don’t care about either of those.

I’m focusing on investment banking and private equity here because that’s what this site is about and what you’re interested in if you’re reading this right now.

For more on other fields and where certifications might be useful, check out these articles from Bionic Turtle:

5 Degrees Above Zero

Let’s start with degrees since they’re less painful to write about.

The only degrees that banks care about are Bachelor’s, Master’s, and MBA degrees, and only for very specific reasons.

But just for fun, let’s jump through the entire list and learn why – and what to do if you’ve taken the plunge into JD/PhD/MD land.

High School / Secondary School

Please, no more questions from 16-year olds who want to get an investment banking internship. Go outside and play in the sun, you’re probably Vitamin D-deficient anyway.

This one is just a check-the-box requirement at banks, and if you’ve only graduated high school you won’t be able to do anything real – you need at least an undergraduate degree (maybe you could work as an assistant but is that what you want to do?).

Your actual performance in secondary school matters more in countries like the UK where A-Levels are huge – in the US, listing high school grades or AP scores on your resume when applying to banking jobs is silly. And where you went to school only matters if it’s somewhere prestigious, like Exeter or Andover, where you might get some networking benefit.

University Degrees

This is the bare minimum you’ll need to actually work at an investment bank, and most other finance firms.

Every week I get comments asking, “I’m 38 and never graduated from college – do you think I can become an investment banking analyst?”

No, you can’t.

Why not?

  1. Supply and Demand – Banks have so many university graduates who’d give up a kidney to work for them that they can afford to reject 99% of applicants and still have more people than they know what to do with.
  2. Work Ethic – If you can’t finish a university degree then banks will assume that you cannot finish any project, which is a problem when you have a 100-page pitch book due in 3 hours.

Yes, I know there are good reasons you didn’t get a degree – you dropped out to start your own multi-billion dollar company, you couldn’t afford college, or you became a pop star and you’re still on leave.

That’s lovely, but life is not fair and if you don’t have a degree you’re not getting into investment banking or private equity.

Maybe you could trade for a small prop trading firm if you’re a baller trader without a degree, but even there it’s tough – they care less about pedigree than banks, but everyone else there will have the degree.

It’s approximately 100x more difficult to get into banking coming from a “non-target” school (one where banks don’t recruit) compared to a “target” school (the Ivy League, LSE, Oxbridge, and so on), so go to the best school possible.

What you major in doesn’t matter too much as long as you get decent grades and internships, but you can review your options right here.

Master’s Degrees

There are several good reasons to get a Master’s degree:

  1. You need the prestige because your undergraduate school was unknown.
  2. You had poor grades and need to press Ctrl + Z on your transcript.
  3. You didn’t get an offer and want to try again, with better access to recruiters.
  4. You’re in Europe and 5-year programs that include both the Bachelor’s and Master’s degree are common.

The most common question on Master’s degrees:

“So, if I go for a Master’s in Finance program I can start as an Associate, right?”

No, you can’t, because:

  1. You would need at least 3-5 years of previous work experience or 2 years as an IB analyst first.
  2. Master’s programs are less of a time and money commitment compared to MBA programs.

I must have heard this question 500 times at career fairs and the answer is always the same: “You’ll still be an Analyst.”

MBA

This is the only advanced degree that allows you to “level-up” when you start working.

IF you have had enough experience (usually 3-5 years in a normal industry, or 2 years as a former IB analyst), then you’ll start out one rung above the Analyst: you’ll be an Associate instead.

Which means you get paid a bit more, have more responsibility, and you get to sleep 6 hours per night instead of 4.

But do not assume that just because you get an MBA, banks will automatically interview you or think that you can be an Associate.

There are plenty of ways to screw it up, including going to a non-top-tier school, not having enough work experience, or not showing a clear progression toward being interested in banking.

So make sure you learn how to properly re-brand yourself and how to use MBA programs the right way in the first place.

JD

While Damages the TV series is awesome, most law firms are not even close to that interesting in real life: the Partners at your firm might be sadistic, but they’re still far from Patty Hewes.

So many lawyers get the bright idea that they could go into finance instead and make bank while abusing their former co-workers.

Just one small problem: banks don’t give a crap about law school.

OK, that’s not 100% true and it’s viewed a little more favorably than the MD or PhD – but there’s no added bonus for going to law school and it’s a much more indirect path to banking.

You have to graduate from law school, work in corporate law for a few years without going insane, and then network your way into banking from there.

Having the law background may benefit you in areas like Restructuring and Distressed Investing where there’s legal overlap, but it’s a stretch to say that you should go to law school specifically to get into those fields.

If you’ve already taken the plunge, you can’t exactly abort midway through – so finish, do corporate or securities law, and then network into banking after working for a few years.

You may actually start as an Associate if you do law school and then corporate law before banking, so the JD can be another way to level-up.

PhD

If you thought bankers looked down on lawyers, you’ve never seen their reaction to PhDs – ouch.

Bankers and PE-ers don’t care about the degree because the math in both fields is trivial: arithmetic and a few circular references in Excel.

You might be the next Stephen Hawking, but that doesn’t matter because you don’t need to understand wormholes to be a banker – you just need to understand how to change the font size in pitch books.

Most bankers think that PhDs are too well-educated to go back to fixing printers and scouring through SEC filings, so there’s a significant bias against hiring them.

Sometimes you can still get into finance if you have the degree, but usually you have to:

  1. Target a boutique that fits your background exactly – like an industrials-focused firm if you have a PhD in materials engineering, or a healthcare-focused firm if you completed an advanced degree in biochemistry.
  2. Go for equity research instead. They actually care about the degree because they want people who understand an industry in-depth – again, you would focus on groups that match your background.
  3. Go the quant route (works best with physics/math/related degrees). Sure, trading will never be what it once was, but firms always need quants and smart math people to build their models.

MD

You face a similar problem here: you’re over-educated and banks will assume that you have no interest in spreading comps if you’ve qualified to perform open heart surgery.

They may also assume that you’re unable to commit to anything and stick with it: how could you have made it through years of med school without realizing you wanted to do business earlier?

In this situation you’d have to follow the PhD advice above and go after boutique banks in the healthcare/biotech/pharmaceutical space and/or look into equity research. You don’t have the ideal background to be a quant, so that’s not the best idea here.

You’ll also need a really good story about why you’re making this move – not just “I realized business was so much cooler!”

You need a specific incident or person that made you interested, and a perfect explanation of how you realized that medicine was not for you after years of doing it, but how you’re simultaneously certain that finance is for you with 0 years of experience.

Combo Degrees – JD + MBA?

Combo degrees get another “thumbs down” from me.

We already learned that adding a Master’s degree on top of a normal bachelor’s degree, for example, won’t let you start as an Associate.

But what about that famed JD + MBA combination – surely that must open up more exit opportunities, right?

No, not really. Most jobs are geared toward law or finance, but not both.

It would be most useful in areas like Restructuring, Distressed Investing, or arguably Real Estate / Project Finance where there’s overlap with the law and legal codes.

But even there, it’s a stretch to say that the JD would add much: even the MBA might not be terribly helpful if you’ve had previous, relevant experience.

You may also face a branding problem if you have a law degree and a business degree: business people will think you’re a lawyer, and lawyers will think you’re in business.

There’s always a temptation to think that more = better when it comes to degrees or certifications, but that’s just not true.

You want the minimum investment required for maximal gain – anything more than that reduces your ROI.

What about other combinations like JD + PhD + MBA, or JD + MD + MBA? Please, don’t even waste your time and money – it’s just silly.

Adding more advanced degrees like this will hurt you and make you look like more and more of an academic and less and less like someone who can actually make money in the real world.

Certifications

This part will be shorter because certifications matter far less in banking and PE than degrees.

The main one that generates debate is the CFA and whether or not it’s helpful for breaking in – others are either completely useless or marginally helpful at best.

Series 7 / 63 / 65 / 66 / 79 / 84563X2

If you have a ton of free time, you’ve already networked extensively, and you already have great internships and/or a full-time job lined up, then sure, knock yourself out.

Just be aware that if your bank requires them, you’ll complete the exams during training anyway.

If you really want to set yourself apart before you start working, you’d be better off moving to another country for a few months and doing something interesting there.

CFA

I’m not going to rehash all the arguments for and against the CFA here – go consult this article if you want to go down that path again.

The short version is that it’s not the best use of your time for investment banking or private equity in developed countries, but it may be more useful in emerging markets or in fields like equity research, portfolio management, or some types of hedge funds.

And do not think that it will cover up an unknown school, low grades, or no work experience – it won’t.

Think of it as an added bonus and something to look into if you already have top schools, high grades, and great work experience.

CPA / FRM / Other Certifications with C and F in the Names

Look, if you want to be an accountant or a risk manager or perhaps other things outside of IB/PE, then sure, go ahead and pursue these.

There’s an alphabet soup of other certifications out there, and David from Bionic Turtle does a great job of summarizing them here.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these – it’s just that they will not help you much with IB/PE, because getting in is based almost entirely on practical experience.

In the future, who knows, there may be an exam to get “certified” in investment banking – but for now no one takes anything like that seriously (yes, I’m talking to you, “Certified M&A Advisor”).

There’s another critical reason why such certifications don’t apply to IB and PE: at the top levels these fields are based on sales, relationships, and negotiation skills – skills that can’t be tested on a written exam.

Bloomberg / FactSet / Other

Don’t even bother – you’ll learn everything you need to know (which is not much) when you start working, and you don’t even use the complex features in banking.

These may actually hurt you because you do not want to be known as “The Bloomberg Guy” or “The VBA Guy” or anything else that results in annoying requests to fix other peoples’ broken-beyond-repair spreadsheets.

Standardized Tests: SAT, GMAT, GRE, A-Levels…

These aren’t quite “certifications” but why not throw them in here anyway?

None of these is as important as grades in university, but in the US most banks will still ask for your SAT scores, and GMAT scores can be helpful if you have low SAT scores (under 2100 in the new system). No, don’t bother going back and re-taking them if they’re low: not worth the effort.

As with grades, these tests are more about whether or not you meet the minimum score they’re looking for rather than “standing out” – so please do not re-take the GMAT if you got a 720.

Got Degrees or Certifications?

I hope not – unless you mean a university, Master’s, or MBA degree.

Otherwise, save your time and money and if you’re already too far down a path to turn back now, cut your losses and change direction as soon as you can.

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

We respect your privacy. Please refer to our full privacy policy.
by Brian DeChesare Comments (30)

From Nuclear Submarines to Investment Banking: How to Make the Leap from the Military to Finance

From Nuclear Submarines to Investment BankingCan you get into finance coming from a military background?

Just how many bankers each year break in from the Army, Navy, and Air Force?

I get a lot of questions on these topics, but up until now haven’t had solid answers beyond “yes” and “quite a few.”

But that changes today with an interview from a reader who broke into investment banking from a military background – keep reading to find out how he did it and how you can do the same.

Plus, advice on part-time vs. full-time MBA programs and starting in a location that isn’t New York.

Nuclear Submarines & Business School: Perfect Match?

Q: Tell us about your background and how you got started operating nuclear submarines.

A: Sure. I accepted a Navy ROTC scholarship right before attending college, because my priority at the time was to serve my country.

At school I picked a highly technical engineering track, but ended up taking a lot of financial math classes on the side – that’s how I originally got interested in finance.

After graduation, I wanted to work in a high-impact environment and since I had a technical background, I figured that nuclear submarines would be a good fit for me.

The Navy has a rigorous selection process for this kind of role, but I passed and started operating nuclear reactors aboard submarines.

After a few years there, I decided to attend a top MBA program as my next move.

Q: I guess you had an easy time proving your “attention to detail” in interviews. Coming from that background, why did you decide to go to business school as your next move?

A: I got a lot out of the Navy in terms of leadership, teamwork, and meeting deadlines, but I wanted to hone my financial skills and learn more about business.

I knew that moving into finance directly would be challenging since my background was unrelated, so I decided to use business school as a steppingstone.

I still had a commitment to the Navy, so I decided to attend a part-time evening program at a well-known business school while finishing my obligation of service.

Q: Most people would say that it’s very tough to break into finance coming from a part-time evening program – why did you decide to go that route instead of waiting and applying for full-time programs?

A: I could have waited, but that might have cost me 1.5 – 2 years due to my Navy commitment. I figured that I would be more competitive if I made the move sooner rather than later, so I opted for the evening program instead.

If you have the option, though, I would strongly recommend full-time programs.

I had a unique set of circumstances, and I ended up transferring to the full-time program anyway to take part in recruiting – looking back on it, starting out there may have made more sense.

Transferring & Recruiting

Q: You mentioned switching to the full-time program for recruiting purposes. When did you decide to do this, and how did you make the move?

A: In the evening program I couldn’t even drop my resume for recruiting purposes – I could still go to events and network with bankers there, but I couldn’t formally apply for internships or full-time jobs.

Recruiters also viewed me with a lot more scrutiny coming from the evening program – they would ask, “Was he not able to get into the full-time program? Were his GPA or GMAT scores not up to par?” If you’re not in a full-time program, you need good answers to those questions.

So I realized early on that transferring would make recruiting much easier.

As for the actual process, I just applied through the school after going through all the core classes, earning good grades, and developing a competitive profile.

The key is that the school doesn’t want you to hurt their average GPA / GMAT scores – as long as you’re above the bar there, it’s doable.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy – only a handful of people do it each year – but it is possible.

I would also add that a couple of classmates stayed in the evening program and successfully landed investment banking internships, so switching is not absolutely mandatory.

Q: Right, that makes sense. What about your networking efforts? Once you made the leap to the full-time program, did you just rely on on-campus recruiting or did you also use alumni networking?

A: I used both – early on, I relied more heavily on networking with military alumni. I started months before the school year began, and began by searching for former naval officers who now worked in investment banking, via LinkedIn.

I got around a 40% response rate, and leveraged the responses into phone calls and in-person meetings during the weekend trips I took to New York and other financial centers.

As the school year approached, I widened my net and started going beyond naval officers to other “military alumni” and also went through the alumni at my business school.

I waited to speak with the alumni last because they were in the best position to get me first-round interviews. Additionally, they were bombarded with emails from all my classmates so I wanted to ensure that I always made a strong first impression.

Q: What about the networking process itself? What did you do, and how effective was it?

A: In my initial emails, I would usually ask for 30 minutes to speak on the phone – but as I moved further in, I took trips to New York and other financial centers and met with bankers in-person.

Most “target schools” have a pretty regimented process for MBAs, and I used recruiting events to make a better impression on bankers in a social setting. That’s a huge advantage of target schools – these investment banking information sessions are the key to receiving first-round interviews.

Because I was aggressive with networking and made a good impression on the recruiting teams, I managed to win first-round interviews with most major banks.

How to Convince Them You’re a Financier

Q: So it sounds like you had a lot of practice with interviews, whether they were official interviews or unofficial informational interviews. What were the key challenges you faced coming from a military background?

A: The advantage of a military background is that you can sell your management experience, leadership, and teamwork skills more easily than, say, an accountant looking to break into investment banking.

And since I had operated a nuclear reactor, it wasn’t hard to convince bankers of my attention to detail. The same goes for unpredictable hours – going out to sea on a whim’s notice or being extended during a deployment were routine in the submarine force.

But there are a couple problems you’ll face coming from a military background:

  1. There’s the perception that ex-military guys don’t know finance.
  2. We also have a reputation for being overly blunt and trying to exert too much control over a situation.

Q: So how did you overcome these problems?

A: For the first one, I pointed to my high GPA and GMAT score as evidence that I could do quantitative work.

I know you’ve criticized it before, but I also enrolled in and passed Level I of the CFA – which at least showed them that I knew something about finance. Plus, I had all my finance classes from undergraduate.

On the second point – about being overly blunt – you just need examples of how you’ve compromised and worked successfully in a team without being overbearing.

A lot of this also comes across in your tone and presentation – if you’re a direct person, sometimes you have to take it down a few notches.

Regional vs. NYC Offices

Q: You ended up accepting an offer in a regional office rather than in New York – how did you think about this one, and why did you decide to start there instead?

A: Most people tell you that New York is the end-all when it comes to finance, at least in the US – but I’m not completely convinced of this.

For one, lots of regional offices actually do full deal execution themselves – SF is a hotbed for tech and biotech, LA for media and gaming, Houston for energy, Chicago for industrials, and so on.

If you already have an industry you’re interested in, going somewhere other than New York could be a good move.

Also, the cost of living is much less in other regions, the lifestyle is not much worse, and the deal teams are leaner which means more experience for junior bankers.

The main disadvantages of not starting in New York:

  1. You do miss out on networking opportunities by being around fewer bankers / financiers.
  2. You’re more limited in terms of moving to different regions / groups.

If you’re just out of university and you’re not sure exactly what you want to do, New York could be a better bet – but if you’re older, you have a family, or you have a good idea of what industry you want to work in, there are considerable advantages to starting outside of New York.

Q: Right, I agree completely. The obsession with New York in the US is similar to the obsession with exit opportunities. Thanks for your time – you have a very interesting story, and I learned a lot.

A: My pleasure.

M&I - Brian

About the Author

Brian DeChesare is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys memorizing obscure Excel functions, editing resumes, obsessing over TV shows, traveling like a drug dealer, and defeating Sauron.

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

We respect your privacy. Please refer to our full privacy policy.
by Brian DeChesare Comments (400)

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

stuff-investment-bankers-dont-like-cfa-activities-advanced-degrees-2NOTE: 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?

Easy:

  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.

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

We respect your privacy. Please refer to our full privacy policy.