by Brian DeChesare Comments (178)

Money, Hours, Models, Bottles: Investment Banking in New York, California, and Everywhere In Between

Money, Hours, Models, Bottles: Investment Banking in New York, California, and Everywhere In Between

“Are you guys even in the office past 8 PM? Whenever I call no one’s there.”

“New York is hella lame, people are so much better out here.”

“If you say ‘hella’ again I’m going to make you pay for the bottles next time – and maybe the models too.”

“Fine, I’ll do some research and see what I can send over. NY is still overhyped, though.”

No, it’s not a short story or a new TV show about bankers – it’s a banker from NYC and one from San Francisco talking to each other.

And you read that headline correctly: today you’ll learn how banking differs in different regions of the US rather than going off on adventures to distant lands.

As one reader pointed out a while back, “Hearing about all these different countries is great, but what about how banking is different on the east coast vs. west coast of the US and everywhere in between?”

The Most Common – and Wrong – Arguments

Many people claim that the pay and hours differ significantly and that New York is more “hardcore” than other regions.

That makes sense intuitively: New York is the biggest financial center and the biggest deals tend to happen there.

But in practice, these differences are greatly exaggerated – pay is standardized at the junior levels in finance and bonuses depend more on your bank and group rather than the city you’re in.

At the senior levels, geographic differences become more important because certain offices have better deal flow and clients, and senior bankers’ bonuses depend 100% on performance.

New York bankers like to argue that they work way more than people in other regions, but there are no scientifically controlled surveys to support these claims.

Yes, maybe the hours are somewhat worse since more deals happen there – but we’re talking a difference of 85 hours per week vs. 90 hours per week: you still won’t have a life.

So the more substantial differences have nothing to do with pay or hours, but rather the industries covered, the cost of living, and the exit opportunities.

And yes, I’ll address the ever-popular models/bottles, networking, and a few other points as well.

Industries Covered

This is the main difference – banks in the top 5 cities for finance in the US focus on a different industry:

There is no “best” because it depends on what you want to do in the future and how certain you are of your career.

Some of these fields are more specialized than others; something like oil & gas requires more specific knowledge than tech or healthcare since energy companies play by different rules and require different valuation methodologies.

So if you’re already interested in a specific industry, it may be a good idea to start out in the region that focuses on that industry – but if you have no idea yet, New York is the safest bet.

Just as actors get typecast, you will get more and more pigeonholed as you move up the ladder, so you need to consider these options carefully.

One friend worked on a telecom deal at a small VC firm, then got placed into the telecom group at a boutique bank, and was then placed into the telecom group at a bulge bracket bank.

Effectively, he became “the telecom guy” all because of one small deal he worked on ages ago.

And it’s even worse once you move beyond banking: good luck interviewing for that hedge fund that wants people with European telecom merger arbitrage experience if you don’t have any.

But What About Deal Flow?

“But,” you rightly point out, “There’s a difference between deal flow, hours, and industries covered – even if you’re working a lot, you might just be building pitch books all day. And what if your industry isn’t ‘hot’ at the moment?”

I don’t disagree with you there, but it’s almost impossible to determine deal flow of specific offices without talking to real people.

So if you’re such an overachiever that you’re going to pick your bank and group based on deal flow and exit opportunities, go talk to people at the different offices you’re considering and see what they say – but keep a critical eye open because they’re likely to oversell you on everything.

And no, I’m not going to rank cities and groups by deal flow here since that changes quite frequently and since you’re likely an obsessive-compulsive person already if you’re reading this.

Cost of Living

In ancient times, New York was the most expensive city in terms of real estate, taxes, food, and so on.

Now, however, San Francisco is actually more expensive, or at least as expensive, due to the tech boom and the number of high-paid startup employees there (as of 2015).

So you are not likely to save much money during the year in either place; it’s also a bad idea to live in New Jersey or another location outside the main city to save money, since you might go insane in what little free time you have.

The “cost of living” ranking looks something like this:

  • NYC ~= SF > LA > Chicago > Houston

You will save the most money working in Houston because Texas has no state income tax, rent is ridiculously cheap, bottles are less pricey, and even the models are less demanding and will give your wallet less of a workout.

Cost of living shouldn’t be your top concern, but you should be aware of it.

Finance people are notorious for making millions of dollars and then blowing it all on luxury spending – so pay attention if you want to retire on more than $50K in that savings account you forgot about.

One other note: driving will be required in most of these places, especially in a city like LA where there is no public viable transportation.

So if you hate driving and owning a car, your best bet is New York.

NOTE: Ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft are actually changing this dynamic.

If you live relatively close to the office, you might be able to take one of those to and from work every day and gain some peace of mind in the process.

Exit Opportunities

The main problem with exit opportunities is that it’s hard to interview when you’re far away.

You need to take time off work by using questionable excuses, hope people don’t notice your repeated absences, and then visit the firm enough times to seal the deal.

Since New York to SF or LA is a 5-6 hour trek, it’s not easy to hop from banking on one coast to the buy-side on the other coast. Pretty much all the analysts I knew in California stayed there, and pretty much all the ones in New York stayed on the east coast.

So you’re more likely to stay in your first region unless you can pull off in-person trips or interview entirely via video conference (unlikely for traditional exit opportunities).

Again, people like to argue that New York has “better” exit opportunities, but plenty of analysts on the west coast and elsewhere get into mega-funds as well; it’s just that they work at local offices rather than in NYC.

One legitimate difference is that there are more exit opportunities in New York just because it’s the biggest financial center.

And you also run into the pigeonholing problem if you start out in another region: go to Houston and you’ll more than likely recruit only for energy-focused PE firms and hedge funds.

If you’re in San Francisco, you’ll be more likely to recruit for tech-focused funds, or maybe even quit finance and join a tech startup.

But aside from those differences, the actual quality of exit opportunities doesn’t differ as much as you might expect.

Got Networking?

Networking opportunities are another more significant difference, and one that people overlook all the time.

Since NYC is much bigger than the other regions, you’ll simply meet more people there and you’ll be better equipped to network your way into other roles.

Just as with other financial centers like Hong Kong and London, sometimes half the people you meet in NYC will be in finance (the other half will be “aspiring” artists or models, which is great for you as a financier).

How much does the quality of networking really matter?

It depends how certain you are of your “career path” – if you’re interested in doing tech banking and then doing venture capital in California, you’re better off starting in SF and networking with tech and VC groups there.

But if you have no industry preference, you’ll gain more options by starting out in New York.

How to Satisfy the Models

Ah, now to the fun part.

The main difference is that the New York models tend to be higher-maintenance, more expensive, and more demanding; LA comes close since everyone is required to get plastic surgery, but you’ll still spend more overall in NYC.

But flashing around wads of cash also doesn’t impress as much in New York because $200K is barely middle class – not enough to satisfy models who are expecting a new bag every day.

In all seriousness, you really will spend a lot more money going out in New York if you actually enjoy it.

LA and SF can also be expensive, while Chicago and Houston are more reasonable. Some also argue that people in the South and Midwest are “friendlier” but I don’t want to get into a debate over that one.

I’m not qualified to comment on the quality of men in each place, other than to say that SF is probably the worst place to find hot guys unless you’re into tech guys with a ton of money from startups.

(Yes, a female friend recently asked if there were a lot of tall, muscular blonde guys in SF and I started laughing.)

Recruiting

“Aha,” you say, “But even if the pay and hours are not much different, surely they must ask completely different interview questions in each region, right?”

Sorry to disappoint, but no, not really.

No one sits down and says, “Well, in Chicago we should ask this specific set of questions but in Houston it will be completely different.”

Once again, the main difference comes down to the industry focus: you don’t need to be an expert on the industry of focus in each city, but you should know something about recent deals and any industry-specific valuation methodologies.

It’s not really “easier” or “harder” to get into finance in different cities – there are fewer spots outside of New York, but there’s also less competition.

Other Regions

Yes, there are banks in places besides NYC, Chicago, Houston, SF, and LA – but the offices tend to be much smaller and they don’t always recruit on-campus.

Other cities with a presence in finance include Boston (similar to SF due to the industry focus), Washington, DC (aerospace/defense), Atlanta (lots of wealth management), Miami (healthcare, Latin America), Dallas (got equities?) and maybe a few others.

I can’t recommend starting out in these places if you have the option to go to one of the 5 major centers listed above.

Maybe if you’re interested in only a very specific industry, like aerospace and defense, then DC makes sense – but you’ll be at a disadvantage in terms of deal flow and exit opportunities.

A lot of boutiques are also based in other regions, so you should jump at the opportunity if you have nothing lined up in a bigger city – but otherwise, stick to the top 5 above.

Outside of IB: Sales & Trading, Hedge Funds, and More

You run into the same differences in other fields like private equity, sales & trading, hedge funds, and asset management: a different industry focus and more geographically limited exit opportunities.

Some cities also tend to be stronger in certain fields.

For example, Chicago is great for prop trading and the SF Bay Area is the spot to be for venture capital.

One downside to any type of markets-based role such as trading or hedge funds is that you have to wake up very early if you’re on the west coast because you work New York market hours.

If you’re fine waking up at 4 AM, getting off work at 5 PM, and sleeping at 9 PM every night, you might be OK; if you’re not a morning person, though, you may want to stay away.

So, Where Should You Work?

If you have absolutely no idea what you want to do and don’t mind spending more money, New York is your best option – there’s more networking, more opportunities, bigger deals, and you don’t even have to drive.

But if you have a more specific goal such as going into VC, joining a tech startup, or working in the oil & gas industry, you could make a good argument for starting out in a different city.

There may be slight differences in pay, hours, and how much you save in your first year (with bigger differences on that last one), but those don’t matter much in the long-term.

To figure out which office has the best deal flow, network with bankers and ask directly – that information changes quickly and you’re always better off going straight to the source.

And whatever else happens, make sure you don’t end up doing equities in Dallas.

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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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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by Brian DeChesare Comments (71)

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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