There are several things that I wish I had known at the beginning of my college years. What not to do as much as what to do, and realising that the odd misstep is OK on the way to your first banking job.
I've just secured an M&A job at a large U.S. investment bank on Wall Street in 2017. These are my tips for getting in.
Fair or not, you’re going to have an uphill battle if you’re not from a target school
Attending one of a particular bank’s target schools can make a huge difference. Sure, a lot of people from non-target colleges break into investment banking, which is fine and dandy, but I was thinking once it comes to P.E. recruiting or getting promoted to the associate level at a bank that it would matter less which school you went to and more where you work, but the whole where-you-went-to-school thing still persists.
If you go to Wharton or another Ivy League school, you’re set for life, whereas even if you’re really good but didn’t go to a target school, banks will still hire the Wharton guy over you. Plus, later on, it's really difficult to networking your way to a PE job if you haven't been to a target school.
Start building your network right away
Your network is literally everything when it comes to getting a job.
It’s never too early to start networking with peers, older students who are on track to join the financial services industry, faculty and professionals currently working at an investment bank. You need to build network during your college career to get internships and eventually a full-time job, then you have to build a whole new network once you’re in the industry.
It’s a lot harder to network effectively than some people realize. There is a low percentage who get into banking in the first place, and a low percentage of those who get into PE or who stay in investment banking and make managing director. There are typically at least 10 analysts for every MD, so the funnel gets smaller and it gets harder and harder to get referrals from people who you already know.
I made friends, both in class and in the banking society that I was a member of, and they helped me get my sophomore investment banking internship – they put my resume through to the right people. After they graduated, some reached out to help me out and others responded when I reached out to them, but I do wish I had more actively networked with more people.
One big thing I noticed, and I didn’t think it made any sense, you can have a high G.P.A., the best internships, the best work and activity experience while at university, but if you don’t have someone to put your resume through, it doesn’t matter. Applying through a bank’s careers portal isn’t effective. HR directors at the big banks don’t look at them – they don’t have the time or inclination to look at random resumes that come through their website, so networking is key.
Normally what happens is you’ll find someone who works at a bank you want to work for, either an analyst or an associate, and you reach out and tell that person you’re interested in working there. You ask, “Do you have time to talk?” If they say yes, you talk to them and start building a rapport. Two months later you call them again, two months later you call them up again, and two months later you follow up again and say, “Recruiting season is coming up, I want to get a job at your bank – can you put my resume through to HR?”
If they like you, they’ll set up an interview on campus, over the phone or via video. Eventually, you’ll get an in-person interview with another banker or more than one.
If they don’t like you, you won’t hear back. Or it will be like when you ask a girl, “Do you want to get dinner?” and she says “I’ll have to see what my schedule is looking like” – a soft no.
If you’re trying to break into a particular industry like investment banking, you have to have a strategy from when you’re a sophomore at the latest and steadily build up your network and work experience.
The work-life balance is tough to adapt to
Work-life balance is difficult, especially going from college where you spend 15 hours screwing around in class and socializing almost every night to sitting at a desk for 90 hours or more every week. Working at an investment bank is a big change from taking a nap whenever you want and cramming for a test or finishing an assignment the night before. Once they start a banking job, many people stop exercising and have unhealthy lifestyles.
Once you start an IBD analyst position, you’re not only trying to figure out how best to do your job, you’re reaching out to the older generation at the bank, and you have to help the younger people, taking phone calls from the students who want to work as interns in the summer and summer analysts who want full-time positions, all the while thinking of a PE job. Doing the job in general requires 80 to 90 hours per week, plus you’ve all these kids reaching out to you, while being contacted by headhunters, so it’s very hard to balance all of that and have a social life.
My biggest mistake
When I interviewed for the job I have now, I made a huge mistake, although luckily I was able to act fast and recover from it.
I couldn’t interview for a good portion of my junior year because I was sick. At a certain point, even though I wasn’t 100% healthy, I started going to super days and got some interviews.
I went into this particular interview confident, because I had a high G.P.A., very good activities and experience, and did an investment banking internship the previous summer. They asked me a question about one of the deals I worked on, and I talked about a private placement that I played a key role in. Then they asked the typical “Why do you want to work at the bank? Why do you want to be a banker?” I had all the attributes they were looking for, and I sensed that I was in the home stretch. Then they asked me, “If we gave you an offer today, on the spot, would you accept it now?” I could tell they wanted me to say yes, but I was thinking about the other interviews I had lined up and I said something like “I don’t have enough information about the offer, but I would certainly strongly consider it.” They went on to deliver a sales pitch about how great the firm is.
Afterward, it didn’t sit right with me, so I went to the career center and told them what I told the interviewers and realized I had made a mistake. I thought about sleeping on it and emailing the next morning, but I called all my friends at the bank for help, and they advised me: “They’re making decisions right now – send the email right now.” So I did – I sent an email right away to mitigate my mistake, and it influenced the decision others. Later I found out others weren’t given offers because they were “overqualified” – that is, the interviewers felt that they weren’t going to accept an offer, at least not right away, so they went with people like me who demonstrated more enthusiasm.
You need people in your corner
It goes to show, it’s so important to have people who would vouch for you. You are a commodity – you’re not special. You’re like a snowflake – even if every snowflake is a unique individual, it doesn’t matter, because snow is now. Everyone applying for investment banking jobs is smart has a great resume. Essentially, it all comes down to who you know and who likes you. Find people on campus who are pursuing a banking career and throw the football or Frisbee around, get a beer with them, just like you’re making a friend, which is kind of what networking is like, but a professional friend. That’s especially important if you’re from a non-target school like I am.
I ended up getting a couple of good offers from investment banks and took the better of the two. I graduate in May, and I’m starting as a full-time investment banking analyst in July. I have a month of training, then I’ll start at the desk I’m assigned to in August.
The author contributed this blog post on condition of anonymity. Luke Williams is a pseudonym.
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