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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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…

The Usefulness Of Qualifications Varies By Field

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 (or one of our highly-practical investment banking courses).

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.

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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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by Brian DeChesare Comments (71)

Why You Didn’t Land an Offer in Your Final Round Interviews at Morgan Stanley

Why No Final Round Offers

“Help! I went to my final round interviews but the interviewer didn’t like me from the start and kept harassing me with irrelevant questions. I asked for feedback afterward and they said, “Improve your technical skills.” How can I do that? They didn’t even ask me any technical questions.”

Final rounds are over.

Banks are done giving out offers.

…and you came close, got a few Superdays (or assessment centers), but you didn’t walk away with any offers.

While most of the articles on this site teach you how to improve yourself and land offers, this one has a different message: interviews are random.

Sometimes it’s not your fault if you don’t get an offer.

Really Beyond Your Control?

There are some things you can always control: your answer to the “Walk me through your resume” question, your “why investment banking?” answer and the 2-3 mini-stories you can use to answer most “fit” questions.

And you can always improve your technical knowledge.

But sometimes, no matter how many interview guides you’ve read or how many finance classes you’ve taken or how many internships at Goldman Sachs you’ve had, you won’t get an offer.

Problem #1: The Interviewer is Having a Bad Hair Day

Maybe your interviewer just got chewed out by his MD – or maybe a nightmare client ruined his weekend by calling him into work on a Saturday night.

Maybe he broke up with his fiancée right before his planned wedding, or maybe he saw your CV, realized that you’re from a rival school, and decided to hate you as a result.

If you walk into the room and the interviewer is hostile from the start, you won’t overcome that.

What To Do About It: In this scenario you can’t do anything to change the interviewer’s mood – all you can do is control your own emotions.

Always assume the worst when walking into an interview – expect that it will be horribly stressful and that your interviewer will antagonize you the whole time.

And then if it’s better than what you expected, you’ll have it easy – and if it’s as bad as you expected, at least you were prepared.

If it was so horrible that you know you have no chance of landing an offer, you can also ask directly at the end what you could have done to improve your performance.

Not everyone has the guts to do that, and you should only consider it if it was a train wreck of an interview – but that type of question lets you see whether you actually messed up or if it was the interviewer.

Problem #2: The Interviewer is Wrong About a Technical Question

Here are just a few of the incorrect technical questions I’ve seen before:

There are 3 possibilities when the interviewer has his facts wrong:

  1. The interviewer genuinely thinks he’s right, even though he’s not.
  2. He’s testing you to see whether or not you’ll call him on his mistake.
  3. It’s an advanced or industry-specific topic and his group does things differently from everyone else.

#3 is not terribly likely unless he’s asking extremely advanced technical questions or something where there’s no universally correct answer (e.g. how to project revenue and expenses, which depends on the company and the industry).

#2 is also unlikely because it’s silly to play mind games like that in an interview, but it does happen.

#1 is the most likely scenario – remember, not all investment bankers know finance perfectly.

Some groups get limited exposure to modeling, and banks hire plenty of people without finance backgrounds – so you could always run into an interviewer with weak technical skills.

What To Do About It: If it’s a basic question – e.g. standard formulas in a DCF or how to link the statements together – don’t immediately give in if the interviewer claims that you’re wrong.

Say that you understand what he/she is saying, but that you said something different because [Explain Your Reasoning] – that handles the case where he/she is “testing” you.

Do not do this unless you are 100% certain and it’s a standard question or formula that you’ve seen in books, guides, and other resources before.

But if the interviewer cuts you off or it’s clear that he’s not just testing you after you explain your reasoning, don’t get into an extended argument: sometimes interviewers are just wrong.

But hey, would you want to work somewhere where bankers don’t even have basic technical knowledge?

Problem #3: The Interviewer Keeps Asking Why Your Grades are Low / Why You Didn’t Go to a Top School

So you thought grades and school prestige would only matter for interview selection – but your interviewer disagrees:

  • “Why do you have a 3.2 GPA? Are you lazy or just stupid?”
  • “Why didn’t you go to Harvard, LSE, or Oxford? I’ve never even heard of your school.”

Unlike problems #1 and #2 above, you can actually prepare for these questions ahead of time – just don’t get blindsided by them in an interview without a plan or you won’t be able to do much.

What To Do About It: You can’t do anything to change your GPA or where you went to school – you only have 2 options:

  1. Have a good story explaining why you have lower grades or why you didn’t go to a top school.
  2. Apply for Master’s in Finance programs (or MBA programs in the longer-term) and use those to get a brand name and higher grades.

To explain a low GPA, emphasize improvement over time rather than making excuses (you think they haven’t heard the “family emergency” line before?): acknowledge that you screwed up in your first year but then improved and took classes more seriously.

To explain a less prestige school, say that your family could not afford an expensive option and that you made the most of it to get where you are – remind them what a challenge it was to even get an interview at this bank.

If GPA and school name are a repeated problem in every single interview and they prevent you from getting offers everywhere, then a top Master’s program is your best bet (click here to read all about them).

Problem #4: You’re Put On Hold

You finished your final round interviews and performed well – but a few people were better than you.

You can improve your own performance, but there’s no way to tell what the competition will be like – so this one is out of your control as well.

So you’re on hold, either officially (they tell you) or unofficially (you don’t hear back from them).

You’re tempted to follow-up to “sell yourself” once again and boost your chances…

…but please, don’t do that – at least, don’t do a “hard sell” immediately after.

Persistence is good, but there’s a thin line between persistence and desperation.

Sell yourself before and during the interview, but resist the urge to do so after the fact: it looks desperate and interview decisions are made almost immediately afterward anyway.

What To Do About It: Instead of moving to an immediate “hard sell,” follow-up with everyone within a few days to express your continued interest in the firm.

If they don’t give you a direct answer and time keeps dragging on, call one of them and ask directly what you can do to improve or become a more attractive candidate.

And if it’s something you can fix (e.g., technical skills, communication skills, etc.), do so by submitting evidence of your improvement.

Beyond this, all you can do to accelerate the process is get an offer from another bank, bring it to the first bank, and tell them that you need a decision ASAP due to this pending deadline.

Just make sure you don’t make up an imaginary offer elsewhere and lie about it.

No Offers – What to Do?

Sometimes your offer status is beyond your control – just think about how random the interview selection process is, and now add in all the additional irrationality that comes from meeting bankers in person.

So you need to figure out why you didn’t get an offer and whether you can actually do something about it.

If not, chalk it up to bad luck and move on with life, continue networking, spread your net wider, and follow the advice here if you end up with no offers as recruiting is wrapping up.

And remember: it was the interviewer – not you.

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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