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

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Maybe you're too confident?

Are you trying to get a job on Wall Street? With some investment banks cost-cutting or pinching pennies, and most if not all extremely choosy about who they hire, 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

Quite simply: Do they need you? Are your skills a fit for the role?

“Think about your skills and your abilities,” says Julia Harris Wexler, career coach and the managing partner of Julia Harris Wexler Consulting. “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.”

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,” says Anthony Keizner, a partner at Odyssey Search Partners.

3. You don't stand out from the crowd

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 what problems you can solve 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,” Wexler says.

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

Unfortunately, sometimes you don’t have the qualifications and experience that the hiring manager is looking for.

“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,” says Brianne Toole, vice president and head of the west-coast practice 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.

“On the investment banking side, they’re looking for somebody who already has a couple of years under their belt working on similarly sized deals and strong knowledge of the particular investment product or strategy type who doesn’t need a lot of training,” she says. “They want someone who doesn’t need any handholding.”

Not having an MBA puts you at a disadvantage, especially for candidates whose undergraduate degree isn’t in business/finance or isn’t from a top-tier college.

Many professionals 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 typically 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 says.

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 says. “Do you have a sense of humor? Are you stiff? Nervous? Or are you the type of person who has shown you are able to push through whatever obstacles or hurdles you have encountered? That 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 says. “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 says.

Toole says it also helps to be tech-savvy.

“A lot of the banks like to see people with a programming background, since that’s where the business is moving, and coding is a skill set that a lot of the senior guys are lacking,” she says. “Having that technical background and computer skills will help.”

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 contacts you can – your school alumni network, family friends or neighbors, and ex-colleagues – to help your chances,” Keizner says. “Getting one informational interview at a target firm is more beneficial than ten random web applications.”

It’s all about who you know, Toole says.

“If you fail to get a job, it means you’re failing to leverage your network properly,” she says. “Use your alumni networks to get your foot in the 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 says. “Are you going to be able to progress through the group?

“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," she says.

Photo credit: lker Çekiç/iStock/Thinkstock

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