by Brian DeChesare Comments (142)

If You Can’t Get a Paid Finance Internship or Job, Should You Offer to Work for Free?

unpaid_internships_jobsAs graduation and summer internship season approach, you may be considering unpaid options more seriously if you’re still looking for an internship or job.

On the surface, this seems like an easy one, supported by straightforward logic:

  1. Banks and other financial services firms are hurting due to the recession.
  2. Therefore, they don’t want to pay anyone very much – or anything at all – to work for them.
  3. So if you ask for pay, you may not get interviews or offers
  4. But if you offer to do it for free, they’ll be a lot more receptive!

After all, who wouldn’t want to give up some short-term earnings if it ensured long-term success?

One small problem: the logic above is 100% flawed.

It’s usually a bad idea to propose an unpaid work arrangement – except for a few specific instances, which we’ll get into below.

“Your Logic Is Flawed!”

The logic above assumes that firms are not hiring because they can’t afford it (see statement 2).

But with the way the market is right now, most firms are not hiring because they don’t have enough work to go around.

It doesn’t matter whether they pay you $10,000 or they pay $0: if they don’t have any work for you to do, you’re still “costing” them (just in time rather than money).

There are some exceptions: Restructuring groups and hybrid consulting/banking firms focused on turnarounds are relatively “hot,” and most PE firms and banks still hire a minimum number of interns and entry-level Analysts/Associates each year.

Funds of funds and tiny startups that have sprung up recently (many of them formed by ex-bulge bracket guys) are also looking for people, though in many cases more so at the VP/MD-level than at the Analyst/Associate level.

But aside from the tiniest of boutiques, your salary or requested salary makes almost no difference in whether or not they’ll consider you.

And by “boutiques” I don’t mean Lazard or Evercore – I mean extremely tiny firms with 3-4 guys max, because they’ll care about even small expenses.

But Will It Work for You?

Offering to work for free is most appropriate if you’re an undergraduate or a recent graduate. If you’re any older than that, you’ll look a bit desperate immediately asking for an unpaid opportunity.

Yes, everyone knows the market is awful, there are no jobs, and that you would take whatever you could get right now – but no, you still shouldn’t openly admit any of this.

So if you’re in an MBA program or you’ve been laid off recently – or you’ve been working for awhile – I would not recommend leading your call or email by saying, “I’ll work for free!”

If whomever you’re calling happens to raise it as an “objection” (e.g. “We can’t afford anyone right now”) then it might make sense to offer a rebuttal (e.g. “What about an unpaid experience?”).

But you should wait until they actually raise an objection before you make your “counter-proposal.”

This strategy will not work very well if you’re more experienced – most firms don’t like to take experienced people on for free, just due to legal/HR reasons and general principle.

But if you are targeting somewhere truly tiny, it can work… one MBA-level reader last year actually got an internship at a start-up prop trading firm using this strategy.

Strategies for Undergraduates

If you’re younger and want to use this strategy, I would state this upfront (“I wanted to ask about unpaid summer intern openings…”) only if you’re going for the tiny, no-name, 3-4 person firms.

Even most “boutique,” middle-market, and other, smaller banks have formal recruiting processes in place and will not be receptive to this approach – so I’d save it for an objection rebuttal if it comes up.

Other Tactics

If you’ve already spoken with firms and tried to propose unpaid internships with no success, what else can you do?

Talk to Places That Already Have Standard, Unpaid Internships

Plenty of firms actually have a culture of taking on unpaid interns, whether during the school year or in the summer.

Rather than trying to pitch yourself to a bank that doesn’t actually want unpaid help, why not try these places first?

One that comes to mind in the SF Bay Area is FT Partners; and there are other regional boutiques that like free labor, often found through university organizations and business frats.

If you ask around within business frats and other groups you can find a lot of information on other tiny firms in your area that do this.

Go Into Finance Industries That Are Known for Not Actually Paying People

The most obvious example: prop trading firms, especially small ones, are known for paying extremely low (or non-existent) salaries and only giving you a percentage of your P&L as pay.

Not all companies do this, obviously, but it’s far more common in the world of prop trading than it is with investment banks and PE firms.

So if you went to a tiny, no-name trading firm they might just assume that you’re willing to work for no salary, on a 100%-commission basis.

That’s not great for you, but at least it gives you the possibility of making money – as opposed to a real “unpaid” internship where you’ll just get experience and contacts.

Related Finance Jobs

If you can get something that’s finance-related but not directly in banking/PE/investing of any kind, there are 2 advantages:

  1. You are more likely to actually get paid… and therefore stay afloat for awhile longer if that’s a major concern.
  2. You’re more likely to actually get a job or internship in the first place – especially if you target firms that are not used to receiving cold calls and cold emails from random, well-qualified, and well-spoken strangers.

Lateraling from this type of role into banking is 100% dependent on the market, which no one can predict. But doing something is a better choice than going for banks that just aren’t hiring right now.

The Non-Profit Angle

Another approach: if you can afford to work for free for a summer or for an extended period of time, apply to non-profits or similar organizations that have some relevance to finance.


Well, unlike most “normal” companies, pretty much any non-profit in existence would love to have additional free labor at their disposal.

On paper, it might not seem too relevant to finance – so you’ll have to spin it appropriately and focus on the “business results” of what you did, whether that was getting additional donors, raising money, or recruiting.

Also (and this is something I’ve only seen mentioned once elsewhere), there’s actually increased M&A activity among non-profits, because they are strapped for cash.

If you could work at one that was in the midst of some type of deal, you could use that experience to look like you did something finance-related and tell a good story about your interest.

The Unpaid Conundrum

So, should you offer to work for free if you can’t find anything that pays you?

Only if you’re a student or recent graduate, or you’re going for a truly tiny startup firm (or maybe a non-profit).

Otherwise it will just backfire on you, especially if you’re not a college student.

P.S. We got lots of great networking questions earlier this week – we collected them all and will be answering as many as possible in our live discussion next week.

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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  1. Brian,

    I’m a master of science graduate from a non target and an international student. Right now, I’m still doing an unpaid internship (this firm doesn’t have any full time junior bankers but it’s a solid shop with strong deal flow) but I’ve already graduated for 6 months… so I’m wondering how can I best position myself for next opportunity.
    Btw, thanks for your help with all the materials! (I’ve been told by many bankers that your materials are the best out there!)

  2. Hi,
    I’m currently a second semester junior w a 3.8 GPA, at a semi target school. I had no luck with summer analyst recruiting due to lack of preparation but am planning to recruit full time for IB. I’m currently interning part time in a Big 4 Valuations group from Jan.-March and signed to return in summer from June-August. I received an offer to intern unpaid at a small boutique bank from March-May. Should I accept this unpaid internship to gain investment banking experience or would it not be worth my time? Thank you.

    1. If you have no previous IB experience, yes, you should take the unpaid school-year internship.

  3. Hi there,

    Currently 1 year out of school doing tech sales in LA. I was chatting with a former BB MD about breaking in with a rather unconventional backgroud(Econ, not a lot of finance) and he suggested that I either offer to work for free for a bit or get a Msc In finance. Decided to try to offer free work due to lower overall cost. After coming across this article I’m not so sure anymore.

    Would this strategy work in my situation? Or am I better off going back for the masters?

    Thanks in advance!

    1. Working for free is generally not a good idea if you already have full-time work experience. Never offer it up in the beginning, only offer it if they object by saying they can’t afford to pay you. Otherwise you come across as desperate. It’s OK for undergrads and recent grads with no work experience, but it’s not a great idea for experienced candidates. A Master’s + short internship before is probably a smarter move.

  4. Avatar
    Christopher Yaldo

    Hi, I have been trying to get a quant job at either a Wall Street Investment bank or hedge fund over the last year. I have a PhD in Nuclear Physics and maintained a 3.82 GPA throughout undergrad and grad school. I have applied to many jobs and received a few phone interviews, but nothing substantive. The few interviewer that offered me feedback have indicate that my educational background is fine but I don’t have any experience. I just recently considered offering my services for free for a period of time (maybe 6 months or so) in order to obtain relevant work experience so that I would be able to secure a paid position or at the very least, get my “foot in the door”. Do you think this strategy would work in my situation?

    1. They’re unlikely to offer you an internship if you already have a Ph.D. You may want to see these articles for some ideas:

  5. Hi Brian,

    How can I find the tiny no name 3-4 person firms in the SF bay area? I am a sophomore at an Elite university, and seems like all the IB summer internships are for diversity candidates, which I am not. I have a 3.8 GPA, and am a partner at my university student run fund. I would be willing to be an unpaid intern to get work experience. Any suggestions on how to find these small firms so I can reach out to them. Thanks alot!

    1. Capital IQ… our Networking Toolkit… simple Google searches… press releases..

  6. Hi,

    I am two years removed from graduating from a top 10 undergraduate business school with a bba in finance and a 3.4 GPA – good but not great. While in school, I completed two internships as a Summer Analyst with a Bulge Bracket (outside of the IB group) and graduated into an off-cycle situation after studying abroad at a top 15 European B-school. Thereafter, I joined the Corporate Banking group at a large international bank (top 25 in size) working on deals in the upper-middle market.

    Recently, due to reasons unrelated to work, I relocated and accepted a job as an Associate at a lower-middle market PE firm. The fund is brand new and I am currently heavily involved in deal sourcing activities. The catch? It’s currently unpaid as we are still searching for our first few investments.

    With my future with my current firm somewhat uncertain, my question is with this background, how receptive are other PE firms likely to be while I search for a more permanent situation? Also, how does my experience size up in the eyes of an Investment Bank?

    1. I think you could win positions at other PE firms based on your experience. But it would be tough to move to a mega-fund unless you’ve had previous IB experience at a large firm. And you would need to spin your sourcing work into somehow sounding more deal-related (maybe rely on outside study).

  7. I am in my late 30’s with years of experience in commercial banking and public accounting outside the US.I am a CPA and now resident in the US. I just rounded up a graduate program and I am now thinking of paying for a training program that is tied to an unpaid internship at a boutique.The main crux is the internship it offers as I can easily learn all the stuffs on my own. Do you think it’s a good idea for my end goal of working in asset management? Note that the traininf costs some decent $$$$.

    1. It depends on your goals… you probably won’t get into IB with that background, as you have too much work experience, but if you’re interested in other fields of finance, the training + internship might potentially be helpful.

      1. Thank you for your prompt response. Which specific other fields of Finance do you think I can use the training+internship to break into?

        1. Corporate finance at normal companies, maybe something like wealth management or asset management as well.

  8. I have networked with a guy in private equity at an event. He is not much older than me (23) and is an analyst.

    I would like to enter the firm (small firm few people) and am not sure how to. I was hoping to propose to him a work shadowing arrangement whereby I would work uncompensated so I can come in and gain exposure.

    This would be a great thing for my CV. I am from the UK where spring week programmes are crucial for summer internships in university so having a PE firm and experience would put me on good stead.

    By the way, I am 19 and am pre-university, still studying A-levels.

    Q. Do I go about asking him straight away, or do I start asking questions first and building a consistent dialogue with him?
    also Q. How would I go about proposing this idea?

    1. At this stage, that strategy probably won’t work because most PE firms do not hire pre-university candidates. Stay in touch with him, do spring weeks or other internships at large banks, and then approach him about a real internship there in your 2nd or 3rd year of university.

  9. Hi,

    I am a junior and I’d like to ask which internship would be more beneficial in securing a full time offer in investment banking. An unpaid internship at a boutique investment bank or a paid finance internship like private wealth management or global transaction service at a big bank ? Thank you very much for your advice !

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      I’d say an unpaid internship at a boutique, unless it’s a PWM role at say Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley (or the likes).

  10. Hi,
    I’m a french student and I’ll graduate this summer from a top targeted school (in France). I’m doing a political sciences bachelor with an economics major, with a 3,7 overall GPA and a 3,8 GPA in my eco major. I won this year the green card so I have to move this summer in the US. In France, it’s common to start networking and doing internships during master degree. So I have no previous experience in IB nor contacts in France and the US. I’m seriously considering unpaid options to break into IB in NYC and gain experience and contacts first.
    My question is: With cold calling/emailing and networking, do I have a chance to get an unpaid offer in a boutique? If so, will it help to get summer internships for next year? If so, do I have a chance to get a work offer without continuing a finance master degree in France?
    The fact is if I didn’t win the green card, I would have entered a finance master degree. But now I have to put on hold my pursuit of studies in France, for a year to keep my green card, but I can come back next year, enter the master degree and then come back with more knowledge to break into IB in NYC. But maybe there’s no need to continue, I’ll graduate soon, I can network and make experience through unpaid offers and, if I have enough “chances”, get an offer. I don’t know.
    Thank you very much for your advice and for your amazing website.

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      With cold calling/emailing and networking, do I have a chance to get an unpaid offer in a boutique?
      – Yes

      If so, will it help to get summer internships for next year?
      – Yes it can help

      If so, do I have a chance to get a work offer without continuing a finance master degree in France?
      – Yes this depends on you; varies according to various situations

  11. Hi, I’m doing a bachelor’s in business with two specialisations in Finance and Marketing. I’ve previously done an internship in Year 1 as a market analyst, but it’s more toward the marketing side. Before I entered university, I did a short stint in the finance department of an MNC, in accounts payables. I’m now in year 3 and looking for a finance/banking internship.

    I’d like to ask if I should just remove my marketing specialization from my resume. I’ve realized that many interviewers view it with suspicion (also because my previous internship title was Market analyst –> no prior finance experience??).

    Between a 3 month quantitative (market) research internship at a market research company, versus an 3 month internship at an insurance company , versus a 6 month internship in a bank (institutional clients group – financial institutions segment)- mostly doing due diligence on credit extension, KYC, assisting relationship managers in implementing new mandates.

    I’d like to ask which internship would be more beneficial in the long run if i want to join the banking/finance sector, working in wealth management. The 6 month internship is good, but if I take it, i won’t have enough time to pull up my GPA (i may be at risk of losing my second class lower honors!!) I also would like to know how important GPA is for working in wealth or asset management.

    Thank you very very much for your advice and I’m sorry that my post is so long!!

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      GPA is important. For the AM role, the bank internship would be more useful. Even if you don’t take the internship, you may not be able to pull your GPA up to higher than a certain level (unless you can move it to First Class). So I think the work experience and network you’d gain would probably be more useful.

  12. I have a slightly different background. I used to work for a US based fund (for 2 years) but the office was in Pakistan. I was in derivative trade execution and then an analyst for a year in risk management. Now that I have moved to Canada, would it be a good idea to try unpaid internships considering I have no experience or degree from here? what would you recommend

  13. Greetings everyone,

    I am a 24 years old recent bsc. Business administration and MBA graduate from the best business school in Greece (non target of course). Even though I graduated with first class honours from both under and post graduate degrees and i have one year of experience in retail banking and corporate credit at a major greek bank, I stand no chance whatsoever when it comes to finding even an internship in IBD abroad.

    I currently face a serious dilemma as I managed to find an unpaid three month internship at a boutique investment bank with a serious pipeline of deals while at the same time I was offered a full time position at a transactions division of a big4 firm (due diligence role mainly). I really want IBD and I can handle working 3 or 6 or … months unpaid, but I really cannot tell what will be better at the end.

    Big4 will make my resume identifiable globally and it is a role i can invest 2 or 3 years to really enhance my accounting skills but it is still accounting. On the other hand, what can an unpaid internship at a small regional boutique provide me, even if it is at the investment banking division, so as to kill my full time offer at (big4)?

    Thank you very much!

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Yes it is still accounting at Big4 though TAS can potentially increase your chances of breaking in. I think you need to ask the boutique what type of work you’ll be doing and make sure you get exposure to the deals they’re involved in. If you’ll be gaining quite a lot of responsibility yes I may choose the boutique over accounting firm. Otherwise, big 4 may be better given its credibility and global name.

      1. It will be excel modelling, pitch books and the occassional research but it is a small team which means I will receive responsibilities ASAP as long as I can deliver. My fear is mainly focused at what will be perceived as better: a brand name firm with a relatively different role or a not widely known regional boutique but hands on investment banking experience. I do not expect to break into GS or the likes from either of the aforementioned to be frank. It is just a matter of early career choices, shaping my future prospects in a finance career.

        Thank you very much, Nicole, for sharing your thoughts with me.

        1. Avatar
          M&I - Nicole

          This is a tough one – I’d say hands-on experience matter more if you’re looking to get into other mid-small size boutiques. However, the credibility of the prior can help.

  14. Hello,

    How does this principle apply to programs like those offered by NYSF? If offering to work for free looks strange to a financial institution, and also reduces bargaining power when negotiating a salary in the future, then would paying for internship experience look even worse?


    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Great question. It depends on your perspective. Some may share the viewpoint that it is unnecessary to pay for an internship, while others find it useful to do so just to gain the relevant finance experience to increase the chances of breaking in. Afterall, having work experience is key and having some is better than none, no matter how you obtained the internship.

  15. Hey,

    I am currently a Junior in high school. I got a law internship this summer just by cold calling, and I am expected a good recommendation from my employer. I understand that I am young, but I was just wondering if this would help me get a unpaid summer internship either this summer or when I am a senior. I might go to London next summer with a school program and work at a bank, so that also might add to my resume.

    I was just wondering if there is any chance (large or small) that any investment bank would even consider me.

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Congrats on your law internship. I think the key now is to get into a top tier university and gain finance experience – this will increase your chances. It’s hard to say what your chances are because you’re still young. Very rarely do banks take in high school candidates.

  16. Hey,

    I know your site focusses mainly on IB but I want to go into asset management.

    My situation is the following. I am a law grad from non-target and will doing msc in finance/ business so i can show people i can count (either in edinburgh or warwick).

    i was hoping to squeeze in unpaid work experience at an asset management. i have no proper work experience, only two weeks at PWM (unpaid).

    i was going to this in edinburgh before my term starts as from what i have read, an mac doesnt do much on its own.

    i was going to ask the big asset management firms (aberdeen asset, standard life) and the boutiques in edinburgh for unpaid work experience for a few weeks/ a month.

    what is your opinion? should i bother? or is there a better way of going about things?

    many thanks for your reply.

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Yes if you haven’t had any experience, offering to work unpaid may increase your chances. I’d suggest you to work unpaid for a trial period. Network a lot and start cold-calling people. It’s a matter of persistence and trying the same places over and over again until someone gives in and says “yes,” even to an unpaid internship or “trial” internship.

  17. My uncle has a strong connection at a MM PE firm that he thought would be able to offer me an internship. They said they had tried interns and did not have the people to manage them. Therefore this summer I am helping my uncles company internally with acquisitions (they just recapped and sold to a larger PE firm). I have a 3.3 at a semi-target.

    1. Will I be able to leverage this experience into anything meaningful for FT offers at banks or PE funds?

    2. Would it be a good strategy to take BIWS and then offer all the funds that I have a connection at to do contract work at a discount considering I don’t have any financial institutions on my resume’.

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      1. Yes, you just need to know how to spin it.
      2. I’m not quite sure if this idea works though its an interesting proposition. You’ll have to demonstrate your skills!

  18. I’ve been doing some digging on LinkedIn and I’ve discovered that one of my high school alumnus is the co-founder of an investment banking boutique in NYC. My high school is special – alumni’s feel very tight connections to the school even way past graduation. Should I email them to see if they’re looking for interns? And if they’re not, should I offer to work for free?

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Yes I think you should email them. Yes, you can offer to work for free, though I wouldn’t bring it up initially.

      1. How formal should I be when I reach out to him? How should I approach this?

        1. Avatar
          M&I - Nicole

          When contacting alumni, you should introduce yourself as being very eager to learn finance and have a short 3-5 minute pitch in either email or verbal form that gets this point across. Make sure you show an interest in them; most of the conversation should focus on their background/history and at the end you can briefly ask if they know of any opportunities or could pass your name/resume along to friends who might.

  19. Can anyone comment on the New York School of Finance’s IB training program? The training program consists of an unpaid internship portion.

    The program I am interested is called the “Advantage” program that they offer. It is a 3-month program where you attend classes at their Wall St. campus for 10 hours a week, then intern (unpaid) at a boutique bank they pair you up with for 70 hours a week.

    The school’s rep. told me that they teach you all the modeling tools in the classroom and assist you with your internship work. They guarantee you an internship (unpaid) at a boutique if you sign up for the class. He also said that during your internship, you get more exposure to actual transactions and meaningful work and less monkey business.

    The cost of the 3-month program is $14,000 (equivalent to a pro-rated tenure at an MBA program).

    My question is: Do you guys think this is worth pursuing or is it better to take a cheaper training course and seek out my own internship afterwards? (whether paid or unpaid)

    My undergraduate degree was in Biology at a very respectable but non-target west coast school. I am currently a Wealth Management Advisor at a big wirehouse firm. My GPA is low (2.9) due to financial/health constraints I had in college.

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      If you can afford the program, it may increase your chances of breaking into IB. If you have solid credentials and are confident that you can land an internship on your own, then perhaps you can just network a lot and land interviews that way. I haven’t had experience with other training courses so I can’t comment, but I think you’ll be in good hands if you were to join the program. I’d suggest you to speak with some of the instructors at the program and decide if it is a right fit for you.

  20. Great article!
    Actually I am planning to seek an unpaid internship in a well-known international IB in HK. This idea is from my uncle who is the VP of the international IB in San Francisco. He told me I can use his name when talking to people in the IB in HK and act aggressively. Do you think I can get an unpaid internship in this way?

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Yes this may increase your chances. It is best if you can ask your uncle to send you an email/introduce you to bankers he knows in HK. If you’re directly referred by your uncle, your chances may be higher because the bankers will likely give your uncle “face” by arranging an appointment/call with you at the minimum.

      1. Thank you!Do you think I should go to talk to the vice presidents or the HR manager in the IB in HK?

        1. Avatar
          M&I - Nicole

          I’d talk to the contacts whom your uncle knows and can refer you to, whether they are VPs or HR managers or not.

          1. Yeah actually the worst part is my uncle does not know anyone in the branch in HK,but I will still have a try and go to the office and talk to people there.Thank you!

  21. Avatar

    Hi Brian,

    I’m a high school senior who’ll be going to a top-25 college this fall. I’m planning to major in business and go into trading (or possibly banking). As a junior, I couldn’t find any jobs in finance (paid or unpaid) so worked as a paid developer at a local government lab. Although I enjoyed being paid for my work, I didn’t gain any finance-related experience and my network didn’t really improve.

    Anyway, I currently have two job offers for the upcoming summer: an unpaid SA position at a boutique investment bank and a paid position at the same government division I worked at last summer. I want to take unpaid SA job because its related to finance and could help me improve my network. I don’t have any finance connections and I’d like to acquire a few before I start college (to help me land a paid position as a freshman). In addition, I’m a bit sick of being a developer, lol, as its not the type of career I’d like to pursue in the long run.

    Which opportunity is better in your opinion? Thanks in advance!

    1. Avatar

      I also want to emphasize that my finance connections are essentially non-existent. I exhausted my network in my search for a summer job and I couldn’t find anyone remotely connected to the American financial industry.

      1. Avatar
        M&I - Nicole

        This is why you need to network with the right crowd. Having an IB internship will increase your circle of people in finance and give you more opportunities in the field.

    2. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      The unpaid position is undoubtedly the best because it provides you the experience IBs look for on your resume and most likely gives you more opportunity to network with bankers, especially since you’re not too pleased with being a developer. As long as you can finance yourself, I’d go for the unpaid role. Since you’re only a high school senior, you’re already ahead of the game vs many. Good luck!

      1. Avatar

        Thanks for responding! I also wanted to ask: do you think that the SA articles on M&I would be applicable to interns at boutique banks?

        1. Avatar
          M&I - Nicole

          Which articles are you referring to?

          1. Avatar
            M&I - Nicole

            Yes, though the size and scale of the deals may be different because boutiques may not necessarily have the large scale of deals that BB will have exposure to. Some boutiques may also have smaller team which means that you may be able to gain more responsibility and learn more. But the nature of the work will be similar.

  22. Need Advice! I went through full recruitment (FT Analyst) with a BB approximately 5 interviews for one of their IB groups. Ultimately did not get hired.
    I have kept good relationships with the interviewers and am actually meeting a senior banker next week I met during the process. I wanted to propose either a summer internship opportunity (I’m in my final undergrad year); or, FT unpaid work upon graduation for a specific period of time to show them my work ethic and abilities.

    Would appreciate your thoughts.

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Since its a BB, I don’t know how much he can do because there’ll be quite a few policies and HR is likely to be involved. I’d still try proposing the summer intern opportunity though because he may be able to pull some strings. I wouldn’t propose FT unpaid work unless you’re very desperate, and this may make you seem desperate. I’d build a great relationship with him and show him how great of a candidate you are (in your conversations, your passion, etc). Perhaps he may know of friends who are hiring, and I’m sure he’ll be able to give you lots of tips and useful info re banking.

      1. The relationship is there. From your experiences, would it be possible to move from a summer position directly into a full time analyst role? (Considering I would be done school).

        Also how best to ask about the summer position given my circumstances of having interviewed for a ft position already?

        1. It would be unusual to move from an intern role like that straight into a FT role unless you’re in Europe or another region where it’s common – but I’m sure people have done it before depending on the bank, group, and location.

          Summer position: I would just be straightforward and say that you did speak with them in the fall and it didn’t work out, but you’re still very excited about them and would leap at any opportunity to interview for roles there.

          Personally, I would probably just ask for full-time roles since it’s a large bank… internship and unpaid requests tend to work better at boutiques.

      2. The relationship is there. From your experiences, would it be possible to move from a summer position directly into a full time analyst role? (Considering I would be done school).
        Also how best to ask about the summer position given my circumstances of having interviewed for a ft position already?

      3. Rising junior exploring boutique IB’s on the West Coast and just wondering but why the negativity for FT Partners?

        1. Honestly, I don’t even remember – I think they had a bad reputation a few years ago (2009/2010) – not sure if that’s true any longer.

  23. I am a Senior at a top school. I am really interested AD&G Investment Banking and I worked in it this summer at a tiny boutique. I was looking to make a move into bigger firm (around 20 people or so). They did not take anyone from our school during FT recruiting. I live near the firm. I was going to offer to intern/work for free during my second semester. Is this a good idea?

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Yes, I think this idea works. Working unpaid is not ideal, but it can get your foot in the door.

  24. Hi Brian,

    Great article. Two things:

    1. Can you further elaborate that “most firms don’t like to take experienced people on for free, just due to legal/HR reasons and general principle”. I have +4 years of experience and am currently employed. However, I am considering a non-paid internship to switch career.

    2. Can you add the date to the article, if possible.

    Thank you

    1. I second ‘J’s request to publish dates.
      I am in the same situation, about 5+ years of experience and am contemplating working for free to switch careers. I was interviewed by GE and such, but it didn’t work out. Would it be appropriate to approach the HR Manager who interviewed me at GE to offer free work in my area of interest, Marketing/Product Development? The HRM obliged to my request for a conversation after I found out that I did not land the job, and told me that it wasn’t me; they hired an ‘internal candidate’ for his experience in doing that particular job. Maybe, she was trying to be nice, but still, she did not have to do it.
      If it is, any pointers as to how (framing the email etc) to do so?
      Thanks in advance.

      1. Avatar
        M&I - Nicole

        Publish dates. Please refer to

        I think you’re better off looking for opportunities elsewhere. Just thank her for her time and ask her to keep you in the loop if something comes up

  25. What if someone is unemployed, has no job offers and they’ve been out of school for a long time? Isn’t it better for someone to spend their free time volunteering than doing nothing?

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole


  26. When most people take unpaid internships, do they get academic credit? I just accepted an unpaid SA offer at a boutique. Is there anything I should do in order to protect myself legally (like draft up an offer letter with my uncle who is a lawyer, get academic credit from my school, etc.), or should I just relax and wait to start working? Thanks!

    1. Sometimes they do, but there isn’t a whole lot you can do legally unless they go along with it. Maybe just ask them if you can get academic credit for it.

  27. Hi M&I,

    I am a college sr at an extremely non target school. I am a triple major in finance, economics, and marketing. My finance background consists of a fortune 500 insurance company as a claims operations intern and a smaller boutique (aprox $500million under management) financial planning/wealth management firm. I know it is extremely late in the recruiting season, but over past two days I have sent out around 100 or so resumes to IBD and HF/PE firms. Is there anything I can do to make myself become more appealing to prospective employers? I have been contacting directors or partners in firms if they do not have an address to email for careers. How else should I go about doing this? Also. Have a slight connection with the CFO of a rather large P/E firm and have talked to him several times on the phone over the past couple years but nothing ever seems to pan out. He told me I could not intern with his division because they are not able to pay a salary, should I offer to work for free? He told me that he is going to ask the CEO and COO of company if they have any opportunities but this was around 2 weeks ago, how long should I wait to try and contact him again? I do not want to come across as annoying but time is running out and as of right now I do not have anything lined up for after graduation in may.

    (by slight connection I mean he is one of my cousins friends and he is big time, been partners in some extremely successful companies)

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Yes you can contact him again.

      Yes you can offer to work for free if you want to gain experience in PE

      1. Is there anything else I should be doing this late in recruiting season? Currently just doing cold calls/emails and talking to people I have networked with.

        1. Avatar
          M&I - Nicole

          Broaden your network. Join an investment club. Attend finance/M&A talks etc on campus. Hone your knowledge in Accounting and Finance. Visualize yourself getting the job you want.

  28. Hi Brian, thanks for the great article!

    I’m a freshman in university with very little (practically non-existent) technical experience in IBD. Do you think it’s possible to get any kind of position through lots of networking/cold-calling/cold-emailing? I have tonnes of leadership experience and a high GPA, and I also worked at a PWM office last year (doing administrative work only). Is technical knowledge something firms require even in freshmen?

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      I’d join an investment club and network within the school to see if you can get any internships through your professors/career center/network at school first, then I’d try cold-calling

      1. Thanks Nicole for the reply! I tried using my networks but so far nothing has turned up. Do you suggest cold-calling over informational interviews in my case (freshman with little to no technical knowledge)?

        1. Avatar
          M&I - Nicole

          Yes but really know your pitch and why finance

  29. Good afternooon everyone!

    I have recently graduated from a top 50 business school with decent grades. (B.S in Marketing) However, I want to pursue a career in Finance; ( you’re probably wondering why I decided to study marketing and not finance. Well, because, I was naive. I figured focusing in finance for my mba and marketing undergrad would
    give me a competitive advantage, having a diverse curriculum. Blah blah.) Anyway, I have a few international fiance internships; micro finance in india, working at a major corporate bank in Eastern europe. A political internship in the middle east. But, I don’t have much “hands on” experience. A majority of interviews I have been on, many of the interviewers were quite impressed. Though, I have never landed a single job nor a free internship. I don’t know what to do at this point. At this point I’m going to have to be a delivery boy to pay off my loans. Someone help! Need some advice anything???

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      I’d change your thoughts and think about what value you can add to a company and why they should hire you. Research companies you are interested in working for and start contacting people who are senior in the company and tell them what value you can add to them. Convince them to hire you

  30. I was given a conditional verbal offer at a tiny Boutique/Middle Market IB for an Equity associate role. They told me to complete an ER report, and if they liked the report they would give me an offer. After I completed the report and sent it to them, they suspended the project.
    Should I contact them and request them to draw up an
    agreement in writing before I do any additional work for them?

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      As you want, I can’t say

      1. What would you advice? Because I don’t want to end up doing alot of work for free!

  31. Hi,
    All your posts were really helpful.
    I am currently a junior in Goizueta Business School of Emory University with a concentration in Finance.
    I want to get a junior summer internship in one of big firms such as JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch… I don’t care about the pay or if its paid. I would even be willing to pay to get an opportunity to intern for those firms. Do you know where I can buy such a position?


    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      I’d use your contacts in the field.

  32. Hello Sir,

    This is Ravi, from Mumbai, India.

    I have completed Chartered Accountancy program from India. Recently i have been offered as a trainee in one of the boutique firms in India ? Actually i was not selected for the job because of not having communication skills, but i was offered to work as a trainee.

    The stipend offered is too less i.e. $500 per month. also the period as a training is not fixed. it can take half year to one full year, unless i communicate fluently. The job is make the business for the firm. I will be learning pitch books related things. May i know what is the meaning “to make business/ clients for the firm ?

    And another job i have been offered for around $1000 related to auditing, totally different field. I am confused whether to take the training or the job of $1000 ? also my age is 24.

    Please sir suggest me what should i take ? is there good scope in the training related to finance in boutique firm ?


    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      It depends on which job you enjoy more. Given the salary difference, I’d probably ask the boutique firm for a raise to match your other offer. I’d also speak with the boutique firm to understand more about your responsibilities before you make a decision

  33. Hello Brian,

    I am currently a freshman at NYU and i just landed an unpaid internship offer at a small firm. I will be doing hedge fund research and work directly with the founder ( the name is BroadReach Group). So here is my question:

    1)knowing that i was freshman, i sent out over a dozen applications over the career net. I ended up getting an offer at the end of the interview and i didn’t want to cancel it or tell them something like “maybe”. Would i be able to cancel off them before i start working on monday ( if i get another offer for an interview).

    2) Do you think that interning at a firm such as this one (it focuses on talent research and placement) would be beneficial for me in the long wrong? It is unpaid but i do get reimbursed for travelling and food expenses.

    Thank you !!

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      2. I don’t think there’s a wrong/right move. It depends on your perspective. Do you have better options? If you don’t, I’d start with this one and see how it goes

  34. There’s an unpaid intern position at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management at San Francisco. They said on the website that the major responsibilities include selling and telemarketing, and requires candidates to be strong at Excel and technologies. Upon enquiry on the phone, they said I will be helping their financial advisors. Do you think this internship is worthwhile to win an interview chance? I’m most interested in IBD. Thanks

    1. It sounds like a lot of cold-calling, but if you’re a 1st or 2nd year student it may still be helpful for you.

  35. As a senior looking for FT offers but not getting any (and recruiting season almost over), does it come off as desperate to offer to work unpaid?

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      I wouldn’t suggest working unpaid though if you have no experience in finance it can possibly get your foot in the door. The problem w working unpaid is that most BBs still need headcount to take in people (paid or unpaid) so you will have to approach smaller firms who have the flexibility to hire unpaid staff

  36. What if a client wants to work for the Investment Bank that structured their deal? Is this possible or a conflict of interest? Wouldn’t this demonstrate that you can bring in deals?

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      I’ve already answered your same question in another post.

  37. Hi,

    I am a final year student in a non-targeted sch with avg grades. I tried to apply internships but there wasn’t much results since i had no previous IB experience.

    Which is a better option?

    Apply internship as a financial/security/equity analyst in some small boutiques after i graduate..


    Apply for full time credit analyst position in a bank?

    And how related is credit analyst to IB positions in the future?

    Thanks for helping me out.

    1. Small boutique is probably better, credit analyst isn’t quite as relevant.

  38. I was offer an unpaid internship at an ER boutique firm, but 2 days later I found another paid internship else where (also an ER firm).

    Both companies are same in size and rep, but of course i’ll pick the paid position.

    Anyhow, how should i tell the first company that I am not interested anymore without actually offending them. Or do u even think i should even worry about this?

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Just tell them that you have been offered a paid ER position in the same industry w a company of similar size and rep. See if the first one is willing to pay you. If not, tell them you are going for the paid internship. No hard feelings – they should understand.

      1. Thanks for the response

        anyways sth happened and everything changed

        anyhow long story short

        I had another interview. After the interview, the interviewer said he really liked me and wanted me to help him in his next project (M&A stuff but unpaid). He said the project would start in the beg of Oct (told me 2 weeks ago). I was wondering if I should send him an email to remind him of this and if i do how can I say it in a way to not be overly desperate?

        1. Avatar
          M&I - Nicole

          Yes remind him – don’t remind him of the unpaid aspect though haha

  39. Hi. Having searched for any job whatsoever, I am thinking now about unpaid internship in finance. I just graduated from MBA with 3.9 GPA, however, I am unemployed and have a previous work experience of only 5 years in US in the mortgage industry (2002-2007). Yes, huge gap in employment and no experience in finance. Noone even consider me for interviews.
    Plus… I am 42.
    Should I try unpaid internship?

    1. It’s almost impossible if you already have an MBA – better to think about other options closer to what you did before, with IB they are extremely structured in their recruiting

      1. Thank you very much for your response. I may have to go back to school to take a few accounting classes ( or do MSA) One of my friends is at one of the big four accounting firms and promised to help. Thanks again.

  40. I am currently studying at the London School of Economics (LSE) doing an MSc in Management. Prior to this, I did my bachelors in Economics & Finance from the University of Manchester. I recently applied to JP Morgan’s IB Risk Division and did extremely well in the interview (HR said I got a 9.5/10) but didnt get through as I failed the numerical test by a single point.

    I was wondering if it would be a good strategy to get in touch with HR and offer to do an unpaid internship. Thanks.

  41. I’m currently doing an unpaid internship with UBS’s wealth management department, they don’t pay their interns..ever.
    I was wondering how should I leverage this experience to maybe go into their IB division. I have their global list of contacts but I’m not sure who I should contact and if it would be inapproporiate. UBS IB does not recruit at my school.

    1. Contact everyone you can… no reason not to. Focus on the bankers (especially the more senior ones) and go through the standard informational interview process (search this site for more).

  42. Avatar
    Jacob Henderson

    I plan to take an unpaid internship at a BB bank in the wealth management department. I just started my freshman year of undergraduate school in Manhattan. I also have a year experience in the mortgage refinance industry prior to starting college.

    After reviewing my standards, how likely do you think that I can land an interview at JP Morgan’s summer internship program for freshmen?

    Note: I attend a target school for JP Morgan’s IB and S&T.

    1. Your chances are good since you’re starting so early and have solid credentials already

      1. Avatar
        Jacob Henderson

        I spoke with the employer today and they said I must obtain college credit for the internship or I can not work. I must also provide paperwork from the school to the employer, what seems to be similar to permission slips.

        I spoke with the internship coordinators at my school anxiously. They said I did not qualify to be able to register an internship for college credit due to my grade level and that I must have a declared major (45 credits) in order to participate in the internship. As a freshman in school I was far away from this once in a life time opportunity.

        What I seek your advice on is what to do next?

        I was pondering about and thought maybe I can speak to the internship coordinators who handle the paperwork from the school to the bank to convince them to approve this internship for college credit, without having to actually award those credits to me.

        What will be the legal issues if I pursue my next possible option? Are banks strict enough to dig through my transcript to look for the credit? Will I be in danger if the unpaid internship is on my resume without the actual credit being reported on the transcript? How likely would you sign the paperwork if you were the internship coordinator?

        Any advice is greatly appreciated. Thank you.

        1. If you’re still in your first year I would not even worry about this… just wait until you have a major first.

  43. Hello,

    I am currently attending University of Manitoba’s Asper School of Business, doing a double major in Finance/International Business. I will be graduating in December 2011. I desperately want to secure an investment banking internship for next summer. This summer I worked in the Purchasing Department for our provincial Energy Utility. My GPA is 3.7.

    Here in Winnipeg there isn’t much for investment banking; a few small boutique firms. I would like to obtain a summer internship either in Toronto or abroad; namely Duba, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Singapore.

    What is the best way to go about obtaining an internship like this, and do I have any chance whatsoever seeing as my school is not exactly well known?

    PS. Your site is great!

    1. See all the articles on networking under “Recruiting” at the top of the page. There are also a dozen or so case studies / interviews with readers detailing how to do this – basically you need to talk to alumni / cold-call / go to events, do weekend trips and so on.

    2. hey man tell me how it goes..I was thinking of transferring to u of m or calgary and wondering how tough it is to get into banking from those schools

  44. for my curiosity what is the pay for a summer analyst

    1. Pro-rated based on FT analyst pay so usually $10-15K

  45. Hi there,

    Amazing website by the way. I’ve spent countless of hours reading the articles on here and have learned a lot.

    I’m a first year student at the Schulich School of Business in Toronto (not so much of a “target school” for investment banking but it is a prestigious [I know you don’t like that word] one.)

    I have started my own company recently that is mainly focusing on an investment fund at the moment. I have about 30 investors (friends, their parents, and my family) with about $100,000 in equity. School has slowed me down in the process of it, but with the semester nearing to an end I’ll have more time to focus on it.

    I also want to keep my options open for investment banking, however. I know it’s already April but I did read an article about cold-calling asset management firms to try and get a summer-intern, and it was possible, even at this late time.

    Do you think I should try to get an intern position for this summer? I’m in first year once again and I have no relevant job experience (besides my company). Would second year be too late and risky to try and obtain a position?

    Thank a lot M&I!

    1. Honestly it doesn’t matter that much if you’re only in your first year. Especially if you have something else impressive to talk about it, internships start mattering a lot more from your 2nd year onward.

  46. is the interviewing process different when volunteering to do an informal unpaid stint rather than a formal gig? could you get one with no finance exp?

    1. It’s not any different really, same types of questions. And yes, you can get one with no experience… see the case studies on this site.

  47. Would it be appropriate to ask for an unpaid internship based on the fact that I have no experience in finance? I’m going for my MBA one year from now but I want to get some experience with an investment firm beforehand…

    1. That’s fine, but I wouldn’t necessarily bring it up right off the bat… maybe wait and see if they object, and then offer it up.

  48. Avatar
    bill levington

    FTP literally sucks. It is really shitty place.

    1. Never said it was good, only that it was available. :)

  49. Hi there,

    I enjoy reading your tips for application in other interview scenarios.

    But just to keep up with the pace (being a non finance person) what do the abbreviations PE and IBD stand for? … such as in “PE firms” or “getting into IBD”


    1. PE: Private Equity

      IBD: Investment Banking

    2. James is correct. Maybe I should add a glossary to the site…

  50. I would look on that thread on WSO ( and ask people there to post a list of firms in your area. You can try to find them via Google searches but it’s a real long shot, you really need Capital IQ.

  51. I’m a freshman (first year) and would appreciate any experience (including unpaid). How would I find these no-name HFs and boutiques? It’s a long shot to get anything but I would just cold-email these firms. I’m hoping for the experience to put me in good stead for summer internship cycle next year. Any other things to help me stand out would be great especially since I’m from a non-target.


  52. I had a friend who had to do something like that. I think it comes down to whether or not you see yourself in that country long-term – going there will make it more difficult for you to move elsewhere. Having that experience of starting a local branch will look impressive on your resume, but you’re right in that it won’t be much in the way of real deal exposure.

    Personally, I would only move to the other country if you could see yourself working there for the next few years and possibly longer than that.

    Otherwise, I’d stay here and do some networking/cold-calling/cold-emailing on the side to introduce yourself to other boutiques and hopefully move somewhere more stable… and getting moved to another division would then be a backup plan.

  53. Hi M&I,

    I’m at a critical career decision point.

    I’ve been an IB analyst for the last year at a boutique that has been doing very badly in the last few months. Threats of retrenchment are looming and getting real by the day. My boss has selected a couple of us to be seconded to a developing country to start up the IB practice there and has hinted that if I do not go along with it, things will not be pleasant. I can foresee plenty of administrative shit in the new place since it is a start up with zero deals in the pipeline, and the seniors who will be going along are of not top quality. My option if i decline is to be transferred to another dept. such as wealth management/treasury, or take a tremendous pay cut and hope that deals will come by in the developed country I am in.

    Do you see any benefits in being part of a team starting up an IB franchise in a developing country? And, do you have any general advise for my position?

  54. It would help, but the CFA is not going to completely offset your lack of finance experience. For the hours and time/effort you put in, it’s far more effective to try to find something part-time in the fall when you get back and point to that as evidence of your interest… even something unpaid (as I say above) would be a good idea, just so you can say that you’ve done something in the real world that looks relevant.

  55. Avatar

    Hi M&I,

    I am a rising senior (UNC Chapel Hill) and will be interviewing for FT positions in the fall. Unfortunately, I didn’t get an internship this summer and will be studying abroad.

    I’m concerned about my situation and I’ve been trying to think of ways to offset my lack of experience. Would it make sense to register for the CFA Level 1 exam in December in order to demonstrate a commitment and interest in finance?

  56. Right, but I think your situation was a bit different in that you already interviewed with them and they were clearly interested in you to begin with.

    I recommend against offering it upfront if unless they have already considered you and said no for various reasons… it’s like going up to a member of the opposite sex who’s clearly not interested vs. someone who’s already somewhat interested in you.

    Experience is everything, but keep in mind that you were also much younger than many readers and for someone with 5+ years of experience it looks a little weird to offer to work for free.

  57. Avatar
    It worked for me

    Interviewed at a fund manager as a undergrad for an investment analyst position, didn’t get the offer despite the fact that they thought I could do the job. Offered to work unpaid to gain experience – they accepted and they actually gave me more interesting alternative asset work than the guy who was getting paid. The unpaid position eventually turned into paid position (Note: worked hard)

    Six months part-time unpaid turned into full time offer. In the meantime, interviewed for M&A summer internships and got the job due to my alternate asset experience. Resigned from funds manager before Summer. Completed summer intership and got offered a grad position (note: worked hard)

    At the end of the day, experience is everything and you’ll always be trapped in a vicious cycle if you don’t have any experience. Who cares if it’s unpaid – the fund manager was quite impressed that I was willing to work unpaid.

  58. Same strategies you always use when cold-calling: introduce yourself briefly, ask directly what you’re looking for, and don’t give up until you get through to someone useful… i.e. not HR, make sure you can actually speak with a banker or at least the person in charge of hiring. It goes without saying, but you’re wasting your time unless you’re going for extremely tiny firms as well.

  59. For high school students, how would one go about contacting and finding firms that would consider offering an unpaid internship…in Canada.

  60. Pay and hours are both less, but still higher paying than an average job.

    Typically you just stay in PWM, but the easiest exit opportunities would be going to a hedge fund or doing some type of trading.

    It’s better than other options like back-office work, but still makes it more difficult to ultimately transition into IBD (since half the people in PWM probably want to be in IBD already…).

  61. What about private wealth management if you can’t get into investment banking? What are some exit opportunities if you go that route and what are common salaries/hours?

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