Most students who end up in banking know that they want to get into the industry before they even start university. Stefani Kostadinova is a student in an Eastern European university set to graduate next month. To her, not only were banking jobs something of a mystery when she first started applying for internships, she needed some way of standing out to even get noticed by an investment bank.
Banks tend to hire students from a relatively small pool of universities, and Kostadinova wasn't a typical recruit. The best way of getting in front of potential employers if you don't have the 'right' background is to take part in one of the various student competitions that professional services firms and banks offer. It's one method that banks use to 'blind' recruit students who might not have ended up on their radar otherwise.
The competition Kostadinova ended up winning was run by the Credit Suisse Research Institute – called its Academy Challenge. Up until that point, she admits that she had only had a vague ambition of working for a bank, but this opportunity opened her eyes to the reality of what that really means.
Kostadinova's prize was getting to spend two weeks at the Credit Suisse headquarters in Zurich, where she rotated around the Swiss bank's various divisions. A lot of people have a burning desire to work for one area of the bank – usually M&A – and will relentlessly chase a place on that desk. The good thing about rotating around is that you get to see parts of the business that you'd probably never have thought of as a 'banking' job. She was drawn to strategic and managerial roles, so the internship both made her realise she wanted to work in banking and exactly which job she wanted to end up in.
"By witnessing what people from markedly different departments of the group did, I was inspired by those who worked in strategic and managerial roles," Kostadinova said. "Interning at Credit Suisse convinced me of my passion for finance, but it also did something much more valuable – it gave me the push I needed to realize that I would like to work in a strategic management function at a financial institution and help solve problems."
Another part of the prize was being given the chance to co-author a report on the future of monetary policy with Credit Suisse executives and then present it at World Economic Forum in Davos in front of a packed room of press and heavy-hitters. It was a challenging, nerve-wracking and exhilarating experience, she said. But it also allowed her to rub shoulders with senior bankers – including CEO Tidjane Thiam – and work with other professionals on a report for the first time. Working with other students on a class project is a different experience entirely.
Kostadinova says she is definitely still considering banking and finance as a career option, and now she has a much clearer idea of what it is that she eventually wants to do professionally within the industry. More immediately, she recently heard that she's been accepted by New York University's Stern School of Business, where she will be pursuing an MBA.
A lot of students don't enter competitions such as the CRSI Academy Challenge because they don't believe that they have a chance. The lesson here? Throw your hat into the ring and give it your best shot.
"Considering all that I experienced, winning the CSRI challenge was a life-changing event for me," Kostadinova said. "Having the opportunity to speak at a place where the world’s decision makers discuss global issues and to meet CEOs, leaders of central banks, heads of institutions, politicians, entrepreneurs, and renowned professors that I had admired for a while is a dream come true."
Photos courtesy of Credit Suisse