I am a student at the London School of Economics. I study Political Science. I have been at 20 institutions so far for work experience. Just to clarify, this experience was off my own back and not gained via people my dad knows. He in fact is a barber and my mother is ill and doesn’t work.
The current labour market is choppy, with hundreds, if not thousands of students like me and you going for the top jobs within the investment banking industry. Current banking employees slave away, sifting through piles of CVs to find the few gems that they wish to employ, or at least interview. How do you become one of those gems? How do you stand out?
These days, banks and financial institutions are incredibly averse to letting ‘outsiders’ in to experience what it's like to work on a trading desk or spectate a current M&A deal. Whereas once it might have been possible to get this kind of experience, banks now cite insurance and regulation as reasons to turn you away. Personally, I've been rejected over 500 times and have had plenty more ignored emails. I've only managed to get work experience at 20 institutions…
You do the mathematics - it's hard to get noticed. It once took me 57 emails to get a “I will chat with you for five minutes” reply from a trader at an institution.
How do you overcome this problem? Experience. All experience will make your look better on paper than the rest of the schmucks applying for a job. Experience matters not just because you learn valuable skills, but because it shows you’re a damn hard worker who will stop at nothing to get what is needed to be done, done. This is particularly important in the highly competitive world of finance. If you think people will give you business, information and their time on a plate, then you are wrong.
‘How do you get that experience?’ Think of it as a brick wall that you need to kick down one brick at a time. Start with the weak bricks at the top and work your way to the strongest bricks at the bottom. In other words, start with small firms and then work your way to the bulge bracket banks like J.P. Morgan and Goldman. Use every method of attack possible, whether it be cold calling, emailing or marching yourself into various firms with your CV; at some point, those bricks will buckle and the foundations will crumble, you will find a way in.
Once you're in, leverage every person you come into contact with. Remember that receptionists and assistants are as - if not more - important that those doing the grinding on a trading desk. Receptionists and assistants know everyone. They can help to locate and introduce you to people. Once you start to leverage the relationships you make properly within smaller institutions, you will find more and more ‘bricks’ to kick in. More opportunities will unfold and your CV will start to accumulate golden experience in no time.
Start as early as possible. And to quote Winston Churchill, never, never, never, give up.
John Bradford is the pseudonym of an incoming summer analyst at a US bank in London.
Photo credit: Reject or Accept? by Simon Lieschke is licensed under CC BY 2.0.