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What if you never hear back after your Investment Banking interview

So, you’ve had a great interview. You studied hard and prepared yourself properly for your Investment Banking interview. You rehearsed your story so many times that you could walk through your resume blindfolded. Everything seemingly went well and you’re left with a good feeling. No major mistakes were made and you even managed to build a connection with your interviewer.

The bank told you to expect a response within a couple of days. However, it’s been two weeks now and nothing has happened. You don’t know what to do. Should you reach out? Is this normal? Do they always take so long? Is this a bad sign?

We all went through this unpleasant experience. They gave you a clear timeline but missed it. Why would they miss it without bothering to let you know? In more extreme cases, the bank doesn’t even get back for months. You, however, are left in the dark wondering whether your application is on or off. After all that hard work, couldn’t they just give you a straight-up yes or no answer? Why do you get the silent treatment?

In this post, we will explain what’s happening behind the scenes and what your best course of action is if you do not immediately hear back.

Hint: In most cases, it’s not good news.

Why do you get the silent treatment?

Why don’t you get a timely response? To be blunt, you are just not one of their top candidates.

If you have been waiting for weeks without any response on your application status, the bank is most likely talking to more promising candidates. And by talking, we mean the bank either keeps on interviewing other candidates or has already extended offers to their top candidates.

In the first case, the bank keeps on interviewing other candidates because they want to find a candidate with a better fit. This happens when you are neither the worst nor the best candidate. Your performance was “on par” with other candidates – not too bad to receive a straight rejection, but not good enough to score an immediate offer. Since you didn’t outright bomb the interview, the bank will not immediately reject you. They will keep you “on hold” to keep your application pending for as long as possible. In that case, you are just a backup.

In the second case, the bank has already extended offers or is having final interviews with their preferred candidates. Here, you are out of luck from the get-go. Even if your interview performance was stellar, you are late to the party. The slots are about to get filled. The recruiting process is nearing its end, yet you’ve just completed your first-round interview. You might get lucky if all the other candidates are turning down their offers. But that’s a long shot. The same applies here: You are not the top pick. You are late to the party and a backup at best.

How can you prevent this from happening? It might be helpful to follow up after 2-4 business days. That way, you can test how hot that lead is after your interview. If they answer quickly, chances are you are still in the game. If they take their time, you have evidence that you are not one of their top candidates. If they straight up reject you, you know it’s game over. This is better than waiting around for two weeks or longer.

Here is the thing to remember: if the bank is interested in you, they will not wait around. They will want to move your application forward so that other banks will not snag you up. They are not going to forget about you for a few weeks just because you forgot to follow up. It’s not because you “failed” an interview, assuming your prepared yourself properly and didn’t commit the most common errors. It’s just that other candidates were more impressive and had more relevant credentials.

What’s happening behind closed doors

The decision-making process

To give you a peek behind closed doors, this is how a hiring decision looks likes for internship recruiting. You will most likely be interviewing with at least two full-time professionals for one or multiple interview rounds. Once you have left the office, your interviewers will discuss how you did. By the time you catch a flight back home, the decision has already been made. The hiring decision is usually made in a short 20-minute discussion after the interview. Yes, it’s that quick.

Here is how it looks like:

  • A stellar candidate, who ticks all the boxes, will usually receive a callback the next day or the day after. The VP, Associate and the two Analysts involved in the interviews all liked that candidate. They all gave him a thumbs up. Easy callback

  • Meanwhile, the team is divided on the other 3 candidates. Some voted for a recall, some vetoed. These are candidates that did “ok”. They didn’t completely bomb the interview, but they weren’t stellar either. The team decides to wait for the following interviews while giving the stellar candidate a recall. They want to snag the stellar candidate off the market before another bank does. That’s how the in-between candidates are set “on hold”, all while the recruiting process is in full swing

  • And they all agree that the other 5 candidates were not good enough to make the cut. These candidates will receive a rejection within the next couple of days. Once again, the hiring decision was made about 20 minutes after the actual interview

To give you a rough feeling, about 20% of invited candidates receive an offer. This number may sound daunting at first but think about it. 50% of the candidates didn’t even bother preparing for the interview and completely bombed it. The next 30% are “ok” candidates. They prepared, yet they were not good enough for an immediate offer. The next 10% weaseled themselves through the application process and were just barely good enough. The final 10% are stellar candidates that know what they are doing.

That’s why proper interview preparation is so important. The bottom 50% can be easily avoided by getting the basics right and avoiding the most common mistakes. The next 30% can be simply outworked by going the extra mile and not cutting corners. Investment banking interviews are not rocket science. It is a fixed amount of content that you need to master.

Why does the bank not deliver a direct rejection?

Yes, it is not fair to let candidates dangle in limbo. However, the bank can get away with it. You want to work with the bank and the bank can pick and choose who they want to work with.

With that in mind, the bank has no disadvantages when putting you on hold while interviewing other candidates or waiting for their responses. It’s just supply and demand. The more viable candidates apply, the more leverage the bank has.

The bank gains more advantages by putting you on hold. If they were to give you a straight rejection, that would be it. What if their top candidate unexpectedly turns down an offer? This happens more often than you think. About 50% of extended offers are rejected by the candidates themselves. The moment the bank extends an offer is when they lose their negotiation power. Now the candidate can take his time and decide. If the top candidate declines, the bank just invites the remaining pre-screened candidates, who were on hold. That’s how the bank hedges its bets.

You are not in control of the outcome

Once the interview is over, there is nothing you can do to change the situation. You are not in control anymore. You cannot force the bank to give you an offer. The bank does not owe you anything. You can only sell yourself as a compelling candidate and the bank gets to decide who they want to work with.

We know it is very frustrating that you will never figure out for sure what happened. And there is no way you will find out. The best thing to do is to accept it and move on to more promising leads. The more questions you ask, the more you waste your brain cells on a matter that is out of your control.

No matter how well your interview went, you should always avoid thinking you got that job on lock. Recruiting is never a sure thing. You can be the perfect candidate and another candidate comes along with even better credentials. Or you would have been the ideal candidate, but all offers were sent out and the positions are now filled. You never know what’s happening behind closed doors. You will never truly figure it out. And even if you manage to find out the truth, there is nothing you can do to change the situation.

“Don’t fall in love with a deal”. By that, we mean you shouldn’t think that you have a job on lock just because you “feel” that interview went well. Don’t obsess over one single company. No job is for sure. Until you have signed the actual contract, nothing is for sure.

What to do next?

What does this all mean to you? How can you make the best out of this situation?

Before you do anything, make a mental note that this might not be your hottest lead. Make peace with your mind that you most likely did not get the job. Promising candidates are usually invited within a couple of days. The bank will let you know if they are interested.

With that in mind, what are your options at this point?

  • Chase them and keep following up. If you haven’t heard from them in a couple of days to a week, follow up with an email and express your continued interest in the position. Don’t go through HR. Reach out to the bankers you were interviewing with. They are the ones making the hiring decision. What is your chance of success? Nobody knows. Nobody knows what’s happening behind closed doors. You can only judge by the response you get. If they answer quickly, you are still in the game. If they take their time, they are most likely after other candidates. If you get a straight rejection, it’s game over

  • Ask them why your application was rejected. Suppose you get a straight rejection and want to know why. You can try and politely ask for feedback. Keep in mind that the bank will reluctantly give you genuine feedback for legal reasons. You can, however, politely and humbly ask an Analyst or Associate for direct feedback off the records – by that, we mean a personal phone call or a “quick coffee”. Asking for informal feedback is helpful if you have no clue what went wrong and don’t want to repeat the same mistakes

  • Keep applying, go smaller and go wider. Now you have exhausted all practical options. This lead is now dead. Accept it and move on. There is nothing you can do now to mend the situation. Your best course of action is to research more shops and keep churning out more applications. One possible route is to go smaller. Research smaller and lesser-known middle market and regional boutiques. The recruiting process is more unstructured compared to larger institutions and they are more willing to hire a strong candidate with an unconventional resume. Big4 Transaction Services is also a relevant internship option to transition into M&A Investment Banking

  • Work on your profile and become a more attractive candidate. For some, it may mean working on your GPA. For others, it may mean collecting more internships to make your profile stronger. It may make sense to intern at smaller and less-known shops or build your resume with a Big4 Transaction Services internship. This will help build your CV as brand yourself as the “finance guy”

  • Come back next year. If you have been working on yourself for the last year, getting your GPA up and getting relevant internships, you can come back and apply again. Your profile has changed compared to last year. You can try and give it a shot again

Hedge your bets and cast your net wider

The bank is talking to multiple candidates and is ready to push you aside if you’re a less-than-ideal candidate. The same should apply to you as well. You should also be talking to as many banks as possible to hedge your bets. You should focus on those firms that express interest in your application.

You are not in control of what happens after the interview. You cannot force the bank to do anything. The bank does not owe you anything. However, you can control how many applications you sent out and how wide you cast your net. You need to have options. You need to have a strong pipeline of prospects. That’s the only way to level the playing field.

To give you some perspective: 10% to 15% of applicants will be invited to an interview. 20% of those interviewed candidates will receive an offer.

The only way to hedge against this brutal selection process is proper interview preparation and submitting as many applications as possible. Having another 15 applications pending will calm your mind for your next interview. Don’t obsess over any single lead. As they say on the street, don’t fall in love with a deal.

Where does it leave us?

If the bank takes time to respond, you are most likely not their top candidate. You are better off assuming you did not get the job and moving on. You should not rely on unresponsive leads. You are better off pumping out more applications and casting your net as wide as possible. Maybe shoot for smaller shops or even Big4 Transaction Services. Both are great options to build your CV.

In the meantime, the bank is talking to other candidates. By that, we mean the bank keeps on interviewing other candidates or has already extended offers to their top candidates. In both cases, you are just a backup. Either because the bank has better candidates or because you were too late – it does not matter at this point. Move on.

Why does the bank not give you a straight-up rejection? Because the bank does not have to and can get away with it. Candidates who bomb their interview will get a quick rejection. However, if your performance was “ok”, you might end up being ghosted while the bank is looking for better candidates. By keeping its options open, the bank always has a backup plan if their top candidate rejects his offer.

Ideally, you should have followed up after 2-4 business days to check the interest level of the bank in you. If the bank is interested in you, the bank will let you know in a timely manner without you having to chase them. Chasing a weak lead will only get you so far. Yes, you can follow up to get an official rejection. Yes, you can also follow up to try to figure out why you got rejected.

In the short term, your only option is to send out more applications and cast your net wider. In the long run, you should be working to become a more compelling candidate.

Additional resources

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