How Early Should I Apply for Investment Banking?


The key message from this post is that I believe you should apply as early as possible i.e. when applications open, you apply. If you find yourself grappling between the tug of war between mastering each application component and applying early, I’ve included a condensed crash course summary below of some of the most efficient techniques you can use to get applications out faster.

However, as I talk about later in the article, applying early vs more preparation is your judgement to make- the only reason why I am so adamant about applying early is that there are too many other applicants with a strong competitive advantage to risk applying later, for the sake of improving your candidate profile. You need to do everything you possibly can to maximise your chances of success and alongside applying to many firms (~25), timing is a big factor.

Why as early as possible

It is true that ‘building your moat’ through mastering each application component, talked about here, is critical for maximising application success in such a competitive field, but alongside that is the importance of applying early.

If early was on the x-axis and mastery was on the y-axis, then it is the multiplication of the two that matters most. If you apply too late but have mastered all application components, your chances of success are low, and if you apply very early but with a poor CV, no competencies, no genuine motivation for ‘why firm’ etc, then your chances will also be very low.

How early – an accelerated application timeline

For career paths like Investment Banking, Law, Asset Management, Consulting, the sheer number of applicants means the timeline for applying and gaining experience is earlier than you might have expected. Early doesn’t just refer to when in the application cycle, but also which year you apply to since most successful applicants would have gained their first application experience in the first year of their Bachelor’s degree (this is not limited to professional experience as talked about in the Boost your CV post).

The best-case scenario is that you get a spring week which converts to an internship, but even in the large number of cases where this does not happen, and even if you don’t get a spring week following the application grind, the experience of applying will be one of your greatest assets when applying to internships in your penultimate year of university.

From my knowledge, the first batch of application openings are for finance-focused roles such as investment banking and asset management, starting in July (of the year before the internship!), and with major waves starting from mid-August through to October. Consulting usually begins full throttle from around October.

For spring week applicants, even for finance-focused roles, the application season is slightly later e.g. applying in late September and early October would be classed as early, compared to internship applicants that have probably already done first or second rounds, or assessment centres by that time.

Should I still bother if I’m too late?

All this talk about how important it is to apply early raises an important question: when is it too late?

If the application portal is still open, it is never too late. I know first years that only began applying in December and landed brilliant opportunities, not to mention the massive amount of application experience they got. I also remember some investment banking internship applications opening in late November last year, or assessment centres carrying on into January and February for a few places.

Giving up because you think it is too late is the wrong mindset, especially for spring week applications, but even for internships. The experience of applying massively builds your competitive advantage ahead of next year’s application season – even in the worst-case scenario of your additional application not yielding fruits later on in the cycle. The online test practice, video interview questions and effort to learn about the firm will pay dividends in next year’s application process if you decide to apply again.

What should I prioritise if I’m late?

Firstly, create a simple Excel or Google spreadsheet documenting which firms are still available to apply and prioritise which ones you need to apply to earliest. In other words, map out your territory of opportunity. Then, prioritise the following application components – this is a condensed crash course of the divide and conquer strategy for application season which the bulk of posts on this site is dedicated to:

In order of priorities

  1. CV. As far as the firm is concerned, you have unlimited time to complete the CV, so this shouldn’t be rushed, but if you are struggling to talk about the impact you had in various past experiences or to quantify metrics of success to make the CV data-rich, then check out this post.
  2. Cover Letter. ‘Why you’ and ‘why division’ paragraphs should be firm independent, so most effort should be placed on choosing about three reasons for the ‘why firm’. If you are running out of time, focus on online resources and building up a firm profile summarising key points about the firm, but even more effective is reaching out to past interns or current employees to hear about their experiences.
  3. Competency Questions. Assuming your elevator pitch for ‘introduce yourself’, your ‘why firm’, ‘why division’, and ‘why you’ parts are developed from earlier on, the next step is to prepare for the all-too-common behavioural (a.k.a competency-based) questions by having two examples for each competency.
  4. Commercial awareness. business trends are relevant preparation for most divisions, but I’ll start with deals preparation which is applicable for the investment banking division. Use the deal cookie-cutter method discussed in the commercial awareness post to prepare two deals the company has undertaken. Then (applicable to all divisions) sign up to the Pitchbook weekend newsletter or another one of your choice and search for archived versions on their website to cherry-pick key trends that stand out to you. Once you’ve chosen the trends, build on them using consulting reports available online (type “___ trend consulting report pdf” into Google), and condense the information with a few key stats and other case-specific information to present in the interview. If you need to prepare a stock pitch (asset management or hedge fund related) and are stuck for ideas, temporarily get a Seeking Alpha trial and use one of the pitches on the forum to develop a thesis.
  5. Technicals (if applying to investment banking internships). Tougher to cram, but critical if you plan on reaching to second round or assessment centre level for investment banking internships. The competition is too fierce to wing technicals. Find the 400Qs guide available online and learn each of the basic sections. Use visual learning techniques, memory palaces, diagrammatically summarise the tougher questions and keep drilling in each section using spaced repetition to ensure you can tackle them in a highly stressful interview environment.

At the end of the day, it’s your choice

Many people will wait to strengthen their CVs, go to HR networking events, and call up people from the firm before applying and they may have a good reason for doing this. I am very strongly on the side of applying as early as possible while grinding out each of the components linked above and using the techniques extensively talked about in the posts linked above. But just like financial advice disclaimers, this is just me sharing my perspective and at the end of the day, it’s up to you.

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