Breaking Into US Investment Banking as An International Student

Pl00's picture
Rank: Senior Chimp | 21

Having received a lot of help and advice from WSO forums, I am very grateful for the people that shared their experience here and decided to share mine with you guys to help those that are currently going through the IB recruiting process. I will try my best to answer any questions you may have and share any insights I gained.

Background about me:
- Top 30 non-target
- International student, English as second language
- No U.S internships before applying
- Low GPA 3.2 ~ 3.5
- IB-focus only
- Graduation delayed for internship

- 1 BB summer internship offer (haven't started), Non NY office (with opportunity to transfer to NY office as full-time analyst)

I will post my story in the next couple days and feel free to ask me any questions you have right now so that I can include them in my story. Thanks!

Comments (8)

Dec 20, 2018

Which office is your upcoming internship? And how do you know you will be able to transfer to the NYC office? Thanks!

Dec 20, 2018

My guess is GS SLC, they have that transfer deal written in.

Looking forward to the story OP


Dec 20, 2018

Oh, sounds interesting, thanks for your work!

Most Helpful
Jan 10, 2019

Apologize for the delay due to the holiday season. Here's the story!

I started networking my second year of college. The summer after my freshman year, I decided to try investment banking and was able to connect to an acquaintance who had previous IB experience in the U.S. Since then, she has been my IB career mentor throughout the process (will elaborate on the effectiveness of having a mentor).

After consulting with my mentor, I set up the following plan/goal to make sure I will eventually break into IB:

Sophomore year - Networking + Find a finance-related internship in the U.S for the summer + IB Interview Preparation+ IB Early Programs Application
Junior year - Networking + Interview Preparation + Normal Program Application + Secure an IB summer Internship!
Senior year - Get return offer and enjoy the rest of my college life (too young, too naive...)

The advice given by my mentor left me an impression that it is extremely important to find an internship in the U.S because one: it shows that I, as an international student, am able to work in American working environment, and two: U.S internships generally provide better training so I will pick up the essential skills (modeling skill, presentation skill, etc.) that are helpful for future IB interviews. I was also given the perception that it's easier to get a general finance internship since IB is in general very difficult to break into without prior experience. As a result, I spent about 20-30% of my time networking with alumni that are in the field of IB, and 70-80% of my time networking with alumni that are in non-IB, but finance-related industries (asset management, corporate finance, etc.). By the spring semester of my sophomore year, I had reached out to around 20 alumni among which 5 were currently working at Bulge Brackets (BB), and among those at BB only 3 actually do investment banking.

It is when the spring semester began that I realized that I didn't network enough with IB people and I am at a huge disadvantage compared to my peers. I had a good GPA (3.8) when I finished my first year, but it quickly dropped to 3.6 (slightly below 3.7) just within one semester for I was doing a lot of networking. I got really scared because my peers all kept good grades and were in the process of applying for the Early Programs (Women, Diversity, LGBT, Early Insights, etc). I started to network more with IB people while completing applications for such programs at all nine BBs. I took a lot of classes that semester in the hope of raising my GPA, but ended up getting an even lower GPA (slightly above 3.60). At the same time, I was waiting for the results from early programs I applied. I thought that I might at least get into one of the programs I applied, but was unfortunately rejected by all of them. I was very frustrated about losing my first opportunity to secure an IB summer internship, but I was even more upset by the fact that I started networking way earlier than my peers, but all the work I've done just didn't pay off during early programs' applications (cuz I networked with the wrong people...I know it sounds really dumb) Even with a lot of networking with non-IB people, I was not able to get a finance-related internship in the U.S. by the end of semester due to a lack of interview skill. To make matters worse, my GPA suffered a lot and put me at a disadvantage for applying in the normal recruiting cycle.

I had no choice but to go back to my home country for that summer. I took some time reflecting on my application experience so far and decided to give it another try. I knew I had to do an internship with a company, preferably a big name, to put on my resume in preparation for the next cycle of recruitment. Through connections, I got an internship in a local branch at one of the BBs as an IB summer analyst. I was really happy as I knew the big name will help me get through the preliminary resume check. Meanwhile, I was practicing interview questions every day since the junior IB summer internship application was about to open in July. While all of this is happening, I kept networking (long-distance phone calls) with alumni in the U.S. despite the time difference. After months of waiting and preparation, I got an email one day that notified me of a first-round phone interview with a BB NY office. The joy didn't last too long as I quickly failed the interview. Soon after, I got a video interview from another BB NY office, also didn't get to the next round.

By the end of summer, I didn't receive any other interviews. I was really desperate as I heard most banks already finished their first few rounds of interviews and will launch their Superdays once the school starts. So as soon as I got back to the U.S. (fall semester of my junior year), I started to do a lot of last-minute networking. It was a really bad timing because bankers were all focusing on recruiting and I really didn't have enough time to build relationships with them. I got tired of this kind of networking and was slowly giving up. Weeks passed, I finally received a first-round phone interview with another BB NY office. I knew it was kinda my last shot so I prepared really hard for it. Luckily, I was moved forward to a second-round phone interview. However, I failed it again.

I've never felt this upset and disappointed before. I called my mom that night and cried like a baby. I reflected on the interviews I had failed and felt that my English speaking skill and interview skill can never be good enough to get me an internship here. I thought it was so stupid for me to even think that I could break into investment banking in the U.S. as an international student. This internship is just so "out of my league". I completely gave up for a period of time while BBs were finishing up their Superdays until one day I got an email saying that I got a first-round phone interview with a boutique IB.

I was so surprised as I didn't network with anyone from that office (big mistake), yet they still sent me the invitation. This opportunity somehow sent me a signal that tells me to not quite IB that easily and that I should be more persistent. I got myself together and prepared really hard for interview. After the first-round, I thought there was absolutely no chance I can pass to the next round because I was not able to answer some of the questions they asked. However, in a week, I received the Superday invitation (a huge progress for me as it was my first Superday!) I was totally not expecting that and I never thought I'd be qualified for a Superday. I went to the interview and guess what? I failed it again.

Another cycle of depression......

I don't know what to do. But this experience made me realize that maybe I do have the ability to get Superdays. So after consulting with my mentor about the possibility of delaying my graduation, I decided to go through recruitment cycle again next year.
This time, I learned my lessons from the previous recruiting cycle and focused mainly on networking with IB people and interview preparation. I understand that all I need is one chance, and when that chance comes, I need to be well-prepared for the interview, so I spent more time preparing interview questions than networking. Throughout the spring semester of my junior year, I networked consistently and submitted applications very early. Near the end of the spring semester, I received first-round video interview from a BB NY office (same one as last year!). I'm a little bit more experienced now and know how to tackle the interview. After a couple days of waiting, I was successfully moved forward to their fast track Superday. It's amazing how one breakthrough (my first Superday) brings me to a completely new level of competition. I was able to land Superdays for all my subsequent interviews.

As you've probably guessed, I failed again. The interesting and the most annoying thing is that you never know whether its your last chance or not. When I was rejected again, I felt it was the end of the world and being a senior going through these interviews just makes me feel even worse. Junior summer, I had to go back to my home country again obviously and throughout the entire summer, I kept applying and preparing, still didn't hear anything by the end of summer. When my senior year officially started, I was seriously considering going to graduate school. As I started grad school application, I received a first round phone interview with a BB HK office. You can imagine how happy I was. Even though HK office was not my first choice, I just really wanted to break into IB at that time. Well same routine goes again, passed the first round, moved to Superday (held in nyc), failed it again. This time, I was crushed and thought maybe this is a sign from God to tell me not to do IB. That Superday was a disaster (not to exaggerate). I cried in the hotel and the airport on my way back to school. Lol I remembered this so well: I was reading a story on WSO posted by this guy that had a very similar experience to mine (slightly better off than mine) while I was crying by myself in the airport's bathroom. I was feeling extremely low but his post made me feel a little better. I was very depressed for the following week, not hanging out with friends, not paying attention to classes, putting off grad school application, etc. I reached a stage where I don't care about breaking into IB anymore.

And then... (yeah, I can't believe life can be this dramatic), one week later, I received the Superday invitation from a BB Regional Office (the one I didn't get last year.. you see what I'm saying?). Due to my multiple failed experience, I didn't raise my hope high for this one and just kept telling myself it's gonna be the same result as the ones I did. So why not just go and give it a try given that I'm immune to failure now? I went to the interview, didn't spend much time preparing for interviews the previous night, was relaxed when I walked into the interview room, and just talked to interviewers without thinking too much. The funny thing is that one of the interviewers I got was from the same BB NY office interview I had fours months ago... (Thought I would have a difficult time being interviewed by the same person twice and failed the interview again). Surprisingly, the entire process went smoothly. The next day, I got a call from the HR that told me I GOT THE OFFER. I honestly could not believe that this is actually happening: one week ago, I was still depressed and felt like such a loser and one week after, I finally broke into IB.

Just wanted to share the process with you guys as I believe everyone must have been at that stage where he/she thinks he/she can't make it to the last due to XYZ reasons. One advice I received early in the process through networking is to be persistent and I honestly never really know what it means until I experience the whole thing by myself. So keep fighting and do have faith in yourself no matter what!

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Jan 10, 2019

Congrats! As an international it's really hard esp in the past cycle, feel good about that and make sure you kill it during the summer

On a side note, try not to cry so's bad for health
And you gonna need that health real soon when FT starts.....

    • 1
Jan 10, 2019

Hahah thanks! Will keep that in mind!

Jan 14, 2019

Feel free to PM if you have any qns going forward

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Jan 14, 2019