by Brian DeChesare Comments (79)

Diversity Recruiting: Your Secret Weapon for Breaking Into Investment Banking?

Diversity Recruiting 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.

Controversy?

I expect that this story will cause some controversy because:

  1. You might view diversity recruiting as “unfair” or know someone who abused it before.
  2. 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.

Background

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.

The Events?

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)
  • LGBT

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.

But this is not rocket science – if you follow the advice on this site on information sessions, informational interviews, and so on, it’s hard to make blatant mistakes.

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).

Interview Obstacles

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.

M&I - Brian

About the Author

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

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by Brian DeChesare Comments (444)

What Should You Pick For Your Major?

What Should You Pick For Your Major?

NOTE: Please click here to get the updated version of this article – our views on the ideal major for IB roles have changed.

So, which major has the highest chance of getting you into investment banking?

You might think that only undergraduates have to think about that one, but it comes up even when you’re that beyond that stage: when you go for Master’s or MBA degrees, you need to pick a concentration or major.

You shouldn’t pick classes just to get into the industry – but you also need to make sure you’re not reducing your chances of getting in by picking the “wrong” major.

Considerations

NOTE: Please click here to get the updated version of this article – our views on the ideal major for IB roles have changed.

You need to consider 5 factors when picking a major:

  1. Enjoyment – Even if you pick something “easy” like Art History, it’s tough to get through it if you’re not at least somewhat interested.
  2. Your GPA – Quantum Physics might sound cool, but not if you get a 2.0 as a result.
  3. Time Requirements – You also don’t want to spend all your waking hours at the lab, because that reduces networking and activity time.
  4. Your Story – Will your major support the “story” you tell interviewers? Or will it be as illogical as The Joker?
  5. How Bankers View It – They may not know the specifics behind every single major, but they view some as “easy” and some as “hard.”

It gets complicated to weigh all these factors at the undergraduate level.

But it’s easy to do that at the MBA and Master’s levels, so let’s start there.

Business School

You won’t have a “major,” but you can usually pick a concentration or focus with your classes.

GPA is irrelevant because many top schools don’t even award grades – and while some classes may be more difficult than others, the perceived and actual differences are smaller.

So this decision is simple: pick a concentration that supports your story.

If you did sales & trading, got tired of it, and now want to move into corporate finance it won’t seem logical if you pick algorithmic trading classes.

But if you worked in banking and now want to move into venture capital, then “Entrepreneurial Finance” classes would make sense.

Master’s Programs

You applied to a Master’s program to take another shot at recruiting and to gain some prestige if you went to a lesser-known university.

So you only have one choice: do a Master’s program in Finance.

It makes absolutely no sense to go through the trouble if you’re going to spend your time analyzing English literature.

Related areas like Accounting, Management, and so on can work but Finance is the safest bet and the best way to support your “story.”

Undergraduate

Now we get to the fun part.

The choice of a major at the undergraduate level is more difficult because you actually need to take into account all 5 factors – enjoyment, GPA, time requirements, your story, and how bankers view it.

Rather than doing a SWOT analysis here (I’ll leave that to the consultants in the room), I would summarize it like this:

Pick a major that you’re at least somewhat interested in, where you can get a decent GPA (> 3.5 in the US system or equivalent abroad), have time for at least 1 major activity outside school, and that supports your story.

Interest

Ideally, we would all pick something that matches our interests precisely: video game design, the history of sports, or physical therapy.

But bankers won’t take you seriously if you have a major like this on your resume / CV.

So you have to compromise – one option is to do a more serious major and then pick something “fun” for your minor.

GPA and “Easy” vs. “Hard” Majors

Since bankers only spend 30 seconds looking at your resume, they have a simple classification system for majors:

  1. Liberal Arts / “Creative” Majors – Easy
  2. Economics / Finance / Some Sciences – Medium
  3. Engineering / Physics / Math – Hard

Before you reply or leave an angry comment, remember that these are not my own personal views – this is simply how bankers in a rush for time view the relative difficulty of majors.

Bankers expect you to have a lower GPA if you did a “hard” major and a higher GPA if you didn’t.

You still can’t waltz in with a 2.5 and expect to get interviews, but a 3.3 or 3.4 GPA doesn’t look as bad if you had a difficult major like Chemical Engineering.

Go for one of the “medium” difficulty majors – that way you can get a decent GPA and have time for activities outside of school.

Time for Activities

Once you’re out of school, activities don’t matter – but as a student you don’t have full-time work experience, so you need to rely on being “interesting.”

You can substitute internships, studying abroad, sports, or networking in for “activities” here.

Regardless of how you spend your time, you need to be able to talk about something outside of school work and summer internships.

If you’ve picked a more difficult major and really have no time, try to clear one semester or one quarter and use a study abroad experience as your “interesting fact.”

Story Support

Similar to the “Why investment banking?” question, there are 2 story categories:

  1. Non-business/finance major moving into business.
  2. Business/finance major moving into investment banking specifically.

So your major has to support whatever you’re saying here.

For #1, your major should be either your starting point (“I was interested in biology, but then got interested in finance…”) or your growing interest (“While in the biology major, I got exposed to finance in this one class / internship…”).

Some Examples, Please…

I knew you’d ask, so let’s go through them.

Example #1 – The Biology Major: She picks Biology (not “easy” but not as difficult as other choices), gets a 3.6 GPA, and has time to lead a volunteer group outside of work.

She does a lab internship her first year but then moves into business development at a biotech company, gets more interested in finance and does a couple related classes – and she gets into banking to advise biotech companies in the future.

Example #2 – The Accounting Major: He goes to a state school, majors in Accounting, gets a 3.7 GPA, and has time to be on his school’s Track & Field team. He did an internship at a Big 4 firm, got some exposure to Transaction Advisory Services, and now wants to move into banking.

While he learned a lot at the Big 4 firm, he wants to have a more direct role in shaping transactions and knows he can leverage his Accounting background to hit the ground running in banking.

Finance vs. Non-Finance Majors

You might now say, “Wait a minute – isn’t it always to your advantage to pick something like Economics/Accounting/Finance so you can tell a story around it and get decent grades?”

You can’t really go wrong with one of those choices, so if you have no other preferences then it’s a good idea.

Especially if you go to a lesser-known school, it’s in your best interest to pick a finance-related major because you have to work really, really hard to prove your interest.

At “target” schools you have more flexibility, because bankers assume you can handle anything.

School-Specific Considerations

One special case occurs when your school is well-known in a specific field.

The classic example is MIT – if you go there and major in Political Science, that would raise eyebrows no matter how accomplished you are. You’re better off picking something technical that plays to the school’s strengths.

At a place like Wharton, specific classes may be important in the context of networking – hundreds of alumni have been through the same courses and you can “bond” over the experience.

Are There Any Classes You Definitely Need?

Super-advanced math classes are not helpful, so forget about those.

If I had to pick 1 absolutely essential class, it would be Accounting.

When you start working, you don’t want to be figuring out what an income statement is – you should be familiar with all the lingo and know how the statements link together.

If your school actually offers modeling or valuation classes, those would be helpful as well – but not as essential as accounting.

What If You’ve Picked the Wrong Major?

There’s a decent chance you’ve already picked a major and completed a good portion of it – so what do you do if it’s the wrong one?

If you’ve picked something that’s too easy, the best way to fix it is to add finance-related classes and turn them into a minor.

If you’ve chosen something that’s too difficult, take the path of least resistance and do the bare minimum needed to finish it.

Adding in finance classes in this case would not be a smart move, because you’re already overworked – you’re better off showing your interest through internships or activities.

Undeclared?

Your major itself doesn’t matter.

It’s more about your major in the context of everything else: your GPA, your “story,” your internships, and your activities.

So make sure yours fits in with those and tells a good story – and if you really can’t decide, just pick Finance like everyone else.

NOTE: Please see the updated version of this article here – our views on the ideal major for IB roles have changed.

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 (59)

Why You Can’t Get an Investment Banking or Private Equity Job via Recruiters – And What to Do About It

Why You Can’t Get an Investment Banking or Private Equity Job via Recruiters – And What to Do About It

While most of the interviews on this site have been with job seekers or with current investment bankers, today we’re going to change things up and speak with an investment banking and private equity recruiter who works at a well-known recruiting firm.

You’re about to learn some little-known, highly valuable, and controversial information about the finance recruiting industry.

Keep reading to find out how to impress recruiters and interviewers and land PE and investment banking offers.

Where Did It All Begin?

Q: Can you tell us about your firm and what types of candidates you focus on?

A: Sure. We started off specializing in placing ex-military candidates, and since then we’ve expanded into almost 20 other industries, including accounting and finance.

Within investment banking and private equity, we focus on $200K – $1M total compensation per year positions. This corresponds to entry-level positions up through the mid-level – we do a few Partner and MD-level searches occasionally, but they’re not our core focus.

We work with a wide range of banks, but on the buy-side we concentrate on funds below $1B AUM and usually funds in the $50 – $500MM AUM range.

Q: How’d you get started doing this? I know sometimes investment banking analysts make the move over to the recruiting side – were you coming from that background?

A: No, I started off doing recruiting for general “Analyst” positions across all industries.

That was ok, but I found that I liked private equity and investment banking recruiting more because the fees were better and placement took more time – so you could focus more on a few key clients rather than spreading yourself thin.

While some investment banking analysts want to make the move into recruiting, they often fail to realize that technical skills matter very little for recruiting – it’s a sales job, not an analytical job.

You need to be a quick thinker and good on the phone – knowing the in’s and out’s of models and how an M&A deal works is ok, but you only need to know these topics at a very high level.

Q: You mentioned that you don’t do many Partner-level searches – but wouldn’t you earn far higher fees by placing these types of candidates rather than lower-level people?

A: While the fees are higher, there are a couple problems with Partner-level searches:

  • Usually it takes 6-8 months to place a single candidate.
  • All searches at that level are highly confidential, so making introductions and maneuvering the process has an added layer of complexity.

Overall, we’ve found that sub-$1MM range candidates are the best to work with because the chances of placing them are higher and because it’s not quite as extended a process.

How to Boost Your Interviewing Skills by 200% in 15 Minutes

Q: When you first emailed me, you mentioned 3 qualities that every successful investment banking or private equity candidate needs to show when they’re interviewing – what are they?

A: You need to demonstrate 3 specific skills when you interview:

  1. How you made money for your firm in the past.
  2. How you saved them money.
  3. How you improved a process.

The #1 mistake that you can make is focusing too much on your technical prowess and not enough on how much money you will make for a bank or PE firm.

Talking about models in interviews is fine, but you always need to tie them back to business results.

I get people who come in and start rambling about deferred tax liabilities and their hyper-advanced LBO models, and they miss something very important: most VPs and MDs don’t even remember how to build a model or use Excel.

What they do understand is making money or saving money, so you need to re-frame everything you’ve done in that context.

Q: Right, that makes sense – but a lot of people may not have “business results” to point to. Let’s say you’re working on a deal that never goes anywhere – how would you talk about how much money you made or how much money you saved your client?

A: You could talk about partial or potential results if you don’t have concrete numbers to point to.

Here’s an example: let’s say you’re creating a list of potential acquisitions for your client and you’re making recommendations on which ones they should pursue.

Even if this deal doesn’t advance to the final stages, you could easily talk about how much money you saved them if you can point to any acquisitions that you crossed off the list:

“I had to research potential acquisitions for our client – we got it down to a list of 10, and then I recommended taking 4 of the companies off the list because they weren’t a fit with the client’s product line. Any one of those would have cost them over $100 million, so I helped them to avoid a potentially bad acquisition and saved money in the process.”

If you worked on a merger that never went anywhere, you could talk about your model and key findings within that got your client a higher price if they were selling, or a lower price if they were buying.

Or you could always tie your work to the client coming back to you for more engagements in the future:

“The client was impressed with our work and especially the recommendation to avoid those acquisitions, so they decided to come back to us for 2 more engagements – I did the work that led to those, with a total fee potential of $10 million.”

Q: Right, that makes a lot of sense. Firms want people who can make them money or save them money – but is this true even of non-Partner-track positions?

If someone is just going to work there for 2-3 years and then go to business school does it really matter?

A: Yes, because there’s no such thing as “predictability” when it comes to IB or PE careers.

People come to me all the time and say, “So, where will I be in 10 years if I go to this firm? Can you give me an exact blueprint of my future career?”

Sure, here’s your blueprint: you make a lot of money for your firm and you move up. You don’t, and you’re out.

It’s really that simple: no matter what they say about you, if they see in you the potential to make them a lot of money in the future, you move up.

Q: Ok, I see – so there’s less of a “path” than most people think. What other key mistakes do candidates make when recruiting for finance jobs?

A: I could probably write a book about key mistakes, but here are just a few more:

  1. Not proving that you can evaluate and run a deal by yourself.
  2. Focusing too much on features and not enough on benefits.
  3. Relying on pedigree rather than results.

For #1, private equity firms might look at hundreds of deals each month, but might only invest in 2-3 per year max. Principals don’t have time to sift through all the information and evaluate every single detail – they need someone who can step up and do everything on their own.

Even at the entry-level in private equity, you’ll be coordinating with lawyers, bankers, the debt financing team, the company’s executives, and more – and you need to be comfortable doing all the work for everyone else and driving the process.

On #2, this is just a classic sales mistake: too many people go in there and say, “Well, I have a 4.0 GPA from Harvard and I worked at Goldman Sachs.”

Guess what? Those are features, not benefits.

How will you make me money? How much money have you made or saved for other people in the past?

Whenever I meet a candidate for the first time, I make him/her write down 10 things that are great about himself/herself.

Even if it’s “I’m great at baking cookies, so you can enjoy great food if you hire me” that’s better than nothing – the point is to always present benefits rather than features.

#3 is related, but I see a lot of people from Ivy League schools and bulge bracket banks expecting the world just because they have well-known names on their resumes.

It doesn’t work like that: you need to deliver results if you want to advance.

Often, candidates from less privileged backgrounds perform better because they’re twice as motivated.

Q: I also get lots of questions from people with Liberal Arts backgrounds who want to do banking or PE – how should they position themselves?

A: Actually, if you have a liberal arts background that can often be a big advantage because you’re probably much better at talking and BSing than math/science/finance nerds.

You want to position yourself as someone who can tell a good story around the numbers rather than just cranking out models all day long.

When they ask about your weaknesses, don’t say your analytical skills even if you’re tempted to mention that – pick something more qualitative and show how you’ve improved over time.

How to Work Effectively with Recruiters

Q: Thanks – those tips should be really helpful to anyone preparing for interviews right now.

What do recruiters actually do? Is it just a matter of screening resumes and making introductions?

A: We do some filtering of candidates, but it’s more than just looking through resumes and deciding which ones we want to pass along.

To give you some numbers on how the process works, here’s what I did over the past year:

  • Received 7,000 resumes or inquiries.
  • Got interviews for 42 candidates.
  • Successfully placed 10 candidates.

These numbers improve a lot when the economy is better.

A lot of what I do on a daily basis is helping clients find very specific candidates – they no longer just come to us and say, “We need an investment banking analyst.”

These days it’s more like, “We want an investment banking analyst from Barclays Energy Group who worked on a specific recent deal, grew up in the UK, spent time in the Middle East, and can also play golf with under an 85 handicap.”

A lot of my time is spent looking for these types of people, and also with preparing our candidates for interviews and helping them to sell themselves more effectively.

It’s a huge myth that recruiters only forward resumes to firms.

Recruiters are also your best source if you want to do a secretive job search and keep everything on the DL – if you just go directly to an MD, he won’t care about your privacy. He’ll just call your current MD and ask how good you are.

Q: I get a lot of questions from readers without investment banking or private equity experience wondering if they should contact recruiters to help with the job search process.

Is there any point in doing this?

A: Short answer: no. Over the past 2 years I haven’t placed a single candidate who wasn’t a 9/10 match for the job.

If the economy is booming and banks have ramped up their hiring, you can still potentially come in with an unrelated background (e.g. do marketing at a Fortune 500 company for 2 years and then move into IB), but it’s pretty rare otherwise.

It’s not that you’re unqualified – but we just have so many people who do have finance experience lining up for jobs that it’s almost impossible unless you’re the Chairman’s son or you can bring a unique skill set to the table.

Q: OK, so what should people without the required experience do? How do you get noticed if you’re not a perfect match for the job?

A: Become your own recruiter. Make a list of firms you want to go after, go to LinkedIn, look up people at those places, contact them, call them, visit in-person and start introducing yourself like that.

Then once you get to know a bunch of people at a specific firm, you can come back to me and say, “Hey, I’ve made some inroads on my own and know these 10-15 people – now that I’ve done that, what can you do for me?”

That puts you in a much better position to interview there, and we can help you a lot more if you’ve already done some of the work yourself.

Also, look up jobs on Indeed.com – other sites are OK, but I’ve found that Indeed is the best for finance. Just search for “banking analyst,” don’t narrow down the region, and see what you can find there.

Some of these listings are for “ghost jobs” – they’re not actively recruiting at the moment, but they’re collecting resumes and will contact you when they’re ready.

A lot of bankers apply and expect to hear back the second they submit their resumes, but it doesn’t work like that – expect to wait up to 3 days for any “live” jobs.

Q: You’ve mentioned how much more specific clients have become with their requests. What else has changed over the years, and specifically what happens when the economy has softened?

A: A lot of regional boutiques and lesser-known firms suddenly get the attitude that they can pick up analysts at top bulge bracket / boutique banks simply because the market is bad.

They come to us and say, “So, can you pull out the top analyst at Goldman or Moelis and send him to us right away, for half the pay?”

But it doesn’t work like that – even in a terrible market, top performers are unlikely to leave unless they have a really, really good reason to do so.

Some candidates have decided to go and speak with these types of firms anyway, but very few actually make the move from a top bank or group to something lesser-known.

Q: Awesome, thanks for your time – learned a lot!

A: No problem. And let me know if you know of anyone who shoots under 85 and is a killer chef so I can refer them to my clients…

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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