Bulge Bracket Investment Banks: A Practical Guide to Break Into!

So, you want to get a job with one of the best bulge bracket investment banks out there. Let me tell you that is no little feat of strengths you’ve embarked on. Still, when you do manage to break into that world and work for one of those stellar financial institutions, it’s going to be like nothing else you’ve experienced so far. That’s both from a professional and personal point of view.

However, until then, you’ve got a long way to go. But don’t worry because this is exactly the reason why I’ve created this practical guide. To give you some information on what a bulge bracket investment bank is, who is on the current list, how to land an internship with one, and, evidently, how to set up a career in this field. So, let’s get started because we have a lot to talk about!

First of all, let’s do a quick recap of what a bulge bracket investment bank is, so that we’re on the same page, both figuratively and literally. Also, let’s list the current bulge bracket investment banks so that you know where to aim your CV and hiring endeavors at.

The term ‘bulge bracket’ is, in fact, slang.

But not any kind of slang. Because this term refers to a group which comprises the biggest as well as the most profitable investment banks in the world. These are also multinational corporations that offer all kinds of services. Their typical clients are governments and other large corporations and institutions. This information about their accounts brings us to the first thing you should gather from this article.

To build a career at one of the best bulge bracket banks, you have to be outstanding at your job.

Take this piece of advice as serious as you possibly can. They only hire the best because they only work with the best. Think about it this way. Who gets to handle an account that involves the government? Only the best guy around, that’s who.

Now back to explaining what bulge bracket investment banks are. The name was given to them because of the way they are listed on the ‘tombstone.’ That is a public notification of any deal or transaction these banks are involved in. The bank which has the responsibility of controlling the allocation of securities toward investors will always appear above all the others when they are listed on the prospectus’ cover. Not only that, but it is also written in a larger font, which literally makes it ‘bulge out.’ Hence the name. Now you know.

Here’s an interesting thing that will help you when the time comes for you to apply for a job at one of these banks.

No one really knows which banks belong to this group.

Why? Because there are no established criteria for settling this. Therefore, there is some debate as to which bank truly belongs there. However, putting that aside, I have managed to compile a list for you, that will give you an idea which are the best banks to aim for.

Bulge Bracket Investment Banks List

  • Bank of America Merrill Lynch, headquartered in New York City
  • Citigroup, from the Big Apple as well
  • Barclays in London
  • Credit Suisse from Zurich
  • Goldman Sachs in New York
  • Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt
  • JP Morgan from New York
  • UBS in Zurich
  • Morgan Stanley from New York as well

Example how bulge bracket investment banks are set up jp morgan

How Bulge Bracket Investment Banks are Set Up jp Morgan

Now that we’ve listed the bulge bracket investment banks around the world let’s take a look at how you can enter one and build a successful career there.

Step 1. Make a plan

This is not the time nor the place to be winging it. As mentioned above, bulge bracket investment banks are just about the most serious things in the whole of the financial world. Therefore, you need to make a plan.

Start as early as you can.

Even high-school, if you know that a career in finance is what you want to do with your life. At this stage, you need to study, study, study, and then study some more. Take classes such as math and economics and strive to get the best grades. Not only will the information help you, but you will also have a better chance of getting into a top college. Which brings us to the following step.

Step 2. Get into an Ivy League college

As you, probably, already guessed, just any old college will not suffice. Try your best to get into an Ivy League one. Once you get enrolled, this is your goal.

Finish top of your class.

Not necessarily because of your grades, but because recruiters from banks do come and visit Ivy League colleges looking for interns. And whom do they look for? The best students, evidently. Here’s what you must take from this idea.

Finishing top of your class at an Ivy League college is one of the surest ways to start a career in financing.

Not only that, but it will help you get a mentor. It can be an older student or even a professor. This is crucial information, so hold on to it.

A mentor from college can open up doors for you in the financial world.

Remember they have been doing this for a lot of years and, probably, have a strong network of professional and personal acquaintances. What does this mean? Two things which will prove vital to you.

  • Your mentor can talk you up and suggest you as a possible candidate for a lot of jobs.
  • He or she will let you know of any openings the big banks have because of their network.

Step 3. Network like there’s no tomorrow

Networking needs to happen. There is no way around it. Let me put it as plainly as possible for you. If you do not have a network, then you have close to nil chances of getting a job at the best bulge bracket investment banks.

The allure of working in such a bank is the outstanding career and, of course, the salary. In fact, the financial realm has the biggest paying jobs in the world. Therefore, there are so many applicants for a job at a bank or other financial institutions that they don’t even advertise their openings anymore. They just sit back and wait for people to contact them.

This is exactly what you need to do.

There are two distinct ways in which you can network and, thusly, hope to land a job and start a career. Here is what you must do.

  • Develop relationships. Start as early as college. Make friends among your colleagues, go to soirees, gatherings, workshops, and everything else you have time to go to. This includes weekend trips, informational interviews, sessions, and so on. Get close to your professors and prove yourself worthy of the job.
  • Cold- Start calling the banks where you want to work. Now. Do not waste any time because the open slots fill in before you can say ‘bulge bracket.’ Call them and simply ask if they have any openings for you. Send them a resume with a professional photo and a letter of intent attached to it.

Do not give up even if you received more than one rejection. Remember this is a tough field to break into, so you’re going to have to put in a lot of elbow grease before you make it.

Step 4. Bankify the resume

As you might have already guessed, a traditional resume will just not do. It has to be outstanding and bankifyed. Why? Because all generic resumes are utterly inappropriate if what you have in mind is a career in investment banking, especially in a bulge bracket investment bank.

In case you don’t know how to do that, here are some great examples which you can download and use to create your own resume right now.

Evidently, you have a choice when it comes to advertising and selling you to a potential employer. However, my advice here is that you follow these templates to the letter.

Since they were introduced, they have become a standard. In fact, the people over at Mergers and Inquisitions say that it’s impossible to go to a school such as Wharton and find someone who is not currently using this template.

In the same way, you are, of course, free to toy around with fonts, headings, and colors. However, if you do that, your resume might stand out from the rest, and not in a good way.

What to put on your resume, you ask? Everything. Seriously.

Do not underestimate your competition.

They will not think twice about listing anything they believe is remotely linked to the investment banking sector or any detail that might help them stand out.

Focus solely on the financial, economic, and business sides of your previous employment.

Don’t list technical details, because no one cares about those. Stick to the financial aspect.

Make sure you can back up everything you’ve written on the resume.

Needless to say, all the things that can end up in your resume have to be backed up and verified. Remember that the people who are interviewing you have been doing this for longer they can remember. That being said, if you try to be misleading or add information that is not true, they will definitely see right through that.

Step 5. Go to as many interviews as you can

Going to the interviews is not the hardest part. If you went through all the steps I listed above, and did them correctly, then you now have a lot of interviews to go to. Recruiters and HR representatives are seeking you all around, and it’s now just a matter of time before you get a job and start your career as a successful banker.

Still, how do you ace your interviews?

Since there are so many tips and tricks, articles or tutorials out there and since there’s no point in beating around the bush, I’m going to lay out for you three-pointers that will make any employer crave to have you on their team. Here’s what you need to do.

#1. Prove you do not need to sleep

You may think that I’m joking, but I’m not. The world of business finance is one which doesn’t sleep. Bankers are notorious for working the longest hours of them all. Their workday can count as many as 17 hours. Sometimes, they have time for literally nothing else than going home, taking a shower, sleeping for three or four hours and then getting right back on the horse.

Prove you are capable of working long schedules and more.

Give your interviewer an example of past situations where you literally worked nonstop. It doesn’t even have to be finance related, as long as you can prove you burned the midnight oil. Apart from this, you also need to do the following.

Tell them you will never ask for time off or breaks.

You are there to work, you know it, and you’re ready for it.

#2. Show them that you do not understand the idea of making a mistake

This one is crucial. If you manage to land a job with one of the best bulge bracket investment banks, needless to say, you will be handling huge accounts. Therefore, there is absolutely no room for mistakes.

Give some examples of other situations when you were completely and utterly on top of the problem and did not let anything slip through the fences.

#3. Make them understand you are there to make money

This is going to sound harsh, so those of you who are weaker of heart, turn away. Although if you turned away now, you don’t have what it takes to make it in this business. OK, the rest of you, here’s what you need to know, confess to your inner self and embrace.

Money is all that matters. Nothing else comes above it.

Let’s face it. Financing, business, and economics are all about money, money, money. It really does make the world go round, and you are there to assure that happens. That’s why you don’t care about losing sleep, missing a concert or not reading a book.

Money. I make it. Turn this into your motto.

Now that you know how to break into this world and ace your interviews, and before we delve into the idea of getting an internship, here are a few more useful details for you.

Bulge Bracket Vs Boutique and Middle Market Banks

The reason why I chose to insert information about this type of banks here is simple. Harsh, but simple. Not everyone has what it takes to go to, get into, and build a career in one of the best bulge bracket investment banks out there.

That doesn’t even mean that it’s always your fault. The conditions in the market might be so bad that you simply have to turn to a boutique rather than a huge bulge bracket bank. For example, you might not have enough working experience, have graduated with lower scores, or you might be trying to make the switch from an unrelated field into finance.

What’s the answer here? A boutique or a middle market bank.

The main difference between bulge bracket investment banks and the other two is, of course, money. Or, in other words, the size of the deals. While banks such as Goldman Sachs which belongs to the first category have accounts that play in the multi-billion dollar investments, the other go for deals that are under one billion.

In the world of investment banking, any deal that is under $50 billion is considered peanuts or pocket change.

Apart from the money, people also cite as a difference the fact that, in a boutique or a middle market bank, you usually get a lot more responsibilities, and you work in smaller groups for tinier accounts. People who work for these kinds of banks are considered to be ‘number-crunchers.’

But is that true?

Interestingly enough, it used to be. But not anymore. It is true that these types of banks were not the first choice for anyone working in this field. However, things turned around after the financial crisis of 2008. And now, not only are boutiques viewed in a different way but, believe it or not, they are also preferred to bulge bracket banks.

Here’s why:
Large banks received a lot of new rules and regulations, which did hurt them to some extent. For example, they had to cut their costs across their board. They also had to defer compensation, turn it into stock-based one, and introduce clawbacks.

They also had to focus more on wealth management as opposed to trading and the more traditional investment banking.

This led to a few consequences that were hard to accept. There were three things which fell, at the same time: the prestige of working in such a large bank as well as the prestige of the bank itself, salaries went down, as well as the job satisfaction.

The result? Bankers all around fled toward boutique and middle market banks. They also started opening up their own businesses.

If senior bankers go to one place, so will the juniors.

Therefore, boutique banks are now all the craze. This jump was most significant between the years of 2003 and 2013, as you can well see from this graph, courtesy of the Deloitte Report on Bulge Brackets vs. Boutiques, which I invite you to read here.

boutique banks and bulge brackets graph

Boutique Banks and Bulge Brackets Graph

If you want to do the math and see the results, here they are:

In 2013, boutiques and middles made more in Mergers and Acquisitions advisory fees than the first four ranking bulge brackets combined. They earned $5.73 billion, while the latter only $5 billion.

In 2013, boutiques and middles made more in Mergers and Acquisitions advisory fees than the first four ranking bulge brackets combined. They earned $5.73 billion, while the latter only $5 billion.

For example, look at Evercore. They are one of the most famous and elite, for that matter, boutique banks in the world. Here’s a graph showing you their market share as well as their fees between 2001 and 2013. Here is also their website, for further reading and research.

evercore fees

Evercore Fees

But let’s go back to bulge bracket investment banks, as I have promised you in the introduction we will be tackling one more topic.

The internships

Even though boutiques and middles are now all the rage, that doesn’t mean one must forget about the bulge brackets. In fact, it would be a mistake to do so. Therefore, if you get the chance to participate in an internship with one of these financial giants, do it. I cannot stress this enough.

Here is your guide on how to secure one of these internships.

It might sound easy enough to land an internship. Basically, all you need to do is to present a resume, go to the interview, and you’re there. Yes, but what do you put on the CV and what else do you need to do?

#1. Increase your GPA

The threshold for investment banking is 3.2.

Check yours right now. If you’re not there yet, start working!

#2. Go to regional events

Almost all bulge bracket investment banks organize regional events in cities such as Boston or Atlanta, where they can access the local schools and, evidently, the students. As you can well see, this is not an event you want to miss.

#3. Go to partnership programs

Partnership programs are yet another set of activities organized by hiring banks as a venue to attract students. Participate in all of them. Remember – even if you don’t score an internship right away, they are still a fantastic (not to mention easy) way to network and get to know a lot of people.

#4. Apply during the first semester of the college year

Here is one mistake which a lot of students interested in an internship make. They wait until the second semester when they really should be focusing on this matter during the first one. When it comes to juniors, the deadlines are always at the end of the year, for example. Therefore, if you wait until the second semester, you’re already late.

#5. Apply through the bank’s website

I cannot even begin to tell you just how important this is. Many students wrongly believe that they can apply through their school’s career services and they’re done. Those students will not be taken into consideration for an internship! Do not make this mistake.

#6. Connect with prior summer interns and even previous analysts

Here is one fabulous way in which you can prepare before the internship starts. Connect with alumni, former interns, and other analysts who have worked at your bank of choice. They are the only ones who can tell you what it’s like to work in a bulge bracket I-Bank.

#7. Learn everything about the company

And when I say everything, I mean everything. The company’s history, all its big deals, if it had any crises and how it handled them, what is the company known for. Don’t forget to touch upon the people you’re working with. What can you find out about them?

Here is your practical guide on how to get a job with the best bulge bracket investment banks. In the end, remember it’s all about you and your attitude. Believe in yourself, and you’ll be there in no time!

Image sources: 1, 2, 3, 4 

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