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  • Matt Ting

Investment Banking Pre-University Checklist


Overview


The right time to start being ambitious for a career in finance is at the end of high school.


Some people might scoff at the idea that you should start preparing so early, but I am an advocate of extreme preparedness. Investment banking on-campus recruiting happens as early as sophomore year, so there’s not very much time to waste.


If you end up at a semi-target or target school, you will be surprised by the level of competition you’re up against.


You might feel very grateful to be at Penn, but you’re going to be surrounded by extremely competitive, smart, and prepared students. And many students will be getting continual help from mentors or older siblings, which is why trying to be overprepared can be helpful.


Luckily, there is actually quite a lot you can do to prepare for finance recruiting before you even get to university. Finance technical knowledge may seem daunting, but most of it is actually quite intuitive and there is a finite amount of information you need to know to recruit for most roles.


You can check out our Investment Banking Course if you’re looking for an efficient resource to learn all this.


Let’s go over some of the main things you can start doing when you’re in high school.





Key Steps


Start Reading the News


Reading the news is the easiest step and the step you’ll continue to do for the rest of your career. The good thing about reading the news is that you can start reading today and be as up-to-date as everyone else in the world. The bad thing is that you have to do it every day.


I would recommend subscribing to one or two daily business newsletters. Most business news sites will have their own newsletter. Here are two that I like and which I know many industry people also read:


General Business / Finance Newsletters:


Axios Pro Rata

Unfortunately, when you’re reading the news as a high schooler, very little will make sense. Even as someone who’s worked in the industry for a number of years, I still find some material is written with so much jargon that it’s hard to decipher everything. What I did when starting out was keep a large compendium of notes, where I’d paste the article and then try to take one or two bullet points synthesizing what I took away. You can do this by linking Instapaper with Notion for example.


In general, your goal when reading the news should not need to be memorizing facts. It’s not very useful to remember what the jobs report posted in a given month or what the GDP growth rate was for a specific quarter.


What is useful and more palatable is keeping an eye out for themes and trends. Do you keep seeing big deals happening in the same industry (e.g., lots of venture capital deals in online education)? Do you see a lot of headlines about a specific firm (e.g., RBC hiring top talent from other firms)? Try to get to a point where you can be conversational about a few topics.




Follow Industry Blogs and Finance Thought Leaders


10x EBITDA Hedge Fund Presentations

The quality of online finance content has improved dramatically over the past decade. So many high-quality investors publish investor letters, tweet on Twitter, or write some kind of Substack.


I would recommend following a couple of these industry blogs that pique your interest (like hedge funds, private equity, technology, AI, healthcare, etc.). Here are a couple of recommendations that I periodically check:


Investing Blogs and Hedge Fund Presentations:

Technology Blogs:


As a high schooler, your main goal should be to read people’s blogs and see which career path or style of investing appeals to you most. Do you enjoy reading about the nitty-gritty of valuation?


Do you like learning about dealmaking and reading thorough investment presentations? See what speaks to you and start to cultivate your own investing mindset.

And if you ever need to quickly sound smart, it’s easy and convenient to steal these people’s opinions.



Find Out Which University Clubs Place Well


Every university will have a slightly different recruiting game. It’s your goal to figure out what the optimal strategy is at whichever university you are going to. At many universities, some clubs will place dramatically better than everyone else.


It’s your goal to figure out which programs, clubs, societies, fraternities, etc. place the best and figure out how to get into those groups. As a Canadian, I can tell you that UBC PMF’s program is head and shoulders above the rest of its business school. Many other Canadian schools have investment clubs with long histories and huge alumni pools that tend to consistently place well.


To find out which programs and clubs place well, just go on LinkedIn and start creeping people. Maybe keep a spreadsheet to keep yourself organized. Lots of clubs will have their own websites where they do a lot of the work for you.



Start Reading a Finance Textbook


Rosenbaum Pearl Textbook

Starting to learn finance will never get any easier, so you may as well start as early as you can. We outline some of the more technical information you should be familiar with as a freshman in this blog post.


The de facto tome that most finance students will start with is Investment Banking by Rosenbaum & Pearl. It’s a fairly academic and kind of boring text, but it’s a good and safe place to start.


We’ve also published a Valuation and Finance Starter Kit, which is designed to teach you accounting, corporate finance, modeling, and investing principles if you’d like to take a look.


Ideally before the end of your freshman year, you:

  • Can explain how a DCF and comparables work

  • Have pitched 1 stock

  • Have tried to build a simple model in Excel


Speak With 3 People One Year Above You


Networking is going to be a cornerstone of you how get jobs in finance. In the summer between high school and your first year, I would recommend reaching out to people a year or two ahead of you at the same university. Look for people with similar backgrounds (hometown, hobbies, high school).


When you speak to someone, you should have thoughtful questions. Here is a post we did on thoughtful coffee chat questions for investment banking.


I would suggest you proceed with extreme caution and take this step very seriously. Almost all high schoolers are going to be fairly unpolished and there’s no easy way for you to instantly become polished. That is why you generally shouldn’t reach out to people too senior or much more experienced than you.


Freshmen and sophomore will also be relatively naïve, will still be figuring things out, and as a result they won’t judge you too hard. By the time people do their investment banking internships, they’ll start becoming extremely judgmental, meaning you should only reach out to those people once you’re professionally ready.


Here are some examples of how finance novices are commonly unpolished:

  • Asking extremely broad, irrelevant or easily Google-able questions (e.g., what is investment banking? Do you have any advice for me? How can I learn the most possible?)

  • Having sloppy grammar, punctuation, and others errors in an email

  • Having extremely long emails (over than 7 sentences is way too long for an intro)

  • Not sending calendar invites to confirm coffee chats


Set Up a LinkedIn Profile and Shell Out a Resume


LinkedIn Logo

Lastly, you should start setting up some professional branding for yourself. The only two things you’ll need are a LinkedIn profile and a resume.


For your LinkedIn profile, think minimalism. Take a nice clear photo and only include relevant essentials. It’s fine if you have a virtually empty profile for now.

  • Include the university you will be attending

  • You can include your high school

  • Include any relevant extracurriculars

  • Make sure you have a clean custom profile URL

  • Don’t add a bio

For your resume, there is a standard template that virtually everyone in investment banking and private equity uses. You can see our Resume and Cover Letter Course for more concrete examples.


It’s likely you won’t have enough content yet to fill out a resume as a high school student, which is why you should just shell out a resume.


This means to set up a resume document in Word, so that you’re ready to fill it in with relevant content as soon as possible. Once you join clubs, take classes, and participate in more competitions, you’ll have a lot more to add to your resume.



Conclusion


To summarize, here are the following steps you should take to prepare yourself for a career in finance as a high schooler:

  • Start Reading the News

  • Follow Investing and Finance Blogs

  • Find Out Which University Clubs Place Well

  • Start Reading a Finance Textbook

  • Speak with 3 People One Year Above You

  • Set up a LinkedIn Profile and Shell out a Resume

Making progress with all of these steps as a university freshman or earlier will put you in an excellent spot for banking recruiting.

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