Diversity Recruiting: Your Secret Weapon for Breaking Into Investment Banking?
“Can you tell me exactly what I have to do to get into finance?
There must be a combination of grades, certifications, internships, and activities that will guarantee me a spot at Goldman Sachs, right?
Give me the magic bullet solution for breaking in!”
Ah, another day, another email.
And if you don’t believe that questions like this come in all the time, just take a look at some of the articles here that have hundreds of comments asking for similar answers.
Sometimes I’m tempted to say, “Yes, just pass all 4 levels of the CFA and you are guaranteed to become an investment banker,” but I can’t always bring myself to have that much fun.
The truth is that there isn’t a magic bullet for getting into the industry.
Or is there?
Diversity recruiting may just be the best, most “secretive” way to get into the industry that you’ve been ignoring up until now.
So read on to learn how you can use it, what to do if you’re not “diverse,” and just how effective it was for a reader who won a bulge bracket internship offer and who’s sharing her story here.
I expect that this story will cause some controversy because:
- You might view diversity recruiting as “unfair” or know someone who abused it before.
- It may not apply to you.
I understand where you’re coming from with those 2 points, but I would still encourage you to consider the strategies here – if only to learn about alternate paths to break into finance.
Also, you should do whatever it takes to break in as long as you’re not breaking any laws or doing something clearly unethical like forging documents or lying about an offer.
So yes, maybe this won’t apply to you 100%, but as you read think up other ways you could put your own “unfair advantages” to use.
Feel free to disagree but be civil about it – comments that add no value will be moderated.
Q: Let’s get started with where you were coming from – what type of school did you attend and what experience did you have?
A: For undergraduate I attended a liberal arts college that was well-known but certainly not a “target” – only 1 bulge bracket bank recruited here and a few others had a resume drop, but rarely called students in for interviews.
I was completing an economics-related major, which you pretty much have to if you’re coming from a liberal arts college – it’s hard to convince banks that you’re serious if you major in French Literature and also have no finance experience.
This was my first attempt at internship recruiting so I hadn’t had much experience – just a few informal internships in other industries.
Q: OK, so you’re at this non-target liberal arts college and you don’t have relevant finance experience – how do you go from there to winning a bulge bracket investment banking offer?
A: By using the strategies you’ve recommended before: networking extensively and playing to my strengths.
In my case, I used my uncommon background to my advantage by attending lots of women’s recruiting events put on by different banks, as well as more specialized diversity events.
The advantage of going to these “diversity events” is that you can build much stronger connections with bankers than if you blindly cold call places or email alumni.
The more you have in common with the person – especially when you’re from a completely different background than most others – the better your chances of getting interviews and offers.
Q: Right, so what exactly are these “events”? Do you just apply for them online?
A: It varies by the bank and the region you’re in – some of these diversity recruiting events are more like first round interviews and some are more like standard information sessions where an MD or other senior banker will present first and then you get time to network afterward.
At some banks you can just apply online and get invited to the event – for example at Goldman Sachs you can do that and get invited to events like their “Women’s Road Show” (a half-day event) in Boston and New York based on your resume and online application.
At other banks – like JP Morgan – you had to pass a phone screen to be invited to their events, so there it was just part of the process and I had real interviews with several bankers at the event.
Q: So far you’ve been mentioning women’s events – what else do banks do for diversity recruiting?
A: You do see events for other groups as well:
- Minorities (defined as anyone who is under-represented in banking, for both men and women)
So you can still get in even if you’re not female.
M&I Note: While not diversity-related, there are events for people in other categories – for example if you want to work in Japan and know the language, there’s the Boston Career Forum; for China and Hong Kong there are events like SuperReturn and AVCJ.
Q: Out of curiosity, how strict are they about letting people in? For example, could I show up to a women’s recruiting event even though I am male?
A: They are not strict at all about screening people.
When I say “not strict,” I mean that they’re not going to do a full background check on you or hire a private investigator to look into your past and see whether you really qualify.
You would probably not get into a women’s event if you’re male – I haven’t seen anyone get away with that before – but for the other groups it’s much harder to verify whether you qualify.
I’ve seen plenty of people attend minority and LGBT events who shouldn’t be there – then you get those who are 1/64th of a certain ethnicity and use that to claim their minority status.
And when events are held at public places like hotels, I’ve seen people who didn’t even apply or who weren’t accepted show up and walk in – sometimes HR kicks them out, but if it’s big enough they may not catch on.
I’m not advising you to abuse the system, but as with resume writing and spinning your experience in interviews, there’s room to stretch the truth.
At the Sessions…
Q: So let’s say that you either legitimately qualify for an event, or you’re a borderline case and you show up anyway.
You mentioned that there are different types of events depending on the bank and the region you’re in – can you give us an overview of what you went through?
A: As I said before, the JPM event was more like a real interview or Superday since I met with multiple bankers.
They also had another event just for the LGBT community that was called “Proud to Be” – at that one they flew in people nationwide and everyone there (around 60 people) got first round interviews.
I mentioned the “Women’s Road Show” event for Goldman Sachs – that was more of a standard networking event where they gave us all the recruiting deadlines and a special code we could use when applying that would get us placed in a separate pool.
GS has another event called “Foundation” that is for minorities across genders and also students at non-target schools.
UBS had one event that was more like a trading competition, and then a more traditional networking session with a panel presentation, networking, and a reception at the end.
Credit Suisse had a “Women’s Day” event, which again was more like a prelude to first round interviews – for summer internships that one usually takes place in December/January.
Q: Those are quite a few events. What do the numbers look like? Is it similar to information sessions where you get 20 people crowding around 1 banker asking what it’s like to be an investment banker?
A: The numbers are much better at these events – there are at most 50-60 people total, and more often it’s in the 20-30 range.
Of those 20-30, 10 might be bankers – so unlike a traditional information session there are only 1 or 2 students per banker at these events.
Sometimes it goes up to a few more than that, but it’s never the 20-30 crowding around 1 banker that you see at information sessions open to the general public.
Q: So it sounds like everything is more personal and you get to have more in-depth conversations with everyone?
A: Pretty much. Also, unlike panels at normal information sessions where the questions you ask don’t matter so much and it’s all about the networking afterward, questions to the panel matter more.
So looking up everyone’s background and preparing intelligent questions is a good use of time.
Beyond just being more personal, these sessions also have more alumni and alumni from neighboring schools – especially if you’re in a region of the country with lots of non-target schools or lots of women’s colleges, for example.
And if you can’t find anyone from your school or nearby schools, you can always just ask the HR reps there for alumni contacts – since it’s such a small and specific group, they are more likely to help you out.
The vibe is also much different at these events – they are not as stuffy and formal as the usual information sessions at schools, and people were more relaxed, especially at the LGBT-type events.
The more specific the group, the more direct the answers they gave were – if you asked about something like work/life balance at a normal event bankers would give diplomatic/uninformative answers, but at these events people were more honest.
Success or Failure?
Q: So you made extensive use of these events – how effective were they? Do you have numbers on how many attendees actually won interviews or offers as a result of attending?
A: I don’t have exact numbers there because I didn’t follow-up with every single attendee, but:
- I got first round interviews at almost every bank (and eventually an IB summer offer).
- At many of the events, they’d give first round interviews to pretty much everyone there, but then only a few would win offers.
- This year most females and minorities who got into GS from non-target schools (not necessarily just in IBD, but more in the back and middle office) came from these events.
- 80% of the LGBT bankers I met were willing to help me in some way. I don’t care how good a networker you are, you will never get that ratio via alumni informational interviews.
The overall offer rate may not seem that great, but look at the alternative: if you’re at a non-target school and you don’t go to these events, your chances are minuscule. It’s better to get the interview and at least have a shot at winning the offer.
And as I’ve mentioned, you get special codes at these events that you can apply when submitting your resume and online application – they will then review your resume in a separate pool from everyone else, which also gives you a big advantage.
Q: What about the downsides of going to these events? Let’s say you go to a diversity event and you make a huge mistake that results in everyone there disliking you – would that hurt your chances in normal recruiting?
A: Yes, it could, and that is a risk. If you apply via these events and don’t win an offer, it may be harder to get a real interview later on if you go through the normal channels.
I applied all of those strategies, only in the context of diversity events rather than the standard information sessions.
You still have to be interesting, follow-up, speak 1-on-1 with bankers, and so on – it’s just that you’re working with a more specific set of contacts here.
Q: That’s true, but I’m sure there are still some common mistakes attendees make – what have you seen before?
A: Some girls would wear really short skirts or boots or dress up looking like they were about to go clubbing – but it’s still a formal business setting, even if it’s more relaxed than usual.
Other people looked really good on paper, had high grades, and completed solid internships, but then did no work to prepare so they had no idea who would be best to talk to, or which alumni were attending. You still need to be proactive even if it is a smaller event.
Then, other people were horrible at following conversations and reading social cues. Sometimes the banker speaking with us would start talking about lighter topics or activities outside of work, and the other students there would immediately jump back into asking about EBITDA.
One mistake I made was not recognizing someone at an event when I had seen the person previously – right after the event ends you need to write down all the names you can or at least get business cards and make sure you can match names to faces (easier these days with social networks).
Q: You used diversity events very well to get all those interviews and win your offer – did you run into any problems or awkwardness when interviewing?
Even though you met lots of female bankers, it is still a male-dominated industry, so did you run into any resistance?
A: No, not really. I went through dozens of interviews and felt it was more about chemistry with the interviewer and your performance than gender.
I can’t say whether being female hurt or helped me in interviews, but I didn’t see much of an effect either way – going to all those events was essential for getting interviews in the first place, though.
Q: Right, if anything I think you probably had an advantage since most bankers would prefer more diversity in the industry.
But you were also a liberal arts major at a small school – did that present any challenges in interviews?
A: Not really – I don’t think they treated me much differently from anyone else without a finance background.
I never received extremely difficult technical questions, but I got the usual math and brain teaser-type questions for S&T interviews, and for IB got the usual questions on valuation, DCF, how the 3 statements link to each other, and so on.
These were all covered by relevant guides so I never felt unprepared.
Finance or accounting majors would probably get more difficult technical questions, but these days you must have a minimum level of technical knowledge no matter what your background is.
I also ran into the usual interview scenarios that banks like to use – for example the “good cop, bad cop” deal where one interviewer constantly interrupts you and objects to everything you say, and the other one is more laid-back.
Q: That makes sense – you’ll still get the technical questions, but not quite as many as if you were from a finance background. Any more tips or advice?
A: One other point I didn’t mention: try to shadow bankers or traders – this is more common on the trading side, but at a lot of these events banks will let you follow a trader around for a few hours and see what they do.
Take that opportunity to be proactive and meet other traders/bankers there – don’t be shy, just go around introducing yourself and explain what you’re interested in doing.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. This sounds silly, but many people complain endlessly about their situation and never take action to fix it.
I never hesitated to follow-up with people, and in one case I wrote a quick email to a Director at a bulge bracket bank who I hadn’t even spoken to in a year – and got an interview from doing that.
In another case, when I was assigned to shadow traders I said I was more interested in sales so a Director there switched my role and let me shadow someone in sales instead.
Q: Awesome – thanks for sharing your story, that was very informative.
A: No problem – enjoyed speaking with you.
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From Nuclear Submarines to Investment Banking: How to Make the Leap from the Military to Finance
Can 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 investment banking networking 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:
- There’s the perception that ex-military guys don’t know finance.
- 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:
- You do miss out on networking opportunities by being around fewer bankers / financiers.
- 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.
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How to Dominate Your Investment Banking Sell Day
After setting up 114 informational interviews during recruiting season, you made it through alive and got 3 bulge bracket investment banking offers.
You picked your top choice, and now you’ve spent the last 5 months in Buenos Aires partying.
But then one day you get a letter from your bank: your sell day is coming up next week.
So what do you do now?
You already have an offer, so why does anything else matter?
Because your performance on sell day determines which group you’ll be placed into.
Screw up your sell day, and you could just fail life.
It’s called a “sell day” because the bank is courting you for once. You already have the offer, and now different groups are lining up to recruit you.
Each group will present and pitch you on why you should join them: they’ll pull out league tables, PE / business school placement stats, and will do everything short of bribing you with cocaine to convince you to join them.
At the end of each presentation, you’ll get a chance to network with the bankers who presented and also “sell” yourself to them.
The ranking mechanics are simple: you rank your group preferences, and then each group ranks the incoming analysts or associates it wants.
HR then tries to match up everyone so that you get into one of your top-ranked groups and each group gets their top-ranked recruits.
Speed dating meets investment banking.
Summer analysts, full-time analysts, summer associates, and full-time associates all go through the sell day process.
It doesn’t matter quite as much for summers because it’s only 8-12 weeks rather than 2-3 years.
If you’re a former summer analyst who accepted a full-time offer with a specific group, you won’t get to play unless you’ve asked to switch groups.
And if you interviewed for a specific group already, then you also won’t get to participate in the festivities – this is more common in regional offices and at middle-market / boutique banks.
Not every group recruits at sell days, either – sometimes a group might have no openings because summer interns already filled all their spots.
There are 2 parts to the execution of a sell day:
- Preparation beforehand.
- Performance on-the-spot.
You want to do some research on the bank, the different groups, and recent deals they’ve done.
You don’t need to memorize league tables or the names of everyone at the bank, but it’s good to have a few talking points.
Go and contact alumni or anyone else who’s already at the bank before your sell day to ask these questions and get your name out there.
Don’t bother “studying” for technical questions. Bankers will not ask you to multiply 35 * 17 or what a PIK note is – “fit” questions and chit-chat are far more likely.
You should also contact everyone you met during the recruiting process and set up in-person meetings around the time of your sell day – and before it, if you can.
90% of incoming analysts and associates never bother to set up these “off-book” meetings so you’ll have a huge advantage if you can get the real scoop on different groups.
During these meetings, cut to the chase and ask which groups are good, which aren’t, and how you can really get placed where you want – remember how you need to ask for what you want in order to get it.
This one’s very similar to investment banking information sessions: don’t do anything stupid, meet as many people as you can, and collect business cards.
What Not to Do:
- Ask lots of irrelevant questions during the presentation just for the sake of asking questions.
- Stand in a corner and avoid introducing yourself to anyone.
- Appear too casual and start talking about how you just got arrested in Vegas or anything else you would not mention during an interview.
After the presentation, introduce yourself to as many bankers as you can and try to chat with each one for at least a minute or two.
Unlike information sessions, where it sometimes pays to get into an extended discussion with a banker, on sell days you don’t have enough time to do this.
So talk to each person, collect a business card each time, and if you’re pressed for time focus on the staffer and the other senior bankers because they have the decision-making power.
Types of Questions
Unlike informational interviews or information sessions – where you’re better off sticking to personal questions – you can and should throw in business-related questions on sell day.
- How do you like this group?
- What kind of deal flow have you had lately?
- Why did you decide to work here?
- How many / what type of deals are you working on right now?
You can still ask personal questions about their backgrounds, but sell day is as much intelligence gathering for you as it is courting recruits for the bankers.
After you’ve gotten business cards from everyone, send follow-up emails quickly – within a day – especially to your top-ranked groups.
If you’re ranking 10 groups, you don’t need to follow-up with every single banker you met – focus on your top 2 or 3 choices.
Unlike normal networking situations where you want to ask a substantial question in each interaction, saying “It was nice to meet you” and writing a short note is fine for these emails.
The purpose is to get your name out there and to make them remember who you are – not to build a relationship with every single banker.
You can reference whatever you spoke about with them as well – but chances are you won’t remember dozens of conversations very well.
Contact everyone you met during the recruiting process and anyone else you know at the bank to ask which groups are solid, and see if you can meet with or speak with them before sell day.
Figure out which group you want to get into, and then dominate your sell day by meeting as many people as you can, following up quickly, and doing what you can outside sell day to come out ahead.
And maybe, just maybe, you won’t get stuck doing equities in Dallas.
Questions & Answers
Q: Which group should I pick?
A: Depends on your goals. If you want to do PE, groups like M&A, Financial Sponsors (maybe not this one quite as much), and Leveraged Finance are better; if you want better hours or you’re interested in investor relations, go for Equity Capital Markets.
It also comes down to the people in each group – M&A might sound nice on paper, but maybe the hours are better and the exit opportunities are the same in another group all because of one Sycophant in M&A.
There’s no “right” answer here because it depends on your background and what you want to do in the future.
Q: What happens if none of my top choices ranked me highly?
A: Unlike speed dating, you can’t just be rejected by everyone – so they’ll place you in a group that wasn’t as popular or that couldn’t get their top choices either.
This doesn’t happen all that often – believe it or not, not everyone in the world wants to do M&A.
Q: I am obsessive compulsive and need to study something beforehand. Are you sure I shouldn’t study technical questions or memorize league tables?
A: Knock yourself out – some people are happier in hell.
The usefulness is close to 0, though.
Q: Are there any questions that I shouldn’t ask in the networking sessions after each presentation?
A: Don’t ask about the lifestyle or hours, because you might give the impression that you’re actually expecting to have a life.
Also don’t do too much “dirt digging” in these sessions – asking about which MDs are good and which are bad – because your conversation will be overheard. Save that for your off-book meetings.
Q: Should I meet my contacts for coffee or go to their offices if I’m setting up meetings before sell day?
A: Duh, go to their office so they can introduce you to everyone else.
Q: Do I need to get HR’s “permission” / go through HR to do any of this?
A: No, once again HR is useless. Do as much as you can without their involvement.
More questions? Ask away.