We spoke to Peter Harrison, the former Goldman Sachs banker whose company, Harrison Careers, has spent the past decade helping people get their first jobs in banking. Harrison Careers runs a premium-priced, high-end service and says it has a 100% success rate.
So, how should you get a job in banking? This is what Harrison told us…
Can you give us a little background? How did you come to leave Goldman Sachs and run a careers advisory company?
Peter: “I was a chartered accountant with Deloitte for five years. I went to Kellogg School of Management and completed a summer internship at Morgan Stanley before joining Goldman Sachs’ convertible bond desk. I made it to executive director at Goldman and then, basically, I got dot com fever. I started a property internet company- which was meant to be a bit like RightMove, but that failed. I then started another company focused on diversity recruiting and that worked really well. It was the catalyst for me leaving Goldman. I left the month that the dot com bubble burst – 12 years ago.
Do you only help people in the UK and the US?
Peter: We help people all around the world. In the past few weeks we’ve had new clients coming from Cambridge, Edinburgh, Princeton, Dartmouth, Penn – so, yes, everywhere.
Why do students need help getting banking jobs?
Peter: It’s a numbers thing. Goldman gets 17,000 applications for 350 jobs and there are a lot of people who will apply but won’t get interviewed and hired. You have a lot of people chasing not many places.
Harrison Careers is known for being a premium-priced service. Why should students pay your fee?
Peter: We charge an upfront fee of £4k, plus 12% of first year salary. We have a lot of competitors who spring up, last a few years and then disappear again. They don’t last because they don’t have the breadth of interview coaches we have, or our track record of success. Most companies have one or two coaches, we have 150. Whenever we have a prospective client, we put him or her in touch with our previous clients.
Who are your interview coaches?
Peter: They’re usually three kinds of people – either people who are studying for MBAs, people who are working in accounting firms, law firms, banks, actuarial firms and consulting firms, or sometimes they’re people who are about to leave university and have full time job offers. All our coaches have worked for or are working for the companies they’re training people for. There’s a level of expertise you can’t get from a careers service.
What’s your secret formula?
Peter: We do two things – help people get interviews (a lot of them simply wouldn’t get interviews without our help because they don’t know how to network effectively) and then we train people to convert the interviews. Most of our clients tell us they wouldn’t have got the job offer without our training and help. We effectively tell them what to say and how to say it.
What about people who are applying through the standard graduate hiring route – do you help them?
Peter: We don’t help with resumes, application forms or cover letters. It’s way too time consuming for us.
At which point do people come to you for help?
Peter: Most people have to find out for themselves how difficult it is. At the point they come to us they’ve usually tried and failed. Most of them are in their third year or are starting an MSc.
Which industries do you prepare people for?
Peter: The professions – finance, consulting, law, accounting and actuarial work.
Which of those is easiest to get into?
Peter: Accounting. If you’re smart and you’re at the London School of Economics, or Imperial, or Princeton, you can get a job with a Big Four accounting firm fairly easily. Most people would prefer to work in consulting and finance.
Accounting seems sort of underrated as a career – would you agree?
Peter: Yes! I’m biased because I started in accounting, but I think it gives you good options and choices. If you do your three years and you get qualified as an ACA you’re then marketable for almost any job. That said, though, if you want to be a banker you should try to get into banking from day one.
What about if you want to move from accounting into banking – would you help with that?
Peter: Yes. We’ve worked with accountants who want to work in research or M&A and are only getting interviews for product control. We can help them move into front office roles.
So you don’t just work with students?
Peter: No. I work with people from entry level to around four years out of university. After four years there’s usually less that I can teach them and they’re usually pigeon-holed – employers won’t consider them for roles other than the jobs they’ve done already.
Is life really harder for students graduating now?
Peter: It’s harder in so far as the economy isn’t as good and there’s therefore less recruiting by banks, law firms and accounting firms. But the cycle will change and at some point things will get good again and it will become as easy as before. Whether investment banks will ever come back and start hiring in the same numbers they used to is more questionable – I don’t suspect they will.
What would you say to the student who’s graduating from university in 2014 and is struggling to get something lined up?
Peter: It’s never too late. You just need to be proactive. If I can only send one message to job seekers it would be to call 100 of the right people in the right way and you will get a job.
What is the right way to cold-call people who might offer you a job?
Peter: The right way means firstly showing that you have the skills and qualifications they’d want in a new person. Secondly, it means charming them into wanting to hire you. Most people just don’t know how to do that. It’s not as simple as picking up the phone.
So do you coach people on how to be charming?
Peter: I coach people on two things – getting an interview and converting that interview into a job offer. Converting an interview is fairly easy, the real problem is getting an interview in the first place. The problem is that most entry-level candidates rely on applying online. We teach people how to get an interview by networking.
Networking your way into a banking job sounds fine if you’re applying to a small firm, but what about big banks? Aren’t they very bureaucratic?
Peter: You can network your way to an interview at a big firm, you just need to circumvent HR or the graduate programme. You either need to find someone senior who can go around HR, or you need to find an entry-level job that’s not part of the graduate programme. For example, a bank might decide in March that it wants a junior for equity derivatives sales but graduate hires don’t start until September. You can unearth those kinds of opportunities using your network.
It’s one thing getting a job in an investment bank, it’s another thing keeping one. Do most of your candidates keep their roles?
Peter: Yes, but we sometimes get people hired who shouldn’t get hired because we’ve coached them. Sometimes they’re not smart enough or hardworking enough to reach the standard that’s required in the role.
Is it true that stamina is the most important thing when it comes to getting and keeping a job in banking?
Peter: It’s stamina and intelligence. They’re both equally important.