Why Is It So Hard to Get into Investment Banking

I remember being at the low points of application season and thinking, ‘why is it so difficult to get into Investment Banking in the first place?’.

There are 3 main reasons it is so hard to get into investment: (1) Competition – there is great demand for these roles, (2) Investment Banks are very selective since they need someone they can rely upon and (3) Standing out from the crowd takes a lot of time and effort, especially when others have previous experience.

If you want to understand these reasons in more detail with specific stats on acceptance rates for some of the largest banks, then this post is for you. I also go through a breakdown of how I spent 727 hours on internship application season to give a better idea of how much time applications typically require.

Why is it so hard to get a job in Investment Banking

(1) Competition – so much demand

There are way more people wanting to break into Investment Banking compared to the number of places available. Hundreds of thousands of applicants are drawn to the fast-paced career development, exit options and lucrative nature of the industry.

Moreover, many of these applicants have previous internships or more application seasons of practice that make them difficult to rival. One thing I can attest to from my own application season and many friends who went through the same process is that people who have already been through it once have a much greater chance of success the second time around. Here are the reasons why:

  • They’ve already ‘paid’ the fixed costs of creating a CV, attempting cover letters and preparing the type of interview questions that are bound to come up every time
  • They’ve already sought out experiences to boost and enrich their skills, which feeds into their CV, cover letter and interview responses
  • They’ve documented questions from previous interviews and created a questions bank to practice on
  • They’ve documented what the online tests are like… which do not change much year on year
  • They have a wider network of people at university they can ask for help from e.g. if they want tips on questions ahead of an Assessment Centre (AC) they have lined up

Going into internship application season having already experienced spring weeks is like going into an exam having already sat it the previous year.

But despair not, these are things you can prepare for even during your first application season and knowing this is a marathon which can last several years, makes you play differently. You start to take diligent documentation of online tests, of networking calls you have and interview questions to ask.

To get a flavour of what the acceptance rates are, here is some data relating to Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley and Citi Group which is a useful proxy for the rest of the industry. According to FN London, top Investment Banks are looking to reduce numbers by 10% in 2024, despite the decreases experienced in 2022 and 2023.

FirmAcceptance rate
Goldman Sachs (2022)– 236,000 total internship applicants, acceptance rate of 1.5%
JP Morgan (2022)– (2022) 270,855 for its worldwide summer internship, acceptance rate 1.7%.
– (2022) 50,000 for Investment Banking division, acceptance rate 0.8%.
– (2023) 198,584 applications for graduate program, for 5,496 positions, acceptance rate of 2.9%.
– (2023) 11,871 graduates for 298 full time roles, acceptance rate of 2.5%.
– (2023) 7,013 Investment Banking applicants in Europe for 98 graduates, acceptance rate of 1.4%.
Morgan Stanley
– (2023) 42,412 EMEA applications for 900 roles, acceptance rate of 2.1%
Citi Group
– (2023) 60,000 applicants for 950 intern / full time roles, 1.6% acceptance rate   300,000 graduates for 2,600 roles globally 0.9% acceptance rate
Sources included at the end of this article

(2) Investment Banks are very selective – they need someone they can rely upon

Beyond the fact that many people apply for only a few spots, Investment Banks are extremely selective, especially during down periods where they are already making people redundant to keep the firm lean. If you have limited past experience, it is more difficult for the firm to be assured you’ll perform well on the job. So instead, they’ll find ways to test you on things that do not depend on past experience e.g. technicals (which you can learn yourself), building a financial model (which you can learn from a course) or proving you have the required skills using examples from your past experience (behavioural questions).

(3) Standing out from the crowd takes a lot of time and effort

Due to how much competition there is and how selective banks are, it requires a lot of time to prepare for applications.

  • CV – You need to prepare a concise CV full of quantified metrics of success and convincing impacts you’ve had on past projects
  • Networking & Cover Letter – You need to network with people to find nuggets of information that will help you answer ‘why firm’ in a convincing way, as part of your cover letter
  • Online tests – You need to practice for each online test and for companies that aim on wiping out people based on these, you need to practice and document what comes up for future tests
  • Core interview questions – you need to have prepared responses for introduce yourself, why this firm, why Investment Banking, your greatest strengths / weaknesses
  • Behaviourals – you need to have two convincing examples for each competency question that might come up (context, action and result structure)
  • Technicals – You need to learn technicals, at a minimum learning all the basics sections of the technicals guide from BIWS 400Qs guide
  • Commercial awareness – You need to have prepared talking points for all the major parts of commercial awareness i.e. all the ‘mandatory’ themes and separate topics you can cover convincingly with stats
  • Tell me about a deal – You need to have prepared at least two ‘tell me about a recent deal’ responses for each firm you’re interviewing with
  • Market sizing – You need to have covered market sizing and brainteaser questions for when these come up
  • Curve ball questions – you need to prepare for questions that would otherwise catch you out if hearing them for the first time
  • Being extremely organised – it is good practice to have a tracker for your applications, online tests, interview questions, time management and habit tracking, all to ensure you are being consistent and re-prioritising where necessary

How much time does it take to secure an Investment Banking offer?

In this section, I break down how long it took me for some of the major application components mentioned above, recorded over my internship application season.

The total time I spent on Investment Banking internship application season over a period of almost 6 months (mid-June to end of November) was 727 hours. One thing to note is that this figure does not capture the time I spent on spring week application season before this period.

Some notes on the above graph:

  • General ‘fixed costs’ – includes creating firm profiles, general online test practice, attending webinars and ‘study group’ style sessions for interviews
  • CV and Cover Letters – excludes time spent on specific cover letters, though company-specific cover letters all stemmed from making the ‘master version’ I tracked in this category
  • Networking – this category meant reaching out to 264 people, mainly on LinkedIn and having 44 networking calls
  • Behavioural Questions – less time required on this due to using the preparation I had done during my first application season for spring weeks as a foundation for this component
  • Commercial Awareness – this does not capture the company-specific commercial awareness I did e.g. TMT-focused commercial awareness for Torch Partners and researching about recent company deals

Selection of time spent on specific applications

Notes about firms included above:

  • RBC Capital Markets – Got to final Assessment Centre
  • Torch Partners – Received offer
  • PWP – Got to second round interview
  • Barclays – Received offer
  • Evercore – Got to second round interview
  • Gleacher Shacklock – Got to second round interview

Key stats summary from internship application season

The table below tallies some of the key stats from the internship application season I went through, stemming from the application tracker I made. As you can see, you are most likely to get knocked out earlier on in the application season, which highlights the importance of taking the CV, Cover Letter, Online Psychometric Tests and foundational interview questions (Behaviourals, Technical, Commercial Awareness questions, motivational) seriously. One more assessment centre dramatically increases your chances of success.

Companies Applied To41
Cover Letters / Set of Cover Letter-like Questions35
Situational Judgment Tests11
Numerical Tests16
Verbal Reasoning Tests6
Logical Reasoning Tests6
Video Interviews (HireVues)6
Phone Interviews / Face-to-Face Interviews10
Assessment Centres (several hours of interview put together in one day)3

Recent Posts