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Nine reasons you can’t get a job on Wall Street

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It's a frustrating time for many Wall Street job-seekers.

Are you trying to get a job on Wall Street? In the current climate of cost-cutting, especially among large investment banks, it can be a frustrating experience.

Here are the top reasons that you keep striking out in your search for a financial services job.

1. Your skills are not hitting the mark

Landing a position on Wall Street is quite simple when you understand the underlying factors at play, according to Julia Harris Wexler, career coach and the managing partner of Julia Harris Wexler Consulting. Quite simply: Do they need you?

“No, really, think about your skills and your abilities,” Wexler said. “If the firm you are interviewing with does not completely understand how your skills line up with the needs of the position – they will never hire you.”

On the other hand, if your message is clear and what you’d bring to the job is exactly what the hiring manager needs, then you could receive an offer after just a few rounds or even immediately, depending on how desperate they are to fill the role.

“Wall Street works fast; they don’t want to waste their time,” Wexler said. “Understanding this culture is key, and if you don’t then that is just more evidence to them that you may not work out.”

2. You come off as too confident…or too humble

It’s crucial to strike the right balance between confidence and humility.

“The key is to show you have researched the opportunity enough to demonstrate genuine interest, while still being open to learning and taking direction on the job,” said Anthony Keizner, partner at Odyssey Search Partners.

3. You don’t stand out from the crowd

Wexler’s advice is simple: Communicate a clear message about what you would bring to the firm, what differentiates you from the pack of candidates seeking the same position, and perhaps most importantly, what problem you are solving for the hiring manager.

“Research why the position exists, what the needs are, how you can truly bring value to the role, and what examples you can provide to minimize the risk that you won’t succeed,” she said.

4. You simply don’t have the qualifications or experience they want

Sometimes you don’t have the qualifications and experience that the hiring manager is looking for. Unfortunately, it may be as simple as that.

“Top-tier firms won’t just hire anyone – they want people with stellar educational backgrounds, or if they’re changing industries, people with an impressive background prior to moving to Wall Street,” said Brianne Toole, principal consultant on the investment banking team, Americas, at Selby Jennings. “You need to be from a top consulting firm, an industry leader or a top MBA program that feeds into certain banks or you won’t get a look.”

People with an M&A background are still in demand, despite ongoing restructuring at big banks.

“On the investment banking side, they’re looking for somebody who already has a couple of years under their belt working on similar size deals who doesn’t need a lot of training,” Toole said. “If they are hiring on their team, they want someone who doesn’t need any handholding.”

Not having an MBA may be a deal-breaker, especially for candidates whose undergraduate degree isn’t in business or finance or isn’t from a top-tier college.

Many candidates who have been in the industry for 15 or 20 years have survived and even thrived with a Bachelor’s from a small school or a public university that is not a big name. However, younger candidates need to have gone to an Ivy League institution or a top business school, and more positions require applicants to have an MBA.

5. You lack chemistry with the interviewer

While difficult to define, establishing chemistry with the recruiter, HR executive or hiring manager is important.

“They will hire you if they like you – chemistry is even more important than if you are a perfect skill match,” Wexler said.

Engendering positive feelings from whoever is interviewing you trumps many other facets of your resume.

“They will look at you to see if they want to spend 12-to-14 hours per day with you,” Wexler said. “Do you have a sense of humor? Are you stiff? Nervous? Are you the type of person who has shown you are able to push through whatever obstacles or hurdles you have encountered? This is the prototype they want.”

6. You drone on 

Prepare your answer to this ice-breaker: “So … tell me about yourself.” Don’t just wing it.

“Incorporate your concise answer to the question in a nutshell,” Wexler said. “Be sure it defines who you are – not every single thing you have done – and explains, without selling them hard, why you will succeed in the role.”

7. You’ve been out of the game too long

You need to have a basic knowledge of the markets or brush up on it if you’ve been out of the game for some time.

“If you don’t know where the S&P or LIBOR stands, or what the P/E ratios are for some leading stocks, then it’s hard to make the case that you are ‘passionate about the markets,’” Keizner said.

Especially for junior sales, trading and analyst roles, having strong knowledge of the particular investment product or strategy type is often the most important factor, Toole said. It also helps to be tech-savvy.

“A lot of the banks like to see people with a programming and coding background, since that’s where the business is moving, and it’s a skill set that a lot of the senior guys are lacking,” she said. “Having that technical background will help traders, people with e-trading computer skills rather than just over the phone.”

8. You don’t know the right people

Sending your resume into the black hole of online applications rarely results in progress.

“Leverage all the offline contacts you can – your school alumni network, well-placed recruiters, family friends or neighbours, and ex-colleagues – to help your chances,” Keizner said. “Getting one informational interview at a target firm is more beneficial than ten random web applications.”

From M&A investment banking to the sales and trading side, it’s a networking job all about who you know, Toole said.

“If you fail to get a job, it means you’re failing to leverage your network properly,” she said. “Use your alumni networks to get foot in door on Wall Street – that’s why the Ivies are so valuable.”

9. You’re too focused on potential employers’ name brands

“We’re getting candidates who are coming to us and they only want to go to a top-tier bank, Goldman, J.P. Morgan or what have you, not taking into account what those banks are doing at the moment,” Toole said. “If you’re going to be targeting those types of banks, you need to know which of those are hiring – it doesn’t make sense if they’re cutting a significant part of work force or entire business lines.”

Also think about your potential for longevity and promotion.

“Are you going to be able to progress through the group?” Toole said. “If a bank is stuck in a hiring freeze, maybe a particular group is not performing well, the candidate gets put on the back burner, thinking, ‘When things change they’ll pick me up,’ but it ends up being a waste of time.”

Photo credit: lker Çekiç/iStock/Thinkstock

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