Q&A - I'm a Non-target who broke into MM IB with no prior experience

11/30/17 update: This was originally posted in 2014 but I am still able to take questions As some of you know, I'm about to begin by MM IB analyst stint in a week. I've been blogging for WSO for a fair bit of time now and I thought it would be good to use some of my experiences to help others. I went over my story in detail here but below is a quick overview:

  • Non-target
  • Non-finance major
  • No prior finance or IB experience
  • 4 year, D1 Tennis Athlete
  • 3.7 GPA, 700 GMAT and a couple honors societies
  • Prior International living experience

I'm willing to answer questions on networking, cold emailing, resources I used to break in, interviews, crafting your story, any clarifications on my story, tennis, and anything else that people think I can answer as long as I deem it not to expose my whole identity. Fire away! I'll try to answer the questions as quickly and honestly as I can. Feel free to PM if it's a question you're not comfortable sharing with the rest of the community.

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Comments (53)

Jun 12, 2014 - 2:14pm

Thanks for the question man. It's great that you've been reaching out to alumni actively and this early. If you've established good connections with any alumni, I'd reach out to them again and see if they can refer you to someone with whom they work. Chances of people responding increase when they get a referral from someone they work with/like/know.

If you still want to send out cold emails, I would look into the WSO Company Database or use the emailing format you get from alumni contacts who respond to you with their work email and use LinkedIn to find others you can contact at the firm. If you look at my previous networking thread, there's a template there that you can follow and adapt to your situation. Remember to try and find something in common to the person you're reaching out to. It just helps making that cold email a lot warmer. Good luck and let me know if you have any other questions!

Jun 12, 2014 - 2:18pm

Thank you for the quick response. I'll go ahead and continue to go through my alumni network first and then if need be with the help of your networking thread, expand my networking to people outside of my current network

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Best Response
Jun 12, 2014 - 2:48pm

@"DoYouLikePhilCollins", I didn't do anything per se. I had no prior finance experience and just one prior internship during the course of my junior year in a marketing/business research role. I graduated about a month ago now.

In terms of specific steps, I went over this in my story linked above but I'll give you a tl;dr version:

1. Used Thanksgiving and Winter Break to comb through WSO Company Database and hit all non MM and non EB/BB firms and get emailing formats.
2. Open up a spreadsheet and find people at those companies via LinkedIn and using information from WSO, I sent 100 emails per week (not on Mondays for obvious reasons)
3. Prior to sending emails, I'd do some research on the person and try to find commonalities to email them with (ex: if he had played tennis in college, I'd use that as my subject and focus on that, if he went to a non-target, I'd appeal to that)
4. Wait for responses and continue setting up emails. As I received responses, I'd jump on calls, introduce myself, learn about the other person and ask questions like why IB, why XYZ firm etc (take notes when they answer so you can use it in interviews). From there, I'd also ask questions about their background to learn more about them. Key is to put focus on them and be genuinely interested in them. Can't fake that.
5. At the end of the 1st or 2nd conversation, I'd ask them if they would be willing to refer me to others they work with and then follow that process with them

Eventually, I broke into my MM firm through one such contact, had a quick superday due to it being off-cycle and managed to beat out a few other candidates for the offer. Networking definitely helped me learn about the firm and how to frame my story and answers in multiple ways.

Jun 12, 2014 - 3:45pm

nadal is young, say by the end of his career he has the most grand slam titles of all time (even though a high % of these would be french opens obviously)

where would you rank him all time?

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Jun 12, 2014 - 3:53pm

Probably top 5 if he passes Federer but not top 5 if he doesn't surpass Federer. My top 5 would be Laver, Borg, Federer, Sampras & Nadal assuming he passes Federer.

Jun 12, 2014 - 4:01pm

@"AndyLouis", @"State of Trance", my current top 5 is Federer & Laver, Sampras, Nadal, Borg. Laver was another guy who got screwed by his circumstances. The guy was a machine in his prime and if the sport wasn't in an upheaval period during his prime, he'd have set a ridiculous record for GS titles. Let's not forget he's the only guy to win the calendar slam, twice and 9 years apart too if I'm not wrong. Plus, the guy is a class act. I love Borg but his retirement was entirely in his hands and so I can't fault the others for continuing to play and eclipse his records. His backhand was absolutely sick though

Jun 12, 2014 - 3:57pm

@"AndyLouis", that's a tough, tough question. It really depends on how you define your "Greatest of All Time". If he eclipses Federer's total of GS titles solely through French Open titles, I'd still give the overall nod to Federer just because I think he's a more rounded player, makes the game look easy, has some sterling records of consistency that will never be broken (36 GS QFs in a row I believe? That's 9 years of making it to the top 8 of every Grand Slam on numerous surfaces, battling through injuries and off days, playing different players, surviving different conditions and tough draws), and most importantly, I think he pushed the game to a whole, new level. He forced people like Nadal, Djokovic & Murray to push their boundaries and chase him. He was so far ahead of the game in the way he used transition tennis that it took people years to catch up to him.

Not to mention I think he's one of the greatest, if not the greatest, talents of all time. There are a few other things that embellish Nadal's case as well that I perceive to be unfortunate. There's no denying Nadal is one of the greatest of all time and the greatest clay court tennis player of all time but take a look at how many masters tournaments are on clay and look at how many are on grass. Grass, is arguably, Federer's best surface and in his prime, no one could beat him there. If there were more grass tournaments, Federer's stranglehold on the No.1 ranking and his resume of Masters wins would be even more ridiculous.

My last point is something that people have begun to notice these past few years. The ATP made a conscious decision a decade ago to slow all the surfaces since Wimbledon was becoming a serve & volley fest and nothing else. Unfortunately, they took it too far. It had a homogenizing effect on the various surfaces. Had the surfaces stayed as fast as when Federer was no.1 in the world, I think he would have racked up more GS and tournament titles. Just take a look at his indoor record where the year-end tournament is played. Those surfaces are quicker than most and Nadal struggles there since his defense can't bail him out as easily. Murray admitted that if courts were as quick as they were in the past, Federer would still be the dominant player.

Having said all that, if Nadal eclipses Fed's GS record with 1-2 other GS titles and then a few more FO GS titles, I'd give him the all time nod. Slowing down of surfaces and the allocation of Masters is out of his control and kudos to him for growing as a player every year and battling his injuries. He's an unbelievable competitor and you can never count him out of a match.

Jun 13, 2014 - 12:49am

I really appreciated your earlier posts on breaking in and hope to use them as a reference point for my own career search. I'm a rising junior from a non-target as well looking to break in. I relied on campus recruiting this past semester but failed to secure an internship. So I realized that I'm going to have to build my own network and reach out individually to have a shot at breaking into the investment banking industry. How did you go about contacting alumni, in other words how did you establish the initial contact. Also, how did you establish a connection with non-alumni?

Jun 13, 2014 - 10:57am

Hey @"Strattonite13", the biggest thing to remember is not to rely on campus recruiting. I never had the option for campus recruiting because no banks come to campus to recruit. In the same vein, I had only 2 alumni on the street and reached out to them but I think they had moved on from IBD. Nonetheless, here's what you can do:

1. In contacting alumni, I'd join your alumni group on LinkedIn and use your alumni directory (if you have one) to get their contact information. On LinkedIn, you can send them InMails or use the connection request message box to type up an abbreviated version of my template in my networking post. Then, when they connect with you, you can send them a slightly longer message asking for a call. Make sure the subject emphasizes that you're a student from their school and if you're sending it via LinkedIn, hit the group button so that when they get it, it shows up to them as a message from the same alumni group

2. Remember that with alumni, you want to talk to them about your school and things they can relate to there. If they happen to have other things in common with you, expand upon that too. For instance, a tennis playing alum from my school would have been a godsend

3. Once you're done reaching out to alumni and using them to gain referrals, if you're not satisfied with your network or if you haven't reached a few banks, cold email them using the WSO Company Database and its email formats and cross reference that with LinkedIn to find people whom you think you'd have a connection with. Again, use the template I mentioned in the networking post or others you find on here. Once they respond, follow the process I mentioned above of keeping the focus on them, asking relevant questions and after staying in touch with them, asking for referrals within the bank to talk to other people they've worked with. After 2-3 months of dedicated networking, you should have reached several banks and on top of your OCR, you should have a good shot of making it.

Jun 13, 2014 - 8:24am

Thanks for starting this thread. I'm graduating in December and your former situation parallels my current. I walked onto a small D1 tennis team for a year at a non-target school, and then went to study abroad for a year and a half. I've been doing the networking, cold-calling, etc., and it's encouraging to see someone got results from that!

Jun 13, 2014 - 11:00am

Kudos on walking on man. Never an easy thing to do. I injured myself the year during which recruiting for D1 tennis occurs and then had malaria 2 months prior to attending my school. I had to go from feeling dead tired after 10 minutes on a tennis court with little muscle endurance and strength to full strength and stamina in 1.5 months and then I walked on to my team as well. So definitely feel the struggle you faced! Let me know if you ever need any help with anything.

Jun 13, 2014 - 10:07am

I've been messaging Linkedin but with very little chances of success. The only people that do respond are summer interns from my school... What am I doing wrong?

Jun 13, 2014 - 11:24am

Received a PM asking about using my WSO blogging experience during interviews and networking and any clarification towards making phone calls to alumni and non-alumni while networking.

The WSO blogging experience and WSO in general has been a huge boost for someone like me with no real experience to expound upon. @"AndyLouis" & @"WallStreetOasis.com" have created and given me and others a great platform via which we can share our experiences and learn from each other. The best thing WSO did for me (never realized this until a month ago) is that by reading and immersing myself into the informative posts here, I had an idea about various parts of finance and banking. Essentially, I was comfortable speaking about almost anything at a basic enough level to where I could get the ball rolling and then let an expert or the networking contact in question expand upon those concepts. It showed that I did some research, was knowledgeable and could hold a conversation. So I could talk about the markets with an MD while holding real conversations with analysts about the rougher parts of an IBD job.

The WSO blogging experience has helped me put my thoughts on paper, meet other non-targets here and reach people I wouldn't have been able to without it. Plus it's a great conversation starter during interviews. Most people I've talked to have heard about WSO and when I mention I'm a blogger there, they're curious about the site and about the content I write about. So it definitely helped to make my story and my experiences more interesting.

In terms of the phone call, here's a general outline that most of my calls have followed (not something I planned but just something I've observed):

1. Small talk - This is where having a commonality helps. If I know someone is a big basketball fan and they ask me what I'm doing casually, I'd mention that I'm just enjoying some time off, following the NBA Playoffs and doing some reading. If they catch that, we'll have a 1-2 minute conversation about it and the ice breaks.

2. Your story - Depending on the person's tone and desire to do small talk, you'll know if they're in a hurry or if they have more time for you. Some people also just tend to be less patient and attentive. So it's important that you have multiple versions of your story. I have a 60 second, 2 minute, 3 minute and 5 minute version. I usually stick to the 60s and 2 minute versions for phone calls. Make sure you can emphasize commonalities in your story and don't make it sound rehearsed.

3. Their Story - Usually, they'll give you a quick background about themselves. Take good notes here and if there's something there that you've done or you two have in common, mention it and ask them questions about it after they're done talking.

4. Questions - Ask if they have time for questions and if yes, ask a couple good questions regarding their experiences and their firm. Take good notes here since they're telling you what you could say in an interview. If they have more time for questions, ask 1 more. I always have 3-6 questions lined up. Sometimes, people answer some questions during their story or general advice part of the call so you need to have more questions to fall back on.

5. Thank Yous - Thank them for their time and mention that you'll be in touch. Within 24 hours, I'd send them a thank you email again and personalize it a little based on your conversation

Now, the first few calls are always rough but if you continue to put yourself out there, you will eventually get so comfortable with it, it'll be second nature and trust me this pays off in spades during an interview. Because your first few calls will be rough, I'd suggest starting with the firms you don't have much of an interest working with and then working your way up to your number 1 firm. This way when you get there, you're ready to impress and little will stump you.

Jun 13, 2014 - 11:31am

Received another PM regarding approaching people within M&A but not being able to find anyone to contact apart from BBs.

My advice here would be to contact people at the banks you're looking at who are not in the M&A group using the networking template and advice I've given above and in some earlier threads. Once you've had a couple conversations with someone in other groups, chances are at least 1 of them will have a friend at another bank in a M&A group or know someone in a M&A group in his bank. This might take a while but this is your best bet if you can't find anyone else to contact.

If you just don't know anyone, you could just do a LinkedIn search and cross reference that with the WSO Company Database's emailing format. Using these two resources, you can definitely find someone who is in a M&A group somewhere. Once you do, follow the advice outlined above and in other articles and you'll be good to go.

Jun 13, 2014 - 12:13pm

Thanks for all the information! Inspiring stuff! You mentioned you had a non-finance background. In terms of the technical side how did you find it? Could you give me some insight into how you learnt it? How long it took? How much you knew when you were networking? How much you knew when you went to the superday/interviews? etc
Sorry for all the questions and thanks again!

Jun 13, 2014 - 1:38pm

Received another PM asking about my technicals prowess while networking and while I interviewed for my last and only superday.

In my experience, I was never once asked a technical question during my informational interviews. That being said, I kept working on the basic technical questions. With interviews, it depends from firm to firm. My group at my bank knew my background and so kept it solely to fit questions. They were just looking to see if I was intelligent enough to pick up the rest and not to mention, if I was someone they wanted to work with. My advice would be to find out what the level of technical expertise needed is for the bank in question during your informational interviews. Based on that, I'd make it a priority or put it on the burner till you perfect your behaviorals.

As far as resources are concerned, investment banking by Rosenbaum is a great start, the WSO technical guide is a huge resource and lastly, mock interviews will help as well. If you're really inclined, you can always try to do and apply some of the technical concepts. Just make sure you're not just memorizing the answers. You need to be able to explain it in your own words and adapt to the questions that they throw at you.

Jun 13, 2014 - 4:42pm

Do you think it is better to cold email or cold call. I have been cold emailing and have gotten about a 10% hit rate so far probably because I am from a non target state school. I f you think cold calling is best how do I find numbers and I also feel like people would get annoyed if they just get a random call from a kid who doesnt even go to a state school. Any thoughts would be great!!

Jun 13, 2014 - 5:24pm

I prefer cold emailing because if you place cold calls, there's more downside due to:

1. What if you call someone while they're away from their desk?
2. What if you catch them at a bad time?
3. What if you call them during a client meeting?

With a cold email, if done right, they can respond to you at their own convenience and it takes away some of the unpredictability that comes with cold calling. Plus you can literally fire off hundreds of cold emails once you have different templates and it's much more time efficient than calling. Time is of paramount essence here so you want to be as efficient as possible.

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