Broke into MM M&A from a non-traditional background and 2 years of networking and internships.... AMA

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.

Background

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.

Made it

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.

Comments (31)

 
Feb 28,2018

Congratulations man, glad to hear it panned out for you and really respect the hustle.

So after a year on the job now, even though you did state that you are unsure of what you want to do long-term, how are you weighing the options of lateraling to a BB, an EB, or jumping ship to PE or corp dev or something unrelated?

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Feb 28,2018

Thanks man, appreciate it. I have a preference for PE because of the higher comp (due to carried interest at the big funds) and hopefully shorter work days. I am also getting jaded by doing the same thing over and over again as an analyst and would welcome a change. I managed to make some solid contacts in PE already so I have a shot to at least get some interviews I think. If PE recruiting fails, which is a likely scenario given the competition, I will go for a BB although I am a bit reluctant to do so because my hours will get worse there and not better. However if I stay in banking I might as well conquer my inner bitch and play in the big leagues! Lol

Corp Dev is not something I would go in now. Maybe at a later point when I am older, if that is still an option, so I can work less hours. The hours are definitely a consideration as time goes by, it's getting old really fast to be constantly on call, miss family events, cancel dates etc so even though I am young and am soldiering through now I am not sure if I want to do it in the long run.

 
Feb 28,2018

Congratulations. Vandy MSF?

 
Best Response
Feb 28,2018

Thank you brother! No, I did my MSF in the East Coast. I was admitted into Vandy but wanted to be closer to New York and got a much higher scholarship from the school I ended up attending. I don't want to disclose where exactly to remain anonymous, but I would say it was more or less in the same league as Vandy in terms of rankings. I think as far as MSF programs go, if you don't make it into MIT's program which is by far the most prestigious and will open some doors for you, all the others are pretty much the same regarding the opportunities you get coming out of them. Meaning the programs don't really help you besides buying you time to recruit and you have to do all the heavy lifting to find a decent job yourself. I didn't get any help to get IB interviews from my program but I hear the same from friends who attended other similar MSF programs. With 20/20 hindsight, if I were to do it all over again I would probably try to get into a more quantitative program at Columbia to get a better brand on my resume and make my life easier from there on

 
Feb 28,2018

Hey congrats man, wanted to pick your brain about a few things. Do you think you could PM me, it won't let me message you

 
Feb 28,2018
 
Feb 28,2018

Great story man, happy it all worked out for you. How did you figure out your visa situation in the US? Is the boutique sponsoring you? I am asking as a fellow European because I know the whole "skilled worker visa" is getting ridiculously tough to do.

 
Feb 28,2018

At the beginning of my post I mention that I won the green card in the diversity lottery so I didn't need sponsorship from my employer :) I was applying every year since I was 18 and won it on my 6th time. And yes you're right, very few banks still sponsor. There's just too many candidates that don't need sponsorship and can do the job, since it's not an industry where it would make sense for a company to sponsor due to lack of talent. Considering the current political situation and the lottery system they have to go through even if they decide to sponsor one can see why they would like to avoid it.

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Feb 28,2018

Hey mate I'm in a very similar position as you and am curious to the caliber of firms you were able to land. Mind giving me an example (not the same) of the quality of companies you were able to "lateral" to?

 
Feb 28,2018

One of my offers was from the M&A group of a low ranked BB, the other two from boutiques with 200+ bankers each, so firms with several offices around the globe. Those offers were in the West Coast though and I didn't want to move from NYC. The firm I chose to go has 25+ offices around the world and has consistently been in the top 10 of the MM M&A league tables in recent years. I think after getting so much deal experience I was able to convert my networking into better offers than one would think given my non-target background.

 
Mar 31,2018

Congratulations, as you are aware, the non-traditional route of breaking in is steep, but feels so so good in the end.

"Man is split in two: he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order blindly and dumbly to rot and disappear forever." ~ Ernest Becker

 
Mar 31,2018

Thanks Banker God! True, it's more than steep, there were times when there was no light at the end of the tunnel but I think that's where you separate the men from the boys. And it certainly feels good, I'd say the week when the offers were coming in one after the other was probably the best week of my life.

 
Mar 31,2018

Congratulations! Awesome story, thanks for for sharing!

26 Broadway
where's your sense of humor?

 
Mar 31,2018

Happy to share! This site helped me stay focused along the way, I hope my post will inform/inspire other monkeys too.

 
Mar 31,2018

That's an awesome story and very inspiring to me. I'm likely going to face similar struggles in the future having gone to a little known state university in New York. Thank you for sharing!

 
Mar 31,2018
 
Mar 31,2018
 
Mar 31,2018

congrats man. i'm going back to the US for a msf program this fall. your story is very very inspiring! thanks for sharing.

 
Mar 31,2018

Thanks! Good luck with that, if it's not MIT's MSF you will definitely need all the luck you can get. :)

 
Mar 31,2018

Hello Rick,
First of all congrats on your amazing career path. I am a non-target penultimate-year undergrad who is looking to break into IBD but has been rejected in all of my summer analyst applications.

My question to you is: how did you network your way into interviews?

You mentioned you sent out 100s of emails, but to who? What should I do to start preparing for next year's recruitment?

 
Mar 31,2018

First and foremost, the low hanging fruit were all the IB analyst/internship positions that were posted. For every new position I found on the job aggregators or LinkedIn, I started emailing everyone I could find at that firm starting from the highest ranking in that particular office/group and worked my way down. Never emailed anyone below VP though, it's pretty much a waste of time and I needed to be efficient. If someone didn't get back to me I would email someone else at that firm and noted every email in an excel file and then emailed again if they didn't get back to me after a week. And again and again and again until someone got back to me but never emailed the same person before a week had gone by, I didn't want to be annoying.

Secondly I searched for all boutique/MM IBs in states I was interested in going, and emailed everyone there even without a position being posted, and that's how I got my job actually!

 
Mar 31,2018

Congratulations, very inspiring story. One quick question, do you mind sharing your age? And also, did you get the MM gig right after graduation from the MSF?

 
Mar 31,2018

Thanks Tobias! Since I got the question about the timeline from a couple of other people as well I went back and edited my initial post since it didn't seem to be clear.

"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!"

 
Mar 31,2018

This is an awesome story and goes to show how often times success is the culmination of a lot of hard work and baby steps in the right direction. You worked your ass off (for much longer than two years it sounds like) and all of a sudden you've got 4 offers within a week. Congrats and keep grinding!

 
Mar 31,2018

Thanks man, you're exactly right! It's all about realizing that it's a marathon and not giving up. I know several people who gave up along the way and started interviewing for other jobs so at the end of the day it's all about being persistent.

Yes, its funny how all the offers came in at once. I had three interviews the week before and got all three. I also had one interview several months before with a firm that never got back to me to reject me but I was pretty sure I would never hear back from. For some reason they too got back to me out of the blue that week, who knew.

 
Mar 31,2018

Congratulations my friend. Your story is a great example of perseverance. How exactly did the networking happen when yo went from the one man shop to the better unpaid internship?

 
Mar 31,2018

Thanks man! I gave a detailed answer about my strategy three questions above, you can read my answer there.

 
Mar 31,2018

Hey man, first off congratulations on getting your job!

I am in a similar part of situation- non traditional with some M&A internship experience.

Did you ever reach out to headhunters during your search or have any luck with them getting interviews?

Also, you mentioned your internships were unpaid? I might have missed it but were you living in a major expensive US city? I am debating starting to reach out for unpaid work for more deal experience.

Thanks!

 
Apr 30,2018

I am living in New York and as I say in the post only my first M&A internship was unpaid, the second one was paid. However I was getting paid just north of $2K after taxes so I didn't even have money to take the sybway to work but I did make it by living super frugally and working odd jobs some weekends still.

I did reach out to headhunters and got a couple of interviews that way but generally having had only intern experience makes that a less fruitful path, most of your interviews by far will be through networking.

 
May 31,2018