Q&A: Ultra Non-Target to BB IBD & Top Tier PE


Hi All -

As someone who derived a ton of benefit from WSO while recruiting, I thought I'd offer up my advice and answer any questions.

I'm here to tell you that breaking into IB is possible from a non-target school, but you'll deal with a lot of BS from recruiters and firms who only pretend to recruit broadly. Ask  me anything!


  • Ultra Non-Target (I'm talking 100+ on US News, name recognition comes from Football and in-state kids get in pretty much automatically)
  • Studied economics (not in the business school) 
  • Internship in research and MM IB before accepting a full time offer from a BB IB
  • Recently transitioned into PE

Mistakes I Made

  • Undoubtedly my biggest mistake was being too afraid to cold email outside of the very few alumni we had on Wall Street. I believed that all of the hard work I put into my resume + technical interview prep would shine through


  • Apply broadly to all firms in all cities. I've taken plenty of calls where people lead on that it's BB IB or bust which won't get you far at all. I was the alternate candidate for two top firms for SA recruiting but my only offer came from a MM shop in a Tier 3 finance city I hated. I used that to lateral into the BB for full time

WSO Mentor Profile

Want to work with me? Check out my profile here.

Comments (29)

  • Intern in IB - Gen
Nov 19, 2020 - 1:24pm

Can you talk more about your experience with lateraling from SA to FT? Did you have to let your return offer from SA expire and then recruit FT or was the timeline convenient for you to recruit for FT with the offer still in hand? Did you get FT interviews through networking or applying online? Also, any other advice for someone looking to lateral for FT would be very helpful, thanks!

  • Associate 1 in PE - Other
Nov 19, 2020 - 1:55pm

I accepted my SA offer as a backup plan. Others may feel differently (or have stipulations for recruiting from their school) but DO NOT put yourself in a position where you reject an offer and don't also have another offer in hand. Yes this industry is small but I don't think reneging on an offer is the worst. It happens all of the time and you have to look out for your best interests. Usually the timeline is that banks give their interns offers and then decide headcount needs after figuring out who accepts which means that you'll probably always be in a position where the timelines don't match up. I did not tell the firm I was interviewing for that I had accepted another offer. After I got the BB role, I called the MM firm and the recruiter was more than understanding (for background, I did have a conversation with the recruiter during the internship and brought up some concerns and the firm could not accommodate me so this was not a surprise to her that I was still recruiting). One thing to know is that the BB has since moved to a policy where they still consider candidates that have accepted another offer so it's not as taboo to renege. 

Lateraling between SA and FT is very hard. I knew early on in my internship that I was going to try to make the move so I spent as much time preparing technically as I could. I reached out to alumni, applied online everywhere, etc. Most opportunities fell through because firms ultimately didn't end up having any headcount needs after filling spots with their intern class. I got very lucky that the team I joined was fairly new and had not taken on an intern. I also didn't apply directly to the role I ended up getting but a recruiter for the firm asked if I would consider applying for that team specifically based on my background. It actually made the interview process much easier knowing there wasn't pressure to land the role since I already had an offer.

My best advice is that you have to be very scrappy when trying to lateral between SA and FT, especially if you are trying to get into a significantly better firm. The spots are extremely limited and tend to be for specific teams as opposed to a general funnel. This means the interviews tend to be harder technically because you're most likely interviewing with the specific team and they have to make sure the person can do the job without having a trial-run with an internship. The interview process for a general BB offer in NYC in comparison is with random VPs across the firm who don't have as much of an incentive to grill you because the chances you get hired and then end up in their team are much slimmer.

  • Intern in IB-M&A
Nov 19, 2020 - 1:29pm

Also interested in learning more about SA to FT transition. I signed an offer with a top MM in a non-NYC location but would like to lateral to NY full-time.

Most Helpful
  • Associate 1 in PE - Other
Nov 19, 2020 - 7:21pm

I'm a white female. However, I've been through interview processes where my male peers had entire conversations with the interviewer around sports. In comparison, they used that time to ask me additional technical questions. As technically a minority in this industry, I've found that it's an extreme disadvantage to be a female because "fit" is so important. I've been left out of intern golfing events, fantasy football team invites, drinking events, etc. I encourage everyone immediately jumping to "this must be a diversity candidate" to think about how hard it is to try to fit in to a team that is completely different from yourself. It's easy to blame diversity as a reason why you can't get in versus someone else but that's never the true answer. I know of quite a few white males from my school who went on to work at top BBs and then to top HFs / PE firms. Let's all be part of the solution in making this industry more diverse and inclusive

  • Associate 1 in PE - Other
Nov 19, 2020 - 4:08pm

I did not do an internship Freshman year but have seen these becoming increasingly more common for the most competitive candidates in IB. I know of people who have been successful reaching out to smaller firms (IB, PE, Research, VC) and offering to do an unpaid internship for Freshman and/or Sophomore summers. Certain states require internships to be paid so it may not work everywhere. This is obviously not feasible for everyone and in my opinion contributes to the inequality in IB, but an extremely great option if feasible for you and if you don't have any other prospects. Can also try to look into getting school credit for this type of internship in lieu of pay. Off-cycle internships are also a good idea to get experience and can be less competitive. I personally value student fund experience very highly as well as my own experience with our student fund was more involved than either of my internships. I got my Sophomore internship through an alum who founded the firm and my MM IB internship from applying to a conference and then winning the stock pitch at the conference (which led to a Superday).

Nov 19, 2020 - 4:12pm

How were you able to stand out in FT recruiting? Given you had IB experience, do you think the other applicants were also MM trying to break in or had no IB experience?

path less traveled

  • Associate 1 in PE - Other
Nov 19, 2020 - 4:25pm

The other candidates at the Superday all had IB experience. One had experience at a small LMM firm and the other at a top boutique. Besides the fact that I correctly answered all of the technical questions, I brought in a stock pitch report that I had done for my student fund and left it with the team. This was a 20+ page report with DCF and Comps model outputs, pretty charts and a comprehensive argument in favor of buying the stock. I think this played to my favor with the team because it showed that I knew how to model, could write well and could produce a client-friendly output. As someone who didn't study finance and didn't intern, this gave the team comfort in hiring me for a full time position. I brought in these type of reports to every IB interview I did, by the way, and it can be a great way to control the IB interview by having your interviewer ask questions about a stock that you know everything about since you prepared ahead of time. Some interviewers didn't even open the report and others decided the rest of my interview would be 100% about the report.

  • Associate 1 in PE - Other
Nov 19, 2020 - 7:12pm

Anyone will tell you that IB is a grind. That said, the experience is unmatched. From day one you are forced to figure out any number of things and then execute on them. My excel and dynamic modelling skills went from 0 to 100 really quick. I loved getting to work directly with Management teams and learn everything about their business to help them through transactions. I also had the pleasure of working with a tight-knit, extremely impressive group of people who were supportive and caring. That being said, I never expected to stay in IB long.

In college, you are taught to learn that A + B = C and then you rinse and repeat that for the test. In IB, you are told that you need to do C and you must figure out how to put together A + B to get you there. The best analysts in IB are able to learn very quickly, figure out how to do stuff they've never learned (Google, Investopedia, find precedent resources) and use critical reasoning to get to the output requested by your Associate / VP. If you want top bucket then you're not only executing on what you're told to do, but you're looking at the client ask in a big picture way and laying out the slides / analyses that you should present to the client and then also executing on it (essentially doing your Associate's job). Another underrated skill is writing well. A large amount of the job is synthesizing research and communicating that research succinctly. Of course you also need to know finance, modeling, excel, accounting and overall be detail-oriented and hardworking too.

  • Intern in IB - Ind
Nov 19, 2020 - 7:10pm

I'm a non target kid going into bb ft with hopes of recruiting to the buyside. How much weight were factors such as gpa, group, test scores and school have when getting past head hunter screenings?

  • Associate 1 in PE - Other
Nov 19, 2020 - 7:30pm

All of those matter when it comes to PE. You will still have the non-target label unfortunately. That being said, if you're at good group a BB you'll still be competitive for buyside jobs and shouldn't have trouble getting in front of people. At the end of the day, your case study matters most

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