Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Riding on the Finance Train

If you attend an Ivy League or another leading institution, it's hard not to know what investment banking is. As a freshman, I was surprised to find career fairs filled with investment banks and financial firms (over 80% of firms at the fair). Though I didn't know what ibanking was before college, I soon realized that it was the thing everyone wanted to pursue, regardless of one's interest and fit for the job. So because of peer pressure and an overachieving environment, I also considered banking and ultimately found myself on the finance track (yes, I know many will call that toolish).

I was lucky in that a huge percentage of alumni at my school pursue finance, and many firms come here to recruit. Although I didn't attend firm presentations nor network at my school, I do have the opportunity to make connections with alumni and upperclassmen. Even religion and sociology majors at my schoool have opportunities to work in finance.

My interests were in hard science and chemistry research, which many consider to be a disadvantage relative to finance and economics concentrators. But from a recruiting standpoint, after getting an interview, the most important thing is to get along with the recruiters, alumni, and interviewers at firms and give a story about one's background - why I would fit in the industry and what I could offer over all other candidates. In the end, I snabbed five offers in Investment Banking, Equity Research, and Fixed Income Trading all at bulge bracket firms (and within the last year - generally considered the worst market for undergraduates and especially for finance in recent times).

What I had going for me:
  • attending a top school
  • having a quantitative background
  • having good scores and grades
  • pursuing activities and taking classes that I enjoy - which translated into enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity during my interviews
But I also did not have any "extra" advantages or special ways into finance:
  • I don't have any alumni or family connections
  • I am far from a market maven or business whiz (I didn't even know the difference between Sales and Trading and Investment Banking in my interviews)
  • I did not even consider finance until the middle of sophomore year
  • I did not pay for formal business preparation from professional websites
  • I haven't taken any accounting or finance courses
  • I have not purchased Vault guides or industry books
  • I don't belong to business-oriented associations at my school (where many of my peers have leveraged contacts to getting internship positions)
Every student in college will have a different background. Since completing my internship, I have realized that my recruiting experience was not the most common one, but it also was not uncommon. There are many small but significant tricks behind the resume and interview process that can help students, from any background, land an internship or full-time offer.

In my experience, most students who have pursued internships or full-time jobs in finance tend to think narrowly about what one needs to do in order to get in the door: network with the right people, take finance-oriented courses, take on many leadership roles. I am not saying that these are bad or unhelpful in one's finance application - these traditional paths work for many. Yet unconventional times calls for unconventional approaches. Instead of prescribing a "right" way to snab a dream job, my experience encourages potential bankers (and consultants) to carefully assess their suitability for the position, and then strategize a plan of attack to be successful in the resume, interview, and internship process.

In the following posts, I will go in-depth into my own experience - from the writing of my resume to what I have been doing after the internship. Stay tuned!

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