Investment bankers in real-life are very far removed from population depictions in media such as The Wolf of Wall Street. Instead, the day-to-day life of an investment banker is pretty similar to many other finance jobs consisting of meetings, emails, building financial models in Excel and creating presentations—just with the dial turned up to 11. While a typical professional might be working on 1 or 2 projects simultaneously, the typical investment banker works on as many as 5 or 6 "live" deals simultaneously. It’s a very demanding and, ultimately, rewarding work environment.
While the nature of the work can be intense and high-pressure at times, as an investment banker, you get access and exposure to CEOs, titans of industry, and even billionaires even as a junior team member. The very best investment bankers advise their clients on the most visible and transformational corporate events including Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A), raising millions or even billions of dollars in capital, and going public via an Initial Public Offering (IPO).
How do you break into investment banking? For those that are interested in joining at the junior level, the recruiting for Analysts (out of undergrad) and Associates (out of MBA programs) is one of the most structured recruiting processes at any given school.
Below are tips to help you get started:
Join your school’s investment banking club
This might be one of the best and easiest ways to find your path to Wall Street. As mentioned earlier, the investment banking recruiting process is extremely structured—meaning your school has a ton of data points on what works and what does. Your school’s investment banking club should be your first resource in figuring out how to break into the industry because it’s something a cohort of students go through year in and year out (and have more direct and relevant experience as the recruiting process can change over the years).
Nail your story
Why do you want to do investment banking? And no, “the money” is not an acceptable answer. You want to demonstrate confidence, conviction, and competence. Confidence—that you know what the job entails. Conviction—that you’re right for the job. Competence—that you can do the job successfully. And part of that is how you sell yourself and tell your story—that your life’s path and experiences have lead you up to this point where you had been preparing to work in investment banking all your life (well, maybe not that extreme).
Recruiting especially at the undergraduate level seems to accelerate every single year. One of the best differentiators is having meaningful internship experience in a finance or finance-adjacent role. This can be in financial analysis at a company, in wealth management, or researching stocks. It’s best to have a meaningful project or analysis that you can talk about and walk through. Definitely try to land a relevant summer internship after your freshman or sophomore years that will set you up well to recruit for investment banking down the line.
Network, network, network
The most successful senior bankers aren’t the ones that can build the best Excel model from scratch or put together the best-looking Powerpoint (though it certainly doesn’t hurt). Bankers are paid off of their Rolodex—to paraphrase a common saying, it’s not the Excel models you make, it’s the hands you shake. At a high level, investment banking is a sales job and a large part of the job involves networking.
Networking begins even at the beginning of your career, starting with the internship search. Talk to anyone and everyone—friends, family members, neighbors, alumni that work in investment banking for perspective and advice. Generally, people are willing to help having been in your shoes once upon a time.
External resources are available
Because investment banking recruiting is such a structured process—recruiting can be pretty standardized, especially the material that will be asked during interviews. Sites such as Breaking Into Wall Street, Wall Street Prep, and Wall Street Oasis have put together detailed interview guides covering networking best practices, how to answer behavioral questions, and a thorough review of technical finance questions your interviewer may ask.