How MBAs Can Impress Investment Bank Recruiters |

How MBAs Can Impress Investment Bank Recruiters

By Francesca Di

Updated May 10, 2018 Updated May 10, 2018

In hushed whispers, business school insiders have been wondering if the allure of investment banking is on life support.

Once upon a time, investment banking and consulting were the go-to industries for freshly minted MBAs. Business schools provided a direct pipeline for talent into these two fields. Nowadays, however, investment banking is no longer number one on the list of career choices. As a result, people are speculating about what’s to happen to this industry–and the MBAs who enter it (or don’t enter it).

Recently, QS discussed the destiny of careers in investment banking with Pascal Michels, formerly the head of financial services in the career services office at IESE in Barcelona, Spain. Michels is now director of MBA admissions at the school.

In 2010, Michels actually earned an MBA at IESE before entering financial services himself. He worked at Citigroup in the CFO track rotation. There, he says he “always had his hand up” to interview potential new hires, review CVs, and help newcomers navigate career planning.

That’s why when his alma mater came calling, he was happy to sign on to helm career services.

Staying alive

Investment banking remains relevant, says Michels, thanks to its prestige and potential for salary earned. Thus, no one should give up on it yet. The difference now, he adds, is i-banking is no longer the default career of undecided interns and graduates.

This change is a result of a few factors. First, the industry took a big hit in 2008 when Lehman Brothers collapsed and sparked the Great Recession. Second, technology and non-traditional careers are bigger players in MBA recruiting than they were in the past. Simply, MBAs have more options today.

Coincidentally, the competition for talent is fiercer than ever. Third, millennials, who make up the majority of today’s MBAs, are demanding better work-life balance, which is hardly synonymous with the long hours for which investment banking is notorious.

A self-described optimist, Michels says the industry is now attracting only those who are passionate and dedicated. Ultimately, that’s a positive outcome for recruiters, who are only hiring the most interested in working for them, and graduates, who are more likely to have job satisfaction.

“Banks very much go for the potential and motivation they see from full-time MBA students at the very beginning of their MBA programs,” says Michels.

What this means for you

Those who are still interested in a career in investment banking have work to do to prove themselves. Just because i-banking isn’t as popular as it once was with MBAs doesn’t mean you can wing it during recruiting, warns Michels. For starters, you have to prove you have the right skillset.

“As a banker, I need to make sure the people I’m going to bring on board have the cognitive ability or potential to learn to, say, build a financial model,” says Michels. “This is an oversimplification, but basically [recruiters ask], ‘Can this person deal with a high level of attention to detail under tight deadlines with large quantities of numerical data?’”

Many people from top MBA programs can prove they will be able to handle the technical aspect of the job. It’s the soft skills that amps up the competition. However, you can stand out. Find out how:

Research the relationships between banks and particular schools

The earlier you can decide your career pursuits, the better off you will be. If you realize you want a career in investment banking before you apply to business school, you can be strategic with your choices. Recruiters at banks have a target list of schools from which they recruit. If you don’t go to one of those schools, the chances of your application getting reviewed are much slimmer, says Michels.

So, research the schools and the banks coming to their campuses and how many of their students get hired each year. “From the moment you decide you’ll be studying [an MBA], you must start following the banks in the recruiter portfolio,” suggests Michels. “Start reading up on the deals they make, the culture they have.

“You try to take out what they say about themselves and talk to those in your network, who work there, to learn what makes them different from the other banks.”

Determine your profile and how it relates to investment banks

Some candidates naturally will fare better than others, says Michels. For example, those with previous financial experience, consulting as a pre-MBA career, a background in energy, and anyone with a deep expertise of a particular industry, such as healthcare, will have an edge in interviews, he adds.

Snag a summer internship

Banks use the internship as an extended interview. It’s a chance for both of you to test the waters. If you perform well and demonstrate ability during the internship, you increase the odds of getting a full-time job offer. 

Demonstrate technical skills

Obviously, the banks need those with exceptional quantitative skills. If you don’t come from a financial background, you will have to show your ability to understand job requirements, such as financial models.

This can be challenging if you come to business school from a completely different world because recruiting starts so soon in the first semester. “Anything you can do to acquaint yourself with the valuation work that is done in investment banking is going to save you time once you are on campus,” suggests Michels. 

Be a great communicator

Proving technical skills is simple compared to having a high emotional IQ. Recruiters are looking for leaders with great communication and teamwork skills. They want candidates to have empathy and interact well with others. Any examples of leadership or writing or oral skills will be valuable. Demonstrations of being a people person will help you stand out.

Know why you are a good match

The toughest interview question, says Michels, is why a candidate would pick the employer in question over others. “When people haven’t gone the extra mile in their research, this can be a terribly difficult question to answer because at first glance, of course, the commonalities outweigh the differences,” says Michels. “It takes a lot of research to be able to explain why one bank is different from another.”

Talk to those in your network about the specific cultures at each bank. Reach out to alumni who have worked there. And take advantage of the resources banks provide to help you measure your fit, suggests Michels.

Remain humble

Unfortunately, some strong candidates with the typical banking profile can come off as arrogant or apathetic. Hang onto your humility and show genuine enthusiasm, advises Michels.

Investment banking careers remain prestigious and in demand. While the career is no longer as popular as it once was, the competition may be tougher than ever. At IESE, students with interest in i-banking collaborate to support one another. Second year students take first years under their wing. They conduct mock interviews and help each other network through relevant campus clubs. Most importantly, they are committed to this career.

“When you read the press, you get the feeling banking is wildly out of fashion,” says Michels. “I do not agree. The candidates are just more targeted now. They are focused and determined.” In other words, investment banking lives.

This article was originally published in May 2018 .

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Written by

Francesca Di Meglio has written about higher education for two decades. She covered business schools and all aspects of management education for what became Bloomberg Businessweek from May 2004 to December 2013. Di Meglio was the consultant editor for the book Admitted: An Interactive Workbook for Getting into a Top MBA Program (85 Broads Publishing, 2011), which was written by admissions consultant Betsy Massar. In addition, she is a family travel and parenting blogger at the Italian Mamma website


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