Investment banking recruitment is the process that banks use to interview candidates and then award internship or full-time job offers to those candidates.
Since investment banking is a highly paid, prestigious, and competitive field, banks do not have to do much to “attract” candidates – in a single year, over 100,000 candidates might compete for a few thousand spots worldwide.
So, it’s best to think of the “recruitment process” as the “selection process”: it’s more like applying to a highly selective university than anything else.
To have the best chance of winning investment banking job offers, you should be at a top undergraduate university and start very early (i.e., Year 1) with your initial internships and networking efforts.
If you have already graduated from university, or you are not at a top university, you may still be able to get into investment banking, but it will take more time and effort, and you may need an additional degree such as an MBA or Master’s in Finance.
To understand this process from A to Z, you should start by reading our comprehensive article on how to get into investment banking and then continue to the specific topics below.
The main pathways into investment banking (IB) include the following:
This is the easiest and cheapest way to get into the industry, but you must decide very early on that you want to pursue investment banking.
Some students graduate, accept a role that’s related to IB, such as a Big 4 valuation job, corporate banking, or corporate finance, and then move into IB from there.
If your full-time work experience has nothing to do with finance, you will probably have to apply to top MBA programs, get in, and use one of them to move into the industry. Read more about the MBA investment banking recruitment process here.
If you’re well beyond the MBA level – for example, you have 10+ years of experience and are now a mid-level executive at a company – then you don’t have a realistic chance of breaking into investment banking at the Analyst, Associate, or VP levels. But if you make it to the senior executive level, you may be able to move into IB from there.
If you follow and implement this process, you’ll be better-equipped for investment banking recruiting than ~95% of candidates.
The investment banking recruiting timeline differs depending on your level, but here’s a quick summary:
If you’re at the undergraduate or Master’s, non-MBA levels, please see the articles below for more tips on super-early recruiting and how to maintain your sanity:
We cover the MBA level and lateral hiring in some of the sections below on this page.
The main takeaway from these articles is that you do not have time to “find yourself” or “experiment” with different career options.
If you are even slightly interested in investment banking, you must win internships early on so that you have a shot at winning that all-important summer internship at a large bank.
If you figure out that you hate IB, great! You’ve ruled out one career option, and you can go back to recruiting for normal jobs with slower timelines.
But if not, and you decide that you want to pursue IB over the long term or get into another field that normally requires it, such as private equity, then you’ll be really glad you put yourself in this position early on.
Investment banking internships are pretty much required to have a great shot at winning a full-time investment banking offer at the undergraduate, Master’s, and MBA levels.
An “investment banking internship” is an extended job interview where the bank evaluates your performance over several months and decides whether or not to give you an offer based on that.
Decades ago (e.g., the 1990s and 2000s), students could break into the industry and win full-time jobs – even at the top banks – without internships because recruiting started much later, and demand for Analysts and Associates often exceeded supply.
However, these dynamics have changed over time, and you are not very likely to win a full-time role without completing an internship first.
Since an internship is an extended job interview, it’s not enough just to win it – you also have to perform well and get the team to like you if you want a good chance of receiving a return offer.
We cover the different parts of this process, including how to prepare for recruiting, how to prepare for the internship once you’ve won it, and how to perform well in the internship, below:
When your internship ends, there are a few possible outcomes:
And if you fail to win an offer, take a look at these articles here:
One final note: in some cases, even today, you can still win full-time IB roles without an internship. Check out the reader interview on last-minute investment banking recruiting for more on that.
If you’ve already graduated from university, a Master’s program, or business school, then banks might still consider you for lateral roles.
“Lateral” means that you interview and start right away rather than at the same time as the entire class of Analysts or Associates.
You can’t win these types of roles coming from just any job – for example, a 45-year-old plumber will not win lateral IB roles no matter how well he/she knows accounting and finance.
Typically, you must:
So, if you are in a very different field currently – even something like audit – you need to move closer before you can switch into banking.
For examples of how to do this, see these reader interviews:
In North America, the investment banking recruiting process usually goes like this:
At this “assessment center,” or “AC,” you will complete exercises such as group presentations, report writing, role-playing, and e-tray/in-tray (to simulate your responses to emails) in addition to the standard interviews.
ACs test your ability to perform in real life more effectively, but you’ll also have to spend additional time preparing for them.
There are some other differences in the U.K. as well, such as “competency questions” and math/verbal/logic tests in your online applications and “spring weeks” to set yourself up for internships at banks. For more, please see our detailed coverage of these topics:
Other regions tend to be in between the U.S. and the U.K.; for example, banks might give you case studies, group presentations, or other exercises, but they won’t necessarily conduct an entire day of testing at an assessment center.
If you’re using business school to get into investment banking, there are a few important differences.
First, MBA-level recruiting is far more developed in the U.S. than it is in other regions. Yes, banks still hire students from top European schools such as INSEAD and LBS, but the process is more of a “thing” in the U.S.
Second, you still need relevant experience to get in. There is no time to “reinvent yourself” or make a dramatic transformation in the months before interviews begin. As a result, you might need a steppingstone role before business school to boost your chances.
Third, in most cases, you need an industry and geography, such as technology in San Francisco or industrials in Chicago. This pairing should ideally match your pre-MBA background.
You should also know the bank’s deals very well, which means reading through filings and studying the deals.
It can be tougher to get in from part-time and evening programs, and from ones located outside of financial centers, so be careful of all those points before you leap.
Finally, interviewers look for different qualities at this level. Many interviews are more case study-based, and interviewers try to assess your commitments outside of work, humility, and ethics because all of those will influence your long-term success in the role.
The links below are some of our best interviews on MBA-level recruiting:
Investment banking has become a highly competitive and sought-after field.
Banks have shifted from hiring raw graduates and “training them on the job” to expecting new hires to hit the ground running and add value from day one.
That’s why many future investment bankers invest in specialized courses and training to help them get noticed, get hired, and get promoted.
Some of the courses offered by Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street include:
Completing these courses will help you win interviews and job offers for roles that pay $150K+, and position you for top-tier exit opportunities such as private equity.