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How to get a job on Wall Street without rich parents and an Ivy League education

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I landed my first banking job in 1995 after 104 rejections. That opportunity gave me a chance to work on Wall Street, which was all I wanted – or needed. In my nearly 20 years in the industry, I have found there are three ways to landing a job on Wall Street – particularly if you don’t fit the typical mold.

The typical recruit graduates from one of 10-15 universities in the top 5% of his class. Or he is connected. If you’re lucky enough to fit that mold, you’re probably sitting back right now waiting to start that first job.

What if that’s not you? That certainly makes things more challenging, but not impossible. What you need are three things – 1) determination; 2) luck; and 3) a network.

Determination

“Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

Not to pick a fight with Einstein, but I would have to disagree – at least when it comes to job seeking. There are many ways to get a “no,” but you only need one “yes.” And the no’s can happen for a wide variety of reasons – a better candidate, not meeting predefined criteria or even just not capturing a recruiter’s attention. It does not mean that you have to change your goals.

Determination is also about making sacrifices to meet those goals. What are you willing to do in order to get where you want to go? Will you settle in a job you don’t want in order to meet people who can open doors? Will you work a night job so you can spend days interning at a place where you can learn?

Luck

It comes in many forms along its spectrum. There’s blind luck and then there are people who put themselves in a position to get lucky. I’ve heard countless stories where luck plays a huge role.

If you rely on blind luck, you will almost assuredly fail. Instead, the more that you try to interact with Wall Street and develop the characteristics that firms value, the more visible you will be to the outside world – giving you more chances to get lucky.

Try to open doors, meet people, help others, and better yourself. Wall Street is not the most welcoming place, but it is still a place where work is rewarded.

Network

This is where most young people will need help – particularly if you are having trouble being noticed. And, at 21 years old, it is difficult to have a well-developed network – where people pay it forward, understanding that a rising tide lifts all boats (at least the boats in the network).

But growing a network is about meeting people, and you can’t meet people from applying to jobs on a website in your home. You have to join professional clubs. You have to find and talk to alumni. You have to find friends of friends and their friends of friends and do things that other candidates are not. That’s how you get noticed.

What to Do Right Now

So, if you are trying to break into the Wall Street club, here are the three things you should do this week to make progress:

  1. Set up (or improve) a LinkedIn profile: It’s a great tool to find people’s resumes and post yours. Discover how the people in the job you want got there. And, find out if you have any connections to them.
  2. Develop (or refine) your 30-second pitch: If you can’t describe yourself – and why you are different than others – then no one else will know how either.
  3. Investigate areas of Wall Street: Most people I talk with don’t understand that good sales skills play an important role in investment banking. Or what the day-to-day responsibilities of someone on a trading desk are. Find out. Not only will it better help you figure out what kind of job you want, it will help you figure out what specific Wall Street job your skill-set is best matched to.

I understand the plight of the university student looking to get a seat on Wall Street – any seat. I was you nearly 20 years ago, and I never forgot the feeling of wanting a chance to prove that I was more than what my resume said. Using these three ways to find a job, you, too, can prove that there’s more to you than your resume.

Felix Frey is the head options trader at a billion-dollar hedge fund and the founder of the Wall Street Combine, an accelerator designed to improve students’ and recent graduates’ chances of landing a job on Wall Street. Wall Street Combine facilitates one-on-one mentoring with Wall Street professionals from leading financial institutions, private equity firms and hedge funds.

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Comments (1)

Comments
  1. Written by the guy with an ivy league degree… Just proves that it isn’t really possible to get in unless you are already a member of the elite class.

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