Courtesy of Harrison King '20, Jingyi Wang '21, Bobby Ma ’20, Stephanie Phen ’20

From left to right: Harrison King '20, Jingyi Wang '21, Bobby Ma ’20, Stephanie Phen ’20

November 1, 2019

On the Grind: Investment Banking Edition

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Interested in investment banking but don’t know where to start?

The Sun sat down with four students who have landed investment banking internships and asked them about their experiences and best tips for Cornellians looking to break into the industry.

Below are excerpts from the interviews, lightly edited for clarity.  

What is Your Background? 

Jingyi Wang ’21: I’m a senior majoring in statistical sciences and asian studies and my professional interest lies in finance, specifically investment banking and equity research. In the past I’ve done internships in equity research and investment banking, as well as consulting and trading. But eventually, I chose to go down the investment banking route. Last summer, I worked at a small boutique investment bank.

Bobby Ma ’20: I’m currently a senior studying economics. I came from California, but I’m going full time in New York. I interned at Guggenheim last summer.

Harrison King ’20: I’m a senior in the Hotel School and I’m extraordinarily fortunate to have been with Morgan Stanley for what has been 2 and a half summers. This past summer I focused more on Real Estate M&A. For full time, I’ll be going back to the Investment Banking Division at Morgan Stanley.

Stephanie Phen ’20: I am a senior in the ILR School. I was born in China, but have lived in Canada, Shanghai, Massachusetts, and New York. On campus, I’m involved in Cornell Consulting, MICC, and Phi Gamma Nu Business Fraternity. Last summer, I interned at Goldman Sachs in the Investment Banking division.

What are some tips for interviewing for an investment banking internship?

Wang: The first round is a HireVue which is an online interview. The best way to prepare is to prepare 4 or 5 stories. I prepared 4 or 5 and I think that’s enough. Just try to be as unique as possible and try not to go down to regular route for your answers. You should also read the Wall Street Journal at least once per week and ideally every other day. As for the superday [final round], it’s kind of like the HireVue, but it also depends on the firm. Some firms ask you conceptual questions – it’s pretty straight forward. Other firms ask you to do calculation questions so you should know accounting. I think accounting is a pretty important part of it so you should read through all of your accounting questions.

Ma: The crux of interviewing is that people want to find out if they can sit next to you at 11pm and not hate themselves. If you pass that test, you have a very good shot at getting a role in finance. And I would say whenever you interview try to make it as conversational as possible, because the goal is really trying to know you. So the more off script you go without purposely trying to go off script, and the more you come off as an interesting person who fits the firm culture, the better time you have in terms of being successful with landing an internship after an interview.

Phen: I think that getting your story through to the interviewer in a clear, focused, and concise way is key. You need to effectively show that your personal and professional story fits with the specific job that you are applying to. That means the first step to preparing is fully understanding what the role you’re applying for is about through prior networking and research. Finally, it’s really important to establish a personal connection with the interviewer. This can be done by asking meaningful questions at the end, finding commonalities, and answering questions in an engaging way.

What does an effective recruiting strategy look like? 

Wang: In America, the most important thing is networking. The optimal strategy is to get a lot of solid references. You should go to info sessions and immerse yourself in that networking culture and get used to it.

King: I can’t stress enough the importance of networking and building your network with alumni – not even just alumni – people that work at the firm that you want to work at.

Ma: I think networking definitely is because the biggest cut of banks is from all the applicants down to the people they interview. Because everyone at Cornell basically has the same resume —in the sense that pre-professional opportunities people participate in are very similar—it’s really hard to tell people apart. But through networking you can really get people to put a face to a name. And then they can pull your resume out and say I like this person. Give them an interview.

What advice would you give to like a freshman looking to one day land an internship in investment banking?

Ma: Well, I think first is figure out why investment banking, because personally, like I said, my freshman year, I said I want to do investment banking. I didn’t know what it was until my sophomore spring to be perfectly honest. So I think really because deciding on finance at Cornell early can be a trap because you think you want to do something because everyone else thinks they want to do something even though you’re not really sure. So I think the number one piece of advice is to figure out whether you can really see yourself liking this or not. And what that means is do you like following the markets, and learning some stuff about how the industry works. Also really take a crack at modeling, because people don’t ask you to model during the interview process, but a lot of banking is modeling.

King: A lot of students want to enter investment banking because they hear it’s a really cool thing. But I think it’s also very important to make sure that you do your homework, because it is a job that definitely requires a lot out of you. It takes commitment, dedication, loyalty, teamwork and most importantly a love for what you do. These are things that you would learn when talking to full-time people and networking with them as well.

Phen: One important piece of advice I can offer that I think is often overlooked is the importance of following up. Analysts get hundreds of emails a day, and your email might have gotten lost in the chaos. It’s always a good idea to follow up if you haven’t heard a response in, say, a week. Following up shows the person you’re reaching out to that you are putting in that extra effort, and you’re much more likely to get a response and start building a relationship.

Investment banking has a reputation of really bad hours. How bad were your hours? 

Ma: My typical day was 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. And I got out usually at six or seven on Fridays. I worked on half my weekends. But I know Guggenheim treats our interns pretty well. But it also depends from group to group. Some groups, like healthcare services, just kept on getting swamped. But other groups had very reasonable hours, especially for investment banking.

Wang: My hours were not bad at all. My friends [working in investment banking] in Hong Kong usually got off work at 2:30 a.m, got home at 3 and woke up at around 8:30. Five hours a night isn’t that bad actually; it’s kind of like my schedule right now when I have a 9 a.m.

Phen: I would get in the office at around 9:30am and depending on how busy it was, would typically leave around midnight. If it was busier, maybe 1 or 2 a.m.

What skills do you think were important on the job?

Ma: Being able to multitask and keep your head straight in terms of focusing on what you need to do while handling a lot of different things. Any particular facet of banking is not hard, but there’s a lot of it that you need to juggle. To be honest, my semester working at Cafe Jennie has helped me more to succeed on the job than any club on campus. Making any particular sandwich was not hard, but keeping track of who came first and which type of mayo to put on which of the six sandwiches in front of you — that was the hard part. It allowed me to get experience in terms of having a lot of things thrown at you by several different people, and just handling the stress when it comes to crunch time.

Wang: Communication and teamwork. You’re not working on a project by yourself, so you need to work as a part of a team. You need to stick with your timeline, and your teammates need to stick with their timeline, so that you both get to the finish.

King: I think the main skill set that people should at least have a sense of going into these internships is you being 100% dedicated to the job; being able to do the job no matter what, because it is a job that requires a lot out of you. Grit and being a great team player is super important because you’re spending hours and hours a day working with the same people. Also, having a high attention to detail is incredibly important for this job in particular.

What was your favorite memory from the internship?

Wang: The moment when I finished all the valuations and presented to the director. It was a 40 page powerpoint, so it was pretty satisfying.

Ma: Definitely getting lunch with a Senior Managing Director who was on Guggenheim Securities’ founding team and playing golf with him. Getting advice from one of the most senior guys at the firm was helpful for someone just starting out their career.

King: As an intern, I was able to meet with clients; it was just such a great experience to be able to meet such extraordinarily important executives, work on various deals, and actually contribute to the team, knowing that my work was actually being utilized. The highlight was definitely me getting a chance to present some of my assignments in front of the client.

Phen: I loved spending time with and getting to know the other interns on the weekends. We would plan brunches or hangouts in Central Park. They are a group of people that I genuinely like, and they helped make my summer experience great.