A few weeks ago, I explained why I feel that, despite increased regulatory scrutiny and a less obvious path to personal fortune, Wall Street is still a great place to begin a career.
Now for the hard part – one of the questions I get asked most frequently – how do I get a job on Wall Street? I’ll skip over the obvious answers (“Excel academically at a target recruiting school.”) and everything else I assume you already know.
Having started as an intern at Salomon Brothers (Citigroup) before joining the firm full-time and working in New York, London, and Hong Kong, I know well what it takes, especially having come from a university most banks didn’t recruit from. So here are a few tips for getting a job on Wall Street:
Putting aside the fact that rich kids have a better chance of getting into top universities and also don’t have to work two jobs to pay their way through school, nepotism is rampant on Wall Street.
In my experience, banks hire a disproportionate number of relatives of tycoons, captains of industry, and government officials with the expectation that it pays dividends in the form of business from their influential families.
But even the average rich kids have a leg up. They probably have more contacts (successful aunts and uncles, their father’s golfing buddies, etc.) that have connections. And they can lean on family brokers or wealth advisors to pull some strings or at least send a CV above the computer algorithms that screen tens of thousands of job applications and directly into the hands of a decision maker.
Also, who’s going to subsidize any unpaid internships or underwrite a summer in some expensive city while you’re trying to build out an impressive CV? Thanks, Mom and Dad. Before my junior year, I had already done prestigious internships in tech (New York City) and finance (London).
Don’t have rich parents? Don’t worry, there’s still hope.
Start early by mirroring the profiles of friends or recent graduates you know who have matriculated to an investment bank. Study and emulate their LinkedIn page, even down to the verbiage they use to describe interests and experiences. While you’re at it, connect with them and reach out for guidance and mentorship.
Differentiate yourself. Sign up for the CFA. Learn how to use a Bloomberg terminal; most school libraries have them. Take classes on equity valuation and fixed income securities. Attend a Wall Street boot camp. If nothing else, this demonstrates a hunger and devotion. Banks are tired of investing in kids, only to see them depart for Silicon Valley after a year or two.
Finally, it’s OK to lie. Just be smart about it. Lower your handicap to single digits, make yourself president of a school investment club, and upgrade your SCUBA experience to advanced. As long as you can pitch a stock articulately and recount the serenity of Belize’s Great Blue Hole, you shouldn’t have a problem.
Know and understand the cultural differences between investment banks, and also between the various divisions within a bank (M&A vs. Sales & Trading, etc.). This sounds obvious, and in fact, most candidates have a basic understanding. But they have no idea what it really means in terms of culture, hierarchy, compensation, and the day-to-day scope of the job.
Control the conversation. Bankers like talking about themselves, so ask questions that make them feel smart and in their comfort zone. This is where it also helps to have rich parents. While most kids were getting grilled on bond math, I‘ve spent entire interviews swapping boarding school tales and recommending hotels in Zanzibar.
Be up to date on current events and ready to explain their implications on financial markets. Most banks have evolved beyond asking how many manholes are in Manhattan or how much you’d charge to wash all the windows in Canary Wharf. They want to know that, in addition to intellect, you have a passion and clear understanding of what you are getting into. So read the Financial Times, and sign up for free online trials of industry rags like Global Capital and International Financing Review.
Guys, that means a single-breasted, two-button suit, with a plain shirt and a simple tie. No Hermes or Gucci. Just make sure the knot (half Windsor) is tight and the shoes are shiny. Ladies, keep it simple with an elegant pantsuit or skirt, close-toed heels, and low-key jewelry. Feel free to showcase any physical attributes that you think most men will appreciate. Sorry if that sounds unfair; that’s just how it is. My first boss in London referred to the hiring of women as “The Office Beautification Project” and he’s still there.
This represents the culmination of all of your efforts and is one of the most important things you can do to secure a job on Wall Street. Banks recruit most of their incoming analysts from their Summer Analyst pool. It’s simply a way of saving time and money, and picking up proven talent. That doesn’t leave many openings for everybody else, especially when you consider the seats they’re saving for Malia Obama, the offspring of Chinese tycoons, and the Summer Analysts who didn’t get offers at Goldman. And when it comes to turning that internship into a job offer, here are a few tips for that too.
John LeFevre is the creator of @GSElevator on Twitter, and the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Straight To Hell: True Tales of Deviance, Debauchery, And Billion-Dollar Deals