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Investment Banking

Investment Banks are all-encompassing financial institutions that offer a variety of services to corporations across industries.  This area is concerned with the value of a company. 

An investment bank typically has multiple departments including: investment banking (also referred to as corporate finance), sales and trading, research, and asset management. 

The investment banking division of a bank has two primary functions. First, the investing banking division serves as intermediaries between investors and corporations that need capital.  This work is facilitated through debt and equity offerings by companies. Second, the role of an investment banker is to provide advisory services on mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and other corporate transactions. 

Investment banking can further be segmented into front office, middle office, and back office activities.  In the most general of terms, the front office drives revenue generation through direct engagement with clients/customers.  The middle office supports processes associated with revenue generation, such as risk management and treasury.  Back office position functions can be thought of as behind the scenes. These roles include compliance, accounting, information technology (IT), and HR.  

Skills to develop for success in this field

Non-Technical: 

  • Analytical 
  • Detail-Oriented 
  • Learning Agility (Ability to quickly understand and process new information) 
  • Resiliency 
  • Strong work-ethic 
  • Verbal Communication (Ability to engage with team, clients, and Pitch) 
  • Written Communication  

Technical: 

  • Financial Market Knowledge (Understand trends/issues/opportunities in the market) 
  • Financial Modeling Skills (Basic Accounting, Excel, and Problem-Solving/Design/Logic) 
  • Basic Accounting: Understand Fundamentals; Reading financial statements 
  • Excel: Pivot Tables, V/Hlookups, Creating Shortcuts, Formulas 
  • Problem-Solving/Design: The approach to dealing with problems, including: intake, assessment, solutions, and the ability to present process in an easy-to-understand way 
  • Statistical Data skills (Common tools to be familiar with are Stata and R) 
  • Valuation Methods 

Online Resources specific to the industry

  • Vault* is a comprehensive resource for information on what it is like to work within an industry, company or profession. 

    *Note: Login via the NCA Resources page using your NetID and password, and create your own account using your NU email address.

    Log in to check out these resources for more specific information about investment banking:
    • Investment Banking Overview: Defines investment banking, provides potential pros and cons for working in the industry and includes links to various role definitions.
    • Vault Guide to the Top 50 Banking Employers: Lists details of 80 investment banking firms with significant operations in North America. 
    • Vault Guide to Finance Interviews: Provides insight and sample questions and responses regarding what to expect when seeking a job with an investment bank, mutual fund, hedge fund, commercial bank, or other financial institution. 

Job posting and other career informational sites relevant to the field: 

  • Bloomberg: provides the reader with a network of data, people and ideas, delivering business and financial information, news and insights.
  • Finimize: has a daily newsletter that explains what's happening in the world of finance in 3 minutes.
  • Investopedia: provides financial and investment dictionaries, advice, reviews, and overall ratings.
  • Street of Walls: provides finance industry-specific resources, from helpful articles researching investment banking, private equity and hedge funds, to training offerings focused on topics such as investment banking interview and technical prep. 
  • Wall Street Oasis: an online community with finance forums for aspiring professionals looking to break into investment banking, private equity, asset management, and other corporate finance careers. *This resource may have fees associated with usage. 

Key information or knowledge for this field

  • Given the nature of the work in this industry, it is very important to follow the news, both global and finance specific.  The relationship between news events and its related economic impact will increase your knowledge of financial concepts, your understanding of financial services, and the quality of conversations with contacts. 
  • Employers value experiences, be it in finance or another area. Pursue opportunities for internships, research, as well as involvement in campus activities.  While they recognize you have not done this role before, they are hoping your resume tells a strong story of leadership and engagement.  
  • Networking is an important part of the recruitment process.  Start your networking efforts early by talking with upperclassmen.  This can be a more comfortable starting point and also provide insight into the recruitment process.   
  • As you continue your networking and engage with representatives from firms, be prepared for an evaluative component of your conversation.  In networking conversations for this industry, you are likely to be asked, “Tell me about yourself,” or “Why IB?” You may even find yourself on the receiving end of technical questions. 
  • This industry is known for an early internship-recruitment cycle. You should expect applications to open a year or more in advance and be reviewed on a rolling basis. You may even find that you are juggling two search processes simultaneously, that of your sophomore summer internship and your junior year internship.
  • In order to stay informed, create a profile in the bank's career portals you are interested in and follow them.  Banks have unexpected opening dates and students will find out about these changes through these portals.
  • Actively use Handshake as this is a strong portal for banks to distribute information campus-wide. Create a public profile, indicate your career interests, review postings and explore events (in order to receive the NCA Finance Newsletter, be sure to select “Financial Services” as one of your career interests).
  • The open date of an application is more important than the closing date.  We encourage you to apply as early as you are ready. Because the process is often a rolling decision structure, there are seemingly fewer opportunities available as an application deadline nears.
  • Incorporate number descriptors throughout your resume.  Investment banking is a number-oriented career and using numbers to describe your experience/impact can showcase an alignment in thought process. 
  • Many banks will use a virtual platform to conduct first round interviews.  The virtual interview typically consists of 3-5 questions and includes a combination of personal interest, behavioral, and technical questions. 
  • The second round interview for IB opportunities is often referred to as a super day.  They are typically 3-5 hours in length and involve multiple interviews with higher ranking individuals at the firm.  While technical questions are common, super days are focused on fit. 
  • Recruitment activity for full-time opportunities is rather limited, as nearly all full-time roles are filled by extending return offers to summer interns.  
  • If extended an offer from a firm, be prepared for a short decision timeline. 
  • If extended an offer from a firm, you will likely receive outreach from multiple representatives from the firm.  This outreach is intended to be more congratulatory in nature but also probing in regards to your decision-making process and thoughts. 
  • Some employers might post full-time positions as early as mid-summer if they are looking to round out 1-2 open positions. Be sure to stay current on Handshake and employers’ websites to learn of any full-time openings throughout the summer. 

Relevant student groups and professional organizations

Northwestern Student Groups:  

Recruiting Timelines

recruiting timeline
Type of Recruit Pre-Recruitment Recruitment Application/Interviews Offer
Full Time Spring & Summer prior to Senior Year

Summer and Early Fall

(August & September)*

August & September September & October
Internship Summer prior to Junior Year and Fall of Junior Year November/December-Early-Mid January January & February January & February

*Some employers might post full-time positions as early as mid-summer if they are looking to round out 1-2 open positions. Be sure to stay current on Handshake and employers’ websites to learn of any full-time openings throughout the summer.