by Brian DeChesare Comments (370)

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

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

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

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

Why the Hate? You’re Already Biased!

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

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

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

Definitions: Investment Banking / Private Equity vs. Other Fields

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

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

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

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

5 Degrees Above Zero

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

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

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

High School / Secondary School

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

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

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

University Degrees

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

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

No, you can’t.

Why not?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Master’s Degrees

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

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

The most common question on Master’s degrees:

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

No, you can’t, because:

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

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

MBA

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

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

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

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

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

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

JD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PhD

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

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

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

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

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

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

MD

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

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

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

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

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

Combo Degrees – JD + MBA?

Combo degrees get another “thumbs down” from me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Certifications

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

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

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

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

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

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

CFA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bloomberg / FactSet / Other

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

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

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

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

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

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

Got Degrees or Certifications?

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

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

M&I - Brian

About the Author

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

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How to Break Into Finance in London Coming from an Unknown School in Eastern Europe

Eastern Europe Investment BankingWhen this interview series started awhile back, I expected most submissions to come from Europe since the UK is the second biggest country in terms of readership.

But that didn’t happen – instead, we covered the Middle East (which is awesome) and parts of Asia instead.

This time around, though, we move back toward Europe with an interview from a reader in Eastern Europe (Poland specifically) who broke into the London finance scene.

Read on to learn all about Eastern Europe, why you might want to go to London anyway even if there are hot emerging markets out there, and how you can use ruined travel plans and flight delays to impress bankers.

Introductions & Eastern Europe Recruiting

Q: Can you tell us about your background and how you first got interested in finance?

A: Sure. At the time I was in my final year at a top university in Poland doing a Master’s in Finance and Accounting – a 5-year program, which is common in Europe. I had also done a combined investment banking and corporate banking internship at the Warsaw office of a French bank.

In my first 3 years at university I did a lot of volunteer work, had roles in a lot of student groups, and had lots of other activities and hobbies.

Even though I said “top university” above, it was not well-known outside the region and very few banks actually came there to recruit. You’re at a big disadvantage in Europe if you’re not at one of the top schools in the UK.

Q: So even though it was well-regarded in the country, not many banks came there. Does that mean the recruiting environment in Eastern Europe is not that good? Or is there not as much of a need for bankers there at the moment?

A: Overall the recruiting environment and the investment banking market here are completely different from what you see in the US/UK.

Most large companies in Eastern Europe are still state-owned, so most foreign investment banks that come here advise governments on how to take their holdings public and divest companies.

So, for example, when the Polish government announces plans to sell a large number of companies, the international banks come over here and start pitching themselves while increasing the number of Polish-speaking graduates they recruit (they do still recruit a few candidates each year regardless of the government, but you’re likely to get pigeonholed as the “Central / Eastern Europe banker”).

Since the market is dependent on government announcements, there’s less of a consistent recruiting cycle than in developed countries.

The banks that do come here recruit mostly for investment banking – specifically M&A and ECM – and not as much for other divisions like S&T, PWM, ER, and so on.

In terms of the market as a whole, Poland and Eastern Europe still felt the effects of the credit crunch and financial crisis and lots of banks with Warsaw offices had hiring freezes, with very few graduate opportunities available.

Q: Right, so that’s what motivated you to move to London rather than staying at home?

A: Yes – there just aren’t that many investment banking or even corporate banking opportunities in Eastern Europe. The main banks in the region are retail banks, and most of the big M&A and IPO deals are done in London instead.

Sometimes London-based banks have local partners (for example, a co-lead manager on an IPO) with more specialized expertise – so there are a few investment boutiques and investment/corporate arms of local banks here. But they work on smaller deals, there are no established internships or graduate programs, and the same opportunities don’t exist.

Salary is also important, and as a graduate you can earn up to 5x the local pay in London. And most of the successful senior guys who are doing deals in Poland right now have international experience, mostly in London.

Non-Target University to Internship

Q: So how did you get an internship in London if banks didn’t recruit at your school?

A: In Europe, you can still get interviews by applying online without doing any networking. It is not easy and your application really must be perfect for you to have a chance. And I don’t recommend doing this, especially if you’re in the US or another region where online applications go into a black hole.

To stand out, you need to have previous experience, have an interesting personality, and get lucky – I had the previous banking internship at the Warsaw branch of the French bank and a lot of activities, and all of that came across in my application.

One additional point is that since most people study for 5 years to get a Master’s degree here, they have more time to “build” an interesting CV by getting internships and by being more active in student groups.

Q: Right, so you had the previous experience and an interesting personality… but what about the luck factor?

A: The day I flew to London to attend an assessment center there, my plane had to make an emergency landing and so I was late by around 2 hours.

But that actually worked in my favor – everyone was impressed with how I stayed calm and how I was still able to complete all the numerical tests and group exercises as if nothing had happened.

HR also told everyone about my situation, so bankers heard my story before I even arrived at the office, and then when I arrived they were asking me about it. So that helped me stand out from everyone else there and showed how I could handle stress and deal with the unexpected.

Q: I can already predict that someone will take that story and post a comment below this interview saying, “But that’s ridiculous, that hardly ever happens and he just got really lucky. How can you possibly say that applies to me?” Any thoughts?

A: Obviously, you’re not going to make emergency landings and be late to the assessment center all the time. But you can always focus on what sets you apart from everyone else.

As you’ve mentioned before countless times, plenty of people are good at math and can work 24/7 cranking out pitch books – but hardly anyone has an interesting story to tell.

So if you don’t have anything that sounds cool – study abroad experience, an unusual activity or hobby, or a good set of student groups – then fix that right away.

Sure, that kind of story gave me a bigger advantage going into interviews, but even without that I still could have talked about all my activities and hobbies and made them remember me like that.

Q: Most people would also say that it’s impossible to go to London and get even an internship offer if you’re not from a well-known school and you’re not doing a lot of networking.

How many recruits from continental Europe get in each year, and do you have any tips on how to stand out?

A: Truthfully, it is extremely difficult to get into London full-time if you’re not at a top university in the UK (Oxbridge, LSE, Imperial College, Warwick, etc.). You need to get a summer internship first, as the conversion rate from summer interns into full-time hires is quite high.

To give you some numbers, there were around 115 interns at my bank across the front office, middle office, and back office, and only around 10 were studying in continental Europe.

In local offices in Europe (France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, etc.) they take almost 100% local people, but most people prefer to work in London because the largest deals are done there.

To actually get that all-important summer internship, it’s pretty much what I said above: get local finance experience in your own country, be interesting, and hope for some luck.

One other point: don’t try to compete directly against everyone else. There are lots of people who claim to be finance wizards or who say they’re smarter than everyone, but that’s a poor way to stand out because everyone else is saying the same thing.

Rather than doing that, I focused on my background and internship in Eastern Europe and how I could help the bank expand its business in that region – not many other interviewees were using that angle, so it worked well.

Internship Life

Q: Speaking of internships, what was yours like?

A: It was a rotational program, so throughout the summer I got to see different desks, from sales through trading and research. Each week we presented to bankers based on what we learned that week – for example, a new trading strategy, thoughts on a new bond issuance, or where interest rates were going.

I was never bored at work, and didn’t have to do (too many of) the “coffee-fetching” tasks that you hear horror stories about. Everyone also had their own individual projects, from developing complex spreadsheets to be used by traders to analyzing business opportunities to writing research notes.

Q: So it sounds like this was more of a capital markets / sales & trading-oriented internship, even if technically it was a rotational program.

What about the working environment, culture, and hours in London?

A: I’m not sure these are universally true, but my observations were:

  • Markets-based groups and European banks have a better work-life balance. I usually started at 7 AM and left by 6:30 PM, with the senior guys leaving even earlier. All weekends were free.
  • M&A / ECM had longer hours. But you still get at least one day off in a week, and you may only have to come in for a few hours on Saturday.
  • DCM Origination hours were somewhere in between – it’s still very client and relationship-driven but it’s not quite as intense as M&A.
  • American banks have much worse hours, with the exception of Sales & Trading. The culture is much different and free time isn’t valued as highly.

My social life during the internship was great: the bank organized once-a-week networking events with free drinks, the hours weren’t bad, and on Fridays we left earlier and hung out with the other interns.

People were friendly and helpful if you had a problem, though as you’ve mentioned before you don’t want to ask the same question twice or take a simple question to someone who’s high-up on the ladder.

Internship to Full-Time Offer & Beyond

Q: So how did you make the move from internship to full-time offer? Was it at the same bank?

A: I stayed at the same bank but got an offer from a different group. Since it was a rotational internship, we moved through a number of desks in the first few weeks there – that actually worked out well because interns could decide whether or not they liked desks, and desks could say “no” to interns if there wasn’t a good fit.

If you have this type of internship, you need to work hard to impress the specific desk where you want to work – don’t spread your efforts too thin or try to become best friends with everyone at the bank, or no one on the desk will push for you to get hired.

I liked the people on a research desk the most, so I spent a lot of time analyzing a market for them and then wrote the industry section of a real equity research report that the bank issued. That was above and beyond what others did, so based on the quality of the work, their feedback, and everyone liking me, I got an offer to work for that desk.

Q: So do you think you’ll stay in London for the long-term, or will you move back to Eastern Europe or go elsewhere eventually?

A: During my internship, one of the senior bankers said that if you want to be really successful in the industry you should “go abroad” to gain experience. He suggested a rotation between New York, London, Tokyo, and Hong Kong, so I’m considering doing that and will try to get a placement in one of those locations.

London is definitely the best place in Europe to learn finance, so I do want to spend most of my time here over the next few years.

Q: What about a Master’s in Finance or MBA program? You already completed the Master’s degree in Poland, but do you think there’s any value in going to a better-known school?

A: Given that finance is prestige-driven, I do want to try for a part-time Master’s in Finance program at LSE or LBS after working for 2 years. An MBA might be interesting but at the moment I think a Master’s degree from a better-known school would have more leverage.

I don’t think I would learn much about finance in those programs; it would be solely for networking and a prestige boost.

A lot of high-level bankers and CFOs in Poland followed this exact path: they worked for a few years in a large financial center, got a well-respected degree, and then went home. At the senior banker level, the salary difference is much smaller and when you take into account lower taxes and the lower cost of living, you might actually come out ahead.

Q: Awesome, thanks for your time. Good luck!

A: Sure thing, I 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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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 story, 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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