If you're late to the IB game, don't give up!
Can You Really Be "Too Late to the Game?"
Hey, so I'm a year-long reader and first-time poster. I wanted to say thank you for all the advice I've read on this forum alone and how it's helped me gain and accept an offer from a top MM as an Investment Banking Analyst coming from a non-target. I would say I had a unique path in that I started out in college in a non-business/finance field and transitioned to finance essentially at the beginning of the second half of college. Given my unique journey at a non-target and ability to break into IB so late in the game, I wanted to share some points that helped me out in the hope that I can inspire at least a few others to not give up, no matter how late it gets into recruiting and especially if you're not at a target school.
1. Have a High GPA (at least 3.8+)
I started out in a STEM field, which had several harder classes than the finance classes for my finance major. For these two years, I made sure to do well and have a GPA of 3.9+ as I was initially aiming to pursue graduate school. When I transitioned over to business, my high GPA was a big factor as to why I got interviews for various finance roles over many of my business and finance peers who had previous internships, despite myself never having any real business or internship experience. Basically, as much as it sucks to be someone who is "the friend" that studies a lot more than anyone you know, it can be a saving grace and put you in a better light, especially in the first half of college.
When I switched over to finance, I kept my work ethic going strong which made it easier to get a near 4.0 GPA when taking primarily just finance classes. Going forward, having a high GPA was essential to getting my resume in front of interested eyes, especially since I'm from a non-target.
2. Join at Least One Business Club
I joined one finance club and only attended 1 or 2 meetings, but the biggest thing I did that was helpful was signing up for the email newsletter that shared resume books, upcoming opportunities, and other relevant information. From that, I was able to stay up-to-date on the most important things and participate or apply as necessary.
3. Consider a Social or Professional Fraternity
I wanted to join Greek life since the first semester of college but was torn between social and professional fraternities. I rushed around a few of both and ultimately just connected better with a social fraternity. A couple of major pluses were that I had a great time living it up with my brothers and that the fraternity had a few alumni in banking and finance that I was able to connect with and use as valuable resources.
The biggest thing I would say is to join a social fraternity if you have a great work ethic and know you'll still take advantage of the professional aspects of a social fraternity, like the extensive alumni network. Otherwise, join a professional fraternity that will ensure you get everything you need to and should, done. And if you decide any kind of fraternity isn't for you, that's totally okay! Just make sure to join a few clubs and really focus on making a real impact and gaining leadership positions in these clubs as early as possible. Basically, be active at your college and you'll gain something meaningful out of it all aside from bullets on your resume.
4. Learn from Business Friends
I had a few friends that I met the first semester of college get into investment banking and others actively on their way (that ended up securing positions). I took note of what they did and asked them for advice on what I should do. I ultimately decided to reach out to family, school, and fraternity networks for initial conversations and then build my network outward. Seeing it as a numbers game, this helped me become more comfortable with networking calls and even interviews as I started to sound less like a robot and more like myself as I kept the calls going. These played a big role in getting referrals and interviews at several firms, from boutiques to top MM shops. So basically, I would say see what your successful friends and peers do, repeat it, and personalize it to make it your own. Only this way will you see the most success.
5. Do an IB Internship (Even if it's UNPAID)
If you're in a similar situation as I was, this is the one step to prove that you really want to get into banking. My senior year of college, the time when no one wants to do extra work on top of classes, I sought out an investment banking internship, an unpaid one at that. Gaining any type of investment banking internship experience as an undergrad is super helpful because it will show potential employers that you understand the work you'll be doing, what goes into the work, and that you're a capable individual. Therefore, regardless of the pay status, seek out an investment banking internship. How? This will definitely be hard but the best bet is to just find lower MM and regional boutiques with one or few offices in your area. Basically, reach out as you would for a typical networking call and then, what worked best for me, cut right to the chase near the mid-end of the call and ask if they need help and how you'd be the best person for that. Keep your hours to around 10-20 per week on average so that you leave buffer room for those longer weeks when you'll work 30 hours since you'll also have school work and likely other commitments like clubs, fraternities, etc to attend to. When it came time for FT interviews, I was usually first asked about my internship. It was also the factor that got my interviews, especially since I was at a non-target. Once employers see that one bank trusts you, it's easier for them to open up the door for you.
6. Network Like Crazy
I didn't start networking until the end of my junior year. That didn't matter as much since I started reaching out to nearly 30 people/week and ramped it way higher after classes and in the year. I had around a 15% hit rate and got on calls with most of those who responded. Networking was a huge time drain but I learned to enjoy it and I genuinely look forward to it today. I've learned so much from these calls and even gained several interviews. This is a step you just can't pass up. I networked so much thatin a non-IB role, I used every minute of downtime to send emails or talk on the phone. If you do this, just make sure you're still a top performer getting a return offer cause the only thing that's worse than not getting into a role you want (IB in this case) is not getting anything for full-time. Networking also has the benefits of being able to hear what current juniors enjoy about a firm and their roles, and what seniors look for in juniors and how they see things in their industry moving in the future. Use this knowledge along with your own ideas to craft your answers for interviews. Doing this is sure to give you an edge over the cookie-cutter answers for questions like "Why do you want to do investment banking?" One final point on networking is to simply respect people's time and know that they have the "upper hand" in scheduling these calls. You are reaching out to individuals way busier than you are, so it's only fitting that you be more flexible on scheduling these calls.
7. Professors are Great Resources
I put a lot of time into building relationships with a few key professors. These professors helped me understand the whole recruiting process and connected me with some of their friends at firms I was interested in. This helped get the inside scoop on some processes and how to navigate them. They've acted as mentors since we've built the relationship and, ultimately, I know that I can reach out to them at any point in the future for their advice or just to talk.
8. Apply Anywhere and Everywhere
Being a senior looking to get into investment banking and being so late to networking, I knew that I probably only reached out to 1/4 of the number of people than those who were set on IB since freshman year. With that in mind, I had a "unique" application strategy: hope. I always applied to places where I got referrals. I also applied to so many roles without referrals, across literally all types of banks. As you can guess, I was applying into black holes. Except … they weren't black holes for me. With a high GPA, experiences, and accomplishments, I actually got several interviews through these black holes. Then, I got several later stage interviews. Then, a couple of Superdays. To top it off, I got the offer of my dreams from one of these "black holes" and accepted ASAP. So, what I'd say is focus primarily on where you have referrals, but also do NOT neglect regular application portals. They can be a saving grace if you perform very well in school and have a lot to show in your resume. It will never hurt you to apply to 5-10 "black holes" weekly; it will just take a couple of hours out of your week. I'm sure you can sacrifice this for a better future for yourself. If you can't, reevaluate if you really want it because there will definitely be people outworking you otherwise.
9. Understand That It Will be Total Hell and You'll be Stressed to the Max
After going through all these points that sound like hell, it's important to note that you should ALWAYS make time for yourself to de-stress, relax, and chill with friends, family, and your SO. Go to bars and clubs, go party, and go workout. Your mental and physical health are important, so make sure you have time to work out at least once a week (ideally a few times a week when it's not insanely busy) and meet up with friends/family/SO for at least a few hours. When things get tough, you will only have yourself and your friends/family/SO. Make sure you value them and show them that. You can rely on them to help you chill out and take your mind off all the worries in the world. Having time not focusing on working to get a job, ironically, will help you better get a job. You'll come back even more focused, ready, and motivated after these activities. One thing to note here, NEVER take your stress, frustration, or anger out on anyone else. If you need therapy sessions, so be it. Respect everyone and know that maybe your friend that you love to de-stress with may be going through the same hell so why make it worse for everyone. Control your emotions and everything will be ok.
And that's all there is to it. Good luck!