Careers in Finance – Breaking into Investment Banking
My “Break In” to Investment Banking
When I started looking into Investment Banking as a junior at Brown University eleven years ago, I wondered why people talked about getting into Wall Street the same way burglars talk about their line of work.
Everything I found online or everyone I found at school used the phrase “breaking in”. Not “securing a spot” or “finding a role”, but literally “breaking in.” I felt less like Jamie Dimon and more like James Bond.
10 years later after stints in Investment Banking, the buyside and human capital management, I see why people describe analyst and associate positions the same way they describe heists: the process isn’t straightforward, requires planning and takes grit.
While I could go on for 700 hours, I’ll try to do this in 700 words. Your path to an investment banking internship or full time offer depends on a few things: your school, your experience and your ability to hustle. One of these is in your control. The other two can be managed with zero reasons to panic.
Are you at a target school?
This is by far the single most important factor because it determines whether you have an easy access or not. You can check by going on your career services portal and seeing which banks recruit at your school and for what roles. Even if you’re at a target, you’re not in the clear. In some ways, it makes the process more competitive. Since you know your resume will likely be seen, focus on experiences and interests that are unique to you but still demonstrate why you’d have strong attention to detail, be a solid team player and most importantly, fun to work with. “Finance club” can only get you so far.
Not the end of the world. If you’re not at a target school (a common situation) you’ll have to focus more on the hustling, which costs $0.00. The first thing you need to do is look up alums (no matter how old) and get in touch. Connect with a personal touch and send out as many e-mails or messages as you can (e.g. don’t have a subject saying “Brown senior looking to get into finance”). Remember: it doesn’t matter what your hit rate is because it only takes one person to change everything.
Experience. Finance or not, it needs to be relevant and true.
Many of you have either done this or are about to: joining finance clubs, stock picking teams, case competitions, etc. If these activities are truly interesting to you (e.g. you’re a finance major), it makes a ton of sense. If they’re not interesting (or you don’t have time for them), that’s fine. Ultimately, it’s most important to have leadership experience where you can demonstrate your ability to plan, use data to make decisions, follow through and then reflect. If your primary activities aren’t financial, you’ll need to demonstrate a strong interest in finance in other ways (and if you don’t have a strong interest in finance, this probably isn’t for you).
This is the simplest yet hardest piece and applies to financial gurus and philosophy majors alike. Behind the multi-tab models and 40 page pitchbooks, finance is still very much a people business. I must’ve heard “this is a relationship business” a million times when I was in the trenches. It’s because it’s true. Get comfortable with talking to others about your story (this will be good interview practice) and reach out to alumni from your school, friends & family or whoever you can. Every time you reach out, make sure to establish a personal connection (e.g. “fellow Classics major reaching out!”). Set up phone conversations simply to learn more about the person and drizzle in elements of your experience that make it clear an analyst role would be a good experience for you. Towards the end of the convo, ask if they can connect you to anyone else to keep the chain going. If you send a resume before the call, make sure the entire call doesn’t just become a resume review, but if it does, make sure to keep things personal. Being liked is the strongest currency in finance recruiting because while there are plenty of capable people, not all capable people are likeable or suitable.
Remember, you need to be prepared for what happens afterwards. Don’t drain your resources trying to get seen and forget to prep for the interview. Any conversation with anyone who works in the industry should be considered an interview. What matters most is you understand the role (analyst, associate, etc.), the specifics they entail and why you would be an excellent addition to the team. Don’t think of this as an uphill battle where you need to actively convince someone – think of it more as a conversation you’re having with someone who you’d be working with. Relate to them, tell your stories and be confident.
Remember: it’s about the people – Microsoft Office will take care of the rest (with some help from you, of course).