I've been lurking around this forum for years now but never posted until now. I was in the struggle of figuring my way into IB, so I wanted to wait until and if I "made" it to share my story.
I did my finance undergrad in the south of Europe, not really having a specific career goal in mind and just trying to get as good a GPA as I could so I'd have the chance to pursue grad school. This wasn't the easiest thing to do given that I was working various odd jobs full-time at the same time, why delayed my graduation for a couple of years but my GPA was solid. As my graduation was approaching I applied to some Master's in Finance programs in the US because I won a green card through the diversity visa process and thought about utilizing it. I was accepted in one of the top 5 programs with a pretty high scholarship and having formed an interest in IB had through an IB internship in my home country and some classes I took in school, l crossed the Atlantic with hopes of breaking in.
Wake up Call
Little did I know about the recruiting reality here and the whole target/non-target thing. I found out the hard way that Masters are not particularly popular in the US and banks only really recruit out of undergrad for analysts or MBA for associates, so Master's students are kind of fucked. In any event, I chose to make the best out of a bad situation and thought networking was my best bet, so I started shooting out hundreds of emails a week. Unfortunately IB seemed to not be in the cards, because of the structured nature of recruiting at the big firms so I chose to focus on the MM and boutiques. I found a huge list of what seemed to have every boutique IB in the country and was shooting out emails like a madman.
Eventually, I got an unpaid summer internship at a one-man shop and continued to network while there. This got me another internship, which again was unpaid. However, it was at a somewhat better firm with MDs that had a bulge bracket background and I got some good experience there. Thankfully due to the unpaid nature of the internship my hours were much better than at a normal internship so I managed to work here and there for a buck and hang in there.
Eventually, after 7 long months gathering M&A experience and several failed interviews in the meanwhile, I found a paid internship at last. It was hard to recruit for full-time positions because I was an intern and the lateral spots were looking mostly for people with full-time experience but I had some solid deals on my resume and with a lot of networking I managed to get another internship at a respectable boutique. This time it was paid, which was good but the hours were also savage and I was pretty much only making $10/hour but I had to take it since it was a step in the right direction. While there I continued networking (a LOT), learning the BIWS guides and modeling courses by heart and gathering deal experience so by the time I had a combined ~10 months of IB experience through the internships I started getting really good interviews through my yearlong networking.
I had several final-rounds and countless first and second rounds and finally around a year after I started interning I landed 4 solid offers from really good MM shops. Of course, the irony is that after a job search that lasted 2 years they all came in the same week, which brought me in a position I never thought I'd be in and turned 3 offers down. This was harder to do than I had imagined but I won't lie, it felt good to make decisions from a position of power for once.
Now I am over a year in my job and like it, a lot worked on some good deals and am pretty happy with my choice to join this firm so far. Of course, it has the usual downsides of banking but I'd say I have it better than analysts at other firms for sure. I am also getting a lot of traction from BBs for lateral recruiting but not sure yet if I choose to go down that path or go for PE, I will decide in the coming months.
To recap the timeline of my journey since many people seemed to be confused: I started my MSF in the summer of 2014 and graduated in December 2015, however the last 6 months were remotely and I only went back to school once to sit for the final exam. My first internship started in June 2015, the second in October 2015, the third internship in May 2016 and my full-time offers rolled in at the end of October 2016, so almost 11 months after graduation!
I would say the headline of my story for someone still in the trenches is to never stop the grind, hang in there and shoot out thousands of emails until one of them is the lucky one. Of course, be prepared for interviews and make use of the resources out there to not shoot yourself in the foot once you do get an interview.