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Conquering investment banking recruiting

Young man buttoning suit standing in front of stairs

The investment banking recruiting process is notoriously difficult and time-consuming. Many hopeful applicants do not understand exactly what banks look for in candidates or what will make them stand out.

Understandably, the process can be frustrating. Although banks have recently pushed back the recruiting timeline, many sophomores are recruiting and interviewing for post-junior year internships that will hopefully result in a first job after graduation.

As I went through my interviews, I developed a much better understanding of how to navigate the process. Ultimately, I secured an offer, and the process gave me insight into some best practices for standing out from other applicants.

Craft a meaningful story. The first thing you will hear in almost any interview (or even a general networking call) is “tell me about yourself.” This question is asking – in a roundabout way – why you are interested in investment banking.

Many people are drawn to banking for the relatively high entry pay and exit opportunities following the two-year analyst program, but banks are more interested in candidates they feel are excited about the industry and firm. When thinking through a response, building a narrative that shows how your story and experiences have led you to want to go into investment banking is crucial.

Network effectively. Networking is a crucial part of the recruiting process. In general, schools with an existing base of alumni at a bank will have better initial connections as those alumni will often come back on campus to network.

The general networking process starts in these sessions; prospective applicants have the opportunity to ask questions and solicit business cards from current analysts/associates. Applicants will then follow up with the bankers they meet via email to set up networking calls to learn more about the bank. From there, bankers will (hopefully) connect the applicant with others at the bank. This process continues until the applicant is well connected with analysts at the bank.

Know the basic technicals. A candidate will rarely stand out solely from having a complete mastery of technicals, but you can easily fall flat by not knowing the basics. Several online guides help prepare you for these questions, so coming to an interview with no basic grasp shows a lack of preparation. The key is to memorize the simple questions, and when you encounter more complex questions you might not know, acknowledge the gaps in your understanding and talk through how you think about the answer with what you do know.

In one interview, the recruiter asked me a series of questions about leveraged buyouts knowing I had no experience with them. As we talked through the math step by step, I used any relevant knowledge to answer the questions to the best of my ability, and after each step, the interviewer would talk me through the gaps in my understanding. The key for me was to not panic and use any knowledge to show how I thought about approaching new problems.

Find what makes you unique. Investment banks review many resumes each recruiting cycle. A number of candidates will have a high GPA, relevant experience, campus involvement, etc. If you can find something that sets you apart and makes you interesting, this factor can differentiate you from others during the recruitment cycle. This difference does not have to be in the world of finance; in fact, bankers will often be more excited to talk about something outside of finance. As I went through recruitment, my differentiating factor was the gap year I took between high school and college. In almost every interview, the interviewer asked what I did during my gap year and asked more follow-up questions on that topic than any other.

Investment banking recruiting is not easy; it’s one of the more convoluted recruiting processes for college students. However, if you position yourself with a good GPA and relevant experience, these tips should help differentiate you in the process and improve your chances to secure an offer.

By Will Benson (BSBA ’19)