Here’s my step-by-step method to get a job in investment banking, which has been effective & useful for both beginners and people already pretty advanced into interview processes.
Unsurprisingly, the guide below works for most front-office roles at top banks (not just investment banking), as there are many similarities in the talent they are looking for.
The only exception to that is technical concepts, which vary depending on the specific role or division you’re interviewing for (e.g. investment bankers care primarily about valuation & modeling while private bankers care more about portfolio allocation theory and the markets).
Before you dive into the below - I’d also challenge you to first figure out if you really want to be in finance or in investment banking. Mostly people choose this route because those around them are pursuing it, or because it sounds glamorous.
At The Lobby, we feel those are the wrong reasons and the best way to figure out if this industry or any other is a good fit for you is to talk 1-on-1 with people on the inside; learn what life is really like, and see if the experience matches your personality and ambitions.
If you’ve decided finance is a good option for you, then I hope the below is helpful.
CEO @ The Lobby
Guide To Landing A Top-Tier Finance Job
Main themes to keep in mind:
- Finance interviews (unless they have drastically changed in the past 2–3 years) are highly predictable. People tend to think they are extremely tough, but if you study the right concepts & themes, you can almost bet you will be asked the same general concepts by most interviewers. This varies within subindustries (Private Banking vs. Investment Banking), but within each one, this pattern of repeating questions seems to happen.
- Interviewers in investment banking and other selective industries receive dozens of resumes with high GPA’s & other stellar qualifications; those are helpful, but not really what determine who lands the job. In IB specifically, people are looking at your GPA & experiences just to measure your competency and if you’re going to be able to handle this demanding environment. From then on out, the only kinds of things they’re asking themselves are: “Can I work with this person 15 hours a day? Do I want to be in the office at 2 am with this guy/girl? Do I like them?” Very few people understand this, and I think that was what most surprised me about my fellow interviewers. If you can grasp this before anyone else, you’ll have a huge advantage. Combine that with excruciating preparation on technical abilities and your answers, and it really isn’t that difficult to get a good job because most are not taking these nuanced behavioral ideas into consideration.
Step 1: Open a blank word document and write out your story. By that I mean, write out your story in the way you would say it in an interview. Most finance & other interviews inevitably start with the classic “Tell me about yourself” question, and I think it’s better to get some practice. Here’s a great article on how to do this specifically for finance interviews: How to Tell Your “Story” in Investment Banking Interviews in 5 Simple Steps.
What I recommend including here is 1) your background 2) what you’ve done (internships, experiences, etc.) and 3) telling it all in a succinct, but interesting way. When you give too many details, you’re making a mistake. You should give 2–3 sentences per experience or life event and then move on. If the interviewer is particularly interested in one, then he/she will interrupt you and you can give detail then. Unless that happens, you should practice telling your story confidently to your friends, family, and in front of a mirror and try to time yourself so that it doesn’t take more than 3 minutes to summarize who you are, what you’ve done, and it always help to end the story on an easy transition to “why you’re here” and “why you want this job.” The reason for making things so succinct and not going into too much detail is because you might 1) bore the interviewer and 2) rob the interviewer of the opportunity to feel like they grilled you by asking you a lot of questions.
Side note: Let’s elaborate on that last bit. Put yourself in the shoes of the interviewer; what is their goal? Interviewers want to feel like they asked you tough questions and were skeptical of things you said, mainly to see how you react. The smartest way to go about an interview is to be concise with your answers but steer the conversation towards topics that you know a great deal about, in case the interviewer decides to “get tough” on you with things you claim to know about. The more questions the interviewer asks and that you answer successfully, the better candidate you are in their minds. Further, answering things concisely and pausing after each answer signals huge amounts of confidence vs. rambling nervously.
Moving on - once you’ve written your story out in your word document and refined it, it will almost become natural to you to talk about your experiences and highlight the aspects of them that make you a great candidate for many jobs. Then, in that same word document start writing out your specific answers to sample questions such as “Why do you want to do IB?” “Why don’t you want to go back to where you did that first internship” or “Why not start a company if your experience is entrepreneurial?” You need good answers for all of the above and more, so write them down and try to get great examples you can refer back to. Another good example is the famous question “Tell me about a time you failed,” or “tell me about a time you worked in a team.” These aren’t THAT common, but just the mere exercise of thinking through great examples of answers to these questions that highlight how you’ve overcome obstacles, your ability to recognize mistakes etc. will make you even more prepared to sell yourself in an interview.
Step 2: Buy a technical & behavioral interview guide for finance interviews. Then read them. Let me repeat that; READ THEM. Too many people buy these guides and never really dig in. The stuff that appears in these guides is considered the bare minimum that people applying for finance jobs to know when they reach an interview. If you don’t know your sh**t from these guides, then don’t start interviewing for finance or investment banking.
I recommend Wall Street Oasis, Vault, or Arden Reed for these guides. The one that seems to be most popular is Wall Street Oasis. For IB specifically, you need to know valuation methodologies like the back of your hand. For other industries such as Private Banking, other disciplines such as portfolio allocation, pricing of bonds, etc. will be more relevant. Do some research and figure out what technicals you need in your industry/sub-industry. It’s not that tough to figure this out, just ask a friend who has worked in these companies (or find creative ways to speak with insiders).
The study itself requires some review and maybe some contextual examples of each concept you learn as you read. Go beyond memorization and force yourself to realize whether you truly understand the concepts. If you don’t, then you’re not ready to start “networking” or reaching out to people.
Example: What is the WACC? Most interview guides give you a formula and give you 1–2 sentences on what it represents. So most people will just memorize that formula and hopefully remember those 1–2 sentences. Stellar candidates will grill deep down in the formula and what it actually means and how it’s used in a valuation. A trickier question (not really tricky once you’ve done IB) might be “When the company we’re valuing has no debt, then how do we calculate the WACC?” If you have understood the idea & formula of WACC even basically, then you know that all you have to say here is “well then you just need the cost of equity,” but most people freak out and crack under pressure, which is exactly what you shouldn’t do. Understand the concepts well enough that you can be grilled with questions if they change a few things around from what you read in the interview guides. And, VERY IMPORTANT, if you don’t know the answer to a question, just say you don’t know, write it down, and tell them you’ll get back to them. This is something else that resembles what employers truly want in employees; they don’t expect you to know everything, but they do expect you to be transparent, have a great attitude and a willingness to learn quickly.
Step 3: Once you feel completely ready on the behavioral & technical side, then it’s time for the infamous “networking.” My opinion is that online applications are pretty much useless. Even at target schools, maybe 200 people apply for each 5–10 spots in IB. So if you want to make a difference, get off your a** and start reaching out to people. Do it in a polite, but persistent way. I recommend everyone to reach out to people they know in the industry, be it alumni, friends of friends, or whatever. By that I mean, get their emails, and write them a note that includes some of the following: 1) Name & Background, 2) Why you’re interested in working for their group/company 3) Ask them for 5 minutes of their time via coffee or a phone call and 4) Always attach your latest resume in PDF (NOT WORD). Assuming you reached out to 10 people, half of which are extremely rude and don’t answer you, then you’ll have 5 calls/meetings with people in an actual bank which resemble interviews. Here you’re already 200 steps ahead of the idiot who just applied online and sat back hoping for the best. Furthermore, in these meetings you can do a few important things.
- Sell your story well since you practiced.
- Tell them exactly why you want IB, since you’ve done your homework and written all this stuff down.
- Demonstrated persistence and hustle by reaching out to them outside the application system.
- Show them you’re extremely prepared on your technicals in case they decide to start asking (believe me, many people do). I have met dozens of finance professionals who think nothing BUT technical questions count as an interview, so that’s why I advocate for being ready way before you start reaching out.
- Last, but not least, you can ask questions yourself about the recruiting process, what they look for in great candidates, and ask them for other contacts within their own division/group/firm so you can continue making a name for yourself as a persistent, prepared, and likable individual.
This is what “networking” really is. People inside the industry want to get to know you, to know if you’re prepared and if they can work with you. These suggestions should improve your chances of getting any finance job, be it IB or sales & trading and I’ve seen these tips help people recruiting for a ton of other industries too. Most people don’t necessarily have access to bankers who they can cold-email, or just are sick of never getting a response; for those, that’s why we’re building The Lobby.