If you are a student on the path towards an investment banking career, you will likely spend hours making your way through networking calls, interview screeners, and super day interviews. Throughout this process, there is one topic that will reliably surface in every conversation you have—telling “your story.” Interviewers will ask you to “Tell me about yourself” or to “Walk me through your resume,” and having this story crafted ahead of time is crucial to starting each of these conversations off on a positive note.
While no candidate's story will be exactly the same, there are some commonly agreed upon practices by which you should structure and present your story when interviewing for investment banking roles. The way that successful candidates typically format their story follows the chronological sequence of four parts, which are laid out in question format:
- How did you get to where you are?
- What have you previously done?
- Where are you now?
- Where are you going?
Your story should be anywhere from one minute and thirty seconds to two minutes long. This allows the person you are speaking with to get a general sense of who you are, without it seeming as if you are rambling. Keep in mind, the most time should be spent on the “What have you previously done?” section, as most of your relevant experience will be included here.
Let’s take a look at each section of a well-crafted story for an investment banking interview.
How did you get to where you are?
Basically, how did you end up at the college you attend? While all students may have a similar response to this (location, sport, scholarship, family-ties), it’s still best to begin your story by explaining how you arrived at your decision to attend your university and what motivated you to go there.
For example, let’s say that you grew up in the Midwest and were interested in staying a few hours from home while attending college. You could begin your story by saying:
"When I was in high school and started to explore options for college, I was interested in staying within a few hours from home, but also knew I wanted to attend a distinguished business school. Thankfully, I earned a scholarship to XYZ university that checked all of my requirements. I was even more reassured of my choice after having positive conversations with some faculty members at the business school."
However, if, like many, you had no idea what you wanted to do when you were in high school, don’t worry. Anything that makes your decision sound thoughtful, interesting, or resolute will help you tell a well thought out story.
What have you previously done?
After explaining how you arrived at “where you are"–which is most likely the school you attend–you need to walk the person you are speaking with through the steps you’ve taken during your time at school that helped you build your skillset and, perhaps, demonstrates an interest in investment banking.
This is where you can talk about:
- Finance and accounting courses that piqued your interest
- Projects or case competitions you have worked on (bonus points if they related to investment banking, capital markets, or M&A)
- Certifications you have earned or supplemental learning experiences you have taken on such as a valuation and financial modeling course
- Organizations that you are a part of that aid in your candidacy
- Internships you have completed
For example, you could phrase the next part of your story as:
“During my freshman year at XYZ university, I took a Careers in Finance course which educated me on the possible career paths I could pursue with a finance degree. When I heard about investment banking, I became interested due to the exposure to high-profile transactions and the M&A process. The career also seemed challenging, with a steep learning curve, so from there I pursued the interest by joining the Investment Banking Club, taking a financial modeling course, and participating in a sell-side M&A case competition hosted by my school.”
From there, you can expand in a sentence or two on each experience to give additional context, and if these experiences directly relate to investment banking, feel free to use “industry lingo” to build your accreditation as it will show you are educated on the industry.
If you are new to the idea of investment banking as a career, there are still things you can point to that will help you successfully craft your story.
Let's say you are pursuing a degree at the liberal arts college, but have decided you really want to get on the investment banking track. You can craft a response that tells the story of how one of your classes, such as Economics, sparked an interest in banking, or that you really enjoy working with numbers or writing persuasive arguments, which you got a a taste of in your Philosophy orRhetoric classes, for example.
It's also important to show that you are preparing for the potential for an internship. Beforehand, you should sign up for an investment banking prep course online, so that you can mention it in the interview. Sign up for your finance or investment club to further indicate interest in the field.
When considering what to include, it’s important to remember that no matter what experiences you choose to talk about, the person you are speaking with more so wants to know whether or not they can envision you doing well at their firm. While there are many ways to be a successful investment banker, pointing to things in your life that can help them do that will only help you.
Some examples you can talk about, regardless of their relation to investment banking include:
- Leading a group project
- A job that you have previously held
- Your dedication to a sport
- A class that you did particularly well in
- Adversity you have faced and overcome
Where are you now?
Based on the previous two sections, this section should act as a quick add-on to where you stand in regard to school, organizations, internships, and any other relevant subjects.
For example, this part of the story could sound something like:
“As I begin my spring semester of my sophomore year, I’m looking forward to my M&A course to learn more about investment banking. I’ll also be participating in a stock pitch case competition this March that will expose me to equity and capital markets.”
Where are you going?
This last section is very important and is often the one that candidates struggle with the most. Your story needs a thoughtful ending or a closing statement, and without one, the entire narrative will struggle.
When completing your story, you want to give the person you are speaking with a cue that you have completed your story, and it is their turn to respond. On networking calls or in interviews, a great way to do this is by saying something along the lines of:
"Given my past experiences and interest in pursuing a career in investment banking, I’m excited to be speaking with you as I have gained interest in your firm through my research, and I look forward to learning more about background and time at XYZ bank."
Ultimately, every candidate will have slight variations to the way they tell their story, but the format and chronological sequence laid here above allows you to brainstorm what you should include that will translate to a meaningful and memorable moment for you in the recruitment process. Once you have perfected your story, it’s good to practice reciting it in a way that doesn’t sound like you’re reading it directly from a script. Work on making it sound as if you are telling a story of something fresh in your mind, and feel free to adjust it as necessary depending on the audience.