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Breaking in to Investment Banking

The Job

NASDAQ Billboard
Times Square
NASDAQ Billboard, Times Square
Entry level positions for recent college graduates are referred to as analyst jobs. Your title will be Analyst or Financial Analyst. An entry level position with a masters (e.g., MBA) degree is as an Associate. Typically, an analyst will stay in position for two to three years before leaving for an MBA or for a promotion to Associate. An Associate will typically be in the position for three to four years prior to a promotion to Vice-President.

Investment banking is a notoriously challenging field to break into. The business involves heady, high stakes deals, huge sums of money and, bailout years excepted, unusually high levels of compensation. It's no surprise that this is a tough area to get into.

The Bad News

  1. There are less than 20,000 entry level positions a year globally in investment banking. Doesn't sound too bad until you see the applicant pool. It's five to ten times larger. And, it's high quality.
  2. You will generally not have a high hit rate on finding an investment banking job in a university career center. Your odds of landing a plum bulge bracket job in most career centers is less than the odds of getting hit by lightning. Even inside the Ivy League schools and top b-schools where the big i-banks show up and recruit, it is very tough to get a vaunted analyst or associate position.
    Of course, you should apply and, increasingly, a number of investment banks allow you to apply for an entry level position online. Why not?
  3. Online job ads are not much better than the career center. If you search the 'net for banking jobs you will occasionally find listings for entry level positions. However, these are few and far between. Almost all entry level positions are not advertised. No need since demand outstrips supply. Moreover, advertisers for these positions often receive several thousand applications for each position. (Hint: the best places to look are our job listings from, the New York Times classifieds and the job board area on a Bloomberg machine).
  4. Most of the approaches available, e.g., reading Vault manuals, subscribing to elite online job search services, etc. don't really help beyond a certain point. You do need to be prepared and well read but this is just the start.

The Good News

  1. You can break in, if you put in the effort.
  2. People will meet you. If you show interest and call up to meet potential employers (via informational interviews), coffees, etc. you will get meetings. And you can convert those into a network that will help you find a job.
  3. You can get a good banking job. And you don't have to be a Baker Scholar from Harvard Business School to get one. Instead you have to prepare, qualify yourself and relentlessly pursue a position through in-person and telephonic contact.
  4. You need to stack the odds in your favor. The investment banking labor market is not particularly efficient. Look at vertical job areas that are doing well now. You might get lucky enough to battle your way into an analyst position coming out of a place like University Wisconsin or Vanderbilt (or even a school from China, India or the Ukraine) through great interviewing on a Super Saturday. But it's tough. And, the odds are not in your favor. [Note: A Super Saturday is an event held at a bank where job candidates from many schools interview in the offices of an investment bank on a Saturday - traditionally, most large banks will hold a couple of Super Saturdays each recruiting season.]

Stacking the Odds in Your Favor

  1. Understand finding a job is a numbers game. The more people you talk to, the greater your odds.
  2. Taking the various investment banking training and "bootcamp" courses is likely to be time and money well spent
  3. Understand finding a job is a preparation game. You need to be prepared to have an intelligent conversation with your interviewer. If you are visiting with a telecom banker, be ready to talk about the telecommunications industry and its future. If you are visiting with a fixed income derivatives trader, be ready to talk about duration, convexity, swap spreads etc.
  4. Pick one or two focus areas and work hard on them. Read books. Follow the trade press. Surf the web for further information. You will want to know more about the vertical area you are pursuing than the average well prepared MBA student out of a top business school. This is not a trivial task. Obviously.

    But, nothing impresses an interviewer more when they meet someone who is truly prepared to go forward in an area, has deep vertical knowledge and checks the boxes for job suitability which generally are:

    1. Knows the field
    2. Indicates ready to work hard
    3. Connects personally
    4. Presentable and well dressed
    5. Articulate
    6. Fields a technical question or two well
    7. Raises some strong points while maintaining an intelligent conversation
    8. Asks good questions
    9. Smiles and maybe makes a joke or two
    10. Shows humility and is quick to say "I don't know" when they don't.
    11. Doesn't wear suspenders or have heavily gelled slick backed hair (a la Michael Douglas in Wall street)
    12. Demonstrates integrity and authenticity

Meeting People: For Real

30 Rockefeller Plaza
Home of Lazard
30 Rockefeller Plaza
As we discuss in Making a Trip to New York, it is important to meet with potential employers face to face multiple times. You need to network, connect and focus on a vertical area that interests you whether it's nanotechnology, private placements, oil trading, risk management or autos. Some of our guides listed below can help. Also, look at web sites and at places like LinkedIn to get some introductions. Talk to recruiters, friends, family and alums to make some initial connections. Also, don't be shy about making cold calls. Lots of them. Be polite, persistent and direct in talking to people that you meet.

Good luck!

Guides with Industry Contacts

  1. Headhunter Guide
  2. Healthcare Investment Banker Guide
  3. Restructuring Investment Banker Guide
  4. Boutique Investment Bank Guide
  5. Technology Investment Banker Guide
  6. Internal Recruiters at Top Investment Banks

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