Post-MBA Career Goals: Investment Banking
Updated: Jan 30
So you want to be an investment banker after your MBA.
You’re not alone. 32% of MBA graduates enter the finance industry, according to this 2023 GMAC Corporate Recruiter’s Survey. For jobs in investment banking (IB), schools like NYU Stern (27%), Cornell Johnson (26%), Columbia (17%), Tuck (13%), and Wharton (12%) take the lead in the number of investment banking jobs accepted.
Alex worked in biotech venture capital and at a middle-market private equity fund in a capital markets and portfolio add-on role. With experience in finance and biotech, his goal was to transition into investment banking where he could combine these experiences.
So, after working with us for his applications, he began his MBA at UNC Kenan-Flagler. In his first year, he secured an MBA internship which he converted to a full-time offer in healthcare investment banking.
In this interview, Alex discusses investment banking as a post-MBA career. Watch the full YouTube interview here.
Why is Investment Banking an attractive post-MBA career?
Investment banking is the sector of banking that deals with large corporate transactions. Mergers and acquisitions, debt capital raising, and equity capital raising are all done through an investment bank.
Alex’s role as an IB Associate involved running these processes and helping manage clients. He also helped win deals for his Managing Directors by writing deal proposals and pitch books for their clients. This is often an intensive role with long hours, but cultures vary between banking groups. An IB Associate can put in anywhere from 60 to 100 hours per week, working on high-impact transactions and building key finance skills in valuation and financial modeling.
How do MBAs recruit for IB?
Investment banking recruitment is a highly structured process. At UNC, when you accept your offer and indicate your interest in investment banking, the Investment Banking Board - made up of second year students who have successfully recruited for investment banking - will reach out to you. The club will start preparing you for the recruitment process through group chats, coffee conversations, and events to help you understand how to present yourself.
You will then meet alumni bankers during presentations at the school, which is a good starting point to build your networking skills. Eventually, you will start to meet bankers outside the alumni network as you progress towards a final interview. You will either get an offer or be rejected.
The whole process is like a funnel, where at each stage you will get an indication of whether you will move forward or if you’re being cut. Recruitment preparation starts in mid-September (right after you begin the MBA!) and MBA students typically start receiving offers in late November- December. Some banks recruit up until early January.
That means IB has the earliest recruitment process of any industry in the MBA program. By the time you finish your first semester, you will know where you stand in the recruitment process. So, even if you are unsure of investment banking as your post-MBA career, it’s a good idea to get involved early on. Just as long as you aren’t recruiting for another industry that precludes you from IB. For example, in most MBA programs, students cannot recruit for both consulting and investment banking.
But if your primary goal is corporate finance but you’re considering investment banking as an alternative, there’s no harm in starting early and getting a feel for the industry through recruitment preparation.
What skills do IB recruiters look for?
Many graduates mistake banking as a technical role. While there is a technical aspect to it with financial modeling and valuation, it is also a sales role, especially at the higher levels. Bankers are looking for people who can tell powerful stories and who have strong communication skills. A polished appearance is essential.
While technical skills are necessary for an IB career, these alone will not get you through to the final interview. Some banks may even propel students through to the interview without any technical testing. This is because they expect you to learn these skills during your MBA program. What they are primarily looking for is how you can present yourself and communicate with people.
Current trends in IB recruiting
As interest rates go up and deal volumes decrease, IB recruiting has been impacted.
There are fewer lateral transfers. Lateral transfers refer to people in adjacent roles at a different investment bank, like corporate development or financial planning and analysis (FP&A), who want to move to investment banking. Compared to previous recruitment cycles, there are fewer lateral options available.
Given the current market, Alex thinks that an MBA is probably the best route into investment banking, having the highest percentage of successful outcomes. An MBA offers a structured recruiting process and extensive exposure to different banks. With return offers for summer internships being lower than they were in the past, it’s crucial that candidates ensure that they are as prepared as possible to convert their internships to a full-time role.
How did UNC propel you into IB?
Being in an industry with high turnover and intense hours, IB recruiters don’t want someone who simply chases paychecks. They want to see ambition and genuine interest in the field. In a way, this is similar to an MBA application; schools want to see the person beyond the resume and transcripts.
UNC’s structured training process helps students become involved in career development at a very early stage of their MBA program. This is mainly done through the Investment Banking club, where second year students and alumni take on an active role in mentoring students and ensure they have the guidance of someone who has previously been through the recruitment process successfully. Your mentors will watch how you present yourself and interact with people, and give you constructive feedback during coffee chats. They will also help you build a strong narrative about your past experience and why you want to go into IB. Communicating this story well is key to the IB recruitment process.
For Alex, UNC is up there with the best schools in the T25 bracket at comprehensively covering every aspect of IB recruiting: how you present yourself, communication skill building, and covering the technicals.
Best MBA programs for investment banking
Some of the top MBA programs for Investment Banking are:
In the M7s, the Columbia, Booth, and Wharton MBAs stand out as strong programs for IB.
In the T10 - T15 range, a school that punches above its weight when it comes to IB opportunities is Cornell. IB candidates should also look to schools like NYU, Duke Fuqua, Dartmouth Tuck, and Michigan Ross.
In the T25, UNC Kenan-Flagler has a strong IB pipeline for its MBA graduates. They especially place candidates in Charlotte, the second-largest financial sector in the US, which is a bigger challenge for students from schools in other regions. IB hopefuls should also consider schools with close proximity to New York. Georgetown McDonough should also be on applicants list, since several IB satellite offices and smaller advisories in the DC area recruit exclusively from Georgetown.
What can I do before the MBA to pivot into IB?
Build your network: Between receiving your admit and the start of your MBA program, a good place to start preparing for an IB career is by reaching out to second year students who have done internships at banks that you're interested in. Use LinkedIn or other networking portals to research them and ask them about their experience. This shows that you are genuinely interested and helps you build important contacts early on. By the time you join your MBA, you’ll have a strong idea of which banks to target and how they recruit.
Online courses and certifications: Next, if you want to make the transition to IB but don’t have a finance background, take up online courses to build your technical foundation. Having worked in biotech venture capital where he mainly conducted scientific due diligence, Alex found it challenging to switch to a middle market private equity fund. The Corporate Finance Institute’s Financial Modeling and Valuation Analyst (FVMA) program helped him build the necessary technical skills to transition to this role. Other programs like Training the Street and Breaking into Wall Street are also just as helpful to improve your technical knowledge.
Practice your technical skills: Having completed this program, Alex tested his skills using the 400 Questions Guide. This guide contains 400 IB-related technical interview questions as well as general interview questions that candidates can use to practice their skills. When Alex found that he could answer the technical questions without a calculator, he felt more confident making the transition.
Advice for MBA applicants pivoting to IB
GMAT prep: For most people, hiring a GMAT tutor can help them see a huge improvement in their test performance. It’s important to find a tutor early on to understand how the test works and help you structure your learning process.
Start networking early: Ensure that you start networking with admissions staff and second year students as early as possible when applying to schools. Many schools have an internal reference system where impressive candidates are fast-tracked to the admissions committee. Register for online events, be prepared with research and relevant questions, and reach out for one-on-one conversations. This will help you stand out among other candidates.
Be smart about recruitment: Many IB candidates tend to overthink the recruitment process. Their story may sound too rehearsed, they often obsess over small interactions and how to write emails to the people they are networking with, and over-exert themselves. It’s important to practice how you present yourself and your story so it doesn’t come off as too rehearsed, and be authentic in your interactions with others. Remember to demonstrate your fit with the bank and its working culture, and don’t merely focus on brand value and prestige. There are many great middle market banks with strong career development opportunities.
Sleep: Finally, a key piece of advice from Alex is to make sure you get your 8 hours of sleep during the interview stages! Being well rested will allow you to express your personality as you network, without burning out too soon.
Alternatives to Investment Banking
Investment banking requires analytical skills and stakeholder management. These are two skills which also translate across to Management Consulting and Venture Capital. Therefore, many investment banking applicants also apply to those industries. Check out these videos from interviews with clients in Management Consulting and Venture Capital. Incidentally, both went to INSEAD for their MBAs.
Need help positioning your MBA application for an Investment Banking career? Book a free 20 min chat with one of our expert consultants here.
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