How to Land an Investment Banking Interview Without Perfect Grades or an Ivy League Degree
Prepare, prepare, prepare
Before getting an investment banking offer, you have to get an interview.
Because investment banking is extremely competitive, this can be a major challenge. What many may find surprising, however, is that with adequate preparation, it is possible to land an interview even without perfect grades, without an ivy league degree, or directly relevant job experience.
Where to begin?
The next challenge is to meet people from these firms that can help you along in the process. That's the hard part. If you are at a target school (i.e. a school where investment banks actively recruit), you can take advantage of on campus information sessions organized through the career center (which, depending on your school, can either be helpful or completely unhelpful), and benefit from the fact that banks are coming to you. On the other hand, competition for spots at target schools is fierce. If you are coming from a non-target, your best chance is to network, which I'll talk about shortly. But first, let's discuss the on campus information sessions.
Make on-campus information sessions work for you
On-campus information sessions are held by companies at "target" schools to provide information for prospective applicants about the firm and open positions. Since the information presented is usually boilerplate marketing pitches, these sessions are less about learning about the company and more about networking.
On-campus information sessions are less about learning about the company and more about networking
It is really the Q&A and what happens after the session that should be a focus of prospective applicants. Banks want people that they like on their team and the only way they can assess this is through face time with you. If you don’t go to the sessions, you become the “nameless candidate.” That being said, you want to present yourself in a professional way and convince these representatives that you would be a great addition to their teams.
When you go to these company information sessions, try to have a one on one question with someone from the company presenting. Introduce yourself and ask an insightful question. Ask for a business card and find out if it is ok to follow up if you have any questions. do not offer to give them your resume on the spot unless they specifically ask for it.
Networking from a non-target school
You should talk to your Career Center and try to get connected with alums. Alternatively, you could decide to join a local CFA society and network with various finance professionals as they may have contacts in investment banking. Consider signing up for a more robust level of access through LinkedIn.
Send an email introduction to investment bankers with whom you share some common ground.
This will enable you to see more profiles of investment bankers at firms you may be interested, as well as their interests. Send an email introduction (called InMail in LinkedIn-speak) to investment bankers with whom, based on their profile, you share some common ground with (i.e. same college, same interests, etc).
In addition to alumni networks and LinkedIn, there are also mentoring services where you can pay to get matched up with practicing investment banking mentors that may provide you with some insider insight, and if you play your cards right, might even be able to make some introductions.
I feel compelled to spell out the obvious: When networking, you NEVER want to ask for a job directly. Rather, introduce yourself and ask if they would be willing to answer a few questions for you about the interview/recruiting process or provide you with some advice.
Lastly, consider enrolling in a live investment banking training seminar to meet current and aspiring investment bankers. It might seem like an expensive way to meet bankers, but one good connection could make all the difference (and you get the added benefit of learning financial modeling skills you'll need for the technical interview).