How To Get Into Investment Banking

Video how to get into investment banking without a finance degree

how to get into investment banking coverSo, you want to know how to get into investment banking

…despite the fact that:

  • It’s a much less “prestigious” field than it used to be;
  • It no longer pays a huge premium to other career options, such as engineering jobs at big tech companies; and
  • The recruiting process is now hyper-accelerated and crazy.

It’s OK – I understand!

Despite these potential downsides, we continue to receive questions about how to get into investment banking, and our traffic and sales have grown every year.

So, in the spirit of these continued questions, we’ll examine this topic from A to Z and provide a blueprint for banking recruiting.

Is Investment Banking Right for You, and Can You Get In?

Before reading this guide, you need to answer two important questions:

  • Is investment banking (IB) right for you?
  • If so, do you have a viable path to breaking into the industry?

If you are an undergraduate student, especially at a top university, the first question is less important because you do not have time to “test the waters.”

Now that recruiting is hyper-accelerated, you have to think about IB starting in Year 1 of university, and ideally in high school – or your chances aren’t great.

So, your honest reason for pursuing investment banking might be:

“I’m potentially interested, and I need to win an internship since recruiting starts years in advance. If I don’t like it, I can always switch and work in a different industry later on.”

If you attend a “target school” that the big banks recruit at (in the U.S., roughly the top 15-20 schools in the country), it is significantly easier to break in as an undergrad.

You still have to start early, network, and prepare for interviews, but you’ll have a much easier time winning interviews if you have a prestigious university name on your resume/CV.

If you are not currently an undergraduate at a top university, then you need to think long and hard about whether or not you want to put in the mammoth effort required to get into IB.

Even if it is possible to break in, there might be other career options that are far more suitable.

For example, many engineers contact us and say they want to move into finance to make more money, advance, work with clients, or make a bigger impact on the world.

These are valid reasons for wanting to do something outside of engineering, but they are not great reasons for wanting to do investment banking, specifically.

For example, with ~5-10% of the effort required to get into IB, you could satisfy these desires by starting a side business, investing in the stock market, offering freelance coding services, or making small real estate investments.

Or, you could pursue roles like quant research or quant funds where your math and coding skills will be far more useful.

For investment banking to make sense:

  • You must really want to advise companies on debt, equity, and M&A transactions and spend a lot of time in PowerPoint, Excel, and Word; or
  • You must be interested in a specific exit opportunity that normally features investment banking as a prerequisite, such as private equity or corporate development.

For more tips on how to make a decision, please see our articles on “Is Finance Still a Good Long-Term Career?” and “Investment Banking Exit Opportunities.”

If you are still in “exploration mode,” you should read our Day in the Life coverage to get a sense of the different fields in finance.

And, finally, to understand more about the industry itself, see our Investment Banking Overview article.

The rest of this article assumes that you’ve done your homework, you understand the trade-offs, and you are certain you want to get into investment banking.

Now, you just need to know whether or not you have a viable path, and if so, the right set of steps to follow:

There Are 4 Main Pathways For Getting into Investment Banking

4 Pathways to Investment BankingIf you’re in a region such as the U.S. or U.K., there are four main entry points into the investment banking industry:

1. As an Undergraduate, Ideally at a Top University

This is the easiest and cheapest way to get into the industry, but you must decide very early on that you want to pursue IB. “Very early on” means your 1st year or the start of your 2nd year. That is tricky, but if you put in a lot of effort, you have a pretty good chance of getting in. Outside the U.S., you might be able to decide a bit later and still have a shot.

2. As a Recent Graduate

Some students graduate, accept a role that’s related to IB, such as a Big 4 valuation job, corporate banking, or corporate finance, and then move into IB from there. The probability of making this move depends heavily on market conditions and the nature of your full-time job. If your full-time job has nothing to do with finance, you will have to consider a Master’s in Finance or MBA degree. And if you’ve been out of undergrad for 3+ years, or the hiring market is terrible, you’ll probably need a top MBA degree period.

3. At the MBA Level

If your full-time work experience has nothing to do with finance, or you got interested in investment banking after you had already graduated, you will probably have to apply to top MBA programs, get in, and use one of them to move into the industry. Assuming you get into one of the top programs, you have a pretty good chance of winning an IB offer if you put in a lot of effort and start networking long in advance (i.e., months before the program starts). Read more about the MBA investment banking recruiting process here.

4. Beyond the MBA Level

If you’re well beyond the MBA level – for example, you have 10+ years of experience and are now a mid-level executive at a company – then you do not have a decent chance of breaking into IB at the Analyst, Associate, or VP levels. If you’re in this position, you’re better off pursuing non-IB roles or advancing to a senior executive role and then trying to move into finance from there.

Regardless of your pathway, you will need a sequence of work and leadership experience that demonstrates your interest and commitment.

  • For undergrads, this means internships.
  • Recent grads might use their full-time roles, rotational programs, and off-cycle internships.
  • And MBA-level candidates might use their full-time work experience and pre-MBA internships.

In addition to this work experience, you’ll also need to devote significant time to networking, learning the industry, and preparing for technical and “fit” questions in interviews.

Finally, you’ll also need at least one “interesting point” such as a hobby, interest, or life experience that makes you come across as a human rather than a robot.

This point is especially important for undergrads because brief internships, no matter how prestigious the firm, won’t be enough to set you apart.

Getting into Investment Banking Around the World: Other Pathways and Other Regions

How to Get into Investment Banking Around the WorldIn some regions, not all these pathways are viable.

For example, MBA-level recruiting is virtually nonexistent in Australia, so you need to get in as an undergrad or recent grad or move to another region.

In India, recruiting is sparse outside the top 2-3 IIMs (the top business schools there); even if you’re at one of the top IITs, it will be difficult to win a true front-office role.

On the other hand, some of these pathways are also more viable in certain regions.

For example, in the EMEA region, it’s arguably easier to graduate from a top university, complete off-cycle internships after graduation, and win a full-time IB role than it is in the U.S.

There is a culture of longer-term, off-cycle internships there, especially in countries like the U.K. and France; the trick is converting them into real full-time roles.

Banks love cheap labor, so they often string along interns for long periods with no intention of hiring them full-time.

Finally, in some regions, there are other viable pathways.

For example, in South Africa and India, “Chartered Accountants” (CAs) often complete their training, work for several years, and then move into investment banking. Some banks even have programs dedicated to recruiting these candidates.

In the U.S., corporate lawyers can move into investment banking since there’s significant skill set overlap.

I’m not sure it happens frequently enough to be labeled a “pathway,” but it is an option.

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“But Wait! I’m a 45-Year-Old Plumber, and I Want to Know How to Get into Investment Banking!”

We’ve received a lot of questions from mid-career professionals in other industries who suddenly “decide” to switch and immediately want to know how to get into investment banking.

The blunt truth is that you have no chance of getting in if you are, say, a 50-year-old professional with decades of unrelated experience.

Yes, there may be a crazy story or two where someone has done it, but these stories are extreme outliers.

If you are having a mid-life crisis and want to make more money or lead a more exciting life, you should read our article about how to move into finance as an older candidate to come up with better ideas.

Some banks now have “Junior Analyst” programs that are aimed at recruiting non-traditional candidates.

If these candidates join and perform well enough, they may be promoted to full Analysts.

These programs are worth exploring, but they may or may not last.

Also, “non-traditional candidate” still does not mean “45-year-old plumber” – it means someone who graduated from a reasonably good university and held a professional job in another industry for a few years.

It’s the type of person who previously would have had to complete an MSF or MBA to get in.

Getting into Investment Banking: The Process and Timing for Each Pathway

How to Get into Investment Banking - Process and TimingWe will cover the first three pathways here, but we’ll skip the last one (“Beyond the MBA Level”) because it’s a low-probability method that’s difficult to generalize.

Path #1 – The Undergraduate

You need to decide on IB in your 1st year of undergrad because recruiting for 3rd year internships begins in your 2nd year.

These 3rd year internships lead directly into full-time roles after graduation; without an internship, your chances of winning a full-time role plummet.

You’re not necessarily doomed if you start late, but you’re more likely to end up at a smaller bank or in a non-IB role; you can also get away with a late start more easily if you’re not in the U.S.

A typical undergrad at a top university will start preparing in his/her 1st year by networking with bankers and learning accounting, valuation, and financial modeling.

He/she will then complete a relevant internship or two over the summer or during the school year and will continue networking into Year 2 to prepare for IB recruiting – whenever it begins at the large banks.

The initial internships might be at search funds, smaller PE firms or VC firms, or startup hedge funds; or in corporate finance at normal companies, Big 4 firms, non-Big-4 valuation or accounting firms, or even non-IB groups at banks, such as corporate banking or wealth management.

You’ll need a sequence of experience that you can turn into a coherent story for interview purposes, which means “more than one relevant internship or activity.”

You’ll also need to start networking with bankers via LinkedIn and email 6-12 months before interviews begin to have the best shot.

Path #2 – The Recent Grad

The timing here is harder to characterize because it depends on your full-time job and your time/money constraints.

But the main rule of thumb is that you need to act quickly, or your chances of getting into IB decrease dramatically.

For example, if you graduate, take an accounting or audit job, and then switch into a valuation role, you could move into IB if you make these moves quickly, i.e., all within 1-2 years of graduation.

On the other hand, if you wait 3-4 years, you will probably need a top MBA program to make the move.

The basic formula here is “Complete internships during undergrad + accept a relevant role right after graduation + network extensively = gain the possibility of getting into IB.”

You’ll still need to begin preparing 6-12 months in advance of interviews, but it’s harder to say when recruiting “begins” if you’re on this path because you won’t participate in a structured process.

Banks make lateral hires mostly when someone quits unexpectedly in the middle of the year – so you need to be on their radar to take advantage of such events.

Turnover at banks is very high because many people hate their jobs, so these “unexpected departures” happen regularly.

My best advice is to keep in mind the time limits and the fact that your chances diminish once you’ve been out of school for more than a few years.

So, you should start the job search once you have “good enough” client, deal, or project experience to speak to in interviews.

That might happen a few months into the job, or it might take closer to a year.

If you’re on this path, a Master’s in Finance degree – not a traditional MBA – might be a good idea so you can re-brand yourself and gain access to recruiters.

If you have done everything above (networking, relevant jobs, etc.) but still have trouble winning interviews because of issues with your undergraduate experience, such as low grades, then the degree might help.

Path #3 – The MBA

The idea here is that you’ll gain full-time experience in a certain industry, such as technology, consumer/retail, healthcare, or energy, and then you’ll move into an investment banking group where you can leverage that knowledge and experience.

The usual path is to work full-time for 3-5 years, get into one of the top MBA programs in the world, and then, if necessary, complete a pre-MBA internship or other ‘steppingstone role’ before you start the program.

You will also begin networking with alumni ASAP, ideally the moment you accept admission and decide to attend a specific program.

Do not be fooled into thinking that you can “reinvent yourself” solely via an MBA program; it’s just marketing hype from business schools.

I’ll quote a reader who moved from a boutique consulting firm to a Big 4 firm to a top MBA to investment banking:

“Banks don’t care about how you’re using the MBA program to ‘make a change’ – they only care about what you did previously and how it relates to investment banking.”

The IB recruiting cycle starts before you even arrive on campus, and while the degree can be a part of your story, it can’t be the only support for your transition.

In some cases, it might make sense to complete a part-time or executive MBA program instead of a normal full-time program, so you get more time to prepare – and so you don’t quit your current job for something that may not work out.

This option makes sense if you’re moving in from something fairly close to investment banking, such as the acquisitions team at a REIT or corporate development at a Fortune 100 company, and your opportunity cost is high.

It makes less sense if your opportunity cost is low, or you are making a 180-degree change, such as non-profits or brand advertising to investment banking.

7 Steps To Breaking into Investment Banking

7 Step Process For Breaking In To Investment BankingOnce you understand your path and the proper timing, here are the set of steps to follow:

Step 1: Win “Steppingstone” Internships or Jobs

Regardless of your path, you are not going to break into investment banking at a large bank if you have no relevant experience on your resume/CV.

You need “steppingstone roles,” such as some of the ones mentioned above (search funds, small PE/VC firm, corporate banking, etc.) to improve your profile, tell a better story, and show that you know how to get into investment banking.

As an undergrad, recent grad, or incoming MBA student, the best way to win these roles is to network with alumni.

If your school does not have (m)any alumni in the finance industry, do a cold outreach using LinkedIn and email.

Many articles on this site walk you through how to conduct this type of networking effort; for examples and email templates you can use immediately, please see:

  • How to Conquer the Super-Early Investment Banking Recruiting Timeline and Win Offers – Even If You’re at a Non-Target University
  • From Private Equity Internship to Bulge Bracket Investment Banking: How to Cold Email Like a Pro and Win the Offer
  • How to Win a Full-Time Investment Banking Offer as an International Student in a Non-Target Master’s Program
  • How to Break into Investment Banking at the Last Minute and Win a Role in the Industrials Coverage Group
  • From Non-Target School to Elite Boutique: How to Make the Cross-Country Leap

As an undergraduate, 1-2 finance-related internships before you apply to large banks should be enough. If you have just one internship, you could use an activity or student group to support your story.

If you’re a recent grad, you need a full-time job that is “somewhat related to finance.” If that does not describe your current situation, you should find a new job.

You could also complete an internship before or during your Master’s program if you apply for a Master’s in Finance degree.

At the MBA level, it’s the same: if your full-time experience is not at all related to finance, then you should do a pre-MBA internship before the MBA begins.

Step 2: Craft Your Story

Once you have the required experience, you need to develop your story, which is your 1-2-minute response to the “Tell me about yourself” or “Walk me through your resume” question in interviews.

This is not only the most important question in any interview, but it’s also what you will use, in abbreviated form, when you network with bankers.

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Therefore, you must prepare a “full version” of your story and a “short version.”

Fortunately, we have a detailed tutorial on how to prepare a very solid answer to the “Walk me through your resume” question in less than one hour.

Focus on the points outlined there – The Beginning, the Finance “Spark,” the Growing Interest, and Why You’re Here Today and Your Future – and if you have any doubts, compare your drafts to our examples.

You will use this long version of your story in interviews; the short version is for networking emails, introductory phone calls, and in-person meetings.

This short version should be a maximum of 1-2 sentences so that even bankers with ADD can read or listen to the full thing before getting distracted.

Here are a few examples:

  • Undergraduate: “I’m a [XX Year] student at [University Name] with experience in consulting at [Firm Name] and valuation at [Firm Name] and technical skills which I have developed in my private equity internship at [Firm Name]. I’m currently applying for investment banking roles.”
  • Recent Grad: “I graduated from [University Name], and I’ve worked in commercial banking at [Bank Name] and then in corporate banking at [Bank Name], focusing on investment-grade debt issuances. I am now looking to apply my credit analysis skills to larger, more complex deals in the DCM or Leveraged Finance groups of investment banks.”
  • MBA Student: “I graduated from [University Name], worked in real estate brokerage at [Firm Name], moved to a real estate acquisitions role at [REIT Name], and then attended [Business School Name], where I am currently a first-year student. I am now looking to move into real estate investment banking to combine my industry experience and finance skill set.”

When in doubt, simplify your story mercilessly.

Bankers hear thousands of these pitches, and most of them are awful because the person goes on for too long.

You may think your story is incredibly interesting, but bankers won’t pay attention if you go beyond 1-2 sentences in an introductory call or email, or if you go beyond 1-2 minutes in a formal interview.

Step 3: Bankify Your Resume/CV

Truthfully, you can only do so much with your resume.

People online like to obsess over their resumes and ask for advice about the wording of specific bullets, the font size, and the formatting, but most bankers glance at your resume for a few seconds and look for:

  • The name and reputation of your university or business school.
  • Your academic performance, such as your GPA and standardized test scores (or A-Levels if you’re in the U.K.).
  • The companies you worked at and your positions at those companies.

If you’re an undergraduate, they want to see that you have a 4.0 GPA at Princeton and interned at KPMG in the valuations team and at BAML in corporate banking.

You can start assembling your resume by using one of our templates:

  • University Student Investment Banking Resume Template
  • Investment Banking Resume Template When You Have No Real Work Experience
  • MBA-Level / Associate Investment Banking Resume Template
  • Investment Banker Applying to PE / Hedge Funds Resume Template
  • Investment Banking Cover Letter Template

The extent to which you can bend the truth depends on your job titles and the companies you worked at.

With a vague job title like “Consultant” or “Analyst,” you have some leeway to spin your experience.

But if your job title was “Junior Software Engineer” or “Data Scientist,” you have fewer options.

The best way to spin your experience is to focus on the business impact of your work and avoid the technical details – unless those details happen to be accounting/finance-related.

For example, if you have an entry like this:

Research Assistant, Cleantech Group

  • Worked directly with Professor X to collect data and analyze cleantech industries, including ethanol, solar cell, module, and wafer manufacturers

It would appear to be more of a finance role if you presented it as:

Research Assistant, Cleantech Group

  • Gathered data on U.S. ethanol industry and analyzed performance of specific companies; reviewed firm management, history, financial performance and value of IP and technology assets
  • Analyzed financial performance and production methodologies of solar cell manufacturing companies

You can’t lie, but you can make smaller tasks sound more important, you can leave out less relevant experience, and you can cite independent work as part of your job experience.

Note that even if you spin your experience, as in the example above, it still won’t make a huge difference because this entry is still not a real finance internship.

Spin might make this entry more effective as your Finance “Spark,” but you’ll need something better, work experience-wise, to be competitive for IB roles.

Step 4: Network Your Way into Interviews and Offers

Once you have the right experience, a good story, and a solid resume/CV, you can start to network for investment banking roles.

It is almost always best to focus on alumni when you start the process.

Find them on LinkedIn and via your school’s database, and then email them with your initial message in which you ask for advice about the recruiting process (i.e., some version of “how to get into investment banking,” stated less directly).

Cold calls and cold emails where you ask directly for a job can work, but they should not be your top strategies.

Use them if it’s the last minute and you don’t have time to develop relationships, or if you are applying to boutique firms.

Even if you cannot find any alumni, you’re still better off finding professionals on LinkedIn and emailing them, as long as you can highlight at least one common point (e.g., similar classes/major, same state/country of origin, similar sport or another hobby).

You will ideally start networking 6-12 months before interviews begin, which, at the undergraduate level, means “in Year 1” (!).

If you’re a recent grad, you should start networking as soon as you have a finance-related role and enough experience to speak to in interviews.

And at the MBA level, you should begin networking as soon as you have accepted enrollment at your business school.

The tricky part about networking as an undergrad is that you need to balance the earliness of recruiting with sufficient work experience.

It won’t look great if you reach out to bankers and say, “I’m a student with no experience, and I want to know how to get into investment banking. What’s your advice?”

Even if that is your situation, it’s better to point to upcoming or planned internships, activities, or classes in your outreach emails.

For example, maybe say that you’re a student at [University X] majoring in [Accounting/Finance], and you’re planning to intern in corporate finance and then work in investment banking, and you want to get advice on how to do that.

If you do not have 6-12 months because it is the last minute, you got interested very late, or you’re about to graduate, then you’ll have to use other methods.

Cold calling can work well with local/boutique firms that value persistence and that have easy-to-find phone numbers; there’s a great story about how one non-target student did it here.

Cold calls can be painful, but they are nice because if you present yourself well on the phone, you don’t necessarily need a top pedigree to be successful.

By contrast, cold emails tend to work better if you have good credentials, academic results, and relevant experience.

There are stories and examples from students who used cold emails to win internships and full-time offers below:

  • From Private Equity Internship to Bulge Bracket Investment Banking: How to Cold Email Like a Pro and Win the Offer
  • From Non-Target School to Elite Boutique: How to Make the Cross-Country Leap

If you’re taking a long-term approach, your goal in this initial networking is to set up informational interviews and speak with each banker for 5-10 minutes.

Then, follow up with the person once or twice between the time of the call and the start of recruiting, and ask directly about the interview process.

Your follow-up messages can contain updates on your classes, activities, and internships, or you can ask questions about what the person is doing at work lately.

With cold emails and cold calls, follow-up is also crucial, but you focus on volume instead. If you don’t hear back, try again in a few days… and then try again in another few days… and so on.

If you conduct this process correctly and you start early enough, it will give you a serious advantage in winning interviews and offers at banks.

When applications open, apply ASAP because spots are filled on a first-come, first-served basis.

Yes, even if you’ve networked, you still need to submit an application in most cases, either through your school or directly with the bank.

It is not worth delaying your applications to network a bit more – recruiting moves so quickly that you’ll miss the process if you hesitate.

Step 5: Prepare for Investment Banking Interviews

For the full list of what you need to know for interviews, please see our article on investment banking interview questions and answers.

Here’s the short version:

  1. A very good understanding of the technical skills required for IB – accounting, valuation and DCF modeling, and M&A and LBO modeling;
  2. A solid main “story”;
  3. 3 mini-stories you can use to answer “fit” questions;
  4. Your top 3 strengths and top 3 weaknesses;
  5. Answers to the key objections that bankers will raise about your background (low GPA, lack of finance experience, lower-ranked school, too old, etc.);
  6. Several deals you can discuss (your own, if applicable, and also ones that banks have worked on).
Read more 

It does not take that much effort to prepare for most of these questions. You can be ready with your story, “fit,” and deal questions in a few days.

However, preparing for the technical questions will take much longer, especially if you have no accounting or finance background.

You can find websites that list hundreds of technical questions, and you can find even more in our articles and Interview Guide.

But you can’t just Google “how to get into investment banking,” memorize all the questions and answers, and be prepared.

Banks, especially the elite boutiques, have shifted to deeper conceptual questions that test your true understanding of the material.

Accounting and finance are much simpler than math, physics, or engineering, but they’re still too complicated to learn in a weekend.

You’ll likely need at least 3-4 months, and possibly more than that, to be ready for interviews.

So, you should start learning the key accounting and finance concepts right as you begin networking for IB roles, and the earlier you start, the better.

If you want to learn everything from the ground up, our Core Financial Modeling course is your best bet.

There’s a lot of content there, but you do not need to complete everything to be ready for interviews – we mark the most important topics in the study guide that comes with the course.

If you just want to review and test your knowledge, the IB Interview Guide is a better bet. It goes beyond the technical side and also covers your story, “fit” questions, and deal discussions:

Step 6: Complete the Investment Banking Interview Process and Win Offers

Assuming you’ve networked, submitted your applications, and won interviews, the next part of “how to get into investment banking” is interviewing successfully to win offers.

The first step is usually a video-based HireVue interview where they ask you a few basic “fit” questions, and you respond by speaking your answers into the camera (see: our HireVue interview guide).

This round is mostly about avoiding silly mistakes: your cat knocking your computer over, your roommate walking in naked, or you forgetting that you’ve dressed up like Gandalf.

If you dress professionally, give articulate answers within the required timeframe, and avoid background noise and distractions, you should advance to the next round.

This next round is normally the “Superday” in the structured, on-campus recruiting process in North America.

In this Superday, you’ll go through 5-10 interviews with bankers at all levels, ranging from Analyst to MD, and you’ll answer questions spanning all the topics above.

If you win an offer, you’ll usually hear back quickly; if not, or you’re on hold, you won’t hear anything for a while (or ever).

Case studies and modeling tests could come up, but they are more likely in Europe or Asia, in interviews with the elite boutiques, and in MBA-level interviews.

If you’re interviewing as a recent grad or lateral hire, the process might be less structured, and you won’t necessarily attend a formal “Superday.”

Instead, you might go through interviews over a few months if the bank does not have an urgent hiring need.

If the bank does need someone ASAP, then you’ll complete your interviews more quickly and hear back more quickly.

If you’re in Europe – especially the U.K. – this process differs significantly.

In the first step, you’ll answer competency questions (written versions of “fit” questions) with your online application, and you’ll complete online aptitude tests for numerical, verbal, and reasoning skills.

Banks could easily reject you if you make a small mistake in one of these, such as a typo in one answer.

They conduct these tests not to find the best candidates but rather to weed out people.

Then, in the final round, you’ll attend an assessment center instead of a Superday.

Instead of pure interviews for the entire day, you’ll complete other exercises, such as group case studies and presentations, report writing, e-tray/in-tray, and test verification to make sure you didn’t cheat on the online tests.

These processes are completely separate topics, so please take a look at our articles on competency questions, assessment centers, and other U.K.-specific interview differences.

Assessment centers are not that difficult, but they often trip up candidates who are a bit more “academically focused.”

In other regions, the process varies and may be closer to the one in the U.S. or the one in the U.K.; places such as Hong Kong, Australia, and South Africa are somewhere in between the two.

One Final Note: If you recruit for off-cycle roles in the U.K., you might not complete the online tests and assessment centers because the process is less structured.

That might be a positive or a negative depending on your real strengths and weaknesses.

Step 7: If You Don’t Win Offers, Reassess and Try Again or Aim for Different Fields

If you complete this entire process but do not end up with any job offers, you need to assess what went wrong.

For example:

  • Was your GPA too low, resulting in too few interviews or too many first-round rejections?
  • Did you not have a firm enough grasp of the technical side?
  • Did you not start networking far enough in advance?
  • Did you not have the work experience that bankers were seeking?
  • Did you get too nervous in interviews and freeze up when answering questions?

Your next steps will differ depending on why you failed to receive offers.

For example, if your GPA was too low or your university was not well-known, then you might think about a Master’s in Finance program at a top school to resolve those problems.

If you didn’t understand the technical side well enough, then you might delay graduation, complete a Master’s program, or do something else to give yourself more time to study.

If you didn’t have the right work experience, you might win a more relevant job first and then come back when you’re better-qualified.

If you’re a recent grad or MBA student, you might have to postpone your plans and pursue related roles, such as corporate development, and try again when you’re more senior.

Finally, there’s no shame in deciding to pursue non-IB roles for now.

Yes, everyone – especially in the online echo chamber – is obsessed with how to get into investment banking and private equity, but there are many other solid careers out there.

For example, there’s corporate banking, real estate private equity, real estate lending, corporate development, CMBS, corporate finance, venture lending, and more that I’m too lazy to type out right now.

These fields are “less prestigious” and have lower pay ceilings, but:

  1. You can still earn into the mid-six-figures (and beyond);
  2. There’s less competition; and
  3. Recruiting is not hyper-accelerated.

Or, you could go in a different direction and do sales at a tech company or work in an engineering or product management role there.

There are many paths to a lucrative business career, and investment banking is just one option.

What’s Next?

If you follow and implement everything above, you will be better-equipped for investment banking recruiting than ~95% of candidates.

The two most common mistakes are also the easiest ones to avoid:

  • Not understanding whether or not IB is right for you; and
  • Not understanding the main pathways into the industry and whether or not you have a shot.

With the first point, if you are not an undergraduate at a top university and you are not planning to attend a top MBA program, getting into the industry will be a bruising uphill battle.

That doesn’t mean you can’t do it – we’ve featured many case studies of readers who have beaten the odds.

But you do need to consider whether or not it’s worthwhile when you could win other finance roles with much less effort.

If you are intrinsically fascinated by deals, or you are very interested in an exit opportunity that typically requires investment banking first, then the time and effort might be justified.

But if not, then banking is probably not for you, and your time would be better spent on other pursuits.

With the second mistake, we receive many inquiries from readers who believe that they are “special” and that they have unique career challenges.

Then, they mistakenly assume that there is a good pathway into investment banking other than from a top university, a top MBA program, or as a lateral hire from a highly relevant field.

But the reality is that you’re not that special, there is a 99% chance that you fall into one of the categories described above, and you should already know whether or not you have a shot.

The sooner you understand that, the sooner you’ll understand how to get into investment banking – despite your urge to tap that “I’m special!” button repeatedly.

Want more?

You might be interested in:

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  • The Investment Banking Certification: The Most Useless Idea in the World?
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  • The Investment Banking Analyst: Job Description, Hours, Salaries and More