Your cheat sheet to Morgan Stanley application

morgan stanley application guide

Choosing the bank to apply to is one of the most difficult decisions you’ll have to face. They all seem pretty similar at the first glance. Job responsibilities are almost identical, compensation is always good and working hours universally dreadful. However, there are quite a few subtle differences you will never know about as an outsider. How is the work-life balance and benefits? Do they hire women? How many candidates get offers? And how to maximise your chances of getting in?

A huge part of whether or not you’ll get an offer has to do with how much you know the bank. How much you understand why you want to work at this particular company. What attracts you – and why you think you might be a good fit. Many applicants fail because they cannot tailor their application to a specific bank. Easy to understand. I wouldn’t want to spend hours researching bank’s values, memorising share price of its stock or names of top executives.

Luckily for you, you won’t have to. In the next month I plan to share everything you need to know about the top-10 companies in investment banking. From why you should apply to where to submit your application and what to learn for your interview. Starting with one of the best in the investment banking world and my personal favourite: here goes your complete cheat sheet to application for Morgan Stanley.

Morgan Stanley: boring must-know facts

morgan stanley application facts

Morgan Stanley: Recent developments

So, what happened in Morgan Stanley in the recent years? Let me quickly fill you in. The short story goes like this.

What the hell happened during financial crisis?

After the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, Morgan Stanley was the next global bank to fall. The share price went to the bottom, and the bank was forced to borrow capital from US Treasury and Fed’s programs. Ouch.

In order to survive Morgan Stanley has taken drastic steps to rebuild the entire business. It strengthened its balance sheet, improved asset quality and built a sizeable liquidity buffer. More importantly, it made a U-turn to transform itself from the highly-leveraged trading house with a heavy appetite for complex risk into a well-rounded, client focused bank.

How did they do it?

A lot of it success has to do with the approach chosen by CEO James Gorman. Since taking his job in 2010, Gorman has minimized risky trading and emphasized financial planning and retail brokerage services. He refocused operations to wealth management with the acquisition of the Smith Barney brokerage and wealth business from Citigroup.

Results have been stunning. Forget about top positions in global IPO rankings and record earnings. Gorman was able to double the size of the firm’s business managing people’s money, focusing on predictable annual fees. At the same time he de-emphasised the spirit of reckless adventure that had been the signature style of his predecessor, John Mack. Many proprietary traders were swapped for wealth managers. At the end of 2014, Morgan Stanley employed more than 16,000 brokers and managed more than $2 trillion in assets, making it one of the largest wealth-management firms in the world.

We’re a fundamentally different firm than we were seven years ago. Morgan Stanley has more capital, less leverage, and a better handle on the daily risks it takes than it did in 2008. Our view was ‘You know what? We just lived this near-death experience. We’re going to make significant changes.

Ruth Porat, ex Morgan Stanley’s chief financial officer. 

Happily ever after?

Not so fast. Not everyone was satisfied with these changes. On top of culture change came significant alterations to firm’s compensations structure. Morgan Stanley instituted clawbacks that would allow the firm to take back compensation if an employee engaged in conduct that hurt the firm in the years after it was paid. The bank also paid a greater portion of year-end bonuses in stock to tie individual pay to the company’s performance.

Let me rephrase this: individual compensation went down, deferred compensation went up. Not everyone was happy. Apparently dissatisfied employees even released a parody video. Titled “Margin Games: Manager on Fire” it drew on “Hunger Games” theme. You can check it out here – although this is something probably not worth mentioning in the interview.

Why apply: cheat sheet for applications

Investment banks are pretty universal – but there are some things unique for Morgan Stanley. Have a look, note it down and mention in your cover letter and upcoming interviews. 

investment banking morgan stanley application

Global leader in high-profile deals 

Morgan Stanley is one of the top-3 firms ranking on prestige – and consistently one of the best investment banks to work for. It has excellent deal volume with a constant flow of high profile deals. In 2014 25 of the largest M&A deals all had Morgan Stanley’s name on them.

Particular area of expertise – IPOs. Morgan Stanley is kicking ass on global IPOs. The bank has the biggest underwriting market share worldwide. Best proof: leading the biggest IPO in history (Alibaba Group, 2014). Other similarly high-profile IPOs – ING US, WorkDay, Kayak, Aramark, and – of course – Facebook. Although on the latter one not everything went as planned.

Emerging markets foothold

Morgan Stanley holds a strong foothold in emerging markets, particularly in Asia. This is something that will likely to help the bank significantly in the long term. There is an increasing demand for capital from countries like China and India, and a growing number of companies going public or consolidating. Being one of the world’s top banks in global equity and IPOs, Morgan Stanley has led major equity issues in emerging regions. Good examples: $1 billion debut of LeadingCorp and IPO of Chinese dating app Momo.

Tech expertise

Morgan Stanley holds a top spot for US tech M&A, being a lead tech underwriter in US for more than two decades. Best recent deals – sale of WhatsApp to Facebook and sale of Time Warner Cable to ComCast Corp. A lot of success has to do with the deep expertise the bank possesses in tech sector – its lead bankers have more than 20 years of experience in technology area.


It is not just something they write in their annual reports. Morgan Stanley is #1 underwriter of green bonds and #1 underwriter for non-profit institutions. It supports Global Volunteer Month, provides donation matching and encourages community service.

Equal opportunities

The bank is one of the leading Wall Street firms in terms of opportunities for women. It has also done a decent job in recruiting diverse talent. Keep in mind: this applies mostly to junior levels. At senior ranks there is still a very serious lack of diversity.

Unique culture

Yeah, yeah. Every bank says it’s culture is unique. However – from what I am hearing from MS employees – in case of Morgan Stanley it actually might be true. You need to work hard to succeed – but you will be doing so alongside the smartest and most talented people out there. The bank is less hierarchical and bureaucratic compared to its Wall Street peers. This translates into more responsibility early on for junior analysis, higher morale and less competitive working environment.

What does it mean for me?

morgan stanley application comparison

Morgan Stanley should be your top pick when applying. The firm is undoubtedly one of the best in the field. Here is a quick summary of what to expect if you are planning on joining.

Salary and compensation

At the junior level salary is competitive. Bonus depends on the year but is generally satisfying. I’ve heard complaints from new hires about the level of compensation – but overall it’s in line with the industry.

Difficulties kick in at more senior positions. That is when the bank starts to pay at a lower end of the spectrum. Cash portion of the bonus is limited to $125,000 per person – and sometimes up to 90% of the bonus is deferred. Forget about buying a new house or paying for kid’s tuition: the bank will limit the amount of hard cash you get in a year.

“We must fix the culture that contributed to financial crisis by idolising individuals as “heroes” and giving employees incentives to take outsized risks. In order to fix the culture we need to create a compensation system that better aligns or balances shareholders’ interests and the broader society’s interests with the individual’s interests, and change the perception that it’s the individual that’s the hero. Individuals don’t make institutions.”

James Gordon, CEO.

Working hours

Working hours suck. As everywhere in banking. You might have read in the news that Morgan Stanley has taken steps to improve junior bankers’ lifestyle. That the firm is trying to prevent juniors from staying late or working on weekends. But. Nothing was put in writing. And CEO himself questioned the necessity of such changes:

“I’m not sure that’s the right answer because I’m not sure how you stop work if there’s a deal on. It’s more common sense, it’s more upward feedback and evaluation.” In plain words – that Christmas vacation of yours is still off the table.

James Gordon, CEO.

Exit opportunities

Simply great. Working at such high-profile firms means you will be a top candidate for private equity and industry companies.

Morgan Stanley application process

Which programs are available

Application period will generally open around end of August – beginning of September. Students or recent graduates can choose among summer internship programs or apply straight for full-time positions. Holders of MBA or experienced hires can apply for summer internships or straights for full-time jobs.

Summer programs usually last 10 weeks, with the first week being an intense training / introduction program for new joiners. Full-time programs start in September and are preceded by 5-week training.

Additionally, the bank also offers off cycle internships and spring insight programs. These are usually available only in EMEA region (London and a couple of European offices) in a limited number of divisions.

Who can apply?

In order to qualify you need to show excellent academic background, achievement record and possess fluency in English. Ability to communicate effectively in multiple languages is an advantage. Strong analytical and numerical skills are a must and should be clearly demonstrated on your resume (check this article on how to do it). Other skills to focus on:

– Commitment to excellence and high ethical standards.
– Ability to articulate well complex ideas and summarise them effectively.
– Ability to perform well under pressure and against tight deadlines and manage a wide range of responsibilities.

– Strong interest in financial services.

Depending on the region you might face additional requirements in terms of your education background or language abilities.

North America

Applications for analyst internships and full-time positions are open to junior and senior students. Rising sophomores and rising junior students can check out career website to see if there are any short-term employment opportunities available. You can apply for associate positions if you are an MBA or a J.D. student in your final year of study. At least two to three years of work experience is preferred.

The easiest way to get hired in North America region is to meet Morgan Stanley representatives on campus. Get in touch with your career office to see if bank’s representatives will be attending your school. If not – try to network outside of campus and apply online. Deadlines may vary – but applications will typically close end of January.

You will need to submit your resume and cover letter. The process is quite simple: initial screening, then first-round interviews (phone, on-campus or in person). Final round interviews will be held at Morgan Stanley’s office and include a series of interviews or a full-day assessment centre with both individual interviews (technical and behavioural) as well as group activities (case studies).


Applications are done online. You will need to submit basic information about yourself and  answer some open-ended questions (typically between 1,000 and 3,000 characters). Best piece of advice – apply as soon as possible as applications are reviewed on the rolling basis.

Once you submit the application you will get an invite to complete reasoning tests. These have to be done within 48 hours. If you are successful in the initial screening you will be invited for the first interview (phone, video conferencing or in person) followed by the assessment centre. In this last stage you will spend a full day at Morgan Stanley office and go through a number of one-to-one interviews, written tests, individual presentation and a group exercise.

To be eligible for EMEA positions you should have a minimum of 320 UCAS points and an actual / expected 2.1 degree. If you get the offer training will begin in June with one-week intense program. Deadline for applications is 1 November but candidates are encouraged to apply early.

Asia Pacific

Morgan Stanley will be hosting on and off-campus events across Asia from August to April. The applications have to be submitted online (expect for India where applicants might have different instructions depending on the job advertisement in question). Deadlines will vary by country and division, so you will have to check online. Language requirements will be a must – usually this covers fluency in Mandarin, Korean or Japanese.

Application process will differ depending on location. Generally expect a first round of phone / video conferencing interviews followed by the final round of assessment in the local office.

How to apply

Go to Morgan Stanley career website to check the positions available, deadlines and eligibility criteria. Check the website for the list of 2015 deadlines – or subscribe to our newsletter and we will let you know when the applications open. 

If you have more specific questions – get in touch with bank’s recruitment team.

North America: [email protected]

EMEA: [email protected]

Asia Pacific: [email protected]

How to get in 

Clearly show in your application why Morgan Stanley. Re-read what I wrote earlier about the company. Show that you know why you want to work at this particular firm.

Prepare for your interviews. Listen carefully and think thoroughly before giving an answer. Make sure you understand the instructions. Ask questions if necessary.

In your assessment centre pay attention to group exercises. Don’t focus on yourself only. The goal is to show you can be a team player. Don’t talk all the time – you need to give others an opportunity to speak up (but don’t be silent all the time either). Focus on the quality, not the quantity of your contributions.

In the assessment centre it is your overall performance that counts. Even if you screw up one exercise – the interviewers will be looking at overall picture. Stay calm, and try to show consistently good performance.

Finally, be passionate. Not necessarily about finance, but about something, be it political science or another area of study. And know your story. Speak confidently about how your past experiences and how these have prepared you for a role at Morgan Stanley. Have specific examples ready to supplement your story. A lot of people spend all their interview preparation studying the technical questions. These are important, but especially in Morgan Stanley – overall fit questions will to large degree determine if you get an offer.

I will be releasing soon the exact questions you might face at Morgan Stanley interview. Subscribe below to be the first to know when the application opens and what questions you might face at the interview. And if you need a winning resume for your application – download it  here

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