Back From The Dead

November 28, 2008

To my dear readers,

I apologize for not having posted a single entry since August (despite many promises). As you all probably know, A LOT has happened on Wall Street! Fortunately, I still have a job.

I receive a ton of resumes each day, so I apologize if you’ve emailed me but never received a response.

I want to quickly comment on the Investment Banking industry from the perspective of careers. Despite the current crisis, which will be a deep and prolonged crisis, Investment Banking WILL COME BACK. And when it does, all these jobs that have been lost WILL COME BACK.

Given the increased need for me to focus on my own job, I will need to stop offering “free” advice. I hope you guys can understand – in this economy, everyone needs to fight hard to keep their job. However, given the very positive feedback I’ve gotten from all my readers, I am willing to critique resumes and provide consultations for a fee. I’m going to formally launch a Resume Review service, Mock Interview service, and Hourly Consultation service, with the following fee structure:

Resume Review: $150 per resume

Mock Interview: $200 per hour 

Hourly Consultation: $200 per hour (to discuss any topic)

The purpose of this service, more than anything else, is to help me weed out the people who are not that serious about finding an investment banking job, and to help me identify those who are very serious. I want to help those who, like me, come from a non-traditional background and didn’t have the privilege of going to a top school.

Please email me if you want to partake in any of these “services.” Payments will be done through PayPal. Send me your resume or any requests to

Thanks for understanding everyone. I hate doing this, but it’s the only way I can manage all the incoming requests and figure out who’s really serious about breaking into this industry.


Thank You!

August 26, 2008

I just wanted to write a quick post to thank all the people who have been following my blog.  I’ve received a tremendous amount of positive feedback and resume review requests!  For those who have sent me personal e-mails, my apologies if I can’t respond quickly enough.  I do have a full-time job but I will try my best to be responsive.  Keep asking me questions, and please don’t hesistate to e-mail me with new topic suggestions.

Overview Of The Investment Banking Analyst Recruiting Process

August 22, 2008

If you attend a “target school”

When banks recruit new analysts each year, they typically focus on a handful of target schools that they recruit at year after year.  These schools usually include the Ivy Leagues plus other Ivy equivalents such as Stanford, MIT and Northwestern and top public universities such as UC Berkeley, University of Virginia, UT Austin, and University of Michigan.  For these target schools, this is how the process works:

1. Students submit their resume through their school’s on-campus recruiting site (usually a custom portal hosted by online recruiting companies like or during the beginning of the fall semester (deadlines are specific to each school)

2. Investment banks review these resumes and typically select anywhere from 10-50 students to interview on campus, depending on the specific firm and school.  The banks usually predetermine the number of interview slots they want to make available for each school

3. The investment banks travel to these schools to conduct the first 1 or 2 rounds of interviews on campus at each school’s career center or at a nearby hotel

4. If you get selected for an interview, you will usually have one 30-minute interview, which counts as your first round interview.  This interview is usually conducted by an associate or vice president.  Sometimes there will be 2 people interviewing you at the same time.  In this situation, it could be any combination of a vice president, associate, or current analyst interviewing you.  Before your first interview, some banks will also host a pre-interview dinner the night before.  This is basically the firm’s opportunity to get to know the candidates on a less formal basis as well as answer any questions the students may have.  This is actually a really important opportunity to make yourself stand out and impress the firm

5. Some firms will immediately conduct a second round interview on campus the next day as a way to further narrow down the pool of candidates

6. After you pass the on campus interview process (whether it’s 1 or 2 rounds), you will then be invited to the firm’s offices (firms will pay for your flight and hotel room) to participate in “Superday,” the final round of interviews.  During Superday, you will be at the firm’s offices, along with other top candidates, for a full day of interviews.  You will usually have 4 or 5 interviews lasting 30-45 minutes each.  The night before Superday, there is again, often a dinner where you’ll mingle with current investment bankers at the firm.  While this may be marketed as an opportunity to ask questions about the firm and the job before Superday, banks see it as an opportunity to determine if your personality fits within the culture of the firm.  In fact, at my firm, a lot of input about potential candidates comes from our interactions with students from the dinner the night before Superday.  The questions we’ll ask often include: Was he sociable?  Did he seem like a cool guy to work with?  Was he arrogant?  Is he presentable in front of a client?  He seemed a little shy and awkward didn’t he?  You get the point.  During all parts of the investment banking recruiting process, the banks are evaluating you and seeing how you’ll fit within the team

7. During Superday, you’ll likely meet a few people from each level (associate, vice president, director, managing director).  Some interviews may be one-on-ones, while others may be two-on-ones.  If there is time you might also have lunch with a current analyst.  While this isn’t informal, it’s also an important part of the interview process because current analysts have input in the new analyst selection process as well

8. If all goes well, you’ll then get a few congratulatory calls with an offer to join the firm.  Sounds pretty simple right?  Of course, it will be extremely competitive because at Superday you’re competing against other stellar candidates from other top schools

Overall, each firm does things slightly differently, but there are usually 2 to 3 rounds of interviews, including 1 Superday, which is almost always a full day of 4-5 interviews (sometimes more).  Some will have pre-interview networking dinners, some won’t.  This all depends on the specific person leading the recruiting effort at each school.  But in general, the process is quite standard and doesn’t vary all that much.  If you’re a student at one of these target schools, then great news for you.  The process is pretty straightforward and everything will be laid out for you.  If however, you come from a non-target school, then the process is VERY different (there’s actually no “process,” so you’ll have to create a process of your own). 

The number of people getting through each round depends completely on the number of analysts each firm is aiming to hire in any given year.  In good years, bulge bracket banks typically try to hire around 100 analysts each year.  In a recession, this number could be reduced to just 5 or 6.  Investment banking is an extremely cyclical industry.  If you don’t get a job during a down year, don’t be hard too hard on yourself.  In 2002 we were on a total hiring freeze.  In fact, many analysts got fired, so our net gain of analysts that year was actually negative. 

If you don’t attend a target school

For non-target schools, you will have to be a lot more creative and aggressive in your approach to landing a first-round interview.  If you want to work for a well-known bulge-bracket firm in NYC, it will be somewhat of an uphill battle.  If you are fine with working for a smaller bank, e.g. a middle market bank, boutique bank, or regional bank, then your chances of breaking into the industry will be higher.  Smaller banks are also much more flexible with their hiring processes. 

Here are some strategies that I’d suggest you focus on:

A. Network as much as possible: Ask your friends who are in investment banking, friends of friends, alums from your school who are in the industry, your uncle’s tennis partner, or anyone else you can get in touch with through whatever means, for help and advice.  When you get in touch with people in the investment banking industry that have a connection to you, they’ll generally be more willing to give you the inside scoop on the industry.  Sometimes, if you impress them on the phone or if they’re nice, they’ll even offer to make sure your resume gets reviewed or even grant you a first-round interview (this would likely be a phone interview if you attend a non-target school).  Many times, people will even introduce you to other people to speak to, including other investment bankers who may be more actively hiring, human resource managers, etc.  Remember, when you can get a direct introduction to another person in the industry, it will increase your chances of finding a job significantly (versus submitting your resume online to a faceless computer system or cold-calling a complete stranger).  Again, use your network.  Be polite and grateful when you get in touch with someone who is willing to speak with you.  Investment bankers are busy people.  They don’t want to feel like they’re helping someone who isn’t genuinely interested in the industry or who just comes off as completely clueless or unprepared.  In many ways, these informal networking conversations are interviews themselves.  So while you’re being polite and grateful, have a specific agenda in mind when you speak to different people in the industry.  Think about the 2 or 3 things you want to achieve in a conversation and structure your questions accordingly.  Networking is particularly important for people from non-target schools who want to land a job at a bulge-bracket bank.  This is because bulge-bracket rarely stray from their standard target school on-campus recruiting process.  The best way to bypass this process is to leverage a referral or personal relationship. 

B. Knock on their doors: Investment banks love aggressive job seekers.  Being aggressive demonstrates initiative and hunger for success.  If you can get the names of any associates or vice presidents (through some clever searching on the Internet, e.g.,, etc.) at these firms, send them an approach e-mail (effectively an electronic version of the good old “cold call”).  While it’s difficult to predict who and how many people would respond, if you write a thoughtful e-mail, most investment bankers will at least help put you on the right track.  Some you may even impress with your initiative and offer to speak with you on the phone live or accept your resume directly.  Because the likely response rate for this strategy is low, e-mail a lot of people.  Very few candidates try this strategy actually because no one ever believes anyone will respond.  But, because few people use this strategy, it’s actually a premium avenue for getting these investment banks’ attention.  Compare this: would you rather be 1 of 600 resumes being reviewed for a first-round interview opportunity, or would you rather e-mail 20 people and try and catch 1 person’s attention who can help you skip the initial screening process?  As a former venture capitalist, I used to write a lot of approach e-mails and make a ton of cold calls a day, averaging 30 e-mails and 30 calls a day, to build relationships with CEOs of companies that we were interested in getting to know better so we could invest in them.  If you want to pursue this strategy, which I believe can be very effective, draw up a plan first.  There are many nuances to this strategy, from the way you write your e-mails, who to target, frequency of e-mails, and general sales etiquette that could make you either very effective or a huge annoyance to the people you are e-mailing.  If there is enough interest in this specific topic, I may dedicate a special post to this topic. 

C. Use a headhunter: Headhunters can also be a good way to get your resume submitted to an investment bank.  Often times headhunters have strong relationships with folks at banks at all different levels.  The advantage to using a headhunter is that when a bank receives a resume from a headhunter on behalf of you, they’ll always read it.  The challenge is that headhunters screen candidates themselves.  If you can’t convince a headhunter that you have a good likelihood of getting hired by an investment bank, then they likely won’t want to waste their time trying to get a job for you let alone taint their reputation by referring a poor-quality candidate.

D. Contact human resources: Human resources folks can be helpful in terms of passing your resume to the right folks.  However, in general, they have very little power within the organization.  There is no incentive for them to push your candidacy unless say you’re the brother of a human resources manager.  This is a strategy I’d leave toward the end if nothing seems to be working.

E. Apply directly online: Many firms list job openings directly on their websites.  In many cases, you can actually just submit your resume directly to them.  I’d also recommend this as sort of a last resort strategy as your resume will likely end up in a bottomless abyss and you’ll never hear back from the firm. 

F. Get an MBA: If you’re not a student and you’ve already been working for a few years (in a non-finance related field), another route is to get an MBA, because an MBA helps you start with a clean state, although of course getting an MBA is no guarantee for a ticket into the field.  You’ll have to compete with other MBA students, but at least an MBA degree will help you prove interest and competence in finance to companies as well as perhaps lessen the weighting of any previous work experience that is non-finance related.

Start with baby steps

One very effective strategy I haven’t spent much time on yet, is targeting smaller investment banks (middle-market banks, boutique firms, industry-specific banks, and regional banks).  First, working at non bulge-bracket bank isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all.  In fact, there are many advantages to working at a smaller investment bank.  I’ll discuss this in a separate topic at a later date (Bulge-Brackets vs. The Others), but from personal experience, having worked at both a boutique bank as well as a bulge-bracket, I can honestly say, if I were in your position, looking for my first investment banking job, it’s not that clear-cut of a choice.

In any event, the primary advantages of finding a job with a smaller investment bank include:

A. It’s easier to get a job: Smaller banks have a more flexible recruiting process.  They don’t limit themselves to a set list of target schools and they’re much more flexible with not only who they recruit, but also when they recruit, i.e. it takes less effort to get their attention noticed if you don’t have a 3.9 GPA from Princeton with an investment banking internship under your belt already.  Also, smaller banks are more likely to accept resumes year-round if you happen to be looking for a job during off-peak months.  Because smaller banks have less hierarchy, if you e-mail some of the senior bankers at these firms (most have Managing Directors’ and Senior Vice Presidents’ names listed on their web sites) directly with a thoughtful e-mail (you can just use trial and error and guess their e-mail addresses using standard corporate e-mail name handles with the company’s domain name), there’s a much higher chance someone will respond to your e-mail.

B. Good stepping stone to break into a bulge-bracket: If your ultimate goal is still to work for Goldman Sachs, fear not, once you have shown you can excel in investment banking, even through a stint at a smaller bank, bulge-brackets will be much more receptive to your candidacy.  In fact, I personally know 8 or 9 associates currently at bulge brackets who used to work at small investment banks that are virtually unheard of.  This observation just confirms that breaking into the industry is the hardest step.  Once you get a job in the industry, with whichever firm, you’ll be in the “club.”

C. Good exit opportunities / a differentiated experience: Despite popular belief that only the top analysts from the top banks get the best private equity and venture capital jobs after a 2-3 year stint in investment banking, an experience at a boutique bank can be equally if not more valuable.  Well, it’s hard to say that 2 years at a smaller bank is more valuable, because the Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley brand is admittedly very powerful on a resume, but it can be valuable in a different way, primarily because at a smaller investment bank you tend not only to have more responsibility but you also develop greater expertise in a specific industry.  The experience that you get at a smaller investment bank gives you many more interesting stories to tell in any interview.  Most analysts at Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley tend to have pretty identical experiences and their responsibilities are very low-level.  It’s not their fault, it’s just that at a big bank, hierarchy dictates a more defined separation of responsibilities.

In fact, a few years ago when I was interviewing with venture capital firms, I very clearly remember a partner at one of the most famous venture capital firms in the country telling me that they categorically would never hire anyone from a bulge bracket bank.  This partner’s reasoning was that analysts at bulge bracket banks tend to be more reactive because works just gets fed down to them from above and they don’t need to be particularly creative, take leadership, or have self-initiative.  On the other hand, analysts at smaller banks tend to be scrappier and have to step out of their traditional analyst roles and take leadership to take deals to the finish line.  So, keep this in mind as you think about which investment banks to apply to.  Personally I think the extra value in brand you get from a bulge-bracket is an equal trade off with the better experience / more responsibility you get at a smaller bank (with the caveat that if you want a career in investment banking outside of the U.S., like in Asia, brand is most definitely disproportionally important).

I hope this helps.  At the end of the day, TRY EVERYTHING POSSIBLE.  Be aggressive.  E-mail people, cold call people, talk to as many people as you can to continually expand your network.  Investment banks love to hire people who demonstrate a hunger to succeed and show tremendous self-initiative.  A lot of times, people from non-target schools are great investment banking candidates because they are hungry to prove that they’re more capable than Ivy League students (and often times true!). 

The outline above also applies to investment banking internships, though everything will be a bit easier.  If you’re just looking for an internship, firms will be more forgiving of candidates who don’t have prior finance experience.  Typically, you also won’t have to go through as many interviews (maybe 2 or 3 instead of 6 to 7 interviews).

Writing A Great Investment Banking Resume: How To Get Your Resume Noticed

August 8, 2008

There is a ton of advice I can give about how to write the perfect investment banking resume.  With that said, instead of inundating you with a 10 page report on all the things you should do, I’m going to start a series on how to write a great investment banking resume, with each entry focusing on a specific topic (the series will be titled (“Writing A Great Investment Banking Resume”).  The first topic, and an extremely important one, is how to even get your resume noticed.  In this post, we’ll focus mostly on perfecting the presentation of your resume since the way your resume is formatted is extremely important.  In my next post, I’ll focus on how to improve the content of your resume, which is equally important.  Great presentation will get your resume noticed.  Great content will secure you an interview spot.

Before I start shelling out tips on how to do this, it’s necessary to shed some light on how resumes are reviewed at banks because this insight into this process should drive your resume writing strategy.  Typically, during recruiting season (August-November for full-time positions; January-March for summer internships), investment banks receive a PDF of hundreds of resumes from each school they recruit at.  In total, thousands of resumes need to be reviewed.  Because recruiting is not really core to any investment banker’s job, people always perceive resume reviewing as somewhat of a distraction to their day.  As a result, a lot of the initial resume screening to determine which candidates get interviews falls onto the laps of the analysts and associates.  When I started off as an analyst, the vice president I worked for used to dump this job on me, and I’d almost always leave this task to the very end of the day because I didn’t really feel like doing it either.  A lot of times, each analyst or associate would be responsible for choosing 20 candidates to interview for every 300 or so candidates.  So imagine going through 300 resumes.  How much time would you realistically spend on each resume?  At 30 seconds a resume, it would take 2.5 hours to review all the resumes.  That’s a long time.  In reality, we probably spend 15-20 seconds per resume.  So why is this important?  It’s important because it means your resume needs to stand out and be remembered within those 15-20 seconds.  It needs to catch our attention.  How do you do this?  Here are some tips you should follow:

1) Prioritize brands: Each resume only gets a quick glancing, and we look for things that demonstrate the candidate is a high achiever and is hungry for success.  By glance, I mean we’ll quickly take a look at the major headings of your resume: the school you went to, your major, your GPA, maybe some of the classes you’ve taken if you don’t have any prior finance experience, the names of the firms you’ve worked for in the past, your titles, your extra-curricular activities, and your other interests.  If those are the only 7 or 8 things that these analysts and associates look at, how should you write your resume?  The key thing to do is to prioritize brands that people recognize.  If you went to a great school, put that at the top.  If you have an awesome GPA, emphasize it, bold it, do whatever it takes to make it easily noticed (without flaunting it or else you’ll just come off as arrogant).  If you’ve worked at Merrill Lynch before, even if it’s doing something that’s not related to investment banking, try and emphasize it.  If you’ve had no finance experience before, this becomes even more important.  If you’ve worked as an engineer at Microsoft, use that to your advantage.  If you’re a biology major in college and you’ve interned at Pfizer before, emphasize the Pfizer brand.  If you’re a lawyer and worked for a well-known firm, get it noticed.  If you graduated in 3 years or paid your way through college, don’t just make it a footnote; instead, put it right below the name of your school in italics, bold, underlined, or some combination of these.  Basically, think of your resume as a gradient.  The closer the information is to the top, the more likely it will get read.  So put your most important accomplishments near the top of your resume, and the least important information near the bottom.  The only exception to this is the “other interests” section where you list your hobbies and perhaps other interesting tidbits about yourself.  Investment banking analysts and associates are usually so bored after reading the 100th resume, often times they just hit the major sections and quickly skip to the “other interests” section since that’s usually the most interesting.  This is actually an important section where you really have an opportunity to grab someone’s attention.  If you have any cool personal facts about yourself or any unique achievements that don’t belong anywhere else, include it here.  If you’re not sure what would catch someone’s attention or what wouldn’t, leave me a comment below or send me an e-mail.

Most importantly though, understand that people respond to big brands.  Just as how we love brands like Nike and Apple, resume reviewers are subconsciously (and consciously of course) drawn to schools and firms that they recognize. 

If you just absolutely don’t have any brands to show for yourself, no worries, I was in your position.  There are still many ways to break into the investment banking.  I’ll cover this topic in the next two weeks.

2) Perfect presentation: Your resume must look impeccable.  It must look perfect and totally professional even from a distance before anyone actually reads it.  Investment banks usually print the resumes out and flip through them really quickly.  If your resume can’t catch the eye of the reader from a formatting and general aesthetics standpoint, then you risk the chance of it not even getting noticed.  I know this all may sound obvious, but it’s honestly what happens.  Your resume needs to look extremely professional, even if the content is shitty.  How do you do this?  You do this by choosing the right fonts, the right spacing between lines, the right font sizes for different sections, the right justifications, etc.  Every single little piece of formatting must be thought through carefully.  It must draw the reaction “wow, that’s a nice looking resume” from your friends even before they read a single word of it.  If you are a bit lacking in artistic inclination, just get some advice from one of your graphic designer friends.  Your resume must also be extremely precise and metrically perfect.  For example, if I were to point to any single letter on your resume, you better know what font size that letter is.  If I were to point to the spacing between any two lines, you better know the exact size of the line spacing.  If I were to point to the left margin, you ought to know exactly the left margin setting.  This is almost like your very first assignment in investment banking – perfecting a word document.  The analysts and associates looking at resumes do this type of nitpicking on a daily basis, so they can spot inconsistencies and formatting laziness very easily.

By the way, don’t ever use a resume template from Microsoft Word or any other program or resource on the web.  It’s so obvious when people use them.  Create your own custom template so it looks like you’ve actually spent a substantial amount of time on your resume. 

At the end of the day, you need to be so proud of the way your resume looks, that you’d want to frame it.

3) Perfect grammar, spelling, capitalization, and punctuation: I don’t think this needs any explanation.  Your grammar, spelling, capitalization, and punctuation needs to be absolutely consistent and impeccable.  If someone reviewing your resume catches an error, your resume could easily get tossed out.  If you don’t have great grammar, ask your English major friends to review your resume.  When I say be consistent, I literally mean every single letter, word, and sentence should conform to whatever “standard” you choose to follow.  You should also ensure that everything you say is succinct and to the point.  When talking about accomplishments, your language should sound objective to give what you are saying more weight.  We’ll spend more time on language style and tone in my upcoming post about how to really make the content of your resume shine.

4) Length and density: No matter what anyone tells you about resume etiquette, please keep your resume to 1 page.  If CEOs of Fortune 500 companies can keep their resumes to 1 page, then you can too.  There is absolutely no reason why your resume needs to run over 1 page.  If it does, then you’ve included too much useless information (e.g. a list of research publications you’ve worked on, a common mistake actually).  The density of a resume is always a debatable topic.  While I agree that wordiness isn’t desirable, my opinion on this matter is that a dense looking resume that’s fully filled up with good content looks a lot better than a sparse looking resume with too little content on it.  Why is this?  Resumes that are filled up nicely just look more professional.  When you have a lot of content fitted densely onto 1 page, we just assume the author spent a lot time on it, even without reading it.  While someone with a more sparse resume might have also spent a lot of time on their resume, it’s more difficult to “see” that effort.  Just like anyone’s first day on the job, first impressions count.  You’ll realize in investment banking, that perception is often times more important than reality.  In fact, perception often becomes reality.  Just like we how we make long, dense, content-packed pitch books in our jobs to show potential clients how hard we’ve worked, investment banking job seekers should likewise present a content-packed resume to demonstrate their hard work and high level of interest in the job.  I know it sounds superficial, but it really does work. 

5) Font sizes and style:  Other than major headings like your name or perhaps your school and your former employers, don’t use any fonts bigger than 12 point.  This may contradict what other people have told you, but smaller fonts simply look more professional.  If you take a look at any of the pitch books we create or information memorandums we write, the font sizes are always small.  Just take a look at any IPO prospectus (here’s Google’s:  The font is quite small isn’t it?  Your grandmother may not like small fonts, but investment bankers live and breathe small fonts.

In terms of font styles, I’d stick to Times New Roman or Arial.  There are other font styles that work too, but more often than not, a lot of the other fonts end up looking unprofessional.

6) Use bullet points: Keep in mind again that investment bankers are impatient.  While you should try to make your resume look filled, don’t overdo it by squeezing an entire essay on one page.  Break up your key points into bullets.  This will help the reader get through your resume quickly.  If you write in long, rambling, full sentences, the resume reviewer may just throw your resume aside because they’re too impatient to slog through all the text.

7) Objective lines: Please, leave these out.  Schools always tell their students to put in a sentence or two about their objective for a resume.  Now c’mon, if you put something, more likely than not, it will either be so generic that investment banks will immediately doubt the genuineness of your interest in the job, or it will be so perfectly catered to the job description and firm that it makes you come off as someone trying too hard to kiss ass.  Just leave this out.

8) Make it as relevant as possible: A great way to demonstrate a genuine interest in a job is to make your resume very relevant.  For example, if you’re an engineer with no finance experience, then somewhere in the upper half your resume, list all the finance, accounting, and other quantitative courses you’ve taken, list the financial news publications you follow on a regular basis, list any business clubs you are part of, list hobbies like personal stock investing, mention you’re studying for the CFA, etc.  The key is to show that you didn’t just wake up overnight and decide to apply for a job in investment banking.  If you sprinkle this type of stuff all over your resume, it will greatly improve your chances of getting noticed.  While it’s ideal to have prior finance experience, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t.  You just need to work harder to show a genuine interest in the field and that you’re capable of handling the job. 

Other things to avoid, especially for engineers, is including technical information in your resume.  In fact, your resume will likely get thrown out if you’ve included any technical engineering jargon.  There is ALWAYS a way to “businessfy” a resume.  This is what I’ll help you do in my next post in my “Writing A Great Investment Banking Resumes” series – molding the content of your resume and positioning your previous work experience to demonstrate that you have good business sense.


These may seem like trivial things to point out, but trust me, when a resume only gets 20 seconds of attention, these things do matter, and they matter a lot.  When I pick up a resume, I can immediately tell how much time someone invested in it.  Making your resume fantastic from a presentation standpoint is the first step in demonstrating your interest in investment banking and that you’re capable of producing high quality work.  In the investment banking world, we do judge books by their covers (at least from a resume standpoint).

In my next post for my “Writing A Great Investment Banking Resume” series, I will focus on helping you improve the actual content of your resume.  Once your resume gets noticed and gets put into a “let’s review further” pile, how you position your previous experiences will be critical to surviving the cut from the 50 resumes in the “let’s review further” pile to the 20 resumes in the “let’s interview them on campus” pile.  At this point, most of the resumes in the “let’s review further” pile are relatively strong, so you’ll need to really make your resume stand out by getting the content to really sing.

What Do Investment Banks Look For In A Candidate? Let’s Figure This Out By Working Backwards…

August 6, 2008

Before we discuss the specifics on strategies to getting an investment banking job, it is extremely crucial to first get into the mind of investment banking firms to understand what exactly they’re looking for in a candidate.  One of the best things to do, in my opinion, is to observe what types of people investment banks typically hire.  By doing this, we can work backwards to figure out what personal qualities and characteristics investment banks look for in a job applicant.  In my experience, many successful investment banking job seekers typically fall under two categories: 1) college athletes who have done moderately to reasonably well in academics and 2) students with extremely high GPAs. Let’s examine why:

1. College athletes: I used to never understand why investment banks loved hiring jocks.  After all, most of the jocks I knew (many of whom were my friends so I won’t feel guilty about insulting them briefly here) just weren’t that intelligent, especially compared to the engineers I knew.  It was only after I started working in investment banking that I began to understand why college athletes were so coveted.  First, college athletes, despite their reputation for partying a lot, are actually incredibly resilient people because most of them have to manage both a demanding athletics career as well as their academics.  This requires a lot of hard work, dedication, and perseverance.   Now, I’m not talking about just any college athlete, like some football player from a shitty state school who has a 2.5 GPA.  I’m talking about college athletes who go to a top 20 school and spend 4 hours a day in practice but also maintain a 3.5+ GPA.  Now, that’s pretty impressive if you think about it.  Imagine if you had to remove 4 hours of studying time each day.  So in general, most college athletes who have performed reasonably well academically know how to manage their time and understand the importance of hard work and perseverance.  As a result, it is much easier for a college athlete to transition into an intensive job like investment banking because they are already accustomed to this type of demanding, high-pressure lifestyle.  The other aspect about college athletes that investment banks like is their natural willingness to work as part of a team.  In investment banking, there is so much work that it’s never doable by any one person.  Most deals require the collaboration of a team of investment bankers, lawyers, and accountants.  A lot of times you’ll even have to ask your fellow Analysts or Associates to help you out because you just have too much on your plate.  I used to think this type of inference that college athletes are better team players just because they play team sports was bullshit.  But I think by virtue of them being in a team environment throughout college and high school, they’re naturally programmed to think like a team member, instead of just an individual achiever who wants all the glory and credit for him or herself.  So, don’t underestimate college athletes.  While some of them are incredibly bright, what investment banks value most is their work ethic and perseverance.  The takeaway from this is that investment banks love people who can demonstrate a willingness to work their ass off, people who have an ability to manage time (and hence multi-task) well, and people who have an ability to work well in a team environment.  Keep this in mind as you edit your resume or prepare for interviews – these are critically important qualities that recruiters look for.

2. Students with extremely high GPAs: When you come across a student who has a 3.8-4.0 GPA, what do you usually think?  Usually it’s “wow, this person is really smart” or “wow, this person works really damn hard.”  Banks love to hire the latter, i.e. people who have a high GPA because they work their ass off in school.  The problem with hiring the former, people who are just inherently smart and have a 4.0 GPA without putting in much effort, is that not only did they not have to work for their grades, but they’re likely too smart for a career in business.  Whenever I get a resume from someone who is a Rhodes Scholar or has an advanced degree like a PhD, I’m always extremely wary of spending time interviewing them.  People who are too smart easily get bored in business because it’s not intellectually challenging enough.  I’m not saying investment banking is a cakewalk, I’m just saying that it’s possible to be too smart for it.  Also keep in mind that not all people who’ve worked hard for a high GPA are good investment banking candidates.  As important as it is to work hard, Analysts and Associates also need to be presentable in front of clients.  So no matter what you do with your resume or how you present yourself in an interview, don’t get labeled as a nerd.  That is investment banking recruiting suicide.  One of the challenges I had to overcome was the perception that engineering students are nerds.  I do admit that I’m a nerd at heart, but I never present myself as a nerd.  Signs that someone isn’t a nerd, from a resume standpoint, include involvement in extracurricular activities, having sports as hobbies, being part of a fraternity, and well, just anything that shows you’re not studying all the time.  The type of candidate I personally love to hire is someone who has a high GPA but only has an above average SAT score (say a 1300-1400 instead of 1500-1600).  What this tells me is that the candidate is smart, but not a genius, and therefore probably had to work their ass off to do well in school.

The other reason investment banks like to hire students with high GPAs is because interviews inherently aren’t that accurate in predicting performance.  Investment banks interview thousands of candidates.  A lot of times, many more people perform well in interviews than there are positions available.  So for example, if two people do equally well in an interview and all else is roughly equal from a qualifications standpoint, the hiring manager will likely go back and look at the candidates’ resumes and offer the job to the person who has a higher GPA.  Why is this?  Let me first ask, how well do you think you can really get to know someone over the course of say, four to eight 30-minute interviews.  You can develop a good first impression of someone, maybe test their analytical and quantitative abilities a bit, but can you really tell how dedicated they will be to the job?  A lot of really successful interviewers at my firm turn out to be terrible analysts.  On the flipside, a lot of our superstar analysts were actually very mediocre in their interviews (but we took a chance and hired them anyway because we saw potential in them).  So, if interviews aren’t a good predictor of future performance, what is one piece of data that never lies?  It’s the GPA!  Past performance is always one of the better indicators of future performance.  If there is any one piece of information we like to fall back on, all else being equal between candidates, it’s the GPA.  A good GPA means the student probably has a good work ethic.  A bad GPA means the student either isn’t that bright (which is bad) or is lazy (which is worse).  So for you college freshmen and sophomores out there who have an interest in investment banking, keep that GPA in mind as you think about your future.  =)

As one caveat, if you have already been working for several years and you want to transition into investment banking, your GPA matters less.  The GPA matters most for college students because it’s harder to rely on references because students simply don’t have as much work experience.  If you’ve already been working for several years, then your references become very important.  Many of my colleagues would rather extend an offer to a candidate that someone they know has vetted, than a candidate who is a complete stranger but has done well in their interviews.  For experienced hires, 15% of our decision is based on the interviews, and 85% is based on references.  Career changers should keep this in mind.

How can you use this knowledge to your advantage?

I don’t want to give the wrong impression here that you have to either be a college athlete with decent grades or a student who has a really high GPA to get hired at an investment bank.  In fact, I don’t fit either of these profiles myself.  I’ve hired many people from all different backgrounds, from students with < 3.0 GPAs to those who attended community colleges to those who never played any sports in their life before.  The point of this post is to help you understand, through these stereotypes, what characteristics and personal qualities investment banks look for.  In summary, they look for candidates who have demonstrated a hunger to work extremely hard to be successful, who can multitask and manage their time well, and who work well in team environments.  You can use this to your advantage as you draft your resume and prepare for interviews.  So if you don’t have a 3.9 GPA or you weren’t on the Princeton basketball team, how do you demonstrate these qualities?  Here are some ideas that I have seen bring success to a number of candidates:

A) Did you pay your way through college yourself by working a part or even full-time job? If so, that’s an important fact to put on your resume and aspect of your personal background to discuss in an interview.  This is really just a parallel to the college athlete profile.  If you paid your own college in tuition, it means you probably worked your ass off and had to balance both work life and student life.

B) Did you graduate in less than 4 years?  Again, graduating early isn’t easy.  This is another way to demonstrate that you worked harder than everyone else in your class. 

C) Did you move to the U.S. from a foreign country with only a few dollars in your pocket?  I love hiring people who come from China, India, Russia, or some other developing country to study in the U.S. because they are usually extremely motivated.  Moving to the U.S. to pursue studies and a career requires a lot of guts and motivation, and the desire to be successful comes from deep within because of the environment they were brought up in.  These candidates are super hungry for success.  If you fit within this profile, highlight your personal background, and talk about what motivates you.

D) There are obviously many other things you can emphasize about your background.  If you want some personal advice about your specific situation, please don’t hesitate to e-mail me (my contact info is in the contact tab).

Finding the right personality is what matters most when investment banking firms are looking to hire.  If you’re hungry to do well, don’t be afraid to show it. 

What Is This Blog About? Why Am I Starting It?

August 3, 2008

What is this blog about?

Hey everyone!  This is a brand new blog with brutally honest, no bullshit advice about how to get a job in investment banking.  It’s for anyone (career changers, students, etc.) who wants candid advice from a current investment banker in New York City on how to break into the investment banking industry.  This blog is completely free, so you may be wondering why the hell I’m doing this.  Read more below if you’re curious…

Why am I doing this?

For several years, many of my friends have asked me, on a very informal basis, to help many of their other friends get jobs in investment banking.  I’d tell them about my investment banking experience, give them my advice on how to best position themselves to get an investment banking job, help them prep for interviews, edit their resumes, etc.  Over time though, I realized that the advice I gave actually helped A LOT of people get jobs!  There are tons of resources out there that talk about how to get a job in investment banking, but most of what you’ll find on the web or at your school’s career center is full of generalities and catered towards a mass market audience.  The stuff you hear is usually relevant but not specific enough to provide a real advantage when looking for a job in this industry.  I’m hoping the advice that I provide will be absolutely relevant and highly specific to investment banking job seekers.  I will try my best to discuss in great detail the various intricacies and nuances related to landing a job in this industry.

So reason number 1 (and my most important reason) for starting this blog is because I realized that I am able to successfully help many people break into this industry.  I’ve never considered myself to be a teacher of any sort, but I find it incredibly rewarding to help people land their dream job, as cheesy as that may sound. 

A little bit about me and my background

Unlike most investment bankers, I was an engineering major at a not very well-known college.  Despite my educational training, my first job out of college was as an Analyst at an investment bank in New York City.  After my 3rd year as an Analyst, I was offered the opportunity to skip an MBA and be promoted directly to an Associate, which is typically a post-MBA position.  I then spent 2 more years working at the same firm as an Associate before finding a job at a venture capital firm in Boston.  After 2 years as a venture capitalist, I was accepted to the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business for my MBA.  After business school, I returned to investment banking at one of the bulge bracket investment banks (my current job).  While I had many opportunities to continue pursuing a career in venture capital or private equity (two industries that are often perceived to be more prestigious than investment banking) after business school, I chose to return to investment banking, because I truly enjoy what I do (more about why exactly and all the pros and cons of the job itself in another post).

So, with all this said about my background, here are a few other reasons why I think I can be helpful to folks who are interested in investment banking:

1. First, I was able to break into the investment banking industry even though I did not attend an elite undergraduate college like Princeton or The Wharton School @ UPenn.  In fact, none of the investment banks recruited at my school and none of my engineering friends went into investment banking.  This made it particularly hard for me to understand what investment banking was all about from an insider’s point of view let alone have access to the right resources to apply to these jobs.  I take great pride in this because my path to investment banking wasn’t already paved for me just because I went to an Ivy League school.  I had to work really hard on marketing myself the right way.  I don’t have anything against people who have gone to good schools, I just think a lot of folks who have gone to state schools or lesser known colleges, like myself, are often just as qualified for the job, but don’t have access to the same resources as, say, a student at The Wharton School @ UPenn, which by the way sends hundreds of college seniors to Wall Street each year.  I only hope my blog will help level the playing field a bit, because I was once in the “less privileged candidate pool” so to speak.

2. I was an engineering major with no prior internships in investment banking.  As some of you may know, the most traditional path to investment banking is to first land a summer internship during your junior year in college, work really hard during your internship, then get an offer to join that firm on a full-time basis when you graduate.  Without having some type of investment banking or finance internship on your resume, it becomes much more difficult to land an investment banking interview when you’re looking for a full-time job as a senior.  But, I was able to do it, after much hard work, even though all of my previous internships were engineering jobs at tech companies.  I should also mention that when I was looking for internships during my junior year in college, I did interview with several investment banks, but did not get a single offer from any of the firms.  However, I bounced back the next year, changed my approach, and landed 5 offers, 3 from bulge bracket banks and 2 from middle-market banks.  Getting into investment banking as an engineer isn’t that easy but I found a way to do it.

3. I’ve talked to hundreds of career changers and students about how to get into investment banking.  I’ve reviewed thousands of resumes to decide which candidates warrant getting first-round interviews and I know exactly what firms search for in a candidate during the interview process.  I’ve hired over 50 Analysts and Associates over my now 7-year career in investment banking.  So in short, I know how this all works.  But more importantly, I was once in your position.  If I had known what I know now about the investment banking recruiting process, the process of getting hired would have been much easier.  Getting to where I am wasn’t easy for me, and so I’d like to help those who have a genuine interest in this industry. 

What’s next?

Over the next few weeks I will be posting new entries on various topics related to getting a job in investment banking.  I hope you, my future readers, will ask me as many questions as possible.  For full disclosure, I will remain anonymous for now, primarily because I’m still working in the industry and would like to keep my job (I’m expecting to say a lot of things that will likely offend my peers).  When you have two kids and a jumbo mortgage to support, you want to be a little careful.  I hope everyone can understand =)