No Return Offer from an Investment Banking Internship: What to Do
After putting in all that time and effort, you feel like you’re back at square one.
Unfortunately, it’s also quite common: in some years, over 50% of interns fail to get a return offer.
And in periods where deal activity is terrible (e.g., 2008 – 2009 or 2022 – 2023), the percentage may be even higher.
While it may feel like the end of the world, you are not actually back at square one.
But if you want a good outcome, you need a solid plan and honesty about why you didn’t get a return offer. I recommend the following steps, detailed below:
- Step 1: Figure Out Why You Didn’t Get a Return Offer
- Step 2: Pick Your Best Next Move
- Step 3: Network and Prepare for Interviews
- Step 4: Reevaluate Your Options If Nothing Worked
What is a “Return Offer”?
Effectively, the internship is an 8-10-week interview where you must prove yourself on the job by helping full-time employees with their tasks.
If you perform well and the bank has enough spots, you’ll get a “return offer,” which means you can start working full-time at the bank the following year after graduation.
These internships matter because the large banks make most of their full-time job offers to interns who perform well.
To succeed in your internship, please see our guide to investment banking internships.
This guide will focus on what to do if you did not perform well or if something outside your control resulted in no return offer.
Step 1: Figure Out Why You Didn’t Get a Return Offer
You need to start by asking why you didn’t get a return offer.
Sometimes, it was because of something outside your control, such as the firm not hiring anyone, the group shutting down, or a bad market.
But in many cases, it was because you made specific mistakes, didn’t perform well, or didn’t “fit” with investment banking.
If you’re in this category, there’s no shame in admitting it.
It’s mostly the banks’ fault for accelerating recruiting so much that they hire many students who are not good fits for the job.
There are ~5 main reasons why you might not have received a return offer:
- Poor Soft Skills – For example, maybe you made off-color comments, didn’t dress appropriately, or didn’t communicate effectively with full-time bankers. Or maybe you came across as weird or anti-social.
- Poor Hard Skills – Maybe you could not use Excel or PowerPoint effectively, made math mistakes, or failed to check your work before turning it in.
- Bad Market and Very Few or No Return Offers – Maybe deal activity was so bad that the bank didn’t need to award many return offers. Finance firms are notorious for under-hiring and over-hiring, so this happens a lot.
- “No Return Offer” Policy – Some boutique banks hire interns but never plan to bring them back full-time. If you’re in this category, at least it’s easy to explain in interviews!
- “Special Circumstances” – For example, maybe you had to start the internship late due to scheduling issues, or you had to work remotely for part of it, and these factors made it difficult to get to know the team.
You must understand which category best matches your situation because it determines your next move.
If it was something “beyond your control” (categories #3 – 5), it makes sense to give it another go and recruit for full-time IB roles or off-cycle internships.
But if it was “your fault” (categories #1 – 2), you may want to consider non-IB roles or give yourself time to improve by staying in school longer.
Step 2: Pick Your Best Next Move
Once you’ve determined why you didn’t get a return offer, you need to plan your next move.
In most cases, you have 6 main options, depending on your region and level:
- Delay Graduation – This one no longer works well due to the accelerated internship recruiting timeline in the U.S. But if you can somehow delay your university graduation by ~3 semesters, you could use the extra time to apply for summer internships once again, ~18 months in advance.
- Do a Master’s in Finance Degree – This one is best if you need to fix multiple issues in your profile, such as a low GPA and poor technical skills; it’s similar to delaying graduation but more realistic for the recruiting timeline.
- Do an Off-Cycle or Post-Graduation Internship – This one is more viable in Europe because off-cycle internships are more common there. You don’t need to pay extra to stay in school, but many of these internships never turn into full-time offers, so it is a bit of a gamble.
- Recruit Directly for Full–Time IB Roles – Banks hire most of their full-time Analysts from their summer intern classes, but you can always find a few firms and groups that under-hired or had terrible interns.
- Aim for Non-Banking Roles in Finance – Maybe you discovered that investment banking is not for you because you don’t like the hours, the work, or dealing with sociopaths all day. But you could use the experience to aim for other finance roles, especially ones like equity research or corporate banking with less structured recruiting.
- Aim for Non-Finance Roles – Or maybe you learned that you hate finance and never want to work in the industry. Great! You saved yourself years, and now you can find another job that’s a better fit (tech, consulting, marketing, startups, etc.).
At the MBA level, options #1 – 4 are not available, so you usually need to look for other full-time jobs outside of banking.
(Addendum #1: There’s a small chance you can find a full-time Associate role at a smaller bank, but I would be very cautious about these roles.)
(Addendum #2: Occasionally, an MBA student will fail to get a return offer and still find something else in banking, so it’s not impossible – but it is a lot more difficult than at the undergraduate level, so “not widely available” may be a better description.)
So, which of these options is best for you?
If you failed to get an offer because of your performance, you should consider options #2, 5, or 6 (Master’s degree, non-IB roles, or non-finance roles).
You need to be honest and ask yourself a simple question: “Do you want to work in banking but simply need to improve, or is it not for you?”
If it’s the former, consider another degree and how to use the extra time to improve your profile and get more experience.
If you failed to get an offer mostly because of external factors but are still very committed to IB, you should consider options #3 and 4 (another internship or full-time recruiting).
Even if you’re in Europe or another region with off-cycle internships, I recommend networking to look for full-time roles first.
Yes, it’s difficult, and your chances aren’t great in a terrible market, but spots sometimes appear – and if you can win a full-time offer anywhere, that’s much better than interning again.
Step 3: Network and Prepare for Interviews
If you’ve decided that investment banking is not for you, please search this site for recruiting guides to other industries.
In short, you need to be a lot more proactive if you aim for something like equity research or asset management; there is less competition, but there are also many fewer spots.
If you are still aiming for full-time investment banking roles, this interview about how a reader won an IB offer at the last minute has some useful tips.
The short version: Aim for roles outside of major financial centers, target smaller banks (middle markets, in-between-a-banks, etc.), and do a ton of networking.
You can reach out to your existing contacts, find new ones, and send a message like the one below via email or LinkedIn:
“SUBJECT: Investment Banking Intern at [Bank Name] – Positions at [Name of Person’s Firm]
Hi [First Name],
I’m a student at [University Name] with a [XX] GPA and investment banking internship experience at [Bank Name] and [Describe Previous Internship Experience]. I’ve attached my resume here. I’m seeking full-time investment banking roles and just wanted to know if your group is hiring.
There is no magical secret to getting a response. Find people, email them, and follow up after 5-7 days until you get an answer.
If you eventually make it through to interviews, the #1 question will be:
“Why did you not receive a return offer at [Bank Name]?”
I recommend telling the truth, but not the whole truth, and spinning the reason slightly more positively.
If you say something like, “Deal activity was bad, so the group didn’t give out many offers,” the interviewer’s follow-up response will be:
“OK, but they did give out some return offers, correct? Why did some interns receive return offers while you did not?”
You can keep going back and forth like this forever unless you admit a weakness or mistake.
So, similar to the “Why is your GPA low?” question, it’s best to say that you made mistakes initially and improved over time, but it wasn’t quite enough to put you among the top few interns.
For example, you could say that you made some mistakes in email communications or office protocol at the start of the internship.
You received feedback that you had to improve, which you did, and your final review said you were much better.
However, they only brought back 1-2 interns due to the market, and because of these mistakes in the beginning, you didn’t quite make the list.
Similar topics will come up even if you target off-cycle or summer internships.
So, if you’re already well-prepared for standard interviews, you mostly need to plan your explanation for why you didn’t get a return offer and discussions of your deals and internship work.
Step 4: Reevaluate Your Options If Nothing Worked
If you go through everything above and fail to win a full-time offer or another IB internship, return to Step 2 and reevaluate your options.
In most cases, the best choice is to aim for non-IB roles because you don’t want to spend much time without a full-time job.
The #1 point is that you need to line up something post-graduation, even if it’s not your ideal role, it’s in a bad location, or it has below-market pay.
If you’re still 100% committed to IB and unwilling to compromise, your best option is to do a Master’s in Finance degree – but the timing may be tricky if you’ve already spent months recruiting for other roles.
No Return Offer: The End of the World?
It may seem like the end of the world if you complete an investment banking internship and fail to get a return offer, but it’s a common outcome.
The key is to be honest about why it happened so you can plan what to do next.
If you hated the internship and decided that IB is not for you, great – move on and start applying for other roles.
If you like “the idea” of investment banking but couldn’t perform well or tolerate the long hours, fine – think about something like corporate banking with better work/life balance.
And if you are 100% committed but failed to get an offer because of factors outside your control, start pounding the pavement and looking for full-time roles or internships.
In the short term, “no return offer” hurts, but in the long term, it can lead to more fitting careers if you handle it properly.
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