My chaotic IB journey

My story of how I broke into IB did pretty well on r/FinancialCareers, so I figured I’d post it here too. As I was reflecting on the randomness and difficulty of my path, I decided to spend too much time writing about my experience. Hopefully you find it relatable or interesting.
When I was a senior in high school, I didn’t know IB existed or what EBITDA stood for. I just liked the idea of managing money and wanted to do something in finance. Just another stock trader wannabe.
I was accepted to five schools including one of my reach schools, a semi-target. But with little knowledge to go on, I chose a non-target instead to save money.
I didn’t handle the transition to college well; for my first two years, my GPA hovered in the 2’s and I could only push it to 3.0 my senior year.
By the time I got into the school’s investment club and figured stuff out, I was super behind on internship recruiting. Forget IB or even Big4, at this point I would take any internship I could get.
After many rejections, I eventually landed an internship at a tiny “litigation investment” firm run by characters with personalities straight out of Better Call Saul. I couldn’t understand their business model, and it was a far cry from high-flying Wall Street, but I needed the experience and supplemental income to my fast food job.
I kept networking and applying for anything finance related. I had a few phone screenings for boutique IB shops, but it was obvious my background couldn’t compete for those positions.
However, networking yielded a positive connection with an executive at a Fund of Funds. He put in a word to his firm and got me an interview for a Fund Analyst internship. It was far and away my best chance to work at a reputable firm.
I booked the interview for a particular morning and told my internship boss I would be a few hours late that day. No problem.
On the day, the interview went much longer than expected. Multiple rounds back to back. But things were going well.
I was in the zone and didn’t feel the need to update my boss. I was already going to be late, what’s another hour or two.
We wrapped up with them saying they liked me and another candidate; I had a fifty-fifty chance.
By the time I walked out the door, it was late afternoon and the work day was nearly over. Sitting in my bright red 2007 Ford Focus, I emailed my boss that I wouldn’t be making an appearance. I’m cool with him and it’s a casual situation, shouldn’t be an issue. All was well in my world.
I was fired before I could turn the key in the ignition. That’s right, I totally misread the situation and was fired from my first internship.
A day later, I was informed the other candidate got the Fund Analyst position.
With a semester to go before graduation, I now had zero experience or job prospects. This was truly a masterclass in choking a career away. The Atlanta Falcons and Hillary Clinton couldn’t have done better.
I was bouncing around the five stages of grief and drowning in an ocean of “unfortunately the process has been very competitive and we are proceeding with other candidates” emails.
It got so bad that I was seriously wondering if I should just stay at my fast food job and work my way up. “Plenty of people do that, and hey, 50% employee discount.” Shout out to the homies out there working food and retail, hang in there.
But as I began accepting I had failed and my ambitions were always unrealistic, an email lit up my inbox…
It was from the same Fund of Funds. They had another opening and wanted to bring me back.
I applied and was expedited to final rounds. This was such an unexpected lifeline and I couldn’t waste it this time.
The first few rounds went well again. I think I came across as curious, honest, and personable. Or probably super stiff and nervous. But I was getting through it.
They had me select a fund or stock to pitch. Like a naïve child, I picked Amazon. I stumbled through my investment thesis that basically read as “BiG cOMpaNy GeT biGgeR”. Someone asked “what is their market cap” and I had no answer. It could’ve been a billion or a trillion for all I knew. Yikes.
After three hours, I was back in my bright red Ford Focus, almost in a worse mood this time around. Fast food career, here I come.
Instead, I got the offer. I guess my super winning personality overcame my lack of preparation. Or they just didn’t want to spend three more hours interviewing someone else. Either way, I had finally landed a legitimate finance internship.
For a few months I ran reports and sat in meetings with money managers. I learned about excel shortcuts and different investment strategies.
I spent my free time researching career options and decided in my head that IB was for the alphas who started practicing DCFs when they were 8 years old. I began my search for a full-time role, focusing on more realistic paths like other fund of funds and middle office.
I graduated college in Fall 2019, quit fast food, and bought a slightly newer two-door car. Dumb move getting a two door, but I was thrilled to get rid of the Focus.
My firm let me stay on post-graduation, so I had more time to recruit. They even told me I would be first to replace any full-time analyst who leaves. I was also getting interviews and even secured an offer from a bank as a treasury analyst. I felt great about my options, especially after almost graduating with zero experience.
Then Covid hit.
My treasury offer was rescinded. No one was leaving my firm any time soon. The job market froze overnight, and even back office job postings became ridiculously competitive.
The future quickly started to look grim. My internship was ending. Visions of working in fast food again grew in my mind. Oh, and the world was falling apart.
So when I received an offer out of 1,000 applicants to sit remote in a back office Operations role, I took it before you could say “social distancing”.
It was my first full-time job and I was grateful. But there was a bitter taste over how it went down and a lot of emotional whiplash.
Still, I packed my stuff, moved out of my parents’ house, drove across the country in my little two-door, and started my new life in Operations.
It was not glamorous. There was no upward mobility in this role; the company was a third-party data provider, so it’s not like I could move internally to front office. I was a glorified button pusher and from the beginning, they were openly talking about automating all the work in the coming years.
No disrespect to Ops, shout out to my back office fam, but I had to get out of there quickly. I would have to ride out Covid and reapply when the job market picked up again.
While I waited, I enrolled in the CFA program and, after a six month Covid delay, passed level 1. This gave me the confidence to shoot for better career paths. Good opportunities started popping up again.
An improvement in my situation would be much harder to obtain than anything I had ever accomplished. But hundreds of cold emails and applications turned into a few opportunities I could only have dreamed of in college.
First, I got deep in the process at a large fixed income shop. Great role with investment exposure and they liked my CFA progress. But when they asked “how did the recent announcement by the Fed impact the bond market”, I blanked. The rest of the interview didn’t matter after that.
Then I got in the process for an equity research position. Lots of pleasant small talk with the portfolio manager. Seemed like a good culture fit. After a few rounds, there were 3 candidates left for 2 positions, so I had a 2/3 chance. They even flew me out to the firm’s headquarters for final rounds. But a week later, the PM abruptly left the firm and the positions were closed.
That emotional crash, going from chances at FI and ER back to square one, was almost worse than getting fired from my first internship. Just brutally disappointing.
It had been over a year now in Operations, and interviews were getting fewer and further between, so I reached out to all my previous networking connections as a last full court heave.
One of my leads got me in touch with a recruiter at an accounting firm that had a Business Valuation opening. This was a nice opportunity to work on deals and modeling.
I couldn’t help but be pessimistic. I was so jaded from previous failures. Valuation is a relatively common back door to IB, which sounded above my resume and too good to be true. And besides, recruiters always ghost me.
But lo and behold, this particular recruiter was actually super helpful and got me in the process.
Interviews weren’t too difficult. No excel tests, no brain teasers. Mostly behavioral and general finance concepts that I had either prepped for or recognized from CFA.
But when the process was finished, I still didn’t expect to get it. And of course I was proven right, as a rejection email hit my inbox…
Sike, I got the job this time 🥳
Business Valuation was not just an internship or back office job. This was a legitimate finance position with decent pay, engaging work, and future prospects.
It was a jarring and welcome change to my reality. I wasn’t sure how much I deserved it, but I wasn’t about to ask.
The job was much more fun than being a burger flipper. I was learning a ton working on valuation reports and building models.
But there were negatives of course. The accounting firm culture was draining, the hours were long, and the pay wasn’t making up for the hours. I was used to career changes at this point, so I kept my eye out for the chance to make one last job move.
A year went by. M&A volume and hiring was strong. I was passively applying for roles as they came up and earned two offers from small shops.
Sounds good right? Well, while receiving these offers was an excellent change of pace, there was something off about both firms. I cared about three things: good people, deal quality, and a nice salary increase. Both firms had small, infrequent deals, salary below what I was currently making, and management I didn’t mesh with. I had to turn these offers down.
By the time I started to ramp up my search, deal volume began dropping, hiring slowing, and pressure increasing to get into IB while I had the chance.
I randomly applied for a small boutique and got a response. They liked my experience, and I breezed through their technical assessment without much trouble. Again, a nice change of pace.
I liked the team, kind people with prestigious backgrounds. The deal volume was strong even in a tough economic environment. And the salary had me like 👀
Interviews wrapped up and I was left with uncertainty. There were hundreds of applicants and I was sure some had better resumes than me. Hopefully my performance was enough.
It was enough. Offer letter came in my inbox. Quick phone call. Accepted the offer.
Just like that, after years of painstaking work (and a lot of help), I had climbed from zero prospects to finally, FINALLY breaking into IB. Finally.
I genuinely enjoy the job. The positives heavily outweigh the negatives. Deal volume is steady, I’m heavily involved, and the work is much more interesting than my previous jobs. And yes, IB salary is life changing. Truly a dream come true for me.
So that’s it, a happy ending for me. Until another catastrophe or crazy career thing happens.
Okay, time for me to pontificate since you’ve made it this far and are stuck with me. I’ll try not to be annoying or preachy.
If you’re in high school or just starting college, I don’t recommend doing anything I did. If you’re dead set on high finance, the non-target, money saving strategy doesn’t really work in an industry with so many recruiting barriers. I don’t even really recommend the CFA, even though it helped me get the valuation job. I recommend going to a good school, getting good grades, and networking like a politician.
I think the moral of my story really is just to try different things, evaluate the pros and cons of each life decision, and put your best foot forward.
If you do wind up at a non-target with average grades, trying hard is not nearly enough to break into IB; recruiting is a complete mess. It comes down to meeting the right people and being in the right place at the right time.
In fact, trying hard isn’t enough to accomplish anything. There’s always certain factors out of your control, like your health, people’s perceptions of you, and other circumstances. But I believe if you focus on what you can control, not just in recruiting but in life, you can find satisfaction in the journey regardless of the outcome.
There’s joy in living that goes beyond work. Sure I’m happy now, but I could’ve been just as happy without landing in IB.
My most fulfilling times will always be outside of work anyways. Even in my Operations days, I moved to a city that felt more like home, made great friends, and established my adult life. My perspective of committing my work to God and letting Him take care of the rest has gotten me this far.
So whether you’re working on a deck at 3am or serving delicious fast food, you can still get on out there and make your life worth living.

I wish everyone the best on your own journeys. Thanks for reading.

TL;DR: I went from a non target to landing at a small boutique IB shop through networking, job switches, and a ton of other random stuff.

 

Espite the challenges and uncertainties, each obstacle presents an opportunity for growth and learning. My chaotic IB journey has taught me resilience, adaptability, and the importance of perseverance in the face of adversity. While the road may be tumultuous, staying focused on long-term goals and maintaining a positive mindset is key to navigating the highs and lows of this demanding industry.

 
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i aint reading allat but shit congrats probs

 

Scroll up and read it man.  This one is good. You’re welcome.

 
Most Helpful

Amazing journey, and I have no doubt that the number of unexpected hurdles you overcame along the way only increased the gratification of landing that first IBD role tenfold. 

People don't realize it enough, but the reason you succeeded was you refused to give up. This is what it takes. It wasn't your IQ, background, rolodex, networking, or fortuitous timing, it was your stubborn drive to keep trying no matter how badly things looked. 

You're getting a lot of TLDRs in the comments, but it honestly wasn't that long and was quite well-written. Tough crowd of 18 year olds I suppose, they have that tiktok length attention span. 

As someone who also faced an abnormal amount of hurdles "breaking in", my one piece of advice would be don't take your foot off the gas, and remember, IB is not the end all be all. IB should be used as a springboard to the really interesting roles in finance, and deals get a lot more interesting when you're creating the investment thesis and making a case for why a deal should or not close, as opposed to merely sitting down with mgmt. and building a basic forecast. 

 

Amazing journey, man! It just shows that if you do what's in your control, everything works out in the end subhanallah! It's the people who never give up that become successful. I'm sure even if you were to work in fast food, you would have worked your way up to the C suite (just like Pano Christou). Congratulations, brother!

 

I saw your post on Reddit and planned to comment when I came across it here. Kind of a similar story as I started in operations then networked into Valuations. It's been 11 months since I was laid off and I have been struggling getting an interview for IB or anything related. I've been doing professional development started taking networking seriously 2 months ago.  From your story, it sounds like you got really lucky. Was there anything you did besides just applying? It's never been that simple for me but you make it look so easy. What can I do better? I'm in that same state of hopelessness you felt .

 

I networked like crazy for the internship and the valuation job. Applied randomly for the other jobs. It was a relatively hot market when I got the IB job and I was extremely fortunate.

It’s a horrible market right now, so I can see how someone would go awhile without landing something. You’ve only been seriously networking for two months so that may need more time. And you can always expand your search to other roles besides “high finance” if you need to.

All the best in your search.

 

This is brilliant almost teared up. People don't realise how this job and similar ones in the industry change your life/lives of those you love. The struggle makes it all the better, cant fully appreciate that offer and job if you haven't been through the trenches mentally and financially. Congratulations and here's to many years of continued success!

 

Can WSO Monkey Bot be made to summarize really long posts like this down into a small more readable size?

 

Read the whole thing and what a journey! As someone graduating high school and starting college next fall, this inspired me a lot. Congratulations on your success!

 

My TL:DR (and I did read it) : the right mindset will pave the way to your goals. And I don't mean only to achieve them (e.g. breaking into IB), bust most importantly to be grateful of what you have, keep looking forward and hustling.

Great story, well written, quite satisfying to read. If you decide to drop from finance, would consider writing...

Congratulations, you made a big objective. Enjoy it, learn, connect and keep a direct line to your heart to hear where your goals are for the next steps. Keep then hustling to get there, but enjoying what you do and the path to it. Also recognising, that the result may be different, but it can also be satisfying and/or a stepping stone. Good luck and would love to read the continued story in some years...

 

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