Breaking into M&A is often viewed as a tough challenge for students, but the right mindset and preparation will boost your chances of achievement tenfold.
In this blog post we spoke with Sami, an M&A Analyst at a Bulge Bracket Investment Bank.
Q: Thank you for your time today Sami, for the readers information could you share a brief introduction into your background and what you are doing today?
A: My pleasure. Of course. My name is Sami, I am currently an M&A analyst at a Bulge Bracket Investment Bank. My team is the Sustainable & Impact Banking team, I joined the company in early March but also interned over the course of the summer.
In my studies I studied Mathematics at Imperial College London and after that I completed a master’s at Imperial’s Business School studying Finance. I was very lucky to get the Brilliant Minds Scholarship.
During my third-year studying, I completed a summer internship in the UBS M&A team and was part of the team that successfully executed Ams AG’s €4.6bn (EV) acquisition of Osram Licht AG.
Q: Interesting! So, what drove your passion for the Investment Banking sector?
A: I enjoy the challenge of it all. The hours are intense, but I think what you’re contributing towards is quite interesting in itself. Each day you are delivering capital to companies that need it; you are helping consolidate and become more efficient; you are working with quite energetic people which is exciting to be around – I’d say that’s what I like the most.
Also, I feel like both the communicative and the analytical / methodical aspects of the role of an analyst link quite well to my interests.
Q: So, what did you study at GCSE & A-Levels (Grades)
A: Going back to GCSE’s, I was naturally more interested in STEM subjects which was tied to my early hobby of electronics. I ended up achieving 11A*s and was the highest achiever in the London Borough of Bexley for the year. I do enjoy quite difficult subjects which is why I liked Maths, the feeling of not knowing what to do and having to work things out is what attracted me to this pathway.
For my A-Levels, I was quite lucky to do some AS-Levels early, so I took Computing, Electronics and Mathematics between years 10 and 11. In was able to get an A-grade in those subjects which meant I could do some more A2-Levels in the end, finally choosing Maths, Further Maths, Physics and Chemistry (Achieving A*A*A*A respectively).
Q: Amazing subjects and grades! It goes to show how far an early interest can take you in life. Where did you apply for University? What made you choose Imperial over others?
A: I wanted to go to a university where I felt like I would be challenged by others, I quite liked the sound of being in a room where I am faced with difficult questions that stretched my ability – ultimately attracting me to Cambridge and Imperial.
All universities have this aspect for sure, but I had visited both and felt like I was going to learn something I had never done before and the potential of being thrown into the deep end is what I liked so much.
I received an offer from both universities but had to complete an entrance exam called STEP as part of my Cambridge offer. This was very tough and instead of achieving a first, I achieved a second grade – so I did not make it. However, I really enjoyed Imperial and felt challenged there so was quite happy with the result in the end.
Q: How did you enjoy your experience at Imperial? Were there any extracurriculars you got involved in?
A: I would say I liked the culture at Imperial firstly, but it was also quite demanding. My first year was a lot more intense than I had thought as the year counted 10% to my final grade.
At the university I felt like everyone was quite friendly and I was able to get into some societies that I quite enjoyed. There were some elements of Imperial that were very much so quantitative, maybe almost too much for some but I was able to find a good medium and capture the social aspects.
In my third year, I got involved with the Entrepreneurs society. Our role was to organise and host events for founders to come and talk / host conferences, we also planned meetings where students could attend and pitch their VC ideas and hopefully find a partner, as part of the Entrepreneur’s lab. In my fourth year, whilst I was completing my masters, I applied to become the society Treasurer and managed to raise £2,750 from our corporate sponsors. This was interesting as we were able to interact quite closely with the companies, facilitate recruiting and I enjoyed that quite a lot.
There were many more societies I could have joined, but I personally wanted to spend a bit more time on my degree to an extent.
Q: After arriving at Imperial, at what stage did you start thinking about your career and the next steps upon graduating?
A: That’s a good question. So, I think sometimes when people hear this answer, they are quite shocked but it’s also quite relieving in a way for students who did leave things later than their peers.
During my first and second years, I think coming from an immigrant family too, I had this sense that if you study hard – you will get a good job. It was not until my third year, that one of my friends suggested thinking about internships, whereas I had planned to wait until after the academic year (which I was recommended not to do) and ended up joining the application process.
I really had no idea what I wanted to do if I am honest, so this may serve as some sort of consolation for those that also are not sure what industry they would like to enter upon graduating. I applied to almost anything I found interesting, which is not necessarily the best technique, but I do believe that if you a throw a wide net, you may be more likely to catch something.
I ended up applying to a very vast range of areas in finance:
How I ended up in Investment Banking was a result of the UBS process. They essentially had two choices that I was interested in for front office roles, one was called investor client solutions and the other corporate client solutions. Me being very naïve and not understanding what either of those meant but I preferred the sound of the corporate option and decided on this.
The application process consisted of a cover letter, tests, and a video interview. About a week after completing my video interview I was invited to an assessment centre which shocked me. I remember looking at the description and reading ‘M&A, Equity Capital Markets, Debt Capital Markets’ and recall my friends telling me “Sami, that’s Investment Banking”. I took the week off university and any studying, teaching myself from scratch a mini crash course in finance where I literally learnt the basics from first principle. By the end of the week, I had a decent understanding of the concepts and luck went my way at the assessment centre.
Q: Quite an inspiring path into Finance, a lot of students in their final / penultimate years start to panic but hearing your stories is evidence that it is not too late.
Absolutely, I didn’t do any spring weeks and think my story shows that it is possible. My advice to students in similar positions is:
Q: What would you say the most important part of the application process is?
A: I personally think the video interview stage is the most important. The reason why I say this is because by the time you have got to this stage of the process, you already have a good enough CV and Cover Letter.
A lot of filtering takes place at the video interview stage, without a strong interview you have a low chance of making it to the assessment centre – even if your CV is strong. I think the success rate is lowest at the video interview stage, so people should focus there a lot more than anywhere else.
Many students view the process as tiring, do not enjoy putting a suit on and doing an interview in their bedroom – which is understandable, but this complacency is also a key reason for failure at this stage.
My top tips:
If you can get those questions sorted and rehearse them properly, that is the way to go as opposed to just winging it. You may have a good enough CV, but if you do not put enough effort into the video interview, you will struggle getting to the AC.
Q: For those that may struggle to get to the video interview stage, what parts of their application do you suggest they work on?
Q: Let’s touch on the interview process, what were the key topics you’d research for the interview? How did you successfully showcase your personality in the interview?
General Interview Tips:
Q: Considering summer internships are slowly approaching, do you have any tips for the incoming class of Summer Interns on how to stand out and convert their internship?
A: Firstly, I do want to say the pandemic has been very tough on everyone and particularly students. I do not want students to beat themselves up over missing target grades or job roles.
Once you have arrived on the desk for your internship however, I have the following tips:
Q: As we know M&A can be quite a gruelling profession, how do you avoid burning out?
A: I am definitely not immune at all; we all suffer from burnout. But here are my mechanisms to prevent it happening:
You ideally want to maximise your free time through finding productive ways to complete tasks
Q: Outside of work, what does Sami get up to and where can we find you on social platforms? Any books that you are currently reading?
Apart from seeing friends and family, I like to spend a lot of time building electronic and carpentry projects. That is one way I like to disconnect from everything, a recent project was a vanity mirror I built for my girlfriend.
I used to do these projects and not bother posting, but now I post my work to @samidiyprojects on Instagram and TikTok.
I am generally quite relaxed on the weekend but like to cycle and recommend that to anyone if you are struggling for time. It’s a great way to exercise and you only need about 15-20 minutes of cycling a day to reap the benefits.
I am currently reading Les Misérables, an interesting story I would strongly recommend!
Comment below your favourite part of the post and any questions for Sami!