Weekend Trips: The Best Way to Break Into Investment Banking?
And no, I’m not referring to weekend ski trips, a 3-day gambling spree in Monaco, or your feeble attempt to ask your MD for a vacation 2 months after you started.
These are the weekend trips where you travel to financial centers, meet dozens of bankers in a short period of time, and apply the 80/20 rule to networking.
They might not be as fun as hitting the slopes, but they’re one of the best ways to break into finance – if you play your cards right.
Why Weekend Trips?
In-person meetings are more effective than calls or emails – bankers are bombarded with dozens (hundreds?) of emails each day, and everything blurs together after awhile.
But they’re much more likely to remember people they’ve met in real life, especially when sifting through resumes at 3 AM.
Weekend trips are also more efficient than normal cold-calling or informational interviews, because you can meet dozens of bankers in the span of 2-3 days.
You can get office tours on the spot, and casual meetings can easily turn into real interviews – especially when recruiting season approaches.
So if you don’t have a 4.0 GPA at Harvard and 3 internships at Goldman Sachs, weekend trips need to be part of your strategy.
What is a Weekend Trip, Exactly?
First, you plan to be in a financial center like New York, London, or Hong Kong for 2-3 days, usually on Friday-Saturday or Thursday-Saturday.
You could go for an entire week, but that is difficult to plan and you probably won’t have enough contacts to make it worthwhile.
Once you have the dates, you email bankers to set up meetings, trying to meet with at least 5 per day.
Then, you fly in and stay at a friend’s place or a hotel, meet everyone you’ve emailed, and go through the same informational interviews you know and love – only in-person this time.
At the end of each interview, you casually suggest a visit to the office or say that it would be great to meet other people there.
Follow-up afterward but keep it brief and direct – you want to schedule weekend trips close to recruiting season.
Weekend trips work at both the analyst and associate levels, but they’re usually more effective for current students.
Now, let’s answer your questions and concerns before jumping into this in more detail.
Wait, This Sounds Expensive!
Yes, it will cost money – but think about what it would cost you not to do it: a $100K+ job plus even higher pay in the future.
Plus, you can minimize expenses by staying with friends rather than at the Ritz-Carlton, or by getting a budget hotel if you don’t know anyone in the city.
In Europe there are discount airlines like Ryanair, so airfare is less of an issue there; it can be more expensive in the US and Asia, but if you plan this correctly you can still spend $1,000 or less for a 2-day trip.
Even if it costs $2,000, that’s still a 50x ROI assuming a very low $30K bonus in your first year.
I Don’t Have Time!
Translation: you have the wrong priorities.
Think about how much time you spend on Internet surfing, TV watching, and joining groups just to have a laundry list on your resume.
A single weekend trip represents a 2-3 day investment of time plus maybe another day to set up everything beforehand.
That is not enough to seriously impact your grades or activities, and guess what: even if it does, networking is way more important anyway.
Networking Doesn’t Work in Other Countries!
Yes, there may be some truth to networking being less effective outside the US, but more often than not this is just an excuse to do nothing.
Let’s say you spend 2-3 hours finding contact information for 10 bankers and emailing them to set up meetings.
You later find out that in your country, no one ever networks and a robot processes all applications sent to the bank, making all decisions based on the numbers and names on your CV.
If that outlandish scenario is true, all you’ve lost is 2-3 hours; and if it’s slightly untrue, you’ve now introduced yourself to 10 bankers and have boosted your chances – even if your weekend trip never happens.
Some regions may be more traditional with recruiting, but you lose very little by planning for weekend trips anyway.
How to Plan and Conduct Weekend Trips
One trip is probably enough if you haven’t networked like crazy, but you could also go for 2 trips and spread them further apart.
If you’re doing 1 trip, make it slightly before recruiting begins – this would be August / September for full-time recruiting and December / January for summer internships; for 2 trips, do 1 right before recruiting and the other one 2-3 months before recruiting.
Dates change depending on the year and what region you’re in, so you should check the application deadlines in advance.
Email bankers 3-4 weeks before your trip and let them know about your planned travel – just like with informational interviews, propose a specific date, time, and place (at or near their office) to meet.
Don’t buy your tickets or make reservations yet; wait and do that depending on the responses you get.
Bankers you’ve already spoken to or exchanged emails with are better to contact because they already know you – it’s a bit odd to email someone out of the blue and say, “Hey I’m going to be in Manhattan next week, let’s meet up… since you’re an alum!”
In that situation, you should suggest a quick call first so you can introduce yourself, and then bring up your trip at the end.
Aim to set up 5-10 meetings per day – 50% of bankers will cancel on you due to last-minute emergencies, so plan for the worst-case scenario.
When you’re proposing these meetings, keep in mind physical locations and schedule everything in blocks – you don’t want to be running back-and-forth between Midtown and Downtown.
Also make sure you have a backup list of other bankers you could meet with, in case you get more last-minute cancellations than expected.
Allot at least 30 minutes between your meetings – that gives you time for transportation and a buffer in case things go on longer than expected.
Make sure you take a smartphone or another device that lets you read email on-the-go, because you will need to check email constantly.
I mentioned above that you should plan for Thursday-Saturday or Friday-Saturday – I left out Sunday because that’s the hardest day to catch bankers, especially more senior ones.
When the Day Comes…
Follow-up with everyone a day or two before your trip to confirm that you’re still set to meet; if there are cancellations, go to your backup list.
The interviews themselves will be very similar to standard informational interviews, but they may be more in-depth since they’re in-person; they could also turn into real interviews depending on the banker and how close it is to recruiting season.
You can ask the same types of questions as in informational interviews, but you might end up discussing business more than pleasure since you’re on their home turf.
The difference is what happens at the end: instead of just making a “mini-ask,” casually suggest a visit to their office or meeting others there.
If they like you, they may even suggest it first; if they seem unwilling to take you on a tour, you can just brush it off as a joke.
But if it works, you will gain a huge advantage because everyone at that office will know who you are – and that advantage may even carry over to real interviews when bankers decide who gets offers.
Going back to our eternal theme of not overestimating the competition, remember that 99% of applicants will never even take the time to make a single weekend trip.
So even if you don’t wear the right clothes, you’re late to meetings, and half of your contacts cancel on you, that still puts you ahead of 99% of other aspiring bankers.
What About Other Meetings?
What happens if you get invited to an office tour but you have other, conflicting meetings lined up?
Email your other contacts to say you’re running late or ask if they can meet the next day instead.
That may not look great, but you need to leap at opportunities when they come – and few opportunities beat the ability to meet everyone at the office before you apply there.
You don’t want to camp out at the office for 5 hours, but an extra 30-60 minutes is well worth it.
Follow-up is less important because you’ve already met in-person, everyone at the office will have met you (hopefully), and weekend trips happen right before application deadlines anyway.
Write a quick email to the key bankers you met with and pose the same question in the informational interview guide: how to best position yourself for an interview.
That’s just to remind them that you’ve met in-person before – but they shouldn’t need much reminding in the first place.
If you still have time, go and email alumni and anyone you’ve already networked with and schedule your first weekend trip.
See what the responses are like, and then follow everything I’ve outlined above.
And if it’s too late, just keep this strategy in mind for next year or for when you get to business school.
I spent hours looking for information online and came up with almost nothing – everything above was compiled via personal experiences and reader interviews.
The one other article on the topic is from Careers-in-Finance, right here.
And not to be blatantly self-promotional, but yes, there is also an entire module in The Investment Banking Networking Toolkit with even more detail on weekend trips and sample schedules/emails.
If you have anything else good, do share.
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
From Non-Target and No Finance Experience to 2 Full-Time Bulge Bracket Investment Banking Offers
“Help, how can I move from PWM / asset management into investment banking?”
“I have no time left and need to find an internship! What do I do?”
“How do I get internships with no finance experience?”
I love this interview because this reader accomplished all of the above.
Plus, you’ll learn about:
- A ninja trick to find names and contact information for local banks
- How fraternities and sororities can help you – even if they’re not business-related
- Good “not quite banking but pretty close” options for summer internships
Let’s get started.
Q: So how’d you get started breaking into investment banking?
A: Most of my friends and family were engineers, so I started out like them, intending to major in engineering – but after my first semester I realized I didn’t want to spend my life doing that.
I started looking into business and finance, and there were a few finance majors in my dorm, so I got interested like that initially.
At the end of my first year I made the switch over to our business school, and then at the end of my second year I applied to the finance track.
Once I made the switch to finance, I spent the rest of my time after that going after internships.
Q: So did you do a finance internship after your 1st year in university?
A: Nope – I did some technical work for my family’s business and it had nothing to do with finance or business.
Q: Ok, so you have this engineering to finance background and you don’t have a business-related internship after your 1st year in school. How did you get any banks to take your resume seriously when you applied for internships the next year?
A: Mostly by joining related student organizations – a student-run investment portfolio, a business consulting group, and I served as a mentor in a trading group.
I also learned some financial modeling, basic DCF skills, comparable company analysis, and more by working for the investment portfolio and learning to value companies there.
All of this helped, but I realized it wasn’t enough by itself to land interviews – I needed to get leadership positions, so I focused on that and moved up within each organization by my junior and senior years.
Q: So you have this engineering to finance background, you have a couple relevant-looking student groups on your resume now, and it’s your 2nd year in school. How did you start looking for an internship?
A: I waited until the last minute – the spring – and suddenly realized that I needed to find some kind of finance internship ASAP to have any kind of chance at the all-important junior year summer internship.
I knew that asset / wealth management internships were easier to get, so I focused on those and cold-called around 20-30 different places in my area, with only months to go before the summer.
Q: I get a lot of questions on how to find contact information for these local firms. How did you do it?
A: I went to Google Maps and typed in “asset management,” “finance” and other related terms along with the name of my city until I found the names and websites of different firms.
This may sound silly, but it worked very well and it’s much easier to sift through search results on a map vs. Google’s main search engine.
Then I went to their websites, got the numbers and contact information from there, and started cold-calling the front desks – those were the only numbers I had in most cases.
Q: Wow, I never thought of using Google Maps like that before. How did you get around the gatekeepers when you were cold-calling? I’m assuming you ran into a lot of resistance if you called the front desks.
A: I called and asked if they did internships, and then asked to be put in touch with whoever was in charge. I would usually say, “I’m a sophomore at ________ and I’m looking to get some experience for the summer – do you have information on internships?”
A lot of it had to do with who the receptionist was rather than how great my “technique” was – sometimes they were helpful and connected me, and other times they were completely useless no matter what I said.
I tried each place at least a few times, but if I kept getting a “Sorry, I’m not sure, why don’t you call back later”-type response then I would put the firm lower on the priority list.
Q: And how well did this work?
A: Even though it was last-minute, I got an internship lined up with a wealth management firm with 10-20 employees, most of whom were financial advisors.
The internship itself was pretty standard for PWM – the same type of work you’d expect, with screening funds and investments for clients, creating P&L reports, and analyzing their existing investments.
Even though it wasn’t amazing, it was exactly the steppingstone I needed to move into something more closely related to banking the next summer.
Leveraging PWM Into Leveraged Finance
Q: Ok, so now you’re back at school in your 3rd year and you have this PWM internship on your resume, which is a huge improvement over nothing. How do you move from that into something closer to banking?
A: My first step was “bankifying” my resume to make it look more relevant to finance and what bankers actually do.
I highlighted everything I had done at the student investment group in terms of DCFs, multiples, and valuation, and made sure all that was on my resume.
I figured that the screening and P&L work I did at the PWM internship would be most relevant, so I focused on that – even though I didn’t spend the most time on those tasks.
M&I Note: Yet another example of how you need to re-adjust the focus when spinning your way to success.
Q: Right, so that explains your resume. But how did you get access to financial institutions in the first place? You were at a school where hardly any banks recruited for front-office roles.
A: I couldn’t use on-campus recruiting because there was none at my school – so I had to network through my fraternity, alumni, and other sources.
Another source for names and contact information was a program at our school that set up graduates with alumni who worked on Wall Street – they brought back lots of alumni and we could contact them directly.
This is one of the advantages of going to a large school – even if not many banks recruit there, there are bound to be lots of alumni and other students interested in finance.
Q: You mentioned your fraternity – I’ve gotten some questions on the value of business or social frats for networking purposes. What was yours like, and how did you use it?
A: It was a social fraternity. When I joined as a freshman, there were lots of seniors working in front and middle office roles at banks, so I got to know them when they were still in school, and then reached out a few years later after they had already graduated.
A lot of times they put me in touch with recruiters directly, and I could get inside information on the recruiting process, how many students they wanted to take, and how to get an interview.
Q: So is that what you used to get your next internship?
A: Yup. I applied to a bunch of places, but ended up with an offer in the Leveraged Finance group of an independent financial services and lending firm – not a bulge bracket or middle-market bank.
I got it via networking with an alum from my fraternity, and then went through the standard interview process with them.
Interviews were definitely more technical than what I faced for the PWM internship, though they didn’t go too far beyond the “How do you value a company?”-type questions.
Q: So what was the day-to-day work like as an intern in this Leveraged Finance group? This was after the credit crunch and financial crisis had struck, so was there much activity?
A: There were actually a fair number of deals going on because we were working on smaller transactions rather than the multi-billion dollar debt offerings that stopped once the crisis happened.
I worked on a couple “big picture” research projects, screening companies in different industries – but I also got to jump on live deals whenever they needed help.
Since the group was small – fewer than 20 people – I worked closely with the Analysts and Associates on LBO models, pricing models for debt offerings, due diligence work, due diligence calls with CEOs, and I got to listen in on a lot of conference calls with bankers.
This experience was actually better than what I would have gotten at a bulge bracket, because we had real deals to work on and because the team was small.
2 Bulge Bracket Offers
Q: It sounds like your internship went pretty well – were you tempted to stay there and take advantage of a return offer rather than going through full-time recruiting?
A: That wasn’t an option – at the end of the summer the firm told all interns that they couldn’t extend offers due to the state of the economy and market conditions, so I had to find something else quickly.
Q: So how did you approach networking once you found out you wouldn’t be getting a return offer?
A: I used 3 main strategies:
- Alumni from my school, via the Wall Street organization I mentioned before.
- I continued going through contacts from my fraternity.
- I spoke to my superiors and actually got some referrals to bulge bracket banks from them.
Q: Wait a minute, you didn’t get a return offer from your internship and then you turned around and asked your bosses for referrals to other places? How does that work?
A: It wasn’t that difficult, because no interns received return offers – they liked me, I had performed well, and they knew that market conditions were the only thing stopping me from coming back.
They had extensive backgrounds in finance, so they had no problems at all referring me to their contacts at bulge bracket banks.
Q: Nice move. So how else did you get interviews at bulge bracket banks?
A: Primarily through alumni – all my first-round interviews at banks were via alumni, some from the organization I mentioned before and some from my frat.
Q: By the time you were going through full-time interviews, you had the PWM internship as well as a Leveraged Finance internship.
Both of those are good, but you also didn’t have a brand-name firm or school on your resume. What kind of reaction did you get in interviews?
A: The question of my school and why I didn’t go to a better-known place did come up a few times, but interviewers were generally not demeaning.
It wasn’t a totally unknown place – interviewers had heard of it, but they didn’t hold it in high regard all the time, so the questions were more like, “Why ________?” rather than “Couldn’t you have gone to a better school?”
I usually answered it by talking about the extensive resources and alumni network they had, and how I wanted to do engineering originally.
My lack of “brand-name” internships didn’t come up that much – they were more focused on what I did as opposed to why I hadn’t worked at bulge bracket banks.
The interviews themselves were not much different from what you’d expect in any investment banking interview.
Q: Great. So you ended up with 2 offers at large banks – how did you decide which one to take?
A: I went with the firm that had a better reputation – the 2 groups were not that much different and I didn’t have a strong preference on the people or teams, so I had to narrow it down by reputation.
The other advantage is that even though I’ll be placed in a specific product group, I’ll get to explore a few other groups in my first few months there – and I’m really looking forward to that.
Q: Awesome. Thanks for your time.
A: No problem.
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