Review of Investment Banking Recruiting at Cornell Johnson

itwasluck's picture
Rank: Baboon | 114

First, let me state the overall numbers upfront to put my commentary in context. This recruiting cycle ('19-'20) we are going to place 55-60 people into IB internships out of about 70 who were all-in on the IB track.

Opportunities Available

The IB opportunities available at Johnson are second to none in terms of the banks that recruit here. Essentially every top firm runs a structured recruiting process. In no particular order: JP, GS, MS, BAML, Citi, Barclays, DB, CS, UBS, RBC, Wells, Evercore, Lazard, Moelis, Greenhill, Guggenheim, Jefferies, Houlihan Lokey, William Blair, Cain, BMO, MTS, and Piper all run structured recruitment programs at Johnson. There are also some programs that do not have structured recruiting processes but are still doable. For example, this year we placed at PWP, TD, and there were several folks in the process at FT Partners. The only notable places we do not place are CV and PJT. I have not done any investigation into these two firms but I would be curious to hear if other schools get offers there. To be transparent, a few of these banks (GS comes to mind) may make a cut from 70 to 30 after only one meeting or based on resume, however these firms still gave offers to Johnson students this year and last. I have heard GS is similarly Machiavellian at other schools. Cornell Johnson undeniably places into the strongest groups at nearly all the top banks in the world.

The Process Itself

The process can be largely broken up into two phases: Phase I includes on-campus interviews, briefings held by the banks, and on-campus networking. Phase II includes weekly travel to NYC for informationals and interviews. Phase I kicks off in the first few weeks of the first semester and lasts until mid-October. Phase II lasts until mid-October and lasts until winter break. During phase II, most candidates take the bus down to NYC on Wednesday night and spend Thursday and Friday meeting with the banks before coming back to Ithaca on Friday night (Thursday classes are recorded). Again, both phases are highly structured. There are explicit instructions on where you need to be, what technicals you should be prepared to be asked, what emails to send, who to send them to, and even what specific time to send the emails. Each week, you may be cut from certain bank's processes depending on your performance the previous week. Performance could entail a tech-screen, behavioral interviews with alumni, informationals, and all the other soft-skill interrogation that is par-for-the-course during IB recruiting from any MBA program.

If the above sounds exhausting to you, you would be correct. Cuts can feel like a kick in the throat and doing ten to thirty informationals a week takes an enormous amount of mental fortitude. Prior to business school, I worked in strategy consulting and then in risk for a bulge. I have experience working extremely long hours in error-intolerant environments. I would put recruiting IB on par with the most onerous weeks of my career in terms of exertion and stress. I realize talking about exhaustion from the privileged position of recruiting investment banking from an Ivy League MBA program sounds a little ridiculous, but candidates seriously should not underestimate the workload.

A large reason the process is so exhausting is the extremely high standards Cornell Johnson alumni have for their candidates. You are expected to be technically strong on an accelerated timeline. My friends from Wharton and NYU are blown away by our schedule. Each week, Johnson candidates are given a set of technicals to be proficient in. One half of the set is from the 300 IB technical guide, and the other half is from a Cornell specific IB technicals guide. This is on top of behavioral questions that are typical of round 1 interviews at banks. Each week, alumni are aware of where we are in the guides and those questions are all fair game to be asked in our informationals. Week one may feature less sophisticated questions (but no layups), like "walk me through how the redemption of a gift card affects the three financial statements." Week five you may find you talking through how to construct a statement of cash flows from the balance sheet and income statement. Alumni want to know that you are a grinder who is studying every week.

Evaluating the Process

The process is brutal, but our 80-85% placement shows that it's worth it. Yes, the structure can be suffocating, but that same structure gives career switchers a clear path to follow. Yes, the technical schedule is demanding, but that schedule gives folks without valuation or accounting experience the chance to show how quickly they can learn. Yes, the travel schedule is exhausting, but the marathon creates a shared bonding experience with alumni. Those same alumni stick their necks out to create more seats for Johnson every single year. The results speak for themselves and the sum totality of the recruiting process is one that gives true career switchers the chance to recruit and receive offers from the strongest banks in the world. Anecdotally, I have a friend (a normal guy) who went to a higher ranked finance focused business school and ended up in audit at a bulge. Peruse the threads on r/MBA or WSO for evidence of how commonplace M7 strikeouts in IB were this year. I cannot definitively state that our placement rate is higher or lower than comparison schools because those schools do not provide granular data but it would be surprising to me if Johnson's placement was not on-par or higher. I did a lot of research on IB recruiting during my MBA application process and my informationals with alums from other school suggest Johnson far outpunches its weight class in IB placement.

Competition

This is going to sound ridiculous but bear with me: I did not feel competition with classmates while recruiting IB at Johnson. I am not naive; I understand that at some level IB offers are a zero-sum game. However, at Johnson, the sheer totality of structured opportunities changes the thought process from "PrestigiousBank1 has X offers this year so I am competing with my classmates for those offers" to "There are going to be at least 12 offers from one of PrestigiousBank1, PretigiousBank2, or PrestigiousBank3 where I am in the running and if I stay on my game I can get one of them." That attitude is emphasized by the finance club and behavior which prioritizes yourself above classmates (such as backdooring processes or telling multiple banks they are your number 1 choice) is explicitly discouraged by Johnson alumni at the banks. Your classmates are your support system and alumni expect you to go through the gauntlet together. This attitude creates strong connections amongst the class which translates to a strong Wall Street network. Alumni emphasized this point repeatedly in informationals.

Negatives

Some people would consider the structure a negative if they are supreme networkers who perform best in entrepreneurial environments. That person is not me so I can't really speak to it. I think the largest idiosyncratic "downside" to Johnson is that the structure and close alumni network make it neigh- impossible to hoard offers. Alumni will know through their friends where you are tracking so nobody is able to sit on 5-6 offers. 95% of candidates will only have 1-2 offers at the end of the day. Frankly, I don't consider this a downside. By limiting hoarding offers, we maximize our placement across the street.

The other downside worth mentioning is difficult to evaluate. As of this date there are a few strong candidates without offers. Still, there should be at least two more offers coming through the pipeline. From talking with friends at other business schools, this was a down year for IB recruiting but apparently there are deserving folks who strike out every single year from every single school. I don't believe the few deserving candidates we currently have without offers are inevitable, but I also can't identify a specific weakness in the process that led to their outcomes.

Overall

Anybody who wants to recruit IB out of their MBA program should send an app to Cornell Johnson. Although I don't have granular data from other schools to parse, my multiple interviews with alumni from other schools and my experience going through recruiting leads me to conclude Johnson far outpunches its weight class in terms of MBA rankings vs Wall Street placement. It is an ideal safety for someone targeting CBS or Wharton, and if you can wrangle money out of Johnson vs going to some of the other strong finance programs at full sticker price, I think Johnson could be a no-brainer. If you are a career switcher who just wants to get into IB, Johnson will give you the opportunity to recruit across every name brand BB and EB on Wall Street. And if you are a finance stud who wants to work for the best groups at the most prestigious banks in the world, Johnson will let you control your own destiny.

Final Note

I wrote this because it is the type of resource that I would have liked to have as I was applying to MBA programs. At Johnson, there are people that recruited better than me and people that had a harder time than me. This perspective is just a single data point. Thanks for reading.

Comments (17)

Feb 10, 2020

Great post. I have several friends that attended Johnson and they have IB recruiting down to a science. It is certainly a target for post-MBA recruiting and will place as well as almost any program out there into NYC banking. Little tougher if you were focused on the west coast though due to a smaller alumni network.

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Most Helpful
  • Associate 1 in IB - Gen
Feb 10, 2020

Great post, thanks for highlighting. Johnson has been incredibly smart to "lean in" to IB and make it a staple of the program. It seems like other programs like to shy away from the finance realm in marketing and appeal. Once you drop below a threshold, interested students begin to self-select away from the program (i.e. Ross).

Small caveat though: other schools firmly in the top 15 (Darden/Duke/Tuck/Yale/NYU) all place at at least the same rate. The process is the exact same at these places and if banking doesn't work out or you have a change of heart, there will be greater opportunity in consulting, tech, etc. comparatively. I was repeatedly told it "outpunches" it's rank but once you look at the granular data it seems to do exactly as you'd expect. Schools like UNC/Vandy/Georgetown are even sending significant portions to IB these days.

That being said--Cornell will unlock similar banking doors as the others, and if I had taken the $ I quite possibly could have ended up at my same bank with fewer loans.

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Feb 12, 2020
Associate 1 in IB - Gen:

Great post, thanks for highlighting. Johnson has been incredibly smart to "lean in" to IB and make it a staple of the program. It seems like other programs like to shy away from the finance realm in marketing and appeal. Once you drop below a threshold, interested students begin to self-select away from the program (i.e. Ross).

Small caveat though: other schools firmly in the top 15 (Darden/Duke/Tuck/Yale/NYU) all place at at least the same rate. The process is the exact same at these places and if banking doesn't work out or you have a change of heart, there will be greater opportunity in consulting, tech, etc. comparatively. I was repeatedly told it "outpunches" it's rank but once you look at the granular data it seems to do exactly as you'd expect. Schools like UNC/Vandy/Georgetown are even sending significant portions to IB these days.

That being said--Cornell will unlock similar banking doors as the others, and if I had taken the $ I quite possibly could have ended up at my same bank with fewer loans.

This is spot on. As an aside, prospectives seeking opportunities in investment banking post-MBA should resist the temptation to anchor to the school with the highest US News & World Report Ranking. For example, Cornell Johnson may make more sense for an aspiring banker when compared to Northwestern Kellogg. It is extremely easy to get caught up in the whirl wind which is business school rankings--resist it.

And yes, all rankings are extremely subjective, but most professionals default to US News & World Report.

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  • Analyst 2 in Other
Feb 10, 2020

This post is one of the most informative post I have read on WSO. Thanks for taking the time to draft it. As someone who is currently interviewing with a handful of the Top 15 MBA programs (including Johnson), I really appreciated the detail.

Feb 11, 2020

Fellow Johnson alum, can confirm the above is accurate. If anything, IB at Johnson has gotten stronger since I graduated (2015). More banks, more spots, etc.

Feb 12, 2020

Thanks for writing this up--very much in line with what I learned speaking to students and faculty during the app process in the fall. I knew I was hoping to recruit for IB next year when I start my MBA, and got a full scholarship offer to Johnson while getting no money from a few top 10 programs.

I chose an M7 recently as my final choice and we'll see how it goes with recruiting. There's a decent probability I'll end up at the same tier bank I would have at Johnson in which case I'm a fool for not just taking the money and going to Johnson.

Feb 14, 2020
wabo22:

Thanks for writing this up--very much in line with what I learned speaking to students and faculty during the app process in the fall. I knew I was hoping to recruit for IB next year when I start my MBA, and got a full scholarship offer to Johnson while getting no money from a few top 10 programs.

I chose an M7 recently as my final choice and we'll see how it goes with recruiting. There's a decent probability I'll end up at the same tier bank I would have at Johnson in which case I'm a fool for not just taking the money and going to Johnson.

Hey I recognized your username from GMATClub. Going to Booth I take it? You will have amazing finance opportunities there and LT I think it's worth it over Johnson even with the scholarship considered.

Feb 14, 2020

thanks for the reassurance! yes i've been posting on GMATClub too haha, going to Booth. Applying to MBA as well?

Feb 12, 2020

Great post! 2014 grad here. It did seem like most people that went for IB my year got in, the rest went into Corporate Finance. Funny that 5 years later, most of the people in IB ended up in corp dev.

Feb 12, 2020

Centerview just recently started recruiting at several of the top finance schools. They had their first summer associate last year. PJT runs structured recruiting in maybe 10 top schools.

It's beyond me why people would go to MBA programs like Johnson,where you can't get into Centerview or PJT.

HBS or bust!!

Array

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  • Principal in PE - LBOs
Feb 14, 2020

CVP and PJT hire cornell undergrads... apparently just not MBAs lol

Feb 15, 2020

Neither place hires very many post-MBAs period, so it's a little weird to see people shitting on Johnson because of it.

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  • Prospect in IB - Gen
Feb 13, 2020

great post, ty. at a similar mba program right now doing ib and was impressed with how well Cornell ppl placed.

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Feb 14, 2020

Off-topic / late night thought - I can't imagine the feeling of dropping the career track you're on, attending an MBA program, spending ~200k, and striking out of recruiting...

Sounds like Johnson has a strong, structured program. Seems like a good option for those focused on IB.

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Feb 14, 2020

Great post! Do you mind sharing where you ended up and how you went about choosing?

Feb 16, 2020
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