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Is Having Entrepreneurial Experience Useful To Break into Investment Banking?


I had several people ask me if having some entrepreneurial experience could help them get a job in investment banking. 

Usually, they fall into at least one of these categories:

  • The university student who can’t make up his mind between pursuing a career in finance and starting a business
  • The entrepreneur in his late twenties/early thirties, who has launched and managed a relatively successful business, and who is now trying to get a job in investment banking
  • The university student who had some entrepreneurial experience at an early age but no finance experience, and who is wondering how to leverage that to increase his chances of breaking into IB

If you’re reading this, you are most likely in the first or second case. 

In this article, I will explain how having entrepreneurial experience may help you get an offer in IB. Most importantly, I’ll give you some key advice on how to market this experience the right way to be perceived as a good fit by recruiters (even if you have almost no financial experience).

Let’s get to it.

Why and how entrepreneurial XP can help you land your dream role in IB

Launching a business and having some entrepreneurial experience can definitely add some value to your resume, and put you in a good position compared to other candidates who don’t have this kind of experience. 

One of the main reasons entrepreneurial experience is valued by recruiters – and especially finance recruiters – is because such experience conveys some core qualities about you that are very useful in investment banking. 

If you’ve been managing a business or have started a venture in the past, recruiters will be more likely to assume that you are hardworking (people who launch their business are often obsessed with their idea and don’t count their hours), proactive (when you work for yourself, you are 100% responsible for outcomes you generate, so you have to take initiatives constantly), and that you may possess strong analytical skills (growing a good business requires a robust understanding of what your target customer wants and how you can serve that desire with your product or services – both of which require some analytical firepower). 

All these qualities are, of course, highly valued in investment banking. Working 80+ hours a week is not easy, but if you’ve been running a business, people will assume that you can keep up with this intense pace. 

Being proactive is also very important, as the last thing IB associates want is someone who never asks for work, who is waiting for everything to fall on his lap. Having strong analytical skills doesn’t need further explanation, it’s a critical skill to have if you want to be a good investment banker. 

The second advantage of having some entrepreneurial experience is that it will help you stand out during your job interviews. Unlike most other candidates and student “clones” (as I like to call them), you will actually have something interesting to say other than your participation in a local finance tournament where you finished 12th on 100 after doing an M&A case study (hint: recruiters won’t be that impressed…). 

Launching and running a business is something that has substance, it requires serious commitment, and since every business is unique (to some degree), it means that you will have unique experience and anecdotes to share with interviewers. 

As I mentioned in my previous posts, the more unique your life experiences are, the more memorable you will be, and the higher your chances of being perceived as a good fit during interviews. 

Recruiters love it when candidates share their entrepreneurial stories, not only because it conveys several important qualities about them (like I’ve mentioned above), but also because these stories often involve an emotional dimension that makes them memorable. 

For example, if you tell the time you went to over 500 houses in Central London to sell prototypes of a brand new type of recyclable bottle you’ve created (I’m just making things up here), it’ll arouse some emotions of admiration in the recruiters’ mind. 

Compare that with saying that you launched a student investment club at your university… It’s better than nothing, but it’s not as memorable.

What counts as entrepreneurial experience?

Now, it goes without saying that not every entrepreneurial experience has the same value. 

Everybody can claim to be an entrepreneur these days. If you open an OnlyFans account and you’re making some serious revenue on that, you can technically call yourself an “entrepreneur”… You’ve created a business, and you’re making money out of it. That’s true…

But there is a difference between a serious business that will be well perceived by finance recruiters, and a small side venture that could technically qualify as a “business”, but for which people won’t really take you seriously. And the perception of people matters a lot in the IB industry, so not every entrepreneurial experience is good to highlight. 

Examples of credible businesses that will add value to your profile:

  • You created a brand of healthy energy drinks from scratch 
  • You launched a new app to help people find good restaurants in several European cities, backed by your incubator at your school
  • You created a successful YouTube channel talking about any relatively intellectual topic (finance, business, philosophy, geopolitics, etc). Only mention that if you have at least dozens of thousands of subscribers and you’re making decent revenue from this channel. 


Examples of less credible businesses that won’t add much value to your profile, or which may even decrease your value:

  • You launched an online gambling platform with friends
  • You created a food truck that sells pizza in your local village (unless you created an entire food chain that is making hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, don’t mention this kind of stuff)
  • You have a successful OnlyFans account (this one is quite obvious, but you never know…)
How to make your entrepreneurial experiences "bankable"

Everything is about marketing. You may have created the best business in the world, but if you don’t know how to show that this experience will make you a qualified investment banker, people won’t be willing to hire you. 

You need to show that this entrepreneurial XP prepared you for this IB job, in some or another. You need to create a “bridge” between your experience and the job you’re applying to.

I once had a coaching call with a student who had co-founded an incredibly innovative business. He created a laser printing technology to print complex, subtle patterns on coffee capsules (such as Nexpresso capsules), at half the cost and twice the precision of competitors’ products. 

His business exceeded seven figures during the first year of its creation, and was bought within two years by an industrial conglomerate for several millions. Objectively a remarkable feat. 

The problem is: he had no idea how to market it. When we spoke on the phone, he spent 15 minutes explaining the technical specificities of this technology with engineering precision (half of which I barely understood), without telling me what skills he built while creating this business. 

On this CV, under this entrepreneurial experience, he had a massive section full of technical words that nobody understands, and it looked incredibly boring. If I were a recruiter, I would have skipped this section honestly. 

Then, we took the time to re-create this section from scratch, preparing super high-quality bullets highlighting the achievements he’s made and the skills that he developed (for example, the fact that he sold the business for several million dollars within a year after working relentlessly on making the product better and liaising with investors). 

Before the CV editing, he was rejected everywhere, he couldn’t hear from anybody. After I helped him market his experience better, he was flooded with interview invites from top IB firms. 

Bottom line: Your achievements matter, but what matters even more is the way you market them to recruiters. 

The question is: how can you make your entrepreneurial experiences more “bankable”? How do you communicate to recruiters that your experiences have prepared you to be a great investment banker, even though you didn’t work in investment banking?

First of all, you need to think about the key skills that IB recruiters are looking for. That includes:

  • Strong analytical skills
  • Industriousness
  • Exceptional rigour
  • Ability to work in a team effectively

If you can communicate throughout your entrepreneurial experience that you developed these skills, recruiters will be way more likely to see you as a great fit. They’ll think “Alright, this guy may not have any finance experience, but at least he’s got some skills that will definitely be useful to the investment banking team. Let’s give it a shot.”

Below I present some examples of bullet points that you could use to prove that you possess IB-relevant skills while speaking about your entrepreneurial XP.

Examples of “bankable” bullets based on entrepreneurial experience (this is a fictive example only intended to illustrate and give you some inspiration):

  • Analysed 100+ clinical studies to identify 3 of the most potent anti-aging natural compounds in the world. Worked hand-in-hand with top dermatologists for 6 months to integrate these powerful active ingredients into our proprietary skin lifting formula  → skills communicated: analytical skills, rigour, industriousness, teamwork
  • Conducted a consumer survey on 562 women aged 35-60 to determine the most critical reasons leading to the purchase of a high-end cosmetic product → skills communicated: analytical skills, industriousness
  • Created a multi-channel digital marketing campaign and managed a team of 7 graphic designers, web developers, and copywriters to launch our product in 4 different countries (France, UK, Germany, and Spain) → skills developed: teamwork, industriousness
  • Developed our skincare brand until it reached €1.8m of annual revenue, 43% profit margin, and a customer satisfaction rate of 99%. Sold the business to Estee Lauder within two years → skills communicated: analytical skills, industriousness, rigour
Why you need to be extremely well prepared for the question "Why investment banking" (even more than other candidates)

Now, let’s say you know exactly how to market your entrepreneurial XP on your CV. You have an incoming interview at JP Morgan for your dream IB role. 

How can you prepare yourself for the inevitable fit question: “Why investment banking?”

The first thing to know is that you are going to be tested very heavily on this question. Recruiters will be really curious to know what motivates you to make the switch from being an entrepreneur to being an investment banker – which involve very different lifestyles.

Their fear, and potential objection, is that you won’t fit in an environment where you have to follow orders and in which your freedom is restricted by unpredictable work requirements. 

Many entrepreneurs have a natural defiance towards authority, so if they apply to a role where obedience to authority is essential, they will obviously face some resistance from interviewers. That’s why you need to dedicate a good amount of time to thinking about why you really want to work in IB. 

Here are a few tips to help you prepare for this question, in case you have some entrepreneurial XP and you’re looking to break into IB (you don’t have to apply these tips, but some of them may give you some ideas):

  • Find a way to show that your entrepreneurial experience gave you a sense of purpose that investment banking can help you fulfill. For example, building a business taught you that it was very hard to attract the interest of potential investors, even if the business was doing very well from a financial standpoint. After selling your business, you would like to help other ambitious entrepreneurs acquire other businesses or sell their own to be rewarded for their work. Working in M&A would be in line with this purpose (note that this example is mainly applicable to SMID cap M&A, where your clients are most likely to be family-run businesses)

  • Show that you miss the intensity of being an entrepreneur. When you were running your business, you were working 80+ hours a week consistently, tackling new challenges every day. You miss this fast-paced lifestyle, and now you would like to find a similar environment where you can work side by side with smart, driven, ambitious people every day, people who are not afraid to burn the midnight oil to get things done. Investment banking is a great fit in that regard. 


  • You can also say that you like the intellectual stimulation and high intensity of running a business, but you don’t like the solitude that comes with it. Now, you would like to work hard with smart people, working on intellectually stimulating tasks, but in a team of like-minded people instead of alone. 


  • Be ready to address the objection: can you take orders? Recruiters are likely to assume that you prefer to run things on your own and not take orders from others (which is the case when you work for yourself). You need to have a strong, believable reason to persuade them that you are perfectly capable of and willing to execute orders. Use personal stories to demonstrate that. 

Those are just some examples, but there are many ways you can justify your willingness to pursue a career in IB after running a business. 

Just be ready to face natural resistance from recruiters, which is completely normal. They want to make sure you won’t quit after 2 months to launch another revolutionary business venture…


A word about the author

Aurelian Tran is the founder of Alpha Lane and an ex-Goldman Sachs analyst who has spent 4+ years working in the investment banking industry.

He founded Alpha Lane to help students and young professionals achieve their highest professional ambitions, by securing offers at top-tier financial institutions.