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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The Complete Guide to Cold Calling Your Way Into Investment Banking
And you made a valiant effort, securing 10 interviews with everyone from boutiques to bulge bracket banks – but you didn’t land the offer.
And now you only have a few months before your non-existent summer internship begins.
With recruiting finished, your last, best chance of breaking in is to cold call your way into Wall Street.
But will that even work?
Should you bother going all-out and calling hundreds of firms?
And if you do take the leap, how do you cold call your way in successfully without getting slapped with a restraining order for being too aggressive?
Does Cold Calling Really Work?
This is the most common question about cold calling:
“I’ve tried calling 10 different banks and no one is hiring! I sent my resume to all of them, but I haven’t gotten any responses! What is going on, does cold calling even work? Why are you lying to me?!!!!”
The answer is yes, cold calling does work – but it does not work instantly.
Cold calling and cold emailing work better:
- In developed markets like the US and UK.
- If you’re an undergraduate or recent graduate.
- At tiny boutique banks/PE firms/hedge funds.
It’s questionable in regions like Asia, parts of continental Europe, and Australia – I’ve seen mixed results there, whereas there are dozens of success stories from the US/UK.
That’s because recruiting is more traditional in those places and randomly contacting people is not as accepted socially. So give it a shot, but make sure you pursue other options if you’re in a region where it’s not as effective.
It also won’t work as well if you’re at the MBA level or you have full-time experience because you should be leveraging your network to break in instead.
I’m sure some people have cold called their way into bulge bracket banks and mega-funds, but it’s rare and I don’t recommend spending much time on it – those firms never have trouble finding qualified, bright-eyed, and bushy-tailed interns.
And finally, once again: do not expect instant results.
Cold calling is an extended and ego-bruising process where you’ll get bankers yelling at you, writing nasty emails, and acting like Gordon Gekko when he first met Bud Fox.
And unlike Bud, you can’t use insider information to work your way in.
…But Why I’m Still Not a Fan
So cold calling works – but I am still not a huge fan because:
- It can easily turn into a repetitive grind where you spend hours each day calling random banks.
- Networking is much more effective if you do it via referrals and informational interviews.
- Cold approaches are more effective in-person at events like information sessions where you can get the other person to remember you more easily.
- The odds are stacked against you because you have little to offer to banks as a student.
But, you could easily find yourself cold calling anyway if:
- You go to a non-target school where no banks recruit and you have no connections.
- You’ve exhausted all your connections and still haven’t found an internship.
- You can’t make it to in-person events and you live far away from major financial centers.
And remember: all it takes is one.
What Exactly is a “Cold Call”?
What is a “cold call” and how is it different from other types of networking?
The main difference is that you don’t know the other person – unlike contacting alumni for informational interviews, you are randomly calling them and have no previous interactions or connections with them.
You are also much more direct – rather than chit-chatting about their background and asking about what they do for fun outside of work, you ask about internships and recruiting right away.
And if you don’t get a positive response, you persist until you do, you try again later, or you move on to other banks on your list.
On a standard cold call, you might introduce yourself in 1-2 sentences, ask how you can position yourself for an interview at the firm, and then respond to the other person’s “objections” (we’re not hiring anyone, we don’t have the money, etc.) until you get a real answer.
It’s the difference between dating and randomly hitting on people at a bar in search of a one-night stand.
How to Cold Call Like a Champ
It’s a 5-step process:
- Get a list of banks or bankers in your area with their names and contact information.
- Plan your pitch and figure out what you’re going to tell them.
- Place the call and be prepared to respond to their objections.
- Afterward, follow-up at least once a week until they tell you to stop calling.
- Meanwhile, continue to contact and follow-up with other firms on your list.
Timing is extremely important.
You do not want to start cold calling places when it’s still the middle of recruiting season – you should be using other means like weekend trips, informational interviews, and information sessions to contact bankers.
It may seem counter-intuitive to postpone cold calling until the last-minute, but it makes sense for a number of reasons:
- You can focus on your higher probability options first and only spend time cold calling if nothing else works out.
- If you wait until the last-minute, you can find banks that really need interns.
You don’t have to do this – I’m sure some have succeeded by cold calling during recruiting season, but most successful readers started late in the process.
There are a couple ways to do this; the best method is to get Capital IQ access from someone who has it and search for local boutiques in your area.
Failing that, there are over 13,000 firms in the Investment Banking Networking Toolkit and other sources online with names and contact information for firms.
You could also try random Google searches, LinkedIn and even using tools like Google Maps to get names – it really depends on how much time you have left and what your deadline for finding an internship is.
If you live in the middle of nowhere and there are no firms in your area, get your butt out of your chair and hit the road.
Contact firms at the financial center closest to you and make it clear that you’re willing to move there right away.
Refining Your List
One other quick note: no matter how good your source is, do not just blindly call numbers.
Always search online first to verify that the place still exists, that’s it what your list says it is, and spend a few minutes learning something about what they do, recent deals, and so on.
No matter how comprehensive the data, things change every day and unless you’re willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars, it’s impossible to get everything updated in real-time.
Planning Your Pitch
This is the easiest part of the entire process. The main mistakes to avoid:
- Giving your life story rather than a 1-2 sentence introduction.
- Not getting to the point and chit-chatting too much.
So don’t do either of those.
Instead, plan a 1-2 sentence introduction where you say something like, “I know you’re busy so I won’t take too much of your time – I’m a [Major] student at [University Name] and I’ve worked at [Company Names] before. I wanted to see how I could best position myself for an internship at your firm.”
That’s it – this is not rocket science.
Placing the Calls
You do not want to fumble around and say “um” or “ah” too much on the actual calls. You will get better with practice, so I recommend “warming up” with places you don’t care about as much.
Say the same thing to everyone to minimize screw-ups.
Ideally, you will call the bankers directly (higher level is better if you can find them – MDs have more power than VPs, VPs have more power than Associates/Analysts) and speak with someone who has a say in the hiring process.
But more often than not, you will only have their main number – you can still recite the same script, but you need to be prepared for the gatekeeper to respond with their objections and keep you locked out.
Calling vs. Emailing – Cold Emails For the Win?
Right about now, you might be thinking:
“If it’s so hard to successfully get through when cold calling, why not use email instead? Does cold emailing work and is it more effective than cold calling?”
Personally, I am biased against email – but that might just be because I get hundreds of emails each day and can’t even respond personally to 90% of them.
Emails are easy for bankers to ignore or delete, whereas phone calls are harder to dodge. And catching them in-person, of course, is even harder for them to avoid.
But you may still have better luck with cold emailing, especially if you’re not good on the phone.
I’ve seen it go both ways, so you have to experiment and see what works for you. If you do cold email bankers, attach your resume/CV and ask directly in the email how to position yourself for an internship there.
What to Expect on the Calls
Ok, back to calling now – what should you expect when you call and pitch the banker or the gatekeeper?
95% of the time you will get variants of the following response:
“We’re not hiring.” / “We don’t recruit interns.” / “We don’t offer internships.”
Do not give up when they say this or you will never succeed.
Respond by saying, “So you’re in charge of all recruiting for the firm?” or something to that effect – if it’s a gatekeeper they will say no, at which point you then ask to be put in touch with the person who is.
Other strategies for getting past this initial rejection:
- Ask for a banker by name and fib a little by saying you were scheduled to call him/her and ask how you could be put through to talk to him/her (and if you get voicemail, hang up, call back, say you were disconnected, and ask for the number).
- Avoid closed-ended questions (“Do you have any internships?” / “Do you recruit interns?”) with a few exceptions (such as the one about the person being in-charge of all hiring).
Closed-ended questions lead to quick rejections because the person will always respond with “No”; “how” questions are better because you assume that they already offer internships and it’s just a matter of how you will get what they’re offering.
Even when you make it through and speak with a real banker, you’ll run into other objections:
- “We already have someone for the summer.”
- “What value could you add to our firm?”
- “We can’t afford summer interns.”
So you need to be prepared with a response for each of these:
- “Really? So when your deal flow picks up and your hiring needs change for the summer, how could I position myself for an interview so I could help you out?”
- “There are plenty of tasks that you need help with and your time is best spent winning clients – let me handle everything else.”
- “I understand that money can be an issue, so I’m willing to work at below-market rates – and you get a great deal anyway since this is only a trial and I’ll save you more money than I’ll cost you.”
You don’t want to offer up too much at first (e.g. immediately offer to work for free) as that makes you seem desperate; reserve that for when they continue to object.
Persistence vs. Stalking
I’ve gotten a lot of questions on “how far is too far?” and the difference between being persistent vs. turning into a stalker.
You should feel uncomfortable cold calling if you’re doing it correctly.
Unless you have a lot of experience in sales or randomly approaching people, this entire process will be new and uncomfortable to you.
If you think you’re going “too far,” you’re probably not – the only tactics I would consider too extreme are:
- Showing up at the bank’s offices in-person and demanding to be let in (even if you’re not carrying an AK-47 this will result in bad things happening to you).
- Finding out where the bankers live, camping out in their bushes, and then jumping out to pitch them when they arrive at home.
- Calling every day even after they tell you “No” explicitly and warn you to stop calling them.
You know it’s time to move on when they say “No” without even giving a specific reason why – that means they are really not interested and probably can’t be persuaded otherwise.
The first lesson in sales is that an objection is the first sign of a prospect’s interest, and it’s the same idea here: no specific objections, no interest.
I’m sure someone will now leave a comment saying that my advice is crazy and will get you in trouble or result in you getting “blacklisted” (even though nothing like that even exists).
But you are not doing anything unethical as long as you stick to simple calls and emails, so it’s not as if you’re lying about your offer status and forging documents to win interviews/offers.
Expect that some bankers will not like your tactics and will be extremely nasty to you.
On the other hand, some bankers will admire you for having the guts to cold call them and hustle your way into Wall Street.
Even though I satirize bankers here with the “Stuff Investment Bankers Like” series, they do not, in fact, all have the same personality and so their responses will vary.
If you get a negative or sarcastic response, do not take it personally – the banker might just be having a bad day or might be a tool to begin with.
You need a thick skin or you’ll never make it in the cold calling game.
So you’ve cold called several places and gotten lukewarm responses – they already have people for the summer, they don’t have formal internships, or they can’t afford interns.
Rather than giving up, follow-up at least once per week until they tell you, “No” definitively and tell you to stop calling. Many readers have been successful with extremely aggressive follow-up.
You can also email to follow-up and mix up your approach a bit, but I still prefer calls since they’re harder to dodge.
Your follow-up should not be much different – use the same script and just say you’re following up to reiterate your interest and see what has changed since the last time you spoke.
How Long Before You Succeed?
I can’t give you a definitive answer because it’s random – some readers have succeeded in only a few weeks, whereas it has taken others months of networking to land offers.
But you should not expect solid results until you’ve called upwards of 100 firms and followed up with all of them.
That is a lot of cold calling, so you should still pursue “Plan B” options for the summer such as internships at normal companies, private wealth management, and so on.
It took Sylvester Stallone 1500 rejections to star in the first Rocky movie – so please do not complain until you’ve reached at least that number.
This Sounds Really Hard!
At first it is and you will be very intimidated when you cold call MDs at banks. But it gets easier with time and practice, and after a while you barely have to think about it – sort of like interviews and walking through your resume.
I’ve lived in dozens of cities and have “started over” with 0 friends and 0 connections multiple times, so I’m more aggressive than most when it comes to meeting people and showing up uninvited at events – and randomly approaching people is still hard for me.
I still fail and get “rejected” a lot, plenty of what I do leads to failure, and I’d say that less than 10% of my attempts actually result in good stories / good friends afterward.
But it does get easier and less scary with practice – and the good news for you is that the phone tends to be less intimidating than approaching random people in-person.
Next Steps & Further Reading
So, what now?
Get started making your list and placing those calls.
Do not succumb to analysis paralysis and make a flow chart showing every possible response in your planned conversation and what you’ll say next – get a handle on the basics but don’t obsess.
If you want further preparation, check out these case studies, podcasts and other resources:
- How to Break in as an Engineer with No Finance Background – Cold called 120 banks
- From Non-Target and Unpaid Wealth Management Internship to Bulge Bracket Bank – Email better than calling?
- How to Break Into Private Equity Straight Out of Undergraduate – Cold called 50 equity research analysts
- How to Get Into Investment Banking from an Unknown State School – Kept calling, calling, and calling until he got in
- How to Break Into Investment Banking If You Have a 3.0 GPA, Went to an Unknown School, and Only Recently Learned English
- How to Turn Cold Calls Warm – Podcast
And now get to work pounding the pavement until you break in.
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From Non-Target School and Unpaid Wealth Management Internship to Full-Time Bulge Bracket Investment Banking Offer: How to Make the Leap
In this interview we’ll speak with a reader who landed a full-time bulge bracket investment banking offer with 0 banking internships and a non-target school on his resume.
There have been a few interviews with readers from similar backgrounds – but I thought this one was great because he shares unique insights and unusual networking strategies – including surprising conclusions on what worked and what failed miserably.
So let’s jump in and see how this reader went from no connections and no experience to a full-time investment banking offer – and how you can do the same.
Background & Last-Minute Networking
Q: Tell us about yourself.
A: Sure. I went to an unknown state school that was off the radar of major banks, and which had very few alumni in finance. My family was involved in the retail industry so they knew almost nothing about it, and I had no connections.
I started getting interested in finance my sophomore year, but I knew almost nothing about it so I had to look online to get started, using your site and others.
The summer after my sophomore year I did an internship selling life insurance. It was commission-based and absolutely brutal – they just throw you out there and say, “Find clients and sell insurance ASAP.”
After that, I did an unpaid private wealth management internship at a large bank, which I leveraged into a full-time investment banking offer at a bulge bracket bank.
Q: Impressive. So let’s go back to that internship selling life insurance – most people would discount this experience because it has nothing to do with investment banking or private equity. Was it helpful at all in securing your PWM internship or your full-time offer?
A: Yes – in fact, my internship selling life insurance was my #1 talking point during interviews.
It sounds crazy, but bankers spent more time asking me about that experience than anything else on my resume – including my PWM internship at a brand-name bank.
In one bulge bracket interview, they spent 30 minutes having me pitch them an insurance policy.
I think they focused on it so much because it was extremely tough and I had almost no direction – it wasn’t much different from what you do at the top levels in banking, although obviously MDs work on much larger deals and with more sophisticated clients.
Q: I’m still surprised they focused so much on that internship. How did you make the transition from selling insurance to private wealth management?
A: It was pretty much a last-minute networking effort on my part – I knew I needed an internship for my junior year summer, but I assumed I had no chance at investment banking, so I didn’t even try.
I did contact a few friends and alumni from my school who were in the industry, but most of those leads didn’t go anywhere.
I got the internship itself by going through a friend who had recently graduated from my school and who was working in New York – he passed my name along to a recruiter at his bank.
Then I followed up and sent 20 emails over the next month before the recruiter agreed to discuss an internship.
Q: Let me stop you right there – why did you send so many emails? I usually say that calling and meeting in-person are more effective. Did you try cold-calling at all?
A: Yes – but it didn’t work at all for me. I could never get past the gatekeepers no matter what I did.
I know it works since I’ve had friends who pulled it off successfully – but overall I didn’t have much luck with it. You need to be really good at sweet-talking secretaries and finding the right people to begin with, and I wasn’t great at that.
M&I Note: In addition, location seems to matter a lot with cold-calling. A lot of readers have used it successfully in California, for example, but other regions are more hit-or-miss.
Q: Yeah, people do tend to have mixed results with cold-calling. Going back to that internship, though, I’m curious – most bulge bracket banks don’t do unpaid internships. How did you arrange that?
A: It worked because this was in the midst of the financial crisis / recession and everything was chaotic at the time. They actually gave me a choice of 2 internships: a paid, back-office position in New Jersey or an unpaid, front-office private wealth management position in New York – I wisely selected the second one.
A lot of students would have chosen the paid internship, but I knew it was a bad move because banks want to know that you can live and work in New York – and as you’ve pointed out before, the back office to front office transition is difficult.
Going back to your original question, the bank itself and the industry as a whole were in such trouble around this time that everyone was running around frantically trying to cut costs – so they decided to give large groups of us unpaid internships.
The “interview process” itself was really informal, and all it took was 1 interview to get the offer.
Q: Ok, so it was more of a firm-wide policy than a special exception for you – which makes sense. So how did you keep networking with bankers once you started? Were the people in your PWM group helpful?
A: From day 1 I walked in there thinking, “How can I turn this into investment banking?”
Most people in PWM were completely useless for investment banking recruiting – a lot of times they’d give me contact information for recruiters, but then the recruiters would ignore me or lie about the process.
People in PWM were fine if you wanted to do Sales & Trading, but they hated investment bankers – if you mentioned that you wanted to do that, they would instantly start looking down on you.
The only good contact I got through the PWM group was actually in private equity – my boss had the interns go around to visit key clients in-person one day, and I met the head of a PE firm like that.
I made a good impression on him, and then ran it by my boss before I contacted him for networking purposes – he was fine with it, so the PE guy referred me to a lot of people and forwarded my resume to all his contacts, which was huge.
Q: Nice – I guess we can call that one “door-to-door networking.” So aside from that one PE guy, did you do most of your networking outside the bank?
A: Yes. I did an extensive search and left no stone unturned – which was key, because my most random strategies ended up working really well.
I reached out to alumni via our database as well as LinkedIn – I often found names on LinkedIn, and then plugged them into the alumni database to get contact information. I didn’t limit myself to investment banking, either – as long as the person did something in finance, that was close enough for me.
I ended up getting my full-time offer via an alum that no one from my school had ever contacted before – he worked in a Restructuring group and had good friends at bulge bracket banks, so I got the referral through him.
No one had contacted him in the past because he went to a top business school and was detached from his undergrad institution – so others wrongly assumed he was “off limits.”
I also met alumni via my finance classes, and I directly asked a lot of professors for referrals – teachers are severely under-utilized for networking purposes.
It was really important to be the first person to contact an alumnus – the same alum is unlikely to help more than few people with referrals, so getting in early is crucial.
Q: Right, that makes a lot of sense. But those strategies don’t sound that much different from what you’d expect – you mentioned some “random strategies” before. Could you give a few examples?
A: Sure – here are 2 specific examples of more unusual strategies:
Example #1: I found out that someone very high-up at an investment bank a few years ago (C-level executive) was an alumnus from my school from many years ago. I couldn’t find his contact information anywhere, so I went through my Dean to get it instead.
I met with my Dean, told him about myself, and then he sent the resume along to the C-level executive because he knew him personally. A few days later the executive called me personally and I would have gotten an interview at his bank had I not already accepted an offer elsewhere by that point.
Example #2: Many people didn’t respond to emails, so I tried a more creative strategy instead – I went through the Bloomberg terminals available at my school.
You can look people up there if you know their names – rather than calling or emailing, I instant messaged them via Bloomberg. It worked really well, especially for people in Sales & Trading and Equity Research that were on Bloomberg all day.
Q: That’s a great way to use Bloomberg, though you do have to be careful not to go overboard with IM. Once you contacted these people, what did you say to them? Was it just the typical informational interview?
A: For most of the interviews I just said, “I’m interested in your industry and want to learn more about how I can get there.”
I did this because I knew that industries like private equity and portfolio management require another job first – and I wanted my contacts to give me referrals to other industries.
So if I called up a PE contact I would say, “I’m interested in private equity – how can I get there after I graduate?” and he would say, “Well, you have to do investment banking first,” and I would say, “Oh, ok, do you happen to know anyone in the industry?” and then I would get contact information like that.
I found that feigning ignorance – to a certain point – was more effective than acting like I knew everything from the get-go.
Q: I think that one should answer all the “Which industry should I tell them I’m interested in?” questions I get. Did you do anything else to prepare for full-time recruiting?
A: Not really – I read the usual sites online, interview guides, message boards, etc. but I focused on my networking efforts through the summer and fall. I’d say I spent around 40 hours per week networking and interviewing until I had my offer lined up.
It’s important to be persistent even when it’s the last minute and interview slots are being announced.
Quick example: A couple people from one class of mine got interviews at this one bank, and I noticed that my friends all had interviews lined up but I didn’t.
So I contacted the recruiter directly and said, “I noticed some classmates of mine had interviews lined up with your firm. I’d really appreciate the opportunity to interview with you as well.”
And just like that, she set up the interview and I got through first rounds there.
This might seem obvious, but 90% of people are too afraid to ask for what they want so they sit there and get no results.
Q: Another bold but effective move there. So what were interviews like? Did you have to address a lot of “objections” because you had no banking experience and because you were coming in from a non-target school?
A: Not really. They didn’t care much about the lack of banking experience, and hardly anyone raised my school as an issue.
However, that may have been because I interviewed fairly late in the process – after most full-time recruiting was finished. A friend who interviewed at the same firms earlier than me got grilled on why he wasn’t from a big city and why he didn’t go to a better-known school.
I had a low GPA (3.2 / 4.0) so that came up in interviews a few times. I gave the usual defense and explained that I didn’t feel it was low given my work experience, and hardly anyone asked about it past the first round.
I know a lot of people complain about their GPA, but I think those concerns are overblown – especially if you’re from a lesser-known school, networking is far more important than boosting your GPA by a small amount.
Interviews were actually easier and less technical than I expected – even though I was a finance major and had the PWM internship, I received only a few technical questions throughout the entire process.
Thinking on your feet and being good at making up stuff on the spot was critical, because I got some curve-ball “fit” questions that I hadn’t thought about before.
Q: Any interview tips that we haven’t heard before?
A: A few points:
- Interviewers often drifted if I went beyond a minute or two when telling my “story” – I know some people say that 3-5 minutes is ok, but I’d aim for 60 seconds instead.
- I tried to keep all my “fit” answers to a max of 3 sentences, or people would start to lose interest – be concise and let them ask for more detail if they want.
- Be confident but not cocky – cocky gets you obscure technical questions, while confidence makes them like you.
On the last point: a friend and I were interviewing for the same bank on the same day, and I got 0 technical questions while the interviewers asked him to build a 3-statement model on a piece of paper (!).
It was all because he walked in and acted like he was a finance guru, which was a huge mistake.
Q: Yeah, definitely. People try way too hard to impress and it always backfires. So now that you got this offer, what are you planning to do in the future?
A: I want to do PE and get an MBA in the future, but those are both quite a ways away. In the short-term I’m definitely looking forward to joining my group, but I’m also interested in the distressed debt side and possibly doing something there.
Q: Awesome, thanks for your time.
A: No problem. Later!
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