by Brian DeChesare Comments (115)

How to Break Into Finance as a Consultant

How to Break Into Finance as a Consultant

I’m not gonna lie: I haven’t treated consultants very well before – and even though that infamous Leveraged Sellout video is ancient history by now, it still pops into my head whenever I get questions from consultants.

But despite that, I still do get lots of questions from consultants on how to move into the world of finance, mostly to investment banks and private equity firms.

In some ways, you’re in a better position than engineers, lawyers, or accountants trying to break in – but the bad news is that a lot of bankers don’t like consultants.

So here’s what you do to get around that and break into finance:

What You’re Up Against

Just to recap what you’re up against vs. other professions moving into finance:

  • Engineers: They are great at math, but can they talk to people and work a lot more than they would at Google or Facebook?
  • Lawyers: They can put up with sociopaths and work 100 hours per week, but can they count?
  • Accountants: They know accounting and Excel, but are they hungry enough to work without sleep for days at a time?
  • Liberal Arts Majors: They can communicate, but can they crunch numbers and burn the midnight oil?

As a consultant, here’s your challenge:

“I know you can work with clients and that you understand the business world. But can you build an LBO model? Do you have any discernable skills? And are you prepared to work true banker hours?”

So it’s a combination of what lawyers and accountants face, with some extra prejudice thrown in since many bankers don’t take consultants seriously – especially if you’re an IT or HR consultant rather than a management consultant.

What Will Help You

But you do have a few things working in your favor:

  • You “get it” – you’re not some engineer with no business experience who doesn’t understand how to work with and manage clients.
  • If you’re working at a top firm (MBB), you have a prestigious name that all bankers recognize.
  • Better networking opportunities than an undergraduate – Partners are well-connected, and your clients might be investment banks.

Your Story

Just take the story-telling tutorial and template here and apply it to your own situation.

Here’s a sketch of what you might say:

“I was really interested in business and advising companies on major strategic decisions, so after graduating from [University / Business School Name], I decided to take an offer at [Consulting Firm]. I’ve done well there and have gotten good reviews, but I also realized that what I did as a consultant was rarely implemented by clients.

I had worked on a few M&A and due diligence-related projects, and realized that in [investment banking / private equity] you have much more of an impact on the company you’re working with – and I was more interested in modeling and valuation than in qualitative work.”

That is just a sketch of the basic idea – you would expand on that in interviews.

If you’re moving in from something less business-related – like IT or HR consulting – then you should also include something about wanting to see the trees for the forest and understand the business at a much higher level.

Point to specific clients or cases you worked on and the finance-related analysis you did that made you more interested in finance.

“I worked with a $50B telecom company in its restructuring process and learned about what management considers when it decides to declare bankruptcy rather than restructure its debt – and I got to assist bankers with analyzing the best debt structure going forward” sounds much better than just saying you think financial modeling is cool.

And before you mention it, yes, I know that common stereotype of consultants’ advice not being implemented is not necessarily true.

Plenty of work you do as a banker never sees the light of day, either, and it’s even worse in PE.

But what matters here is perception, not reality – and financiers like to think of themselves as shaping industries and companies and “having a really significant impact” (even if they don’t get home by 7:15).

Networking

So you have your story… now how do you pound the pavement and make sure someone actually hears it?

I’m not going to repeat the dozens of tutorials on networking, informational interviews, weekend trips, cold-calling, and so on because those still apply if you’re a consultant moving into finance.

The main differences lie on the sourcing side – where you find names in the first place:

  1. You have access to an additional “alumni” network – from your consulting firm. Leverage it and contact everyone who now works in finance.
  2. Partners at consulting firms are very well-connected and will know bankers. Don’t be shy about asking, especially since you’re expected to move elsewhere after working in (management) consulting.
  3. You could move to a finance-related group at your firm, or go to a banking or PE group that has overlap with your background (e.g. if you consulted with energy companies, you could target oil & gas groups).

Those 3 represent a big advantage over anyone else who’s moving into finance.

You could still cold call rather than using the strategies above, but don’t start there unless you are targeting boutiques and have absolutely no connections (unlikely).

Should you focus on boutiques rather than bulge brackets?

That may improve your odds, but it may not be necessary depending on how well-connected your firm is: if you can contact bulge bracket bankers, at least give that a shot.

Finance-Specific Consulting Firms?

Similar to industry-focused investment banks, there are also industry-focused consulting firms.

So it must help to go to a place like Oliver Wyman that is well-known for financial services consulting rather than a firm that does everything, right?

If you have the choice between 2 smaller or 2 specialized firms, yes, go for one that has the financial focus.

But don’t pick a finance-specific firm over McKinsey (or Bain, or BCG) just because you get to work with more finance companies – brand name makes far more of a difference if you’re breaking into banking or PE.

Resume/CV Spinning

You have it easier with your resume/CV than an engineer because at least you’ve worked with clients before and can point to specific projects and “deals.”

Click here to download the “Experienced” resume template and view the tutorial, and then make the 3-4 most relevant clients you’ve worked with into separate “Project” entries.

Your main challenge will be spinning what you did into sounding relevant to finance:

  • If you worked on anything related to due diligence, M&A, or capital markets, obviously list that and hype it up.
  • If you don’t have anything directly related, take what you have and highlight the quantitative work you did rather than the qualitative side. Numbers and dollar/Euro/other currency figures are good.
  • Even if you have not worked with financial statements, you can highlight market-sizing analysis, cost analysis, or anything that involves numbers.

And remember the golden rules of spinning: re-adjust the focus, magnify small details, and omit facts that do not make you look good.

If you write something like this:

  • “Worked with Fortune 500 Company to analyze hiring and retention strategy for sales force and make recommendations that improved retention by 50% by better aligning incentives, target customers, and sales rep performance.”

That might be a good bullet for consulting jobs – you have a specific number and your recommendations were even implemented by the company.

But for finance you should write the following instead:

  • “Worked with Fortune 500 Company to boost revenue and profitability by improving sales rep productivity and revenue per sales rep and by reducing G&A costs associated with sales force hiring; led to estimated [$xx] increase in revenue and [$xx] increase in pre-tax profit.”

You’re still writing about the same client engagement, but you’re framing it differently and focusing on finance rather than operations.

You probably won’t have exact numbers in this situation, so estimate and make it clear that it’s just an approximation.

Interview Domination

Interview questions will focus on the key “objections” that bankers have to consultants:

So you need to address both of those and presenting solid “mini-stories” that prove your points.

For #1, talk about how busy you were due to the infamous consulting travel combined with client demands and how you had to pull banker hours for an extended period.

Even if you work less than bankers on average, just point to a particularly busy period and use that, and then turn around and use the same story for the other standard fit questions as well.

To prove you know something about finance, either talk about finance-related projects and analysis at work, or how learned on your own from classes, training programs, and self-study.

While I’m not a fan of the CFA, it would make sense to bring it up here if you’ve somehow had the time to complete it.

Other than that, all the standard fit and technical questions covered in the superday interview guide and the investment banking interview guide still apply here.

Technical Questions

As a consultant, you may receive more technical questions than others because bankers will be skeptical of your financial know-how.

While the CFA is overkill and isn’t realistic given how much you work and travel, a crash-course on the technical side is not a bad idea.

You already know about the financial modeling training programs offered through this site, and I’m too lazy to insert a sales pitch here but you can read all about them on your own and decide what’s right for you.

You could also look at the books recommended on IBankingFAQ for a solid grounding in accounting, valuation, and finance.

Remember that you are competing with ex-bankers, undergraduate finance majors, and others who know the technical side very well – you don’t want to give banks a good reason not to hire you.

And For Private Equity…

I’ve been lumping banking and PE together, but there are a few differences if you’re focused on the consulting –> PE transition.

First, it’s very difficult because private equity firms recruit almost exclusively from the investment banking analyst pool.

So it might actually be easier to get into banking first and then make the move to PE.

If you don’t want to do that, you need to target firms that have a tradition of hiring consultants – the classic one is Golden Gate Capital, which was founded by Bain consultants and still hires mostly Bain consultants.

Focus on firms that emphasize operational improvement and turnaround strategies over financial engineering (actually easier to do in a recession or quasi-recession).

Your chances of getting into KKR, Blackstone, TPG, and so on, are slim because they only make a few hires each year and only hire those few from the top banks – the vast majority of bankers at Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and JP Morgan don’t even have a good chance of working at those places.

So target operationally-focused firms or anything with a complementary industry focus – if you worked with entertainment companies, maybe you can join Bono at Elevation Partners.

Venture capital is also a possibility – they care far less about financial knowledge than PE firms, and if you’ve worked with tech or biotech companies you can easily spin yourself into a “strong cultural fit.”

Hedge funds are more of a longshot because so many are about hardcore finance and don’t care about operations or strategy – if you want to go there, you’ll have to find one that is more strategy/operations/long-term investing-focused and less about short-term trading.

Plan B Options

So what if you’ve done everything above but still can’t break into finance?

1. Move to a Bigger Consulting Firm

Specifically, M/B/B – see Kevin’s thoughts below for more on this one, but generally the brand name makes far more of a difference than your actual industry focus as a consultant.

Plus, Partners at the top firms are more likely to know bankers and financiers than the ones at smaller firms.

2. Go to Business School

If you go this route, you’ll have a much better chance at post-MBA investment banking positions than PE ones: as interviewees on this site and I have mentioned before, your chances of getting into private equity without having been an IB analyst are slim.

And you should still do a pre-MBA internship that brings you closer to finance or you may not be able to re-brand yourself as easily as you expected.

3. Go to Something Other Than IB/PE/HF

There are plenty of other, less competitive finance industries out there (and yes, before you mention it, they also pay less).

So you could network your way into an asset management or commercial banking role, then get to know people in the investment banking division and move in like that.

This one is a better idea if you have no connections and have no other way in – otherwise you are better off staying a consultant rather than moving to a more finance-related but less “prestigious” role.

More Thoughts from Kevin

To get another perspective, I asked Kevin from Management Consulted for his thoughts on this topic and used some of what he mentioned above – here’s what he said in more detail:

  • It’s all about brand name – get into the best consulting firm possible. While Oliver Wyman is marginally better than, let’s say, Kurt Salmon (boutique retail), M/B/B is far better than any of the rest in helping you get there.
  • Most consulting firms have internal finance groups/sectors – get as many cases under your belt in these groups as possible.
  • Most partners in those practices have serious connections – leverage those connections by over-delivering with your cases and networking heavily with partners.
  • Ask for intros to the banks you’re targeting – they might be your clients and you can build relationships first that way.
  • Go to NYC. Just like entrepreneurs move to Silicon Valley, you must be in NYC to have access and credibility. In Europe, go to London. In Asia, go to HK.
  • It’s all about your network and less about financial knowledge, at least in terms of getting interviews in the first place – organize internal networking events in the finance practice to meet even more people.
  • A lot of consulting firms have externships and special programs to give you corporate exposure outside of strategy consulting. Leverage those as much as possible.

So there you have it – thoughts from someone who knows consulting inside and out.

Still Can’t Buy Bottles with Starwood Points?

So if you’re tired of flying up to Saskatchewan every week to tell a company what it already knows, follow everything above.

And you just might be able to get rid of those Starwood points and buy a few bottles with your banker friends.

Series: Career Transitions

M&I - Brian

About the Author

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

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How to Break Into Investment Banking as a Career-Changer in a Part-Time, Non-Target MBA Program

How to Break Into Investment Banking as a Career-Changer in a Part-Time, Non-Target MBA Program

No clever introductions for this one because this story already has more twists and turns than 24 or Lost – so let’s get right into it.

Background

Q: Walk us through your resume.

A: I came from a liberal arts background as an undergraduate, and worked in commercial property management after I graduated.

After a few years I got interested in investment banking, but by that point I had already been out of school for awhile and I didn’t have much of a quantitative background, so I decided that going back to business school was my best bet.

I went to a well-known, though not “target,” program – you would know the school if I mentioned it here, but not many large banks actively recruited there.

To make things even worse, I was enrolled in the part-time program there – so I only had access to the career center and its resources in my last few terms.

Q: So I’m guessing you had to do a lot of networking. Can you tell us about what your overall approach was?

A: Sure. Before I even started networking, I wanted to make sure I had my “story” right, so I spent a lot of time on that.

My basic “story”: I came from a background where I had to work with tenants constantly and develop relationships with lots of different people – which is a critical skill if you want to make it to the top in investment banking.

I said that in the long-term, I wanted to be a trusted advisor to CEOs and other executives, and that I saw investment banking as a way to leverage my previous background to get there.

This story worked very well for Associate-level interviews – they want to see more evidence of leadership and client relationship skills because they’re grooming you to make it to the top one day.

In terms of networking, I ignored bulge bracket banks for the most part and focused on middle-market and boutique banks because they were much more receptive to someone like me.

I didn’t focus that much on the “results” per se – I was genuinely interested in getting to know people in the industry and learning more all the time, which made a huge difference.

Too many people go into the process only looking forward to the outcome, which makes it hard to stay motivated and actually make a good impression on everyone you meet.

Overcoming Roadblocks

Q: Ok, so you have your “story” laid out and you’re in the right mindset. How did you decide who to contact each week? What did you say, and to whom did you say it?

A: I focused on 2nd and 3rd year Associates, as well as some 1st Year VPs – I wanted people who had been there long enough to actually have influence over the hiring process.

These types of people were also more likely to be staffers – and to therefore have even more influence on hiring decisions.

I sent around 2-3 emails per day, pretty much every single day – I was pretty direct and told them explicitly I was interested in moving into investment banking or moving to their firm specifically, and that I wanted to get their thoughts on how best to position myself.

I would always request either a call or a meeting in the initial email, and would then spend most of the time asking about the other person’s background.

Q: What kind of resistance did you face because of your background? Was the part-time MBA program an issue, or was your non-finance background a bigger problem?

A: I was always very upfront about attending the part-time MBA program, and it was never an issue. When it came time for full-time recruiting, I already had an internship by then so no one looked at me differently.

My non-finance background was more of a problem – in every meeting I had they always said, “So why do you want to move into finance, and why now?”

By this point I had gotten really, really good at telling my “story” and answering these objections before they even came up, so that wasn’t much trouble after the first few informational interviews.

Q: What tactics were most effective in going from meetings and phone calls to actual interviews? Did you have to do anything differently at the MBA-level?

A: Not really – it was mostly just continuous pressure that led to interviews at most places. I kept emailing people and saying, “Just wanted to reiterate my interest in your firm, and re-visit our conversation.”

You can’t take it personally when you don’t get a response – a lot of people purposely ignore you just to assess how serious you are.

The (Partial) Results

Q: Ok, so you’re networking extensively… how did you end up with an internship?

A: Continuous pressure – I was speaking with a local bank and kept contacting them to say I was interested. I could tell they wanted an intern but weren’t 100% certain they actually wanted to hire one – those types of leads are often better to go after vs. places that have no clue what they want.

Q: And how well did you do in full-time recruiting with this internship under your belt?

A: I mentioned it was a really, really bad year, right? I interviewed with a lot of banks but came away with no full-time offers at well-known banks that year – even though I had done a ton of networking and actually had an investment banking internship.

Q: A lot of people would have probably given up or set their sights on a different field at this point. What did you do?

A: I decided to postpone my official graduation date by a year – just to keep myself “in school” – and I kept networking and ended up with an offer at a local boutique.

But it was quite a bit different from a large bank, and the learning opportunities were uneven – we spent a lot of time chasing after lower-probability deals.

The other problem was that it was unpaid – I received no base salary, and was paid only when deals closed.

That’s fine if you’re an MD with millions of dollars in savings, dozens of different clients, and you expect deals to close – but it was a huge issue when you’re just starting out and need to pay the bills.

M&I Note: One of the advantages of a part-time MBA program is that you can more easily move around your graduation date.

Moving Into Industry?

Q: Ok, so you’re at this small firm where the work you’re doing is not quite what you expected and where you’re not getting paid. What then?

A: I had to leave because of the lack of any base salary. I had worked on several deals and at least had something substantial to talk about in interviews now, so I felt that it had served its purpose.

One of the MDs was from a larger firm, and brought in a lot of deals – I worked with him a few times, so I got decent experience in the time I was there.

After leaving, I went to a local company “in industry” and became Director of Finance there.

Q: Most people would say that going FROM investment banking back TO industry is the kiss of death and that you can’t move back into finance if you’ve done that. What were you thinking?

A: I took the job because it was a management-level role and because it allowed me to interact with the CEO pretty much every day.

I knew I could leverage it for investment banking interviews in the future because now I could say, “I understand both finance AND how company executives in a particular industry think.”

It allowed me to go into investment banking interviews and say 2 things:

  1. I can get inside the heads of CEOs in this industry because I know exactly how they think.
  2. Other people are coming in from the Ivory Tower, but I have real-world experience related to investment banking.

Q: Right, but did banks actually take you seriously? Most people in finance view “industry” in a very negative way.

A: You need to get creative. Any experience is better than sitting on your butt doing nothing.

Believe it or not, this industry experience actually helped me more than my investment banking internships because I applied to matching industry groups, and it helped me stand out vs. everyone else.

Sure, in a perfect world we’d all work at Goldman Sachs – but things rarely go as planned, and you need to improvise and spin what you have into sounding relevant when that happens.

Back Into Banking?

Q: Ok, so you’re at this local company as Director of Finance for a few months now. How did you move back into banking after you had already left for industry?

A: It’s not as difficult as you might think, at least if you do it the right way. Here’s what I did:

  1. I considered A LOT of other options, like startup banks, public finance firms, and more – if nothing worked out in banking, I wanted a Plan B, C, and D.
  2. I never stopped networking – I continued talking to everyone and browsing my business school’s job board even after I had been through 2 other jobs by this point.
  3. I focused on highly relevant groups – investment banking industry groups that matched my background when I was Director of Finance at the local company. I made sure I wasn’t just applying for the sake of applying – I knew that I’d have to be more targeted given my history.

Q: How did you change around your resume in light of everything you had done – and how did you get it in the hands of bankers?

A: I re-wrote my entire resume to “bankify” it and to add more meaty material, focusing on what I had done at the boutique and also as Director of Finance at the local firm. It looked significantly better than when I had only had the internship from the year before.

I got interviews at a bulge bracket bank and at a well-known middle-market / boutique firm by applying to off-campus postings on my school’s job board.

I also noticed that I had spoken with a guy at the middle market / boutique firm a year ago when he was at a different bank, so I called him up again, told him I was interested in interviewing there, and got his thoughts on the company.

Q: Had you had any contact with him since you spoke with him a year ago?

A: Nope. I contacted lots of others I had last spoken with 2-3 years ago as well – obviously after that length of time you can’t go and request an in-depth conversation, but if you’re friendly and casually reach out to people, good things will happen.

A lot of people think you need to stay in touch with 500 industry contacts 24/7 and that the sky will fall if you don’t – but so few people ever bother networking that simply by reaching out at all you put yourself in an elite group.

Don’t obsess over details and individual words in emails… as long as you’re networking at all, you’re well ahead of most people.

M&I Note: Never, ever, ever overestimate the competition

Associate-Level Interviews

Q: Ok, so you have 2 solid leads and interviews lined up at both the bulge bracket and the boutique / middle-market bank. What were interviews like, and how were they different from what an Analyst might face?

A: The interviews themselves were not dramatically different – it was the usual set of phone interviews, followed by in-person rounds later on, with technical and “fit” questions similar to what you normally see.

The bulge bracket featured a case study in their interview process, where I had to talk about how to analyze a company in a dying industry and how to establish what kind of cash flows they might achieve should they expand into more lucrative markets.

Overall the interviews were no more technical than what anyone else interviewing for entry-level positions might get, but they do expect you to be more polished at the MBA-level.

There was also more thought required – a lot of the questions were not standard “Walk me through a DCF”-type questions, but were about specific companies or more unusual scenarios.

Q: So how did the interviews go?

A: With the well-known boutique / middle-market bank, everything just clicked and I fit in with the team from the start, so I got an offer there. I came very close at the bulge bracket bank, but lost out to other candidates in the final round.

Q: Did you try to negotiate your salary or bonus at all?

A: No, because I felt the offer they gave me was in-line with the market as a whole, and that negotiating it might have damaged some of the goodwill – the relationship kind, not the accounting kind – that I had built up throughout the interview process.

I’m not even sure that it’s possible to negotiate much with well-established banks, at least for Analyst or Associate positions.

Future Plans & Final Thoughts

Q: You went through quite an ordeal to get into a well-known investment bank. Are you planning to stay there, or will you try to hop into PE as soon as you can?

A: At this point, I’m planning to stay here – for two reasons:

  1. My whole pitch was that I wanted to be a trusted advisor to companies and executives. I had to believe that for it to be believable, and I still do want to do that.
  2. Getting into PE is a fairly well-defined path, and it’s hard for anyone who hasn’t been an investment banking analyst.

If I got tired of banking at some point, I would probably look at opportunities within industry instead – I already have the experience and could easily go back to that.

While the life of an MD may not be all peachy, it would also be hard to leave if I got there one day.

For Associate-level interviews, you need to show that you’re committed to the industry for the long-term or else no one will take you seriously.

Q: You were very successful breaking into investment banking, even though your story had more than its fair share of twists and turns. Looking back on it, is there anything you would have done differently? Any advice for readers?

A: I made two main mistakes with networking:

  1. My tracking tool was very poor. I should have tracked the “temperature” of each lead to see whether each person was “warm” and to properly prioritize my efforts. I also should have included an agenda for each person with an idea of how he/she could be helpful – Referrals? Advice? Interviews?
  2. I failed to explore all avenues for networking – I completely neglected undergraduate alumni, professors, and people at my church, for example. While you could argue those are lower probability to begin with, all it takes is one.

My only other advice is to enjoy the networking process itself. If you don’t like talking to people, you’re never going to make it in the industry – as an investment banker you spend a lot of time emailing and calling people, even as an Analyst.

Have fun with it, and keep in mind that no matter how screwed you seem or how many “fatal” moves you make, you never lose unless you give up – just re-read my own story if you want a reminder of that.

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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You Didn’t Get Any Full-Time Investment Banking Offers. Now What Do You Do?

You Didn’t Get Any Full-Time Investment Banking Offers. Now What Do You Do?

“Don’t Panic.”

Or not.

If full-time recruiting season is over and you don’t have any offers, you should be panicking at least a little.

While summer interns who don’t get return offers have a few months to fix the situation, your options are more limited.

But that doesn’t mean you have no chance of getting full-time offers – so here’s what to do.

Worst-Case Scenario

You might think the worst case scenario is not getting a full-time job, but that’s not true – there are two scenarios that are worse:

  1. Putting yourself in a position where it’s nearly impossible to break into finance in the future.
  2. Moving into a job that’s difficult to leverage for business school or eventually breaking into finance.

#1 happens most often when you get the brilliant idea to go to business school straight out of undergrad… oops.

#2 is not the end of the world, but you still want to avoid it unless you absolutely, desperately need the income in the short-term.

If those are the 2 worst-case scenarios, then the best-case scenario is simple: whatever maximizes your chances of breaking in without limiting your options or wasting time on things that won’t help you in the long-term.

What Went Wrong?

The next question you need to ask: what went wrong?

There are only 2 reasons why you didn’t win any full-time offers:

1) You didn’t get any interviews / enough interviews.

Your problem was your resume, your networking efforts, or both.

If you’ve been submitting applications online, please stop immediately. It doesn’t work, and you’ll never get a critical mass of interviews like that.

You need to get on the phone ASAP and start talking to real people and then meeting them in-person – if you’re coming from a non-target school and you haven’t done that, you stand a 0.0000000000001% chance of breaking into investment banking.

If you’re at a better-known school, networking is still essential but your resume / lack of solid work experience is more likely the culprit.

Diagnosis: Make sure you’re using this investment banking resume template.

Then, take a look at your resume and your experiences – if you haven’t had impressive-looking internships then you need to get them if you want any chance of getting interviews.

Finally, take an honest look at your networking efforts – have you contacted at least 100 alumni? Cold-called 100 local boutiques? Talked to at least 20 people on the phone and hopefully met most of them in-person?

If not, then you need to put your nose to the grindstone and keep at it until you ninja your way into interviews.

2) You got a lot of interviews but didn’t do well or didn’t connect with the interviewers.

Winning offers from interviews is very, very random.

Yes, knowing the key fit and technical questions is essential, but a lot of people know those – especially in bulge bracket interviews.

You need a “hook” to actually win offers, and unless you’ve had dozens of interviews the “randomness” factor is too high for you to say anything concrete.

Diagnosis: If you didn’t have dozens of interviews, you need to get them (see above). If you did, and you still didn’t get any offers then you need to figure out what went wrong.

The best way to do this: go through a few mock interviews with friends in the industry.

90% of interview problems can be reduced to:

  1. Your “story”
  2. You don’t have a good answer for “why investment banking
  3. Your enthusiasm is low and you aren’t as polished as other interviewees

The good news is that “fixing” your interview skills takes less time than networking with hundreds of industry contacts and getting more impressive work experience.

But the bad news is that it’s very difficult to “teach” someone how to be more likable, which is what tips the scale in interviews.

How Much Time and Money Do You Have?

Next: how much time and money do you have to fix whatever mistakes you made?

If you didn’t win full-time offers, you need to fix your resume, interview skills, or networking skills, or maybe all of those… but how you do that depends on the resources at your disposal.

First, let’s go through a couple examples of what you shouldn’t do when you don’t have any full-time offers lined up, and then a couple examples of strategies that make more sense.

What NOT To Do

I thought about adding the CFA here just for fun, but I’ll resist the urge to do that – just this once.

1) Business School

It’s a big mistake to go to business school with minimal full-time work experience.

How much do you need?

At least 3-5 years. We basically threw out resumes of Associate candidates who had less experience.

Yes, there are plenty of good reasons to go to business school if you want to use it for something else, but going immediately after undergraduate is a recipe for disaster if you want to get into banking from your program.

And be careful that your work experience is actually “full-time” – a bunch of side projects or travel combined with teaching English and intermittent work won’t stack up to the guy who managed a $1 billion product line for 4 years.

The other big problem with going to business school right after undergrad is that if you don’t get into finance when you’re there, your future chances also drop dramatically.

2) Back Office

For the last time, back office to front office moves – at least for investment banking – are rare and very difficult to pull off.

Yes, it may work slightly better in other fields and some people pull it off successfully, but you need to think about the probability.

What will give you a higher probability of eventually moving to a large bank’s investment banking division – starting in the back office, or going to a boutique first and then making a lateral move?

Please, stop the insanity and go for front office roles at smaller firms rather than “taking what you can get” and making the back office your backup.

3) Normal Job

By “normal” I mean not related to finance at all – marketing, engineering, medicine, etc. Corporate development, wealth management, consulting, and the like don’t qualify.

I would only “settle” for this if you’ve been out of school for months, have networked extensively, are doing all the right things, but still have no offers and you really need income in the short-term.

4) Nothing At All

I’m not referring to whether or not you have something lined up by the time you graduate – I’m talking about what you DO between now and when you graduate.

I had a reader last year who only started her full-time job search 2 months before graduation. Whoops.

No matter what you’re “busy” with, figuring out what you’re doing afterward comes before everything else – so move grades, classes, and activities lower on your priority list.

Possible Plan B’s

Here are 5 viable options. They’re not mutually exclusive, and there’s no “best” option – everything depends on your own situation.

1) Delaying Graduation

“Help! I have no offers. Should I delay my graduation and go for summer internships again this year, then do full-time recruiting before I graduate in December next year?”

It’s most helpful if:

  1. You got some interviews but had trouble convincing them you could do the work since you didn’t have substantial internships.
  2. You go to a well-known school that banks recruit at – otherwise it’s a huge gamble to bet on summer internships.
  3. Your problem was your resume or interview skills, as opposed to your networking efforts.

The main problem: if you’ve had impressive internships, done a lot of interviewing, but simply didn’t make it through any final rounds, then it will come across as an obvious Plan B to anyone interviewing you – and they’ll ask the questions you don’t want to answer.

2) Master’s Program

Another common plan, and also not a bad move. It’s good if:

  1. You’re using it to move to a better-known school where banks recruit.
  2. You didn’t do enough networking and need more time and better access to recruiters.
  3. You could also use some more impressive-looking internships.

This is not the best plan if the main issue was your interview skills – it’s a big commitment just to have another shot at recruiting.

The focus of your program is almost irrelevant beyond being related to finance/business/economics in some way – if you’re trying to re-brand yourself, don’t go for a Master’s Degree in English Literature.

3) Keep At It

This one gets overlooked, probably because it’s not as “exciting” as the other options.

If you keep cold-calling and networking, you’ll eventually get something – the only way to fail is if you give up first. Even if you graduate without a firm plan in place, that’s still better than taking the wrong job.

You should think about this option if:

  1. You don’t have the resources to delay graduation or to stay in school even longer.
  2. You have a decent amount of work experience but you lack a good network and need time to build it.
  3. You don’t mind going for smaller banks at first and then making a lateral move.

If you’re at a non-target school and cannot move elsewhere or stay in school longer, this is your best option: set a target of making 10 calls per day, sending 10 emails per day, and so on, and never take “no” for an answer.

4) Mini-Retirement

I’m referring to my suggestions on what to do with time off before you start working full-time: moving to another country for a few months and doing something interesting.

This one can work but it’s more risky than the others since it puts you out of the game for quite awhile – if you do this for an entire year after graduation, for example, it’s tough to jump back into recruiting.

It’s more viable if you combine this with the other options above – so maybe you apply to grad school, but take 1-2 months in between to go on an adventure.

That way you get a big boost to your networking and interview skills because you appear more interesting, plus you might get some solid leads if you go to a country with a major financial center.

5) Something Leverageable

If all else fails, none of these options is viable, and you can’t afford to spend more time recruiting, then you might have to take what you can get.

But still think about something that can be spun into sounding relevant to finance – corporate finance at a large company, helping governments manage all the financial services companies they now own, or even an economics/business-related fellowship.

Your Plan of Attack

If full-time recruiting season is over and you don’t have any offers, your plan of attack is simple: figure out what went wrong, decide what you’ll do after graduation to give yourself another shot at recruiting, and then spend your time between now and then fixing the mistakes you made.

Now, get to it.

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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