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How to break into Investment Banking from ZERO

Many students want to break into Investment Banking. It is still one of the highest-paid career options straight out of business school. Many students are overwhelmed and don’t know where to start with. Competition is tough. There aren't many seats available. You are busy juggling your classes, group works and exams. All of a sudden, the semester is nearing its end and you are expected to bang out a summer internship. Now you have to figure out how to get an internship – preferably a good one. We get a lot of questions from people telling us their life stories and backgrounds. What should I do? Do I even have a chance? What should I do if I don’t any experience? Give me the blueprint! These are all excuses that prevent you from starting.

Look, if you are serious about breaking into Investment Banking, you better make that decision fast. The earlier you commit to a vertical (any vertical), the more time you have to specialize. The more time you have to outcompete the late bloomers. A student who decided to go all-in on breaking into Investment Banking as a first-year student can easily outcompete a third-year student who just decided he wants to join. By the time you get to your third year, you already had three years to figure things out vs. starting from scratch and playing catch up.

Back in the days, we have made many cringe-worthy mistakes. We wasted a lot of time going down the wrong paths. It was a painful trial and error process. We missed many opportunities and comforted ourselves with “it was a learning experience”. However, we never gave up. In the end, we still made it after starting from ZERO and failing many many times.

With that in mind, here is the most efficient way to get yourself on track to break into Investment Banking:

Step 1 – Get your motivation straight

We wasted a lot of time collecting information and reading through endless blog posts just to intellectually debate whether “Investment Banking was something for us”. Make your decisions quickly. Are you 100% in? If you are undecided, you are out. Take out a Word document and write down why you want to do Investment Banking. Research the industry. Get your personal motivation straight. Maybe you want to do it for the money. Maybe for the training. Maybe for having a shot at Private Equity. Write down all of your reasons and decide for yourself whether you are in. Because if you don’t decide, it means you are out. You will never put in as much work as those who are fully committed and exclusively focusing on Investment Banking. You can’t show up with 85% while there are candidates who are at 95% to 97% percent. It’s a futile battle. Decide and decide early. The earlier you commit to one industry, the more you can specialize. You are outcompeting the undecided ones, who are still “testing the waters”.

Step 2 – Buy an interview guide AND actually work through the content

Go ahead and buy one high-quality interview guide. Sure, you can figure it all out by yourself with free content. We did it and lost too much time and eventually fell behind. It will take endless research and many painful rejections to piece it together. You are better off buying one course. Then, work through it, integrate all the best practices into your routine and move on. It accelerates your learning process and eliminates time lost with trial and error. It’s like having a consultant who did all the research work for you. You are paying to take the express lane vs. trying to piece it together from scratch all by yourself. We have put together an interview guide that covers all your bases: the most common technical & fit questions plus critical Excel modeling and career skills. Everything you’ll need in one place. Here is your free preview.

Now comes the important part: After buying your shiny new interview guide, you have to consume it! Yes, they all work. We all worked in the industry and if you were to score an internship, we would be training you on the job. Just buy one high-quality product and go through it. Take notes. And go through it again. Let us repeat that again: READ THEM and TAKE NOTES. Too many people buy them and then forget about them. The content in these guides is really the bare minimum you need to know if you are serious about Investment Banking. If you don’t know your stuff in and out from these interview guides, don’t even bother interviewing. If you think you can wing it, you’ll be in for a rude awakening. Competition is tough not because the material is so hard, but because there are so many applicants for so few seats. Every Investment Bank can pick and choose their candidates. You have to know what you are doing to have a realistic chance.

Step 3 — Start applying

Now is the time where you research all possible M&A shops (big and small), put them in a neat Excel list and start circulating your CV. When that opportunity comes, you nail your interview because you have been preparing for it for the last months. You pull out your Executive Summaries, go over your fit & technical questions for the Xth time. The interview rolls up. And it is as if you have seen the movie before. You know exactly what to expect. No surprises. Smooth sailing.

When applying for your summer internships remember the screening process. Here’s a refresher: (1) a “good” GPA, (2) finance courses – accounting or corporate finance, (3) finance internships and as a bonus (4) extracurricular activities where you can demonstrate your interest in finance and leadership. The trump card is a “good” (“not stellar”) GPA plus internships in Wall Street roles. With that said, here are some tips to optimize your recruiting process. 1) Your number one course of action should be getting your GPA in-line. Again, you don’t have to stellar, it only needs to be “good”. 2) While finance courses are important, after going through your basic accounting and corporate finance courses switch gears into interview preparation. Advanced quant heavy classes only hurt your GPA and your interview preparation. They don’t prepare you for interviewing and drop your GPA. Nobody gives you credit for taking “hard” classes. We just look at the overall GPA and move on. 3) Now that you have your college game straight, understand that your college doesn't prepare you for interviews. Interviewing is a new game. Get your technical knowledge straight (accounting & valuation) and research your story (why IB + strengths & weaknesses). Talk to yourself in the mirror to practice your presentation skills. Interviewing is sales, not an exam. Say what they want to hear and try to build rapport.

Step 4 — Choose the right internships

Choosing the correct internships can be tricky. Most people get caught up in maximizing “prestige”. This is mentally damaging because you will be constantly psyching about getting into “your selected top 3 brands”. Instead, you should focus on your interview process: (1) your interview preparation and (2) researching a long list of potential Investment Banks. You‘ll be relying on those two documents for a couple of years before you get your full-time offer. Next, what types of internships should you be looking at? 1) If you want to break into Investment Banking, your relevant internships are Big4 Audit, Big4 Transaction Services/Valuation, regional M&A boutiques, middle-market M&A boutiques, elite boutiques & bulge brackets. This is the general hierarchy. Big4 is acceptable for your very first internship, where it’s tough to get anything going. After that, you should be aiming at regional and middle-market boutiques at minimum. That’s how you slowly build your CV. That’s the street cred we are looking for. 2) Choosing between an M&A internship at a smaller boutique vs private wealth management at a bulge bracket? Well, if you want to work in Investment Banking... get Investment Banking experience. It’s about transferable skills, not pure brand. Go with the lesser-known boutique. Private wealth management is a completely different branch. Having a brand name in the wrong branch does not help you.

3) Choosing between a dying bulge bracket vs a growing middle-market boutique? Choose the rising star (look at the tombstones on the website). At the dying bulge bracket, people are getting fired. At the growing middle-market boutique people are getting hired. That’s where you have a greater chance of landing a return offer.

Feeling inspired to apply for Investment Banks?

This post now makes it possible for anyone, who is willing to put in the work, to break into Investment Banking. Everyone wants a shortcut with the “lowest effort” and “lowest risk”. There are no shortcuts. If you are starting from zero, you just have to outwork your competition. That is your competitive edge.

Are you up for the challenge?

If you would like to fast-track your interview prep and maximize your chances of landing an offer, come train with us. We’ll give you everything you need to land the IB job you've always wanted… how to professionally edit your CV & cover letter, how to ace all technical questions, how to shine with tricky behavioral questions, how to master Excel like a pro and how to navigate office politics to maximize your chances of a return offer. Everything you need to know in one place.

Check out your free preview and learn how to handle the top interview questions.


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