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What if you don’t get an Investment Banking internship?

Investment Banking recruiting season has ended and you did not manage to score a summer internship. One of the main reasons students fail to land an Investment Banking gig is that they discover Investment Banking too late coupled with a fast-moving recruiting cycle. You learn about Investment Banking and are overwhelmed with how much you must prepare. Then you figure out that recruiting cycles move faster than you think and getting an internship comes on top of keeping your GPA in line. You end up not being prepared enough for your interviews and then lack the relevant internship on your resume to be competitive.

It’s a lot to figure out for a first-year college student. You can’t blame the students for being caught off guard. You only have two summer internship slots in your typical three-year bachelor’s program in Europe. So, if you didn’t score a relevant internship in your first summer, you only have one summer left to prepare for interviews and build your resume.

While this all sounds bleak, we are here to tell you that not all is lost. We would like to offer you a more optimistic future. So, what are your options at this point? What are your levers?

  1. Get your head out of the rut

  2. Review our application and interview process

  3. Research smaller boutique firms

  4. Look into adjacent industries

  5. Network with your interviewers

  6. Consider a Finance Master or Business School

1. Get your head out of the rut

First, you need to get your head out of the rut. We all get rejected. It happens to the best of us. It’s not nice. It’s part of the game. Don’t let your head down. Lick your wounds and get back up again. The sooner you accept it, the sooner you can set yourself free to play the game vs. complaining about it and pitying yourself. The world does not owe you an Investment Banking internship. If you want that internship, you got to work for it.

Interviewing is the first time where you have to sell yourself. Nobody taught you how to do it. You had to figure it out all by yourself. This is not an exam where everyone gets the same grade. This is an auction process where the most compelling candidates win while everyone else gets rejected. The good news is that the harder you work, the more your “luck” will improve. Simply doing nothing and hoping that things will magically turn around next year is not going to cut it. “Hope” is not a strategy. You will make the same mistakes repeatedly without adjusting your interview prep.

Here are two misconceptions you need to get out of your head:

Don’t compare yourself to other people. Yeah, your buddy might get the internship on the first try. You see the results. Not the effort he put in there. You don’t see all the extra hours he put into interview prep. Even if his daddy served him the internship on a silver platter, it does not relate to or change your life. Looking at people crossing the finish line will only distract you from your mission and interview prep. Interviewing and getting a job is a single-player game. Only you can help yourself. Focus inward, not outward.

There is no one path to Investment Banking. Yes, the most direct path is straight out of undergraduate. But only a few students make it. Only the most prepared and dedicated students make it. You still have a shot after your master’s degree. This is where most land their Investment Banking gig. Then, you can still try to make a lateral shift after 2-3 years at Big4 transaction services. It all depends on when you discovered Investment Banking and when you fully committed to breaking into Investment Banking. You see, many variables are involved that you cannot control by the time you start studying. There is a lot of luck involved.

So, forgive yourself and move on. Don’t go into mental paralysis re-thinking your rejections repeatedly while complaining about the world. This is not going to get you closer to your Investment Banking gig.

Once you are back on your feet, it’s time to take a look at what went wrong. You need to figure out how to strategically adjust your interview prep from application to interviewing for the next season. Below are some suggestions you can consider incorporating into your interviewing rep routine for the next season.

2. Review our application and interview process

Did you apply enough? Expect to submit 20-50 applications per recruiting cycle. Is your CV & cover letter on par? Any experiences you can add to these documents? Any bullets that can be further refined? Is your GPA in line? You need to get a “good” GPA to be more competitive.

With your marketing documents out of the way, let’s talk about interviewing. If you were already interviewing, did you take notes on why you were rejected? Was it fit questions or technical questions? Try to zero in on your weaknesses and focus your interview prep on those areas. Try not to make the same mistakes over and over again. Investment Banking interviews require s a set amount of knowledge you need to master.

Now you might ask yourself, how good do you have to be? Well, you need to be prepared ahead of time and you need to know what you are doing. You can’t just “wing it”. You need to have your game plan set before the interview day. Just to give a professional comparison: When Investment Bankers go out on a pitch to win a new client, the pitch document and story are already set days in advance. The presentations are already printed and ready for the show on pitch day.

Beginners usually have a false sense of confidence. You have tons of free PDFs but haven’t consumed the content. You rely heavily on memorization vs. genuinely understanding the concepts. As an intermediate, you know what to expect, but you always trip over that one odd question where you get caught off guard. You may get nervous in a high-stakes interview setup and have difficulties reproducing a convincing response to specific questions. If you are advanced, you have a firm grip on most of the content. However, you sometimes fail to build rapport and are randomly rejected despite the interview going well.

Lastly, consider getting a high-quality interview guide. Yes, they all work. They are all written by ex-Investment Bankers. And if you happen to land an Investment Banking gig, we would be training you. Life goes by fast and you only have so many recruiting cycles to land your Investment Banking job. Here is a free preview with the 42 most common interview questions to show you that we have done it ourselves.

3. Research smaller boutique firms

If you are struggling to break into more prestigious institutes, such as bulge brackets & elite boutiques, maybe you should expand your application reach to middle market and regional boutiques. When applying for internships and jobs, it’s always better to cast a wider net and see what comes back.

From a career perspective, smaller boutiques are likely the best place to look at if you have little to no finance experience and are trying to break into Investment Banking. The recruiting process is less structured than at larger institutions and they are more willing to hire a strong candidate with an unconventional resume. Once you have broken into Investment Banking via a boutique, you are in the industry and larger banks are more willing to look at your resume.

You should not veer into other banking divisions, such as private wealth or sales & trading, just because of the brand name. If you want to break into M&A Investment Banking, then stick with M&A only. It’s job function over employer brand.

4. Look into adjacent industries

This point ties in with the point above: cast a wider net. If your dream Investment Bank is unwilling to look at you, you need to build your CV with relevant internships as stepping stones. Many students interned in adjacent industries close to transaction-based businesses before breaking into Investment Banking. They have built their resume and then made the breakthrough.

  • Big4 transaction services – Transaction services involve conducting financial due diligence for an M&A transaction. This is about checking the books and whether the presented adjusted EBITDA is valid for valuation purposes. This will prepare you quite a bit for Investment Banking roles. You learn accounting and you work on one part of a transaction

  • Big4 audit – Here, you learn more about accounting and financial statements – the basis for Investment Banking. However, audit is about drafting and checking annual reports. It’s not about deal-making. It’s very accounting-heavy

  • Controlling – Here, you learn about financial statements on a very detailed level, similar to Big4 audit. Just that, in this case, you are doing it within a company. Projections and forecasting are more relevant skills to Investment Banking, but Controlling is not about deal-making. Controlling is about keeping the books in order and knowing what’s happing inside a company from a financial perspective

The goal is to remain as close to transaction-based business and finance as possible. With the three options above, the best out of those three would be Big 4 transaction services. That’s the closest you can get to transaction-based business without directly working in M&A. If you score a Big4 transaction services internship, you increase your odds of breaking into some sort of M&A boutique for the following recruiting season. The theme is the same: get as close to the job function as possible and slowly build your resume.

5. Network with your interviews

If you went through a recruiting process and didn’t land a job, don’t just throw away the business cards you’ve collected along the way. You now have direct access to bankers at firms you interviewed. You got rejected and the pressure is now off. Use this to your advantage.

Try to form friendly, professional and less transactional relationships. Try to reach out to the Junior Bankers you’ve interviewed with. They were in your shoes just a couple of years ago. Wait some time and ask them for a quick coffee or a short phone call and ask for feedback.

Be humble, acknowledge that not everything went optimal, that you are willing to improve and that their feedback would be invaluable for you. More importantly, ask for informal meetings and nothing in writing because of compliance issues. Show up with a pen and a notepad. Take diligent notes of your feedback once you get the opportunity. Taking notes also shows the person that you are taking this opportunity seriously. This feedback should flow right into your interview prep.

That’s how you network with people who have what you want: You humbly ask for advice, you take and execute the advice, and you come back and say it worked. Now is everyone open to talking to you? Probably not. This is one tool in your arsenal to zero in on your weaknesses.

6. Consider a Finance Master or Business School

If you feel you are running out of time and things are moving too fast for you, it may make sense to add a Master of Finance or an MBA to your bachelor’s program. You can even buy yourself more time if you add a gap year between bachelor’s and master’s programs. This way, you can rack up two six months internships at solid lesser-known boutiques, making you a strong candidate.

Post-graduate programs are an especially smart option for someone who did not study something IB-related in their undergrad studies (management, finance, accounting, etc.). This is an opportunity to brand yourself as “finance interested”. Additionally, you can use this opportunity to add a more prestigious university to your CV. If you are coming out of a bachelor’s program, a Master of Finance or Master of Management program is completely fine. If you already have professional experience, an MBA might be the more suitable program.

But remember. Don’t make your life harder. Don’t take unnecessary difficult degrees for Investment Banking because advanced math is not needed. Don’t go overboard with picking the most difficult quantitative finance classes that might tank your GPA. Don’t pick the most challenging courses and get low grades. Recruiters look at your GPA and don’t care how hard, fair or competitive the grading was. They only care about the final result.

The big point here is that you are just buying yourself more time to up your interview game. Your extra classes and diploma are not going to get you the job. You are buying yourself more recruiting cycles to get your interview game up enough to land your Investment Banking gig. Don’t make the same mistakes again; take interview prep seriously this time. Prepare ahead of time. This is about breaking into a high-paid career that sets the foundation for your entire career going forward. Better start strong vs. playing catch up.

Where does it leave us?

We hope that you found some inspiration for your journey. We hope that you found one or two things you can add to your interview prep. We genuinely believe everyone can break into Investment Banking with enough work ethic. There is a fixed amount of knowledge you need to master for Investment Banking interviews. It’s not rocket science; it just takes effort.

Yes, recruiting cycles move fast and it is easy to get overwhelmed. Get your head out of the rut, ignore everyone else and focus on your interview prep. Focus inward, not outward. That’s the only way how you can move the needle.

Consider casting your net wider with smaller boutiques and maybe Big4 transaction services, audit or controlling roles. Stick to relevant job functions over brand names. Stay as close to transaction-based business as possible.

If you already have some interview experience, try to network with your interviewers and humbly ask them for feedback. This will help zero in on your weaknesses.

And if everything fails, consider a Finance Master or Business School to buy yourself some more time to get your interview prep in line.

We hope you found something helpful in this post for your interview prep and journey. Again, we believe everyone with enough work ethic can break into Investment Banking.

Good luck!

Additional resources

Feeling inspired to break into Investment Banking? 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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