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Guest Comment: Just because you’re an actor doesn’t mean you’re hanging with Robert Downey Jr – the same goes for financial careers

That's my bonus secure for another year then

That's my bonus secure for another year then

It was an explosive, sudden and extraordinary outburst in my normally quiet office. With fists pumping in the air, I wondered why the guy sitting two seats in front of me had done a one-man impromptu of Vin Diesel’s sale scene from The Boiler Room. I knew what kind of money we made for the company. We’d be lucky to scrape $2k to $3k together as a team on a good day; we simply didn’t make the kind of cash to get all that excited about.

It’s actually quite common for people to end up in banking and finance simply to make money, because let’s face it, we all saw the movies where bankers drove the supercars, dated supermodels and made, well, super money. I don’t deny it, there are guys out there making $300m trades and getting a percentage split for their bonus. However, a lot of us will be lucky to even meet one of these superstars of finance. Think of it like this: just because you’re a SAG-registered actor doesn’t mean you’re hanging with Robert Downey Jr.

This brings me back to the financial sector. It’s as vast and diverse as an African landscape. So how does anybody junior get to where they want to go? There aren’t any signs pointing to the “here’s where we make money” department, and even if you knew which key unlocked the door, how do you get your foot past the frosted glass?

How to get on the path to serious money

First of all, credentials. An MBA from an Ivy League never hurt anybody’s chances of getting a job, so good grades from an outstanding college will at least get you noticed. Apart from that, there is an old boys’ (and sometimes girls’) network where they like to hire from their alma mater. Never underestimate the power of networking in finance, but that’s another blog altogether.

Unfortunately, not everybody has the opportunity or the money to attend an Ivy League, so what are the rest of us to do? The next option is to work for free! As unappetising as that sounds, a lot of hedge funds and private equity firms won’t mind having someone doing their back-logged data entry or archiving for free. So brush up on your interview skills and write a letter offering your services to these firms. If you are lucky enough to get the opportunity, show up on time, work hard, and in the end you’ll hopefully have a letter of recommendation from someone in the industry, while getting a feel for what it’s like to work there.

Importantly, never to go into a company because you’re hoping to apply internally to a different role soon after you start. This will put you in a catch-22 situation: if you do well in your initial role, the firm will wonder why they need to train you for a new job when you are already good at your current one. But on the flip side, you won’t get a transfer if you perform badly.

If your aspirations are to be a trader, you’re much better off being at Bank of Podunk, making a stellar trade selling alligator teeth futures and using that experience as leverage to get into another firm later on.

I make a lot of generalisations here and there are always exceptions. With these starting points, however, hopefully you will soon be screaming “yes” at your Bloomberg terminal out of sheer monetary joy.

The writer is a Hong Kong-based financial professional. The views expressed are his and not those of eFinancialCareers.

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