Investment banking is one of the most competitive fields to break into with typical acceptance rates lower than all Ivy League schools. In other words, most people who are interested in or who show promise in investment banking will likely not secure full-time opportunities. However, we’ve become familiar with some workarounds for students in your exact position, and even asked one of our partner banks their thoughts on some of our recommendations. Here are some things you should consider to get back on the IB-tract.
Research smaller, boutique firms, immediately
Start reaching out to smaller boutique firms in areas close to your school or hometown. Boutique firms can range in size from only a couple of people up to 100 or more and can include regionally-focused investment banks, specialist banks that focus on specific industries (such as technology or consumer), or firms that focus on smaller transactions (<$100m in enterprise value).
You should email Financial Analysts or Associates, as well as partners directly to see if they are looking for interns. Boutique firms may not have formal internship programs, so reaching out directly with a personal note can be the best way to get in touch and find out if there are unpublished opportunities available. If you are able to make it work financially, you might even offer to work in an unpaid internship for the summer.
The work you do at a boutique will be different than what you would have done at a larger investment bank. Boutique firms do smaller, usually private deals with intimate teams. Junior staff members often interact directly with the client, which is a rarer experience at larger banks. You'll also work on much more of the transaction because it's less likely to be divided up across a large team of specialists. Overall, the structure will be looser but it can leave you feeling much more integrated into the process from start to finish. By the end of the summer, you probably won’t even feel like an intern anymore.
“While the structure of the deal teams may differ, you’re forming a foundational skillset that will be accretive to a traditional role at a larger firm like Harris Williams,” said Sara Moir, Head of Analyst Recruiting at Harris Williams, a global investment bank specializing in M&A advisory services. “Given our product focus, M&A experience at a boutique investment banking firm is more valuable than experience at a different product like private wealth or sales & trading, for example.”
You can also consider looking at family offices & boutique private equity shops.
Look at tangential industries, and get as close to “transactions” as possible
Now is the time to start considering a job or internship in an adjacent financial field. For example, transaction advisory services involve conducting due diligence accounting and valuation services to support M&A transactions. Interning in these practice areas will actually prepare you quite a bit for a future role in IB. You’ll get experience in things like formal valuation opinions, financial modeling, transaction due diligence, and accounting — skills that are highly relevant to investment banking. The goal here is to get as close as possible to “transactions” to develop experience that you can later reference in an interview and use in your career. You can also explore opportunities in commercial banking, wealth management, financial planning & analysis (“FP&A”), corporate development, and asset management.
Most firms fill their full-time classes primarily through their summer intern programs; however, often they will have a handful of spots available for rising seniors. Stay in touch with recruiters into the school year and keep them apprised of whatever internship you do land. Many Suited partners check senior profiles to find candidates to fill those last remaining spots.
Apply for a 1-year Masters of Finance or Accounting degree
A Masters of Finance is a cheaper, less time-consuming, and often times a more financially realistic advanced degree that may help you stand out for a Financial Analyst role. Most MSF’s run for about 12 to 18 months. As opposed to an MBA, an MSF will provide an accelerated and sharply concentrated, very IB-appropriate curriculum and can be taken immediately after undergrad.
This is an especially smart option for someone who did not study something IB-related in their undergrad (finance, accounting, economics, etc.), which is what the majority of banks, unfortunately, want to see in a candidate. If you, for instance, studied engineering, statistics, philosophy or something of the like and then decided to get an MSF, the next time you apply to an IB, recruiters will see a candidate who is well-rounded and took the time to learn the technical skills you’ll need on the job. The especially relevant coursework you’ll take will be accounting, corporate finance, valuation, and investment analysis.
Additionally, there are MSF programs at many prestigious universities. If you are receiving your undergraduate degree at a lesser-known college, an MSF offers an opportunity to attend a well-known institution. While many of our partners know that where you went to school is not 100% indicative of success, the rest of the industry has some waking up to do on this topic.
Often times students with a MSF background have a liberal arts degree and as a result, have strong writing and verbal communication skills. Those softer skills, coupled with a MSF quantitative skill set, make this is a very attractive profile for platforms like ours where we expect our Analysts to be in front of (i.e. interacting with) clients every day.” - Sara Moir, Head of Analyst Recruiting at Harris Williams
Be sure to consider the timing of the MSF program and how it overlays with the investment banking recruiting cycle. Ideally, you should apply for your MSF during the fall of your senior year - the same time you should be applying for full-time Analyst roles.
If you are accepted into an MSF program, the recruiting process will begin late spring of your Senior year right before your MSF program begins, so use the time between now and then to network, make connections, tell people your story and plan for the MSF program. The next full-time recruiting cycle will occur just as you are beginning the MSF program, so preparing for the interview process will be on you.
Network with your interviewers
If you previously went through the recruiting process and just didn’t land a job, you now have direct connections with bankers at the firms where you interviewed and, in a sense, the pressure is off. You can form friendly, professional, and less transactional relationships with those you met during the process. Reach out to them for feedback and suggest staying in touch. If they are not capable of giving you their time, ask if they know of anyone who was once in your situation with whom you could connect.
Study for your CFA
This isn't a sure-fire way in but is a way to work on standing out in the interview next time. Learn more about the CFA here.
This is not an option for everyone, especially those paying their own way through school, but some students extend their university time (consider adding another major or minor) so they are able to go through recruiting again.
Consider business school
If you miss formal recruiting during undergrad, the next formal recruiting opportunity is after business school. Junior summer can be a great time to study for the GMAT. After you graduate undergrad, you can work somewhere interesting for 2-3 years and then attend business school and apply for an IB Summer Associate position. You’ll be about at the same point in your career as everyone else and you’ll have a highly valued additional credential.
Keep in mind, if you are able to secure an Associate role after your MBA, additional student debt can be paid off quickly by the higher salary offered to Associates.
Do something random and unique
Now may be the time to do something that really interests you — you know, that thing you’ve always dreamed about doing that your parents don’t totally approve of. When it comes down to it, the recruiters and investment bankers you want to work with one day are people, and people generally like working with passionate, interesting, and well-rounded individuals. One of Suited’s founders (a former investment banker) worked at a winery after college before landing an opportunity at an investment bank. He attributes the unique experience to his success in his initial interviews and, in turn, his long-term career.