The Only Three Ways to Break Into Investment Banking… and Which One is Best For You

Hello Wolfpack!

There are only three ways to break into investment banking. Today we are going to break down what those three ways are, and which one is the best for you. With that said, here are the three:

  • On-Campus Recruiting
  • Networking
  • Cold calling/emailing

That’s it! There are no other ways. Yes, technically you might say there is a fourth way, which is to apply directly through the investment banks’ career website. However, you should know that the success rate of that approach is practically zero if you’re not doing it in combination with at least one of the three options listed above. With that said, let’s dive deeper into each of these options to see the pros and cons, as well as figure out which route is the best for you.

ON-CAMPUS RECRUITING (OCR)

I list OCR first for a simple reason: it has the highest rate of success. This is where the investment banks come to your school to conduct interviews. The interviews will usually be held in the career center of your school, and the investment banks will usually also host other recruiting events leading up to the interviews, such as information sessions where a group of bankers comes on campus, make a presentation about why their bank is the best, and then mingle with the students. Because the bankers are seeking the students out in this case, it goes without saying why you’re most likely to have success here. However, the catch is that you have to be a student attending a target school or target MBA program for this to be possible.

What are the target schools, you ask? They’re either 1) the top schools in the country (think Ivy League as well as other top public and private schools), or 2) schools that are in close geographic proximity to major financial centers. Examples include, but are not limited to (in alphabetical order):

Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Duke, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, MIT, Michigan, NYU, Northwestern, Princeton, Stanford, UPenn, UCLA, and Yale, just to name a few.

For the top MBA programs, all you have to do is Google the top business school rankings, and that should be a pretty good list.

So now that we know the importance of target schools – what should you do? Before we get into that, make sure you click the image below to get our FREE all-in-one recruiting toolkit if you haven’t already. It will help you with a lot of the things we mention throughout the rest of this blog post. Go ahead, I’ll wait.


OK now that you’ve done it, let’s see what your options are:

  • If you’re currently a high school student: first of all how the heck did you even know what investment banking is in the first place!? Get outta here and go do things that kids your age are supposed to be doing! JK. You’re way ahead of your peers already. Make sure you get good grades and pick your schools carefully. There are some great liberal arts colleges out there, but they’re most likely not a hotbed for investment banking recruitment.
  • If you’re currently a college student: it’s pretty easy to find out if you’re at a target school – just go ask your career center if investment banks come recruit on campus.
  • If they say yes: try to find out which banks, and when they’re expected to come on campus. Get yourself prepared as much as possible before recruiting starts: perfect your resume and cover letter, make sure you get good grades (at least a 3.5 GPA, but 3.7+ is ideal), do some relevant internships (even if unpaid), and participate in extracurriculars that demonstrate your interest in finance (business/finance clubs, investment banking case competitions, etc.).
  • If they say no, but you’re only in your 1st or 2nd year of college: I would recommend you figure out if there’s any way you can transfer to a target school. Yes, it will be a pain in the butt most likely. You may even have to stay in school for an extra year depending on how the credits transfer over. But if you’re set on doing banking, it will be worth it because it’s going to dramatically improve your chances. Not to mention, the other two options (networking and cold calling/emailing) are not necessarily going to be easier. *UPDATE as of 2018: As recruiting starts earlier and earlier every year, we are now getting to the point where transferring may not be a less beneficial, or sometimes completely inviable option. In this case, see below.
  • If they say no, but you’re already in your 3rd or 4th year of college: You don’t have a lot of time. You’re going to need to go through either the networking or cold calling/emailing route (see more on this below). Another thing you should do is figure out if there are any target schools near you, and try to sneak your way into any information sessions being held on their campus.
  • If you’re currently an MBA student: pretty much the same as above. If you’re already at a target school, you’re in a good place. If not, transferring is likely not an option for B-School, so you need to start networking ASAP. The good thing is, business school alumni are all about networking, and there are likely at least A FEW alumni from your school that are currently in investment banking. Find them. Hunt them down. Channel your inner Liam Neeson.

And on that note… let’s talk about the second option. 

NETWORKING

In general, networking is something that all aspiring bankers should do. Actually, this doesn’t just apply to investment banking, it applies no matter what type of career you’re pursuing. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” The older I get and the further along I progress in my career, the more I find this to be true. So the earlier you can learn this, the better off you will be!

With that said, while networking is a nice way to get bonus points for a target school student, it is an absolute MUST for you non-target school folks. Even though attending a target school doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be better at investment banking (or anything else in life for that matter), unfortunately, school pedigree is the most common shortcut that is used to filter out the hundreds of thousands of candidates that wish to get into banking each year. The best way to get through that filter is to have an investment banker on the inside vouching for you.

There are a couple of drawbacks, however. First, in order for your networking efforts to pay off, you likely need to have a resume with no other red flags outside of being from a non-target school. Examples of red flags include:

  • A low GPA (3.7+ is great, 3.5 is OK, but at a minimum no less than 3.0)
  • No relevant internship/work experience

This is important because the bankers you meet through networking are probably not going to want to stick their neck out for you if they think you’re going to make them look bad. Nobody wants to waste their political capital on a candidate only to have their colleagues question their judgment.

The other drawback is that it can take a long time, so the earlier you can start, the better. Yes, there are several factors that determine how much time you need to invest, and there are ways to shorten the networking cycle. I dive into the details and give you the strategies and tactics in a separate blog post here. Make sure you go check it out if you want to learn how to network like a pro.

COLD CALLING/EMAILING

And the last resort (which is why it’s listed here last)… is cold calling/emailing. This tactic should be used by the following types of people:

  • Those who have truly exhausted the other options listed above, and have tapped out their network without finding (enough) success
  • Those who are starting the process way too late and don’t have time to nurture the relationships properly
  • Those who have red flags on their resume like the ones listed in the previous section above, causing networking to be ineffective
  • Those who are simply starting early and looking to get their first relevant internship experience without any prior qualifications (Good for you! Everyone’s gotta start somewhere)

If you fit any of these descriptions above, I go into the detailed strategies and tactics of effective cold calling/emailing in a separate blog post here. Be sure to go check it out.


OK we’ve covered a ton here. Thanks for reading, and hopefully you found this helpful. As one last reminder, to help you with some of the things we talked about in this blog post, remember to click the image above to get our FREE all-in-one recruiting toolkit if you haven’t already. As always, if you’d like more hands-on and personalized help, you can check out our coaching program here. If you have comments or questions, please drop a line down below. And remember:

THE STRENGTH OF THE WOLF IS IN THE PACK

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