How to Get a Job at an Investment Bank
Note: This article is for more junior people without previous investment banking experience. I may write a follow-up article for senior bankers looking to change firms.
For every available investment banking position, there are literally thousands of interested applicants. I have been fortunate enough to have worked as an investment banker at a bulge bracket firm, in the middle market and as an information provider to the industry through www.PrivateEquityInfo.com.
Upon completing business school, I had my share of investment banking interviews – Goldman Sachs, Deutche Bank, Bear Stearns and others. While I had multiple rounds of interviews with Goldman Sachs, they ultimately did not make me an offer. I did, however, receive and accept an offer from Bear Stearns, at the London office. While at Bear Stearns, I also participated in business school recruiting events for the firm. Because of these experiences, I have formed some views on how to increase your chances of landing a job at an investment bank.
The Right School
By far, the single best way to get your foot in the door is to attend one of the “right” universities, where “right” means one of the top finance schools. In the United States, the schools are (not necessarily in order):
- University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)
- University of Chicago (Booth)
- New York University (Stern)
- MIT (Sloan)
- Berkley (Haas)
- Northwestern (Kellogg)
The leading investment banks recruit primarily Analysts (undergraduates) and Associates (MBAs) from these universities. Searching our research database, we found these business schools to be the most prominent in terms of investment banker alumni at the more senior positions (Vice President and higher).
In Europe, the prominent investment banking recruiting schools are (not necessarily in order):
Bulge bracket investment banks recruit almost exclusively from these select colleges. In fact, it’s unusual for an investment bank to hire Analysts or Associates outside this narrowly defined pool of candidates.
If you did not attend one of these schools as an undergraduate (like me), your next best opportunity is to get some work experience and then get accepted to one of these power schools for your MBA. Study finance. This was the route I took (Stockholm School of Economics – Finance).
If you have not attended one of these primary recruiting schools, the probability of landing a job at a premier, bulge bracket investment banking firm is very, very low. I’m not saying it can’t happen, but the odds are really stacked against you. Almost insurmountably so. Sorry to be negative, but that’s just the industry statistics.
Getting an Interview
If you find yourself at one of these top schools and you are still interested in working as an investment banker, you must attend all presentations the firms make at your school. Meet the company representatives. Have a personable conversation. Ask for their business cards. Follow-up with an email. Ask for an interview.
Attending the presentations demonstrates interest and allows you to absorb the I-banking vibe, to learn the language of M&A and to get a feel for the various firms. They each have unique flavors. The company presentations also provide good networking opportunities. It’s much easier to land an interview if you have met their team face-to-face.
Side Note: Don’t Be “That Guy”
At nearly every investment banking recruiting event, some guy is there trying to impress the visiting bankers with how smart he is. He will talk about the big transactions he’s read about in the news (as if he did the deal himself). He will spout off shallow opinions on industry trends that he read in a recent article. Don’t be That Guy.
Simply ask questions. Be smart, engaging and likable. Surprisingly, much of investment banking is about being likable. The firm that hires you needs to know that you have the technical chops to do the work (financial modeling) and that you can ultimately interact with clients to win business for the firm. The required ingredients that determine if you can win business for the bank turns out to be (credentials + competency + likability)… not necessarily in that order. The firm itself should provide the credentials. The other two items are on you to exude.
An alternate route, and I have a good friend who did this, is to come up through the ranks as an executive within your chosen field and become an industry expert. In doing so, you have an opportunity to transition to a corporate M&A role (typically on the buy-side). Corporate M&A has a different vibe compared to working for a large investment bank (often on the sell-side), but it’s still M&A. You still get the pleasure of meeting a lot of potential target company CEO’s and Founders within your industry.
If you do land an interview, you should know that there’s a certain flow to investment banking interviews. There’s a lot of information online about the kinds of questions that you might expect so I won’t cover that here. My overarching advice is that you need to be able to tell a succinct story about yourself. This story needs to answer these questions:
- Where do you want to go with your career?
- What have you done to date aimed at that objective?
- What are you doing now to lead you to where you want to go?
- Why I-banking?
- Why this firm? (To tell this part of the story, you need to have performed enormous amounts of research about the firm – and competing firms – prior to the interview. Don’t be shy to take a risk here and form an opinion about the position of the firm in the marketplace and a view about the pros and cons of the firm’s position as you project the market unfolding in the near future. You might get it completely wrong, but the interviewer will appreciate a well-thought-out thesis… a unique thesis that you did not read online. This is precisely what got me hired at Bear Stearns. Turns out, as the future unfolded, my thesis was incorrect. But I was fortunate that the head of investment banking, who I was talking to at the time, held the same view. He invited me to come to London to interview on the spot.).
- Why you specifically? What unique skills and attributes would you bring to the firm?
So, rehearse your story in the flow of the questions above to demonstrate a cohesive path to an end-objective that culminates with you working at their firm.
If you cannot tell a coherent story that answers these questions, to the interviewer, it may sound like you don’t really want to work at an investment bank, you just want an I-banker compensation package. If that’s the case, and you actually get the job, you will be miserable. It’s definitely a love-it-or-hate-it type of job. Personally, I loved it.