Journey from Worst Possible Applicant

Hello. I am a 2.86 GPA Chemistry major. I'm 24 years old. I graduate in June. I go to UC San Diego. I have no relevant work experience. I have no immediate connections to investment banking. I have a bad GPA. I have no relevant coursework. I have an incessant passion to go to investment banking. 

I was having an existential crisis about 1 month ago thinking I wanted to go into finance. All my research lead me to realize I want to go into investment banking. I realized the technical skills that came along in chemistry were pretty similar in terms of excel and usage of data to create models. 

I spent the last month grinding to apply for a masters program. I applied for roughly 100 internships in financial advising and analysis. I have got endless rejections. 
I came to the realization that I most likely won't get accepted into the Masters programs that I applied for. I had only 2 weeks to study for the GRE in which I dedicated myself to only study the quant portion yet I scored higher on my verbal. 160 verbal, 155 quant. 

I'm not unmotivated. I'm burning with a fire to show the world that being in a seemingly worst case scenario possible will not make it impossible to get to investment banking. I can't wait to do it. 

In my research, I've found people compensate for a low gpa with experience. And people with low experience compensate with a gpa and connections. 
This leads me to wallstreetoasis. I have come to ask for any advice on how to get my foot in the door into the finance industry. My situation is so bad internships won't let me in. 

So far my journey has lead me to realize I might have to accelerate my learning through countless certifications. That being the SIE, FMVA, and CFA level 1. But I want to learn. I want to know more possibilities from ibankers who know what it takes. Please what should I do? I will make sure to note all perspectives. And for all those that think that I won't make it. I will write down your username and keep it as fuel on my wall. Don't hold back.

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Comments (101)

  • Analyst 1 in AM - Equities
May 12, 2021 - 3:00pm

do not get an MBA straight out of college. This will actually handicap you. You need work experience. It could be back office, middle office, at a big 4, doesn't matter THEN get an MBA after 4-6 years & go into IB

If you get an MBA out of college, (1) you won't get into a respectable program (2) 95% of recruiters won't be interested in you because you don't have enough work experience/are too young & then refer back to (1). 

repeat after me, DO NOT get an MBA right out of undergrad. 

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Gen
May 11, 2021 - 8:30am

To speak frankly, as your profile is not competitive, the only thing you can show is your passion, which is through networking. You have to network endlessly (Not only BB or EB, but also boutique banks) to show that you have what it takes to at least break into a small boutique bank. Maybe start with your family and extended family, and then alumni, etc.

Then I would advise you to try to get an M7 MBA with +700 GMAT or almost perfect quant score in GRE (I think +165 or +167). You can craft your story in a way you are an underdog that is passionate about banking, etc. This is probably the only way I can see you breaking into a BB or EB as they are more strict on qualifications than a boutique bank.

Good luck.

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  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
May 11, 2021 - 11:21am

Networking is going to be key here. And focusing your efforts on local shops should give you a higher chance of success.

Regardless, keep pounding at the door -- someone will let you in. 

May 11, 2021 - 2:50pm

People say to keep knocking. That it's a "numbers game". Would you say that actually walking up to these company buildings and requesting to speak to someone would make a difference? Or just keep going about and networking through alumni and making endless internship applications as I have been doing? I feel like it's not working and I need to do more. The questions is what? 

Most Helpful
  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
May 11, 2021 - 3:03pm

Thirty years ago, walking in with a resume might have shown some chutzpah and impressed people. These days, especially in a COVID-sensitive environment, it's highly likely this gesture would rub people the wrong way and I would strongly advise against it.

Make a game plan on how you plan to attack this and proceed from there.

1a) Go on Linkedin and make a list of bankers who you have anything in common with (university, fraternity, society of basket weaving, etc.)

1b) Find every boutique bank, PE fund, search fund, within a reasonable range of your current location. Add some of these junior bankers to your list

2) Contact 2-3 bankers a day with a friendly email that is concise (emphasis on the brevity here, whenever I see War & Peace in my inbox it's an auto-delete)

3) When you connect with these bankers, ask thoughtful questions and explain your story in a compelling (and concise!) manner. Do not say anything negative about yourself and show genuine interest in the stories of these bankers

4) At the end of the call make the ask.

"Do you have any additional advice for someone in my shoes?" 

"Do you know where I should be looking for opportunities"

"Anyone you recommend speaking with?"

Some may encourage you to be more bold and directly ask for opportunities with insert bank, but the reality is that if they like you, they will be sure to let you know and asking doesn't change that.

Happy hunting

  • Principal in PE - LBOs
May 11, 2021 - 11:51am

Why do you want to be an investment banker? Kids reach out to me all the time because they're "passionate about leveraged buyouts" but don't have any substance behind it other than they think the show Billions is badass and liked that season of Suits when Mike became an "investment banker." Nothing about your background tells me you're truly passionate about the industry which, along with your GPA and lack of relevant experience, is why you're getting consistently dinged. I would do a lot of deep reflection before diving further down this pipe dream because unless you're truly and deeply committed you're just wasting everyone's time.

May 11, 2021 - 2:47pm

Let me be very clear in saying that I have never seen a single television show that has investment banking in it whatsoever. My passion is not for leveraged buyouts. It's truly the nature of the work done in investment banking. It is the pinnacle of intellectual superiority. It's not just "I can create financial models". There's more to the dynamics. It's the relationships you build with clients. It's the ability to do work and present it. You literally get paid to show off your work to clients. How can you not get excited about something so cohesive and beautiful. You literally work in a competition. Every coworker is both your ally and enemy. It's an ironic conflict of interest that makes for an interesting professional dynamic. It's just a seemingly beautiful environment to be in. It's fast paced. It's never gonna leave you feeling useless. It's meaningful. People say it's an issue that IBs work too many hours. From my perspective, working those hours build character and humble a person to learn more so you can work more efficiently and potentially catch more breaks. It's that struggle to survive where you see people work the hardest. Diamonds are made under high heat and pressure! 

May 15, 2021 - 10:26am

Why does he have so many bad reaction to his answers ? 

I would say the same thing if someone ask me "why IB ? "  (even if the reality is obviously that I want a lot of money)

What is the good answers to "why IB" ? 

Excuse my French ! (and my English also)

May 15, 2021 - 7:08pm

Wow you really are the worst possible applicant. If you are searching for "intellectual superiority" join MENSA or become a distinguished professor and jerk off to your research publications. This could very well be one of the most shallow and misguided posts i've ever seen on this forum. You can find everything you mentioned in a variety of careers they are not unique to IB

May 11, 2021 - 2:59pm

Why are you doing a masters? I don't think that actually helps. The only time I've seen people leverage a masters correctly is by using it to delay graduation to spend an additional summer recruiting for internships which it seems you've missed the boat on.

You should just get a job in anything business/finance tangential and then try for a mba after a few years. I don't think just incessantly networking with your background is going to work- especially since you're already out of school and can't do internships. Nobody is going to hire a fte with no prior experience and a poor academic background.

To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.

May 11, 2021 - 3:09pm

I am actually a current student in my senior year graduating this June! But yes, this is something I have planned might be a better choice as previously stated. I might just take this route. I have also been looking into possibly getting a BO or MO role and worming my way to FO. I don't fully understand how this works quite yet so it's something still being formulated. I am essentially laying out many possible ways to break in and hopefully after graduating this June, I will pick the one that seems the most effective.

  • Associate 3 in IB-M&A
May 12, 2021 - 11:17am

If you end up in BO/MO at a BB, you can do 2-3 years there and with an MBA be competitive for IB. It's difficult to transfer without one and I think you have a long path through lots of BS tiny boutiques without an MBA.

May 11, 2021 - 5:48pm

There are basically two ways in for you. The first way is you network your ass off (another poster covered what networking entails above) and get into a boutique. Not an EB like Evercore, but a random boutique that hopefully has solid deal flow in the LMM space. You start there and you grind, you learn, and you do well. From there you leverage your experience and lateral to a MM bank and either stay there or keep trying to lateral up. The biggest thing is going to be your GPA. sub 3.0 is a glaring red flag. Some EBs, if not all of them, won't look at you without a 3.7/3.8, and most BBs won't look below a 3.5, so a 2.86 is really tough to get past.

The other way you get into banking is through an MBA. Someone else mentioned getting one from an M7 school, but the reality is that more and more banks are recruiting from lower ranked schools and you'd be safe with T10, maybe T15. That being said M7 exponentially increases your chances and the number of firms represented. The biggest problem with getting into a B-school is also your GPA. Again the 2.86 is a glaring red flag and you will need to absolutely kill the GMAT and prove without a doubt you deserve a spot there and that'll be tough.

Last piece of advice - don't worry about the certifications. Literally no one cares about a CFA. You can have the best CFA score in history with a record time, but a BB will take someone with experience and a 3.5 over you despite that. Your bank will pay for your SIE and the prep course and they won't care that you did it early. I don't know what the FMVA is, but again I'd caution you against spending potentially hundreds of hours for these certs, when you can spend that time networking.

  • Intern in IB - Ind
May 11, 2021 - 5:51pm

I go to UCSB and love the UC system. You're gonna have to utilize the UC alumni network to get into finance. Get really creative and don't be afraid to speak with people from any campus. Find people at tiny investment banks who might take a chance on you. Seriously try to get on the phone with everyone you can and tell a good story. You'd be surprised how receptive alumni can be. Best of luck man. 

May 11, 2021 - 6:51pm

I appreciate the motivational pep talk. Thank you. I have been looking into the UC alumni network since I started this escapade. If you go to UCSB and I haven't messaged you yet, maybe I'm not trying hard enough. 

  • Intern in IB - Ind
May 14, 2021 - 5:42pm

I glanced through your responses in the rest of this thread. Definitely do some more research and improve your answer to "why banking." I think this will take some deep thought and self-examination to ensure you're interested in IB for the right reasons. Breaking in would be an unnecessary exercise in self flagellation otherwise. 

  • Intern in IB - CB
May 12, 2021 - 12:52am

My advice would be one of two things The first and obvious one that has been mentioned is a good MBA. The second would be trying to get into a good bank through the back / middle office and try for internal mobility. The problem with you trying to recruit right now into IB is that no matter how passionate or dedicated you say you are, your low GPA and lack of relevant coursework or experience portray a different story. You would easily get the question as to why your gpa is so low if you claim to be so dedicated and to why you have no relevant coursework or experiences of you are so passionate about IB? And frankly I don't know the answer to that

May 12, 2021 - 1:26am

Thank you for your input! I have been actually formulating an appropriate answer for this potential question! I have been explaining it to the people I have been networking with and they are actually helping me develop it more and more along the way

May 12, 2021 - 1:26am

Thank you for your input! I have been actually formulating an appropriate answer for this potential question! I have been explaining it to the people I have been networking with and they are actually helping me develop it more and more along the way

May 12, 2021 - 1:26am

Thank you for your input! I have been actually formulating an appropriate answer for this potential question! I have been explaining it to the people I have been networking with and they are actually helping me develop it more and more along the way

May 12, 2021 - 2:41am

Thanks for memeing me. However, I cannot, I'm already at the peak for max amount of units that I can receive. Even if I got straight As for this last quarter, I would still be receiving a 2.90 GPA. At that point it wasn't worth grinding so I plan to just maintain Bs and go for the networking as my primary concern. 

May 26, 2021 - 9:54pm

Even if you can't, find a way to do a graduate degree OTHER than an MBA.  There are two types of MBA programs:  those that focus on getting your money (if it advertises on TV . . . ) and those that focus on whether they can place you after graduating.  Crap bachelors and crap test scores mean Harvard can't place you.  Harvard doesn't need your money, they want A players, and you haven't demonstrated you are an A player.  They want people that will go and do awesome things so there is a halo / feedback loop.

Do a 1 or 2 year masters program with sufficient rigor to demonstrate you can do graduate level work.  Spend all your other time practicing for the GMAT.  Get any type of professional job - no aprons.  You can go to top-5 program with any reasonable work background, but not flipping burgers (or helping people pick out Behr paint colors).  Bonus points:  a)  buy a graduate level corp fin or investments textbook, and LEARN it, inside and out.  Search MBA programs' career websites for 'questions to prepare for when interviewing in banking' and LEARN all the answers - be able to argue the strengths and weaknesses of valuation approaches, understand Black-Scholes and CAPM and be able to demonstrate facility with them; b) WRITE some research notes, memos - ACT as if you are trying to convince someone to buy some pink sheet; c) find an angel investor group that will let you intern as an analyst.

Do NOT go to just any old MBA program.  Figure out where you want to be (geographically), research the orgs you THINK you'd like to work for in that area, find out where everyone who works there went to school.  Chances are, most of the 'good' firms are filled with people with people with pedigrees - the people without have done something interesting.  First, make a list of the MBA schools - that is your target list.  Anyone without a pedigree, I would start my networking there - the people who were once poorly positioned (like you) are better informed about how to re-position themselves than I and many of the WSO monkeys are. 

  • Intern in IB-M&A
Jun 2, 2021 - 4:47am

^ seconded. i would be doing this if i were in your shoes

  • Anonymous Monkey's picture
  • Anonymous Monkey
  • Rank: Chimp
May 12, 2021 - 10:55am

I think this is a good first step towards achieving your goals. Taking stock of who you are, your background, history, strengths, etc and then trying to figure out where you want to go sounds good to me. Asking questions and seeking advice I believe will only help in the long-run (and hopefully also be a nice, comfy ride in the short-run). I'm not sure if I have much more of value to give you or add at this time so at the very least I offer well wishes and a prayer that you can success. Best wishes and good luck

May 12, 2021 - 12:08pm

MBA is for people who have some corporate work experience...plan on working for 1-2 years...and THEN go for an MBA (or law school).  After which, assuming you get good grades and apply yourself with networking, then you should be able to get a seat in finance.

You are fighting an uphill battle...why pick you over some new grad from Duke, MIT, Yale, Princeton, etc...with a 3.8 GPA and a finance internship? 

answer:   they won't

i would suggest trying to get an entry level job at one of the Big4 accounting firms...they will take almost anybody with a heartbeat it seems...and after 1-2 years, lateral to banking/finance....or go get an MBA and shoot for an associate seat.  25% of each group of new Big4 hires quit every year...so they are always hiring.

just google it...you're welcome
  • 1
  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
May 12, 2021 - 12:32pm

Minimum 4 years of work experience for t-15 mba applications recommended. Getting harder and harder to get into these programs and OP needs to prove himself w/ GPA hurdles.

  • Incoming Analyst in IB-M&A
May 13, 2021 - 12:59am

Big 4 accounting and audit is the only sensible thing that's been suggested in this thread so far. Sure, OP could spend hundreds of hours trying to network his way into a boutique bank, with none of the relevant experiences, and which might only pan out in a few months. Or... be sensible, go down the path of Big 4 accounting, transfer internally into a FD or Transaction Advisory team after two years or so, then into IB. OP could also keep networking for IB while working as a Big 4 accountant, while is always better than having to introduce yourself as an out-of-work graduate pining for IB.

But I'm pretty pessimistic so who knows. I had three major internships throughout school - one in B4 accounting, two in investment banking and I almost couldn't get a full-time offer. It's tough out there, but hey I had visa hurdles.

May 12, 2021 - 9:00pm

I would reach out to a finance professor at your university and maybe ask for some recommendations and suggestions. It might be a little difficult to find data or whatever for your white paper but I would imagine you might be able to do something with Bloomberg which your university offers. Also if you have some quant skills maybe try to highlight that somehow on your resume or apply to some prop shops. 

May 13, 2021 - 1:05pm

I graduated from UC Berkeley in 2015 with a 3.1 GPA in a technical major and enough envy and jealousy of my friends/peers in Haas to fuel my fire for multiple lifetimes. I networked like crazy after graduating and positioned some business coursework and college internship experiences to land a front-office client service role at a middle market bank for two years. I got my licenses and passed the first level of the CFA then exited to MS for a pay bump, more exciting team and bigger brand. I worked for two more years at MS and continued networking, building connections, focusing on tasks at work that could support an interest in Investment Banking (client services, portfolio analytics, process management, project management, sand retirement plan modeling). I then applied to MBA programs with a 720 GMAT and got into NYU and immediately started networking and recruiting for Investment Banking through the Graduate Finance Association and other school resources. I got rejected from all 35 banks that came to campus for a summer internship the fall semester of my first year despite outperforming my peers academically (grades do not matter in MBA programs) and had the privilege of continuing to recruit, prepare for technical interviews and practice behaviorals for investment banking during that first winter break when my peers went on vacation with (multiple elite, prestigious and highly coveted internship offers in hand) then by a stroke of luck networked with a Stern alum at MM bank that was recruiting on campus but outside the regular process which led to multiple coffee chats, a first round, super day and internship offer for the summer. I worked my ass off in the spring and completely built out an absolutely rock solid background in finance (accounting, corporate finance, valuation, M&A, financial statement modeling, statistics, data analytics, strategy etc...) and prepared myself for a brutal 8-week group specific internship working 12 - 14 hours a day without weekends. I finished the internship without an offer (nobody got offers) and started re-recruiting (the fun never stops) and had some first rounds lined up a couple of months after finishing on July 30th, 2020. On September 28th (3 months after the summer internship ended) I got a full-time offer to return to my top choice group (TMT) at a MM bank in NYC as incoming Associate. It is the ugliest, least linear, most unbecoming path of anyone in my graduating class at NYU. I'm underpaid relative to the street (not by much but not standard $150K base) and am one of the only bankers I know who actually did real work on live deals over the summer (grateful for the experience, highly marketable and valuable) but I wouldn't trade anything for the world. 

TL;DR 

I know where you are right now. You have an absolutely massive chip on your shoulder and a lot to prove to a lot of people but mostly to yourself. You are hungrier than you've ever been before and will stop at absolutely nothing to walk through fire and achieve your goals. It is a long, difficult road ahead for you but not a hopeless road. It will require you to commit more than you've ever committed before to achieve something that only you can possibly justify as worth it for your ego, career and sense of self-worth. If you want to message me privately I'm happy to answer any questions about my experience and background. I come from a molecular and cell biology background in college (try to avoid telling finance people you studied chemistry none of them are interested) and can relate to the struggle of relating based on background. I also grew up in the UC system and know how challenging the system is compared to every other private and public university. 

I recommend writing out a plan, networking continuously like crazy and picking up some hobbies to maintain your own sanity. I do not think it is lip service to pursue hobbies that excite you, stimulate you intellectually and are actually fun during this intense period in your life. I became an expert rated USCF chess player (played at the Mechanics Institute in San Francisco after work and after studying for the CFA/Series Exams in my first job), became an endurance athlete (1x Ironman, 2x Ironman 70.3, 1x Olympic Triathlon, 2x Century Cyclist), picked up baking (Great British Baking Show is fucking awesome) and recently become a dog dad, one of the most rewarding, exhausting, fun, exciting and meaningful decisions I've ever made in my life. I wish you success on your journey and am confident that with a structured, proper plan you will achieve your goal of breaking into Investment Banking. Have faith, but more importantly, have discipline and (I know its hard) try to have some fun along the way or else what is the fucking point? Good luck.

May 13, 2021 - 3:38pm

That is actually one of the strategies I have laid out in front of me. My problem is finding work experience at this moment. All "entry level" finance internships ask for you to already have experience. What a time to be alive.

May 13, 2021 - 3:44pm

If you can, try focusing on shops that focus on verticals where your chemistry degree can be applicable. I've seen kids with science degrees and no finance experience break in through small, vertical specific boutiques(i.e chemicals).

  • Intern in S&T - FI
May 13, 2021 - 3:48pm

"I know you're all feeling the darkness here today. But there's no reason to give in. No matter what you've heard, this process will not take years. In my heart, I know we cannot be defeated, because there is an answer that will open the door. There is a way around this system. This is a test of our patience and commitment." All the best

  • Associate 1 in PE - Other
May 13, 2021 - 7:54pm

No offense but you're probably wasting your time. Judging by your responses, you still really have no idea what bankers do, and when people say they overcome low GPAs, they're talking about 3.3s. 

If you're actually passionate about finance and not the bullshit you spewed in one of your previous responses, you should look at FP&A or financial planning roles. From there, learn more about the industry and see if you have a realistic shot. 

May 13, 2021 - 8:21pm

I'm getting a better picture day by day with these cold emails that lead to phone calls. It's a lot more mundane but at the same time mundaneness is a huge aspect to all walks of life. I'm still a noob putting together why balance sheets tie in together. Trying to put together models from "real world" examples. It's all fascinating. And I've heard from a lot of investment bankers how my gpa is gonna make it rough. You're not the only one who's told me to just stop wasting my time. Like I said, worst possible applicant. I just wanna learn more. Get a full grasp. I appreciate the bluntness, it needs to be heard. Thank you for adding more fuel.

May 17, 2021 - 7:31pm

I have an even worse GPA. I have a 2.6 and ended up landing a S&T position and am in the final round of two quant firms currently for 2022 (luckily they haven't asked for GPA yet and just must assume I have the knowledge/skills since I'm passing their screenings of prob/stat). The way I believe my resume has gotten past the first round is to leave your GPA off and have a pretty decent cover letter/purpose statement. I also have founded two clubs at my school that is a semi-target and a target quant school. I also endlessly cold emailed people and plugged my resume in and that's what landed me my first interviews. If you're interested I can send you pretty much what I copy and paste to recruiters/VP's/anyone I can find at firms on Linkedin. It's all about networking and telling a story. If you're passionate your interviewers will know. If you just say you're passionate and don't show it I promise you'll end up with nothing.

My resume consists of me starting my own company, two clubs founded, and two trading competition 1st places (National and Regional) This was enough for me to tell a story about myself and show my passion for the topic. Also, go into interviews fully prepared about what your company does and specializes in. I was able to drop some important dates in the company history that shows I had been following their progress for a while and had a genuine interest in working with them. My major is also not related to finance or quant so it's all about looking good enough to get in the interview. At your point, don't even think about putting GPA on your resume, just assume it'll never come up and if it does you're probably screwed anyways (happened to me in the final round of a prop firm).

Note that my "success" (being able to at least get interviews) has been in prop/s&t/hft - a far more meritocratic environment where ambition, personality, and quantitative skills are valued far more than GPA and traditional finance backgrounds. It might be a struggle to end up in IB out of college given your position. You need to be knocking these interviews out of the park so hard that they assume you're coming from a higher GPA traditional finance/prodigy background and don't even ask about your GPA because the second they ask just write it off - they'll find someone with similar experience and a higher GPA since it's less risky for them

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