Non-Target to MM IB: My Advice

Although I'm not as interesting as the Tibetan monk who realized his true passion is staring at Excel 18 hours a day, hopefully I can help a few monkeys find the golden/Goldman banana of internships. For advice, you can find me at [email protected]

I began college at a large public university, with bright eyes, dreams of riches, and no on-campus recruiting. Several older students had worked their butts off and were investment banking bound, and they taught me the fundamentals of finance and networking. Using WSO search, I contacted 400 IB firms my freshman year, focusing on boutiques. A financial recruiting firm liked me enough to want me to fly to NYC for a final interview, but I only had enough cash for a one-way flight. So, I packed up my dorm and hopped on a plane. When I showed up to the office with a suit and three suitcases, they laughed and hired me.

Once there, I spoke with everyone possible, from the secretaries to the owners, grabbed coffee, and learned everything I could about the finance and sales industries. Outworking and outlearning everyone became an obsession, and I left with strong recommendations.

The next summer, I interned for a local hedge fund. Although I enjoyed working for them, I was constantly analyzing the structure of deals and decided I was more interested in pursuing M&A than staying at a hedge fund.

Falling leaves signaled the beginning of the mad rush we call interview season. I interviewed with several banks, and participated in my first superday in November. At the airport heading home, I received a call offering me a position in their summer class. After three years of dedication, I was bound for a NYC MM investment bank. I worked hard, drank gallons of coffee, learned a ton, and look forward to returning for a productive two years upon graduation.

I've aggregated the advice that's helped me succeed. I hope it will serve you as well.

Pre-Recruitment Process

  1. Start yesterday. There's a kid in middle school reading WSO, and he wants your job.
    Start researching positions the summer after high school, and start networking freshman
  2. Know your story. Every. Single. Call. starts with a line like "Tell me about yourself." If
    you're mumbling about high school sports or Uncle Jimmy who sells bonds, you've made a bad first impression and potentially lost a valuable contact. Before you send an email, practice your story with your family, your friends, and your dog. WSO and M&I both have great articles on story development.
  3. LinkedIn: Use It. Begin with connecting with students, professors, and family. Then reach out to alums, people with common interests, or similar ethnic backgrounds. Use every possible connection and write a custom message.
  4. Talk to everyone. Just because someone isn't in banking, doesn't mean they don't know someone who is. People like helping other people, and if you put in the effort they are often happy to open doors.
  5. Get personal. If possible, ask about their family, hobbies, background. It's not an interrogation; enjoy yourself and have a conversation. Most people are interesting, even bankers.
  6. Always say thank you. Thank them for their time, their help, their advice, their dashing good looks. Ungrateful monkeys aren't helped for long.
  7. Always be learning. Every person knows something you don't. Find out what that is. Read the WSJ and part of a book every day. Remember what Charlie Munger says: "I've never known a wise person who wasn't reading constantly."
  8. Keep a contact spreadsheet. Track each person, their firm and position, industry, background, and personal facts. Take notes after each call. Pro tip: If you conditionally color the date you last spoke, it's much easier to schedule follow up calls.
  9. Follow up. It's how relationships are built.
  10. Choose your focus early. You don't have to stick with one direction for life, but people
    are better equipped to help if they know what you want. Understand the differences between IB, ER, and S&T, and don't be afraid to tell a research analyst you want to be a banker, but keep an open mind in early years.
  11. Don't burn bridges.
  12. Outwork your competition. "You emailed 400 firms? Somewhere in Jersey, there's a
    kid emailing 400 firms a week. Step it up." -One of my mentors.

During Recruitment

  1. Just Be Cool (JBC). If you're overeager, arrogant, nerdy, or just weird, people don't want to talk to you, let alone help you. How to Win Friends and Influence People is a classic if you struggle in this area.
  2. Tell everyone about your plans. Reach back out to your contacts and tell them what your plans for the summer are, and do they have any advice for you? Many times, this leads to other assistance.
  3. Focus on key contacts. Ask them if they'll help you through the recruitment process. Ask them for their thoughts on different banks and groups. It's time to turn contacts into mentors.
  4. Build a network at your top banks. It's easier to land an interview with seven people going to bat for you than one. If you try to build a network at every EB and BB, you'll burn out. Focus on banks where you enjoy speaking with the analysts because you'll see them 100 hours a week.
  5. Emphasize your uniqueness. During recruiting, every banker is getting contacted by dozens of students. Find an attribute that sets you apart, and make sure the banker remembers it. My attribute is hard work; I pay for my own education waiting tables. I'll tell a couple funny anecdotes to make sure waiting (and its association with hustle) sticks.

During Interviews

  1. JBC. Don't be weird.
  2. Talk to the other interviewees. That a-hole who won't talk to anyone? Trust me,
    bankers notice.
  3. Prepare a more tailored story. Your story should lead to why XYZ bank is the perfect fit for you. This means for six interviews, you should have six stories.
  4. Know your technicals cold. Like unfriendly dogs, bankers smell weakness and will attack if you trip. Zero excuses for a lack of preparation.
  5. Have a conversation. I was drawn to my bank because every interview turned into a conversation. Topics included NYC apartments, tennis, and college football. This is what separates the weird from the chill.
  6. Network after an offer. You've worked hard, why stop now? The kids who continue to network receive offers to their top groups.

During the Internship

  1. JBC.
  2. Be the first in and last out. People notice. The summer after my freshman year, I showed up to work 30 minutes early and stayed two hours past closing. I even got locked into the office and had to call my boss to let me out--he didn't mind because I was working hard.
  3. Learn keyboard shortcuts. They'll save you time and earn respect from analysts.
  4. Always look and act professional. Even at 1am, the intern without a tie looks less
    enthusiastic than the one still cranking. Exception: after the first week, you can leave
    your jacket at your desk.
  5. Work out as much as possible. 2am pushups with other interns are a bonding
    experience and provide a break from spreadsheets.
  6. Look for a unique capability that makes you invaluable. One intern knew oil, another knew statistics. I stayed until the job was done, and helped other interns finish their work.
  7. Find a few people to go to bat for you. I talked trading every day with one associate and
    entrepreneurship with another. Guess who they wanted back?
  8. Network across the bank. Most groups encourage this. Maybe your group isn't right for
    you. If it is, you'll have a valuable network in place when starting full time.
  9. Understand the offer situation as early as possible. If you're not going to get an offer,
    you should be talking to other banks.
  10. Enjoy what you're doing. Remember that this is not just a time for the bank to assess
    you, it's your time to assess the bank. Make sure this is the path you want to take, and ask the right questions to make certain. If your heart isn't in it, you won't make it.

Comments (8)

Nov 21, 2016

Thanks for this. Emphasizing your uniqueness is a point I've never really thought about, but I imagine when done effectively is very helpful.

I'm a freshman from a non-target looking to get an internship over the summer and posts like these are invaluable in providing guidance to us rookies, so cheers to you my friend.

"This world, it is a tempest sometimes. But remember, the sun always rises again."
-- Brandon Sanderson

Best Response
Nov 22, 2016

I understand you're ecstatic about having landed a FT stint at an MM, but given that you're still in school and have relatively limited experience with the recruiting process, I would suggest you don't go around making blanket statements about what the best way to go about recruiting is. Having had an insiders look at the recruiting process, I can't tell you how many superdays I've witnessed (or heard of) where it was between 2-3 candidates who scored very well both on fit & technicals, and the ultimate decision came down to something which was totally out of their control. For example, were you invited to our first or last superday? Big difference. What school did you come from? Sadly this can tip the scale in your favor when candidates are all equally strong. My point is, having been through this process from an insiders POV, more than ever I realize how fucking lucky I was to have pulled through. Did I work my ass of to get to where I am? Absolutely. But could I have just as easily not been chosen had a different set of interviewers with completely different preferences interviewed me? One hundred fucking percent.

Also, there are many things that you've included in your write-up which you seem to believe contributed to you getting an offer, but in my opinion were largely immaterial or just plain incorrect. I'll just name a couple that come to mind:

  1. Ask about families, hobbies etc. - Ya don't do that
  2. Have different versions of tell me about yourself for different banks - Nope, just use common sense. Are the traits an RX group is looking for really all that different from M&A? Probably not. Should you tell the M&A interviewer that you think the legal aspect of RX banking makes you hard if its part of your story? Obviously not. You get the point. Also, tip for you monkeys out there: YOU DON'T HAVE TO FIT IN "WHY US WHY BANKING WHY THIS GROUP" IN YOUR STORY. Just craft it so that you interviewing for an IBD role right now makes sense. No, you don't need a "finance spark" story either. I'm going to ask you all the other "why's" anyway. No you don't lose points for not including those answers in your story.
  3. Talk to other candidates (bankers notice) - No we don't lmao, if I make eye contact with you in the waiting room its because I'm going outside to move my legs or take a piss and don't want to be rude.
  4. Know your technicals cold - Again, use common sense. Have given offers to kids who fucked up some technicals but recovered etc. Obviously don't fuck up the easy ones, but if I ask you a conceptual question this is just me trying to see if you took the time to look at some industry specific write-ups on WSO, read some case studies etc. 100% of the time if you get it right I'm still going to chime in and say "yeah I think that's about right, but.. X Y Z". I don't expect you to hit every possible point (because you can't).
  5. Talk to 6-7 people in the same group - Can only speak for my EB, but ya don't do that.

PS: I'm a first year analyst at an EB and also came from a very non-target school.

    • 4
Nov 22, 2016

2nd year analyst at a MM who also came from a non-target and I agree with you. Stuff like "Start researching positions the summer after high school, and start networking freshman" is just ridiculous and unnecessary, and seriously who cares if "even at 1am, the intern without a tie looks less enthusiastic than the one still cranking". Shit like this is not why when somebody asks me if the intern should get an offer I say yes or no. Plus something like crafting 6 different stories for 6 different interviews means you won't know each story as well.

I'll be honest this post is a lot of fluff or just plain common sense - just because a post is long doesn't mean the content is substantial.

    • 3
Nov 22, 2016

Yeah right on. This year alone I've had two kids who I went to bat for do excellent on their superdays and ultimately were passed over for reasons completely out of their control. One of them was a girl who cried on the phone (don't do that btw) and I was totally heartbroken because I didn't know what to say. I could tell the guy was shaky too but he had another offer elsewhere so I don't think the world came crashing down for him.

Posts like OP's write-up are what set expectations so high for these kids. They read this post, get all giddy, and expect to have a fair shot at recruiting. People who did close SA or FT stints from non-targets all need to get off their high horse and gain a bit of introspection (and compassion) and realize how lucky they were to have been picked. I still remember the day I got rejected from MS. Was my first superday, did really well, but didn't make the cut. I had nothing else lined up at the time so I was depressed for a couple of days. To all you kids who recruited this year, gave it your best shot, and didn't make the cut let me just say this on behalf of all the junior guys who interviewed you: we're so sorry you feel like we let you down. I could sit here and try to give you advice about reaching out to boutiques, looking at other roles etc. But I won't because I was fortunate enough to not have had to go through that process. What I will say is I've seen it, and as long as you can close a front office type role, lateraling or recruiting FT will be there for you.

    • 2
Nov 22, 2016

OP, I think that some of your advice is a bit too intense, but overall, nice thread. I cannot stress how important your "JBC" line is. I've interviewed and dinged plenty of kids who were sharp, but were also flat-out weird.

Now, email Patrick after you start FT, become a Certified User, and pay it forward :)

    • 2
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Nov 22, 2016

Yeah, the JBC thing is a must. Back in 2007 I had an interview which landed me a managing position in sales. The interviewer got really excited about me. People talked about me for a long while at the company. Some of them felt like I was a monster and stuff like that (Because, I'm naturally nerdy). But, overall I have had a great time there, didn't burnt any bridges and stuff. But, never looked back there after I've left.

Still, the skills I've learnt there made me go far away. Being cool is aways a good choice, it really makes the difference.

Nov 29, 2017

Didn't read it all yet but decided to comment anyways.

+1 sb for traveling to new york with only a one way ticket and a suitcase

you fucking take risks in life and you will be rewarded

What concert costs 45 cents? 50 Cent feat. Nickelback.

Jan 2, 2019