Even though having some relevant coursework under your belt certainly helps you land a job in finance, most employers assume that graduate hires know next to nothing. Your knowledge of finance is only important insofar as it shows that you have a genuine interest in the industry and enough discipline to go through a few books.
Beyond that, much of graduate recruiting comes down to fit – which is really just a euphemism for people liking you. If all you present is your technical knowledge and your work ethic, you will be respected but not necessarily liked. It is important to also present something personal.
As for what that personal element could be, there is really no single answer. Try to get involved in groups dedicated to what you are passionate about. If you can enter competitions, go out and try to collect a few accolades. Above all, be prepared to explain not only what you did but why you were passionate about what you’ve been doing. Just because your interviewer does not play Settlers of Catan does not mean that they can’t be entertained when you tell them about a particularly fun game you took part in.
All of that said, be aware that some firms do expect you to be able to add value as soon as you join. If they can afford to pay more to hire someone with a lot of relevant experience, you would need to demonstrate truly exceptional potential for them to agree to train you. Hedge funds are a great example – most don’t even bother publicizing job openings at universities because of how hard it is to find sufficiently talented students.
If you want to compete at that level, you should join a finance focused club on campus and work to make the most of the learning opportunities it offers. Early on, look for mentors among the more accomplished upperclassmen. Once you’ve developed adequate technical expertise, try and engage in collaborative research projects. If the club has an alumni network, use it not just as a recruiting tool but also as a source of guidance. And if the club participates in any cross-university competitions – get involved; they not only strengthen your CV but also give you direct access to prospective employers
Last but not least: read. When interviewing, you should be able to talk about at least a few non-fiction books you’ve read recently. Ones related to finance are particularly helpful. If I may, would recommend starting with “Education of a Value Investor” by Guy Spier.
Alexey Loganchuk is the founder of Upgrade Capital, a hedge fund talent scout.