So, you want to break into investment banking?
In some countries, I might be legally obligated to stop you – with force, if necessary.
But if you’ve already taken the effort to search online and find this article, I won’t stop you – instead, I’ll show you exactly how to do it.
There are 6 steps to breaking into investment banking:
- Understand the Industry – You’re going to be a peon at first.
- Plan Your Strategy – Networking? Cold-calling? Business school?
- Craft Your Story – So, why do you want to do investment banking? You can’t just say “for the money” even if that’s the truth.
- Network Like a Ninja – You need to pick up the phone and talk to real people to maximize your chances – online applications are useless.
- Bankify Your Resume – Think “Gordon Gekko” rather than “clueless liberal arts major” or “geeky engineer.”
- Ace Your Interviews – Are you smart, can you do the work, and do bankers like you? You better hope so.
Now let’s jump in and see exactly what to do for each step so that you land investment banking offers.
Prerequisite: The Banker Blueprint
Remember how your economics and math classes had prerequisites?
Well, so does this article: please click here to sign up for, download, and read The Banker Blueprint right now.
This free, 57-page guide covers everything in this article but goes into more detail in certain parts and has alternate examples.
You should read bothThe Banker Blueprintand this entire article because they feature different examples and focus on different aspects of breaking in.
Have you downloaded and read the entire guide?
OK, good, now you may continue.
Understand the Industry
First, understand that banks are extremely rigid with their recruiting.
We’re not talking about innovative tech startups where anyone who can kick ass and take names is welcome: we’re talking about conservative, traditional organizations that stick to what has worked for the past 20-30 years.
Banks have a strong preference for undergraduates and business school students at the top universities: think Wharton, Harvard, LSE, Oxford, and so on.
It is significantly more difficult to break in if you are already working or you’re not at a top school.
Banks assume that if you’re already working full-time, you would never sacrifice your social life and sanity to start working 100 hours a week – they want students who don’t know any better.
They also assume that if you’re not at a top university or business school, you may not be smart enough or hard-working enough to do banking.
Furthermore, banks have developed relationships with all the top schools worldwide and already do very well recruiting just at those institutions – so they don’t see a real need to go beyond that.
The statement above are not my own views – I’m just cutting out the politically correct BS and telling you how banks think about their recruiting.
Next, realize that there are 2 entry-level positions in investment banking: Analysts and Associates.
Analysts are recruited straight out of undergraduate or Master’s programs, or sometimes come in after 1-2 years of full-time work elsewhere. They are like the peons in Warcraft: they are at the bottom of the food chain and do all the work.
If you start out as an Analyst, most of the time you leave after 2-3 years and go into another field like private equity, hedge funds, or venture capital.
Associates either get recruited out of top MBA programs or are promoted directly from the Analyst pool. They manage Analysts, work more directly with clients and senior bankers (Vice Presidents and Managing Directors), and put out fires.
Associates are expected to stay in banking for the long-term – moving to private equity, hedge funds, and venture capital is significantly more difficult.
Plan Your Strategy
So, which of these 2 entry points – Analyst or Associate positions – should you aim for, and how do you get in?
Let’s break it down by level:
This one’s easy: get an investment banking internship any way you can.
If you’re at a top school, you’ll go through on-campus recruiting and also network with alumni, family, professors, student groups, and so on.
If you’re not at a top school, you’ll need to be much more aggressive with networking and cold-call dozens of small, local banks.
Then, after you get this banking internship, go through the same recruiting / networking process and leverage your experience into full-time interviews and offers for Analyst positions.
Recent Graduates (< 3 Years of Full-Time Work Experience)
Once you’ve graduated, your options are more limited: you either network your butt off or you wait until you have 3 years of full-time experience and apply to top business schools (as in MBA program – not Master’s programs).
Cold-calling will not work as well because you have more experience.
Spend 6 months networking with alumni, professional referrals, organizations like the CFA Society, and anyone else you can find and focus on boutique banks – if you don’t see any results after 6 months of exhaustive effort, apply to top business schools.
Experienced Graduates (>3 Years of Full-Time Work Experience)
Apply to top business schools – you’re too experienced for Analyst positions, so you need to re-brand yourself and go for Associate positions instead.
At this stage, networking is even more important than at the undergraduate level because everyone else is doing it too.
If you’re at a top school you can still use on-campus recruiting, but you need to begin contacting alumni 6-9 months in advance of business school, setting up informational interviews and doing everything else you can to break in and land Associate positions.
Beyond the MBA-Level / Over 10-15 Years of Full-Time Work Experience
The ship has sailed – you’re not going to become an Analyst or Associate with 10-15 years of work experience.
Either consider a different industry that’s more open to capable, experienced candidates (e.g. prop trading firms) or advance to the C-level executive / Partner level and then move into finance as an Operating Partner.
Craft Your Story
Once you’ve decided whether or not you can break into investment banking and what position you’re going to aim for, you need to craft your story.
Your “story” comes in 2 forms:
- A 1-2 minute explanation in interviews that answers the “Walk me through your resume / CV” or “Tell me about yourself” questions.
- An abbreviated, 2-3 sentence version that you use when networking or cold-calling.
Your story needs to convince bankers that you will excel in investment banking and that you are much better for the job than anyone else.
You do that by structuring your story around four points:
- The “Beginning”
- Your Finance “Spark”
- Your Growing Interest
- The Future & Why You’re Here Today
Here’s what you could say for each of these points:
You were born in New York but moved to London when you were younger and attended university there, initially planning to major in English literature.
Your Finance “Spark”
When you were studying abroad in Paris, you met a few friends who owned their own M&A advisory and real estate brokerage firm, which got you very interested in exploring finance.
Your Growing Interest
When you returned to London, you joined the student investment club and also switched to a double-major in finance and economics.
You then interned at HSBC in their M&A group last summer.
The Future & Why You’re Here Today
Although you had a great experience at HSBC, you want to apply your knowledge of finance and M&A to much larger companies and work on more cross-border transactions.
With your experience in the US, UK, and France, you’re well-equipped to work on deals involving companies in any of those countries.
In the long-term you want to specialize in cross-border M&A deals, and especially anything involving real estate – all going back to your initial “spark.” You see this bank as the best way to gain the skills you need to do that.
When networking, you would cut the outline above down to 2-3 sentences and say that you’re a finance/economics major from [University Name], you worked in HSBC M&A, you have experience in the US, UK, and France, and you’re interested in specializing in cross-border M&A deals involving those countries.
More “Story” Examples
You should now have an idea of how to structure your story.
For more examples, please click right here to download The Banker Blueprint.
Also, please watch this video tutorial on How to Tell Your Story.
Network Like a Ninja
So now you’ve figured out whether you can get into investment banking, the best way to break in, and what you’re going to say when you meet bankers.
Now you need to network like a ninja to land interviews and offers at banks.
There are 2 methods of networking: developing relationships and cold-calling.
If you have 6-12 months before recruiting begins, you should focus on developing relationships via informational interviews, weekend trips, information sessions, and more.
There are dozens of tutorials on this site covering all types of networking, so I’m not going to repeat everything here – please see this article for the high-level overview:
And then click on “Recruiting” link right here and go to the Networking category to get everything else.
If you’re in a rush and you’re an undergraduate or recent graduate, you will need to do a lot of cold calling – find small, local banks, call and ask how to get an Analyst position there, and rinse, wash, and repeat until you succeed.
Again, I am not going to repeat everything here because networking is covered from A to Z in The Banker Blueprint and elsewhere on the site.
Instead, I’m just going to answer the most common questions I get on the topic:
Where Can You Find Names and Contact Information?
Start with your alumni database and searches on LinkedIn – go for people with similar backgrounds (schools, interests, geographies, companies, etc.).
Contact student groups, professional organizations like the CFA Society, talk to professors, family, family friends, friends of friends, and leave no stone unturned in your search.
Get access to Bloomberg or Capital IQ or Factset and use those to look up bankers’ contact information directly and call them.
For names and information on 10,000+ banks, PE firms, and hedge funds, click here to sign up for The Investment Banking Networking Toolkit.
What Should You Say When You Start Networking?
If you’re cold-calling, state your name and what school/company you’re at and ask how best to secure an Analyst / Associate position at the firm.
The other person will probably object or say, “We’re not hiring,” in which case you respond by saying, “So are you in charge of recruiting?” and not giving up until they put you through to a banker or the head HR person.
When contacting alumni or people you find on LinkedIn and emailing them, send a 5-sentence email to introduce yourself and propose a specific time to speak for 10 minutes.
See the informational interview guide for what to do after that.
How Persistent Should You Be?
More than you think. Never, ever, ever give up after getting just 1 rejection – always check back even after being rejected multiple times.
Put responsive people higher on your priority list, but never give up entirely unless someone has not responded after 10-20 attempts.
You don’t want to do anything crazy like show up to the office with a chainsaw and flamethrower and demand to speak to the Managing Director, but emails and calls are fine.
Where Can You Learn More About Networking?
Click here to get all our articles on networking.
That seems like a lot, but it actually just skims the surface – for even more intensive training, click here to sign up for The Investment Banking Networking Toolkit.
You’ll get the names of 10,000+ banks, PE firms, and hedge funds as well as dozens of scripts, email templates, and tutorials on everything I mentioned above.
Bankify Your Resume
So now you have your story straight, you’re out networking and working the phones like a ninja, and you’re meeting bankers left and right.
When you meet those bankers, you’ll need a resume (also known as a CV for European / Australian readers).
Please ignore all the “generic” resume templates you see online – they are completely inappropriate for investment banking.
Investment banking and finance have very different standards for resumes – if you act like you’re applying for a marketing position or a non-profit, you’ll get rejected in 2 seconds.
Copy and Paste These Resume Templates
Once again, I’ve done all the work for you: just choose from the resume and cover letter templates below, copy them, and fill in your own information:
The Secret About These Templates
Since I introduced these templates, they’ve became the standard in the finance industry – just go to a school like Wharton and try to find someone who is not using one of the resume templates above.
Of course, you can change around the fonts, font sizes, margins, and so on – but if you do not use one of those templates, you might look out-of-place next to everyone else.
So it’s in your best interest to use them and adapt as you see fit.
Bankifying Your Resume: Examples
So now you’ve got the templates and you’ve started filling in your own education and work experience entries – let’s go into this in more detail and see how to bankify your experience.
“I’ve been getting a lot of tips on how to write [my resume], mostly from my staff. They really seem to be up on this stuff. They tell me I have to use the active voice for the resume. You know, things like “Commanded U.S. Armed Forces,” “Ordered air strikes,” “Served three terms as President.” Everybody embellishes a little.”
-President Bill Clinton, White House Correspondents Dinner
And that’s exactly what you should do: embellish a little.
Craft your resume to emphasize working with financials and numbers and leading rather than following. Here are a few examples of resume makeovers:
Software Development Intern, Cell Phone Company
- Developed cell phone applications for collecting demographic and user/revenue data in team of 3 and investigated new web technologies. Presented findings to CEO.
That doesn’t exactly scream finance, now does it?
It screams “tech nerd” to me – here’s how we’d apply a makeover to this entry:
Technology Consultant, Cell Phone Company
- Recommended development budget of $100,000 to CEO based on analysis of ROI on similar projects in the past.
- Worked in team of 3 to design applications for analyzing demographic data; optimized revenue per user for mobile software and made recommendations that led to 20% higher RPU.
This made-over version is better for three reasons:
- The Title – “Technology Consultant” sounds more related to finance than “Software Development Intern,” which sounds more like a shorts-and-t-shirt job.
- Recommendations and Analysis – You recommended specific numbers here and analyzed the financial returns of previous projects – just like what you do in real finance.
- Results – At the end you have a tangible, monetary result: a 20% higher revenue-per-user number.
This example is a bit of a stretch because you might not have done everything I’ve listed above – maybe you didn’t achieve specific results, or maybe you didn’t make a budget recommendation.
That’s fine – just try to spin your title and emphasize any recommendations and analysis you did complete.
You do need to be careful with changing around your title, especially if you had an “official” one during your internship/job – check with your former boss first to make sure it’s OK.
With a science or research background, do not try to be Mr. Wizard – the worst thing you can do is write tons of technical jargon that no one understands.
Instead, focus on the business / economics / financial aspect of what you did and how it affects the real world.
Here’s an example:
Research Assistant, Cleantech Group
- Worked directly with Professor X to perform data collection and analysis of cleantech industries, including ethanol, solar cell, module and wafer manufacturers.
OK, so he learned a lot about… solar cells.
That’s nice, but no one would care unless he happened to be interviewing for an alternative energy investment banking group.
Here’s the makeover:
Research Assistant, Cleantech Group
- Gathered data on US ethanol industry and analyzed performance of specific ethanol companies and market; reviewed firm management, history, financial performance and value of IP and technology assets.
- Performed data collection on solar cell manufacturing companies and analyzed financial performance and production methodologies.
- Tracked individual companies and determined which ones to research based on financial metrics and fundamental analysis.
You could argue that this person didn’t do some of the things listed there / that I’ve embellished the truth too much.
It doesn’t matter as long as you can back up what’s written there.
Unless you’re writing about something that bankers know a lot about – like accounting or financial modeling – you won’t get into trouble because they won’t know enough to test you.
You need to learn how to spin if you want to succeed in investment banking.
There is a limit to this – you can’t lie or make outright ridiculous claims (e.g. “Made $25 million for company by winning clients!”), but you can use the strategies in this article on how to spin your way to success.
Ace Your Interviews
So now you’ve networked like crazy, you have a killer resume/CV, and you have dozens of interviews lined up at banks – how do you seal the deal and land offers?
As with networking, there are dozens of articles and tutorials on this topic on the site so I’m not going to repeat all of that here.
I’m going to take a different approach in this tutorial and focus on the three most important traits you need to demonstrate to investment bankers:
- You can burn the midnight oil.
- You won’t shake the jello.
- You want to be Gordon Gekko.
Here’s how to demonstrate all three:
Burn the Midnight Oil
“Alright, I’ll do it. But do me one last favor, will you. Can you give me two hours? That’s all I ask man, just two hours to sleep before tomorrow. I suspect it’s going to be a very difficult day.”
-Raoul Duke, “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas” (1998)
You’re not going to get those 2 hours of sleep, and especially not if you ask for them like that.
You must convince your interviewers that not only do you not need any sleep at all, but also that you would never ask for any.
You need specific stories of when you’ve burned the midnight oil in the past.
When I was interviewing, I talked about how I worked 100-hour weeks at IBM one summer when I led a product team there, and how I lived in the office toward the end.
Here are example stories you could use in interviews to prove that you can work 24/7 and don’t care about having a social life or interests outside of work:
- Startups or starting your own company: What could possibly be more work? Not even banking.
- Taking leadership of a large project that required several months to complete: Carnivals, sports events, international science fairs, mud wrestling matches, it could be anything as long as you can articulate how much you worked and how you always felt like you were dying.
- Working 2-3 jobs at once and having to multi-task repeatedly: This lets you hit the “multi-tasking” theme and the “working a lot” theme.
Don’t just say that you studied a lot during your week of final exams – that’s too short a period to prove anything.
Come up with something where you were very stressed out over at least a few weeks, and if necessary, embellish to get your point across.
Work-life balance is view as less necessary than oxygen and food in investment banking: unless you’re willing to sacrifice everything to break in, forget about it.
Don’t Shake the Jello
“To succeed as an analyst…. DON’T SCREW UP!”
-Anonymous VP, Bulge Bracket Investment Banking Training
As a junior investment banker, your most important duty is checking numbers and not making mistakes.
Whether it’s setting up meetings, responding to emails, sending out documents, or valuing companies, screwing up will screw you over far more than over-delivering will help you.
Ideally, you were an open heart surgeon or astronaut in a previous life and you can talk about how making a mistake there would have resulted in death or explosions.
But I’ll assume that you haven’t done either of those – so instead, you should talk about how you did something that involved real, paying customers or something that was read or seen by lots of people.
Wide exposure implies that you must have had your act together – essential for banking.
Here’s an example story:
“I ran a web site about getting into college and answered common questions that students and parents had.
It started off slowly but after awhile we built up an audience of 1,000 readers per day. As editor, I spent hours checking all the material we had for the tiniest of mistakes and errors before making anything public.
There’s nothing that damages your credibility as much as careless mistakes – parents especially notice them.
Early on I published an article with a few glaring mistakes and received a pile of email from readers pointing this out.
From then on I made sure to triple-check everything, paste it into Word and print it out and re-check it multiple times and ask friends to look it over before posting anything.
With such a wide readership I can’t afford to make mistakes and now I require all my writers to check everything before I even look at their work.”
This is perfect because:
- You admit that you made a big mistake once but learned from it and are now meticulous (hits on the weakness/improvement theme and the attention to detail theme).
- Shows your leadership because you were in charge of writers and gained an audience of 1,000 readers per day (bankers love specific numbers).
Make a list of every single organization you’ve been in and every project you’ve worked on over the past 3-4 years – pick the best example that demonstrates your attention to detail and go with it.
And when you’re picking your 2-3 mini-stories, make sure at least 1 of them demonstrates that as well.
You Want to Be Gordon Gekko
“I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them! The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.”
-Gordon Gekko, “Wall Street” (1987)
Repeat after me: greed is good.
If you are not interested in business, finance, and the economy, why the hell are you wasting my time in this interview?
You don’t need to have actually bought and liquidated companies like Gordon here, but you better have a market, industry, or stock you’re very passionate about.
Example dialog with the interviewer:
Interviewer: “Tell me about an industry or market you’re interested in.”
You: “I really enjoy following the alternative energy industry because it’s up-and-coming and no one knows how things will play out yet.
Within the industry, there has been a lot of activity in the solar cell manufacturer sector, driven by technological breakthroughs that make solar cells cost-effective as well as government subsidies in Germany and Japan and major budget commitments by the Chinese government.”
Interviewer: “So were there any alternative energy companies that you personally invested in? There’s been a lot of IPO activity lately, right?”
You: “Yes, there have been a lot of IPOs lately… but I think most of them were overvalued and riding on hype alone.
After looking at the landscape, I personally invested in ABC Solar a year ago.
I compared their financial performance to the competition, and found that despite growing revenue at 50%, on-par with others, and having 10% profit margins, also on-par with the industry as a whole, they were trading at a discount to the competition.
Their P/E was only 30x rather than the 40-50X that others had and their EBITDA multiples were 30% lower than their competitors as well. It seemed like a bargain.”
Interviewer: “Interesting… but there must have been a reason why they were less highly valued than the competition.”
You: “I did some research into that… the main reason was that they came in below earnings expectations in the quarter just before I invested, and announced expansion plans for new facilities at the same time.
Investors balked and questioned why they were spending more on CapEx and product development if their earnings were already below expectations.”
Interviewer: “A valid question. So why did you not see this as a serious weakness?”
You: “I did some research on growth vs. profitability for solar cell manufacturers, and I found a much stronger correlation between returns and revenue growth than between returns and earnings or cash flow.
Investors were focusing on short-term results instead of thinking long-term – but it’s a nascent, early-stage industry, so growth matters more than profitability at this point.”
You don’t need to have 5,000 pages of financial analysis to give an answer like this: you just need to do a few hours of research and read up on the industry.
At the very least, learn something about the financial metrics of the company or stock you’re picking – and please, do not say something common like Apple/Google/Facebook.
But What About the Technical Questions?
I’m glad you asked – first, click here to read the investment banking interview superday guide – that covers all the categories and types of questions you need to know.
There’s also coverage of what to expect in interviews outside the US and case studies / assessment centers there.
More In-Depth Interview Training
To master investment banking interviews and land offers, we recommend our comprehensive IB Interview Guide:
There is a lot of material in the guide, from templates for telling your “story” to hundreds of pages of guidance on the technical questions to interactive quizzes and more.
If you want to learn the fundamentals in more depth, check out our financial modeling courses as well:
Broken In Yet?
This was a long and in-depth guide – but it’s also one of the most popular articles on this site, so it must be working.
Go re-read everything above, take notes, and then take action and start working the phones, networking, and landing interviews and offers.
When you’re done, come back here, leave a comment, and let us know how many offers you got and which bank you’ll be working at.
IB Networking Toolkit
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IB Interview Guide
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Bankers in M&A, or mergers and acquisitions, are the embodiment of the investment banking dream. These are the men and women in the sharp suits and stiletto heels who travel the world brokering deals that make and break companies. In the process, they shape global capitalism.
M&A bankers are professional advisors. They operate at the highest levels, working with large global companies (‘corporates’ as they’re known in banking) and advising chief executives how best to position their companies for the future. Unlike management consultants, who help companies determine and implement the best strategy without necessarily changing the company’s component parts, M&A bankers drive strategy through structural change. They encourage the companies they’re working with (‘clients’) to join together with other companies as equals (‘a merger’), to buy and control a smaller company or part of a company (an ‘acquisition’), or to sell part of their own operations (‘a disposal’).
Mergers, acquisitions and disposals happen for different strategic reasons. For example, a client may decide to merge with a rival operating in the same business area in order to increase its market share. This is known as a ‘horizontal’ merger. Alternatively, a client may decide to acquire one of the companies that supplies the components necessary to fabricate its product. This is a ‘vertical’ merger. There are also ‘conglomerate mergers,’ when a company mergers with or acquires a firm operating in a totally different market. And there are ‘congeneric mergers,’ which are take place when companies are in the same industry but offer different products. Conglomerate mergers have the advantage of allowing clients to enter completely different markets. Congeneric mergers bring advantages like established distribution channels, or whole new product lines.
As an M&A banker, you will have the chance to work on landmark transactions that have a visible impact on the society and industries
Senior M&A bankers have very similar things to say about the excitement of their jobs. “As an M&A banker, you will have the chance to work on landmark transactions that have a visible impact on the society and industries,” says Barbara Wong, managing director, Asia Pacific mergers and acquisitions, Wells Fargo Securities Investment Banking and Capital Markets. “Closing a deal is very rewarding and satisfying experience, especially when the deal is a transformational one for a client from a strategic development perspective,” she adds.
Neil Thwaites, managing director of industrials, infrastructure and business services at Rothschild is equally enthusiastic. “The key thing is that M&A bankers are close to clients’ decision-making process and strategic planning,” says Thwaites. “We get to interact with clients at a high level, to develop a relationship with clients and to help with their strategic thinking. We then to get to help them to execute the strategy they’ve decided upon.”
Very big investment banks usually only work on very big M&A deals. It’s unusual, for example, for a large bank to become involved in a deal worth less than $100m, and accounting firm EY defines any deal worth less than $1bn as ‘mid-market’. There has been a trend in recent years for major banks to focus only on very large M&A deals which bring in very big fees and allow them to offer additional services such as deal financing (e.g. helping a client to pay for an acquisition through a loan or selling shares). This has opened up the potential for other sorts of advisors to work on smaller deals and there has been an eruption of so-called ‘M&A boutiques’ comprised of senior M&A bankers who’ve left big banks and set up on their own. The largest of these boutiques are names like Perella Weinberg, Centerview Partners, Moelis & Co, Greenhill, Evercore and Robey Warshaw, but there are hundreds of others out there.
These smaller M&A boutiques are often focused on a particular sector or geographical area. In the same way, M&A teams in banks are often sector-focused. If you work in M&A, you might be part of a Financial Institutions Group (‘FIG’) team, or maybe the telecoms, media and telecommunications (TMT) team, or the healthcare team, or the consumer retail team….
Different banks structure their M&A operations in different ways. Instead of sector-focused teams, some banks simply have regional generalist teams. Being part of a generalist team can be good news – you’ll get to work on all sorts of different deals, but it can also be challenging as you’ll work across the market, sometimes in different regions, and won’t necessarily be able to build on past specialisms.
Most M&A bankers work on several deals at once. “I work on a number of assignments at any given time,” says Thwaites. “They tend to be at different stages of intensity and therefore even each other out.” One Deutsche Bank technology MD said he’s had times of working on five different deals at the same time, but that working on three deals consecutively is more typical.