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Ask Muffie: 03.29.06

Muffie Benson-Perella (muffie AT is an Associate in the Investment Banking Division of a "Bulge Bracket" bank. She holds a B.A. in French and Art from Vassar College and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. Her regular column "Heard in the Suite" is a probing (and, ahem, fictional) weekly look into the secret lives and behind the velvet curtains of the investment banking world.
I have really enjoyed most of the reactions to my first entry here at I have also gotten quite a lot of email already and the editors here have given me permission to print almost half of it.
I have discovered that a lot of my new fans are aspiring business school students or investment bank hopefuls interested in what they can do to improve their chances of getting in or getting a job. And quite a few are women! First, I'm really happy to see more women interested in banking careers. Especially those of you who didn't think you wanted to go into banking until just this year. I really love your enthusiasm! I thought I would offer some advice and answer some of the common questions that have been coming up. Here are some examples:

Dear Muffie,
I hear that investment banking interviews are very intense. I am worried about my ability to get through a technical interview. What were your interviews like and can you tell me what technical areas I should prepare for? Discounted Cash Flow? Options Pricing? Black-Scholes?
Lucy R.

Dear Lucy R.:
It is a myth that banks are only interested in your technical skills. The focus on tech went out after 2000, after all. Your social and "soft skills" are far more important today. Of course you need to study Black-Choles but spend more time polishing your interview skills in a mirror. Appearance is very important and you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
Most important in the process, even more important than the interview, is finding and cultivating a good advocate for you in the bank. It doesn't matter what happens in the interview, provided you don't do something totally stupid, if you have someone behind the scenes working for you. Of course, what you really want is a Managing Director. Spend some time talking to family to see who might already be in your social circle. Who was the investment banker for your father's or your grandfather's firm when it sold, for instance? If he's not from a "bulge bracket" then don't worry. He probably knows someone who is and can put in a good word for you.
It's the "interview before the interview" that you have with a Managing Director that will be most valuable for you. Also, don't neglect his wife. Behind every good and influential banker there is an equally influential woman. Afternoon tea can be a huge boost for your application, and I promise you, none of your male colleagues will think of that!
Dear Muffie:
I really want to work in the investment banking field at a big bank in New York but I am at a state university and not at a "target school." MBA program is listed as a strong "second tier" school. What can I do to maximize my chances at getting into a bulge bracket firm?
Lara S.

Dear Lara:
This might be hard to hear but investment banking isn't for everyone. A dedication to work and study early on is required and, to be honest, most of the major banks don't focus on second-tier schools for a reason. In my particular case my French major was a huge advantage in the interview process. But more important was that I had gone to the right schools. Remember, banks have had dozens of years of experience in recruiting and they know "what works" for them. There's nothing wrong with going to a state school like University of Pennsylvania, for example, but you may have to lower your expectations a little bit in order to avoid disappointment. It's not too late if you are at a state school though. Though it is hard, it's possible sometimes to transfer into a better program after a strong first year. Work your network, like I suggested for Lucy R. above and you might find yourself better off than you thought.
Keep the questions coming girls!
Forward your questions to: muffie AT