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Ideal backgrounds for breaking into Wall Street with no relevant experience

Stand out from the crowd

Stand out from the crowd

Most Wall Street firms are happy to boast about their programs to recruit military veterans as evidence that they hire people with non-finance backgrounds, but the reality is that it’s become tougher than ever to land a job as an ‘outsider’.

“Honestly, on our end we rarely see individuals who have non-industry experience,” says Revi Goldwasser, CEO at headhunters Wall Street Personnel. “If anything, it’s usually the other way around –they take their investment experience and transfer that skill towards the non-investment sector – especially after the market downtown we had for the last five years.”

This is hardly surprising when you consider that the layoffs in recent years will have left Wall Street firms with an abundance of talent with relevant experience at their fingertips. Nonetheless, there are methods of securing a job with little or no industry experience. Here are some tips for getting through the door.

1. You have a history of fundraising

The vast majority of financial advisers are hired because of their connections to rich friends and relatives, so direct financial services experience is not always necessary. Sales roles in investment banking and wealth management often go to tenacious entrepreneurial types who can prove that they can bring home the bacon. Steven Fleming, CEO of Wall Street Options, says that fundraisers at prominent universities who have raised millions, or someone who has sold luxury yachts are just two examples of people who are likely to make it through the door, predominantly because of the wealthy contacts they’ve acquired.

2. You’re an elite STEM student courted by the big tech firms

Investment banks employ legions of technologists – around 25% of headcount at Goldman Sachs, for instance, is in IT, while there are 10,000 techies at Credit Suisse globally and 30,000 at JPMorgan. Banks are up against the big tech firms like Google, Microsoft and Amazon and are constantly reinventing their hiring programs to compete – latterly developing Google-style office space to appear hip.

Perhaps not surprisingly, therefore, recruiters at Goldman Sachs told us that candidates who majored in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), in fields like computer science and electrical engineering, or who had previously worked for one of the large tech firms, are seen as attractive.

3. You were a college or professional athlete

Investment banks in the City of London have been hiring ex-Olympians in the aftermath of the 2012 games held in the UK capital, notably Goldman Sachs which recruited GB hockey player Annie Panter for its securities division. This is the tip of the iceberg, however. New recruits with a sporting background and little or no experience are desirable to investment banks. They tend to be competitive, work well under pressure and give it their all during long hours. They certainly understand teamwork, as well.

There’s John Shaffer, who was named managing director at Goldman Sachs in 2010, many years after playing quarterback at Penn State, and Scott L. Brunner, who is executive vice president and partner at Net Worth Management Group. He played championship football for the University of Delaware and later pro American football for the New York Giants. Michael Ferrucci, who until recently headed SAC Capital Advisor’s London office, was an elite Lacrosse player at Harvard.

4. You tick the diversity box

Investment banks struggle to find minority candidates for particular business areas, with technology (again) being a sector where female recruits are thin on the ground. Banks like JPMorgan are trying to drum up interest in tech careers by targeting girls still yet to graduate from high school and alerting them to IT careers in the sector. For the time being, though, a lot of high-ranking female technologists started their careers elsewhere.

Julie Shapiro, head of risk technology at JPMorgan, told us previously: “It’s still not a natural thing for technologists to look towards banking once they graduate,” said Shapiro. “I started my career in more traditional engineering disciplines and I was very unaware of how interesting the technology challenges were in banking, so I initially stayed away. We need to get the message out to young women that the technology projects here are exciting and cutting edge.”

Generally, suggest recruiters, it’s a lot easier to switch into banking through one of many diversity schemes than trying to apply cold with little relevant experience.

5. You previously worked in consulting

The gap at the junior level has led many investment banks to turn to ACA candidates with consulting and advisory experience at Big Four accounting firms. If someone has a background in one of the big consulting firms, they have “great shot to work at any organization”, says Fleming.

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