Sunday, January 31, 2010

Steps to interview success in finance

A decent amount of preparation is necessary to succeed in a first round 30 minute interview. Don't be overprepared and script your answers. But, there are five key actions you should take to set yourself up for success.

1. Know your story.
If you don't know why you are applying for the job and how to articulate that, don't bother reading the rest of this.

2. Know the firm you're applying for and know the news.
Yes, it's easy to get firms confused and their cultures may all seem the same. But, they have executed different deals lately and you need to show that you are interested in that firm.

3. Take advantage of all interactions with employees, especially your "interview buddy", prior to your interview to get as much information on what to expect.
Many firms set you up with an alum from your school when you are preparing for your first round interview. This means you should ask all those questions you were too embarrassed or unwilling to get answered in other forums. This is an opportunity to learn what the job is really about, and how the firm selects those who advance to get the offer. For example, Goldman Sachs employees will emphasize how important it is to know how to succeed in a team-oriented environment; so when you have to answer the question "what is your greatest accomplishment," choose something that you are obviously take pride in but also demonstrates your collaboration and leadership. Every alum will emphasize something different at each firm, and try to pick up on what they are saying not explicitly but implicitly. Many times these alums don't have a say in your decision, so they are there strictly as resources.

4. Practice talking aloud when you go over mock questions.
When you try to go over the logic in your head, everything may become muddled together. Speak aloud when you are thinking of what to say, as you will know what to emphasize based on importance and how it will sound.

5. Be confident.
At the end of day, just be confident. If you have the right attitude people will come to listen to what you have to say.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

McKinsey, Bain and BCG cultures

McKinsey, Bain and Boston Consulting Group are known as the premier management consulting firms. They are extremely selective in who they let in, and offers are handed out not only on merit but on your fit for the firm.

So, if one had to generalize, what are the cultures of these firms? Be forewarned that these are not completely accurate, but rather one way of looking at things that are not necessarily true in every context.

McKinsey sells itself as a "team of leaders." They also have a huge public service bent, serving as a platform for budding politicians. McKinsey tends to hire charismatic, people-leaders who know how to sell anything and everything. A potential drawback at the firm is the level of toolishness, and the inclination to talk crap about the two the B's. They do think they are the gold standard of management consulting, given their strong brand. McK operates on a Monday through Thursday traveling model, where teams and consultants spend most of their time on ground at the client site. This makes for interesting and global travel.

Bain is the youngest of the top three firms, both in firm history and corporate culture. Others may call the firm fratty, as the bulk of hires each year tend to be recently minted college grads. The main drawback is the need to socialize and hang out with colleagues. Bain has made a huge rise as of late and is known for being incredibly entrepreneurial and innovative, creating affiliated organizations in specialized practice areas. Bain Capital, a private equity firm, and Bridgespan Group, a non-profit consulting arm, are two well-known and industry leader spinoffs from the firm. People are known to be extremely personable and the most well-balanced in terms if having a life outside of work.

Boston Consulting Group is an business practice innovator, with their consultants penning many of the frameworks used by all consulting firms in analyzing client data. As a result, BCG tends to have a more academic and intellectual bent than the other firms. BCG is all about the consultant, a post MBA position, though Associates (undegrad hires) are known for getting high-level responsibility almost tantamount to the consultant line of work. BCG is often called the high society of consulting, with a professional and proper attitude of its consultants in everything they do.

Friday, January 29, 2010

How to write a memorable "Thank You"

MDs get hundreds of thank you emails over a week, especially if it's recruiting season.

Most of these fall into the "standard," boring category. In other words, these emails rip the style and content of what the university career center tells them to do. Toolish, impersonal writing will not leave a memorable impression in your favor.

Thank you emails are extremely low risk but have the potential to be high reward.

If you hit it off with the interviewer, and mention something personal you took away from your conversation, he or she will remember you. At the end of a interviewing day, when the banker/trader/consultant has seen at least 20 rehearsed applicants, it's hard to stand out. And the interviewer knows a good chunk of the interviewees were not that interested in the first place.

Beyond including a personal shout out, we've helped students in the past who used the thank you email to keep in touch with their interviewers, regardless of whether they advanced or not.

If the interviewer just didn't like you, it's not worth staying in touch or trying to convert your conversation into a networking opportunity.

But I'd say that 80% of the applicants interviewed just didn't have enough industry, inside knowledge to land the job, and that with more practice and knowledge they landed positions for full time. Part of that recruiting success comes from knowing people who will go to bat for you down the line. Some people are willing to mentor or give advice to young people more than others!

So, what should a great thank you email look like?

First, keep it short - no more than 5-6 sentences. No one will read beyond that.

Don't use flowerly language or be over the top with positive words describing the firm, especially since everyone does that and it makes you sound insincere. Consider the 1 or 2 things that YOU found unique to the firm/interviewer, and highlight those.

Contain a short reminder of what you talked about during the interview, which gives the other person the opportunity to recall what you said and his/her impressions of you.

Last, include a closing line that shows you're interest in the interviewer -- that you'd be sure to let them know of what happens, etc. If the interview was extremely personal and all-fit, and you both had a shared interest, maybe include an interesting article link or something to that effect. That always runs well!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Thinking outside of the box when you're inside one

Cracking the case interview for management consulting positions is an acquired skill.

The common pitfalls are
  • to memorize Case In Point or any other preparation guide.
  • to try to be too creative and confuse the interviewer completely
  • fail to justify your arguments and ideas with the evidence presented to you
  • to forget how to crunch and apply numbers to substantiate your claims
  • to forget to apply a "sanity check" on your solutions and recommendations
My advice is to practice around twenty cases to become familiar and comfortable with the process.

Beyond that, when you are in the interviewing room and need to separate yourself from an already accomplished set of students, you will need to think outside of the box while delivering your thoughts in a linear, articulate, and professional manner.

Remember that the cases given to you were actual problems the consultants have solved over the past few months or even year. They know what were terrible approaches, average approaches, and exceptional ways to solve the problem.

To "crack the case" means that you will go through a similar process of research, analysis, and delivery as the consultant did in his actual work.

Always drive yourself to get to the final answer - and directly nail the question the interviewer posed at the very beginning. Don't get sidetracked if you miss a sub-part of the question. The point is to stay focused and explore the most high impact avenues to arrive at the final answer.

Remember to think about the ramifications of the question that was asked -- this is what interviewers think as being "inside the box", as parts of the process of solving a problem is duplicable from one profit cutting case to the next, from one merger strategy to the next, and so forth.

However applying one way of thinking to every problem will not get you the job. As I said, don't memorize frameworks and force fit them into a problem you get. This is the number one pet peeve interviewers have.

The most successful interviewees demonstrate that they can "think outside of the box" -- they come up with client recommendations that were better, meaning more original, feasible, and client-friendly, than the actual ones that were delivered by professional consultants.

There was only one summer business analyst hired to work at McKinsey from Wharton last year. There are literally only a few slots open from each school for consultant interns at the other top management consulting firms. Some years, zero interns are hired from some top target schools.

The way to stand out is to not only nail the case but to kill it. Doing that requires original thinking and getting the basics right.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Crisp, Concise and Compelling: How to win with your cover letter

We've had the fortune of reviewing a ton of cover letters since the site started.

On the whole, most cover letters from applicants fall into the "average" and "generic" range. They reiterate something taken from the firm's website, talk about their leadership in X club, and say that they have always been interested in banking or consulting since an earlier internship.

This type of content is perfectly fine and shows your genuine interest in the field.

However, just listing a few main points to answer questions doesn't do enough to "sell you."

Where most cover letters fall short of being exceptional is framing their background in a way that is crisp, concise and compelling.

How to be CRISP

Firms are obsessed with their culture. But that doesn't mean you should talk about culture incessantly in the cover letter.

Make your points strongly and boldly, and then move on to another point. Don't refer back to culture more than once, or to one of your skills more than once. Recruiters have THOUSANDS of resumes and cover letters to read through, and if you make your writing longer or more complex than it needs to be, they may just skip over your documents and automatically reject you.

There's a term known as "MECE" in consulting speak -- meaning Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive. Be as MECE as possible in your cover letter -- choose those activities and experiences that say everything you want to say while avoiding repetition.


Don't repeat words, phrases and buzz words just to sound like you know what you're talking about.

It's irritating for a reviewer.


When answering the question of "why work at Goldman/any bank?" nearly 90% of applicants mention a business principle that they are impressed with.

To make the cover letter even stronger, the most successful applicants demonstrate that they have met or even exceeded the business principle in the past -- through work at school or with an organization. Reviewers will be impressed with the applicant's understanding of the principle and how they've applied it in the past. This applicant will have higher chances of getting the job because the recruiter recognizes he or she will be a great cultural fit for the firm.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Advice for Sophomores wanting to break in, nailing the "weakness" question, and more

Today I'll be answering readers' questions, which are really helpful for those going through interviews -

1. I am sophomore at an Ivy League School and have a 3.4 GPA. I know there are no consulting internships for sophomores and good marketing ones are hard to come by. I am open to doing banking but it isn't where my true interest is--honestly I don't find the material that fascinating. What do you recommend I look for in a market that truly prefers juniors?

If your end goal is to land a summer internship as a junior or full time job at McKinsey / Bain / BCG, here's a list of what you should look at, in order of priority:
  • Look at consulting boutiques in every industry -- marketing, management, operations, technology, and so forth. By having consulting experience under your belt, the top management consultancies and marketing firms can see demonstrated interest and that you are serious in pursuing it as a career. Also, by having prior consulting experience, McKinsey / Bain / BCG and other firms will recognize that you are NOT one of the thousands of Ivy Leaguers who applies without knowing what consulting is. Many times some top boutiques do the same work as MBB but in a specialized industry (i.e. just healthcare, just media, you get the idea). So the type of exposure you'd be getting is similar to that at MBB and will prepare you well for junior year recruiting.
  • Second, management consulting firms look very highly upon finance internships, and in particular investment banking internships. This is because those with very strong quantitative skills tend to do very well in consulting -- it is an industry largely filled with those who can demonstrate linear, structured thinking to clients. I'd say as a consultant you are bound to work on a case where you need to make financial projections, and those coming from investment banking have familiarity with doing that.
Something to note here is that, if you can, you should really aim to get a position at a well-known firm, or a bulge bracket for finance, since it will do more to get your resume noticed and selected for a first round interview. A top notch internship will often overcome concerns about an average GPA.

In other words, if there are two candidates, MBB will often choose the 1st person over the 2nd.
Person 1. Ivy League, 3.5 GPA, junior summer internship at Goldman Sachs Tech, Media, Telecom Banking

Person 2. Same Ivy League school, 3.9 GPA, spend junior summer doing science research at school

2. How do you answer "what is your greatest weakness" in an interview?

First off, choose a real weakness -- don't try to twist a weakness into a strength because they know you're bullshitting.

Choose something distant (at least a year back) and something that doesn't reflect badly on how you would do on the job. Make sure you address how you have taken steps to improve.

Be anecdotal so that the interviewer understands clearly and easily what you are saying. Being specific also lets the interviewer know you are being sincere.

For example, for sales & trading, one student talked about a group project at school. He said that he is a hard worker and at times very intense, to the extent that sometimes he can be short to others and come off as abrasive. He then added that ever since that group project he has taken effort to develop good working relationships with others early on, and then was able to drive stronger results as a team.

3. How do I answer the "Why consulting / Why IBD / why finance?" question?

Your answer should be unique, as I've written about before.

Beyond that, stylistically, you should be as linear and clear as possible.

It should be logical, well thought-out, self-aware, and really hit home the elements of a firm's culture, work, and employees (to show that you've done due diligence on the firm).

At the same time, don't "spin" too much because you may seem naive and insincere.

Ranking your office preferences for McKinsey, Bain, BCG

So some of you have asked about how to rank offices to max your chances of getting the offer, getting into business school, and to achieve other ends.

Here's my advice:

If you want to break into private equity: Boston, New York, and San Fran have the most exposure to those clients.

If you want to get into Harvard business school / Graduate School of Business at Stanford / Wharton: from my view it may be harder to get into NY or Boston office of MBB, but that doesn't mean consultants from NY / Boston have a higher chance of getting into a top business school. MBB all place very well in top B schools, regardless of office location. Keep in mind, for B-School , the location doesn't matter as much as the type of experience and level of exposure. It can be argued that a candidate is slightly more attractive for B school if he's in SF/ NY -- with exposure to large PE clients, F50 first, instead of Miami or Dallas where there can be local clients.

IF you want to land an internship offer or full time offer: IF you aren't an exceptional candidate relative to other applying at your school, I recommend that you place one of the less-sought regional offices as your top choice(s). For all three firms, there are more and less selective offices - meaning many applicants apply to the NY / SF / Boston offices but may not get them if it's a difficult year recruiting-wise. In that case, candidates can get offers for the "less selective" locations.

I don't normally comment on prestige of offices because I think it doesn't mean that much. Here are general thoughts on industry exposure according to office location (not necessarily true in every or most cases, so consider them for what they're worth):

  • For McKinsey, it doesn't matter so much which office you are staffed in since cases are staffed globally. For example, you can be based in Dallas and be working from San Fran, Atlanta, Hong Kong, or another international office.
  • For Bain, offices tend to do as much local work as possible, meaning there tends to be less travel than McK and BCG. So if you want to media, don't go to Atlanta.
  • For BCG, it is in-between McK and Bain in terms of case mix and amount of travel.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Standing out for the right reasons

"Why should I hire you?"

You are guaranteed to get this question in all your interviews. Answering this in a unique, compelling way will increase the chances that interviewers will remember you. Otherwise you are another nameless face in a pack of resumes when it comes to making offers.

We have given examples of outstanding stories that people used to land their jobs.

The point in answering this question is not to say something that you think is impressive. An interviewer has listened to bullshit pretty much all day. The last thing they want to hear is a wannabe banker/consultant regurgitate the Vault guide or something they heard from an informational session.

Studies have shown that people only listen to about 40% of what is said in a conversation. There's a higher probability that what you say will stick in the interviewer's head if your story is unique and personal while being interesting.

There is one caveat. Many readers have emailed us asking if they could spin their stories in a certain way to make themselves more interesting. In some cases, this "spinning" makes them sound like a complete tool. I can say from my experience that those who try to be too creative with their stories tend to fail, save those who truly are distinctive and can say something substantive about it and back it up.

Case in Point: A reader recently asked us if

1. he should use his ethnicity, first-immigration status, and lineage from an obscure tribe in his sell pitch during an interview

2. in response to a question -- "Can you give me an example where you faced a tough-love or tough-hate reaction in school and how you reacted to it?" -- use an anecdote about how people have been ignorant of his ethnicity (this was an actual interview question from an MD)

Stories about your political leanings and your ethnicity are on the risky side -- don't mention them unless the interviewer starts the conversation. If you are passionate about these topics, and are convinced that you absolutely want to bring them up in your story, be tactful and as objective as you possibly can.

This is easier said than done, which is why I advise against pitching yourself on these criteria. Of course you should take pride in your heritage, but that doesn't demonstrate any merit for why you are better for the job. It comes off as you trying too hard to stand out.

People holding unfair assumptions of you based on ethnicity is a terrible thing. But using such an anecdote to answer question 2 would not help you, in my opinion. This is because finance -- and especially trading -- requires thick skin and someone who can take insensitive comments. The MD is gauging how you respond to conflict and how you are proactive in resolving even the slightest conflict, since working well in teams is vital to doing well at the job.

In sum, as you prepare for interviews, keep this in mind:

The point is to be sincere about your desire to break into the industry, but not to say that too explicitly through a trite, overused story.

You demonstrate this candidly by using your own words and your own story to sell yourself.

Don't refer to things to make yourself sound impressive. I guarantee you will come off as insincere and a tool.

Have a sanity check on what you are planning to say. And think about what the interviewer is testing when he/she asks you a question.

Don't try to spin yourself out of answering a tough question because interviewers will know that you are dodging the point. Be candid and dispel any concerns the interviewer may have.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

How to get informational interviews

This commentary applies to you if:
  • you're a senior and looking to land a full time gig
  • you're a junior and haven't had any luck with getting interviews so far (it's still early)
  • you're a sophomore and the bulge brackets and management consultants won't look at you because you have no experience and don't stand out
  • you're a freshman and have no idea what banking / consulting / finance is
Basically, if you don't have a job and want to significantly increase your chances of landing one, you should know how to get informational interviews and then nail them.

1. What is an informational interview?
It takes place at the firm's headquarters or firm representatives come to your campus. You get to speak with people at all levels, from junior analysts to managing directors and partners. You get one on one time to talk about your interests, and get to ask those questions you can't get answered by Vault guides and even websites like these. You get a personal understanding of what goes on as a potential hire and learn about the type of people that tend to succeed at the firm.

2. What is there to gain from an informational interview?
As I've said before, it's hard to stand out in a pack of resumes. When everyone has a great GPA and great experiences to sell themselves, 75% of the time recruiters will give a first-round interview invite to students that showed initiative in learning more about the firm. This means getting on the phone, speaking with firm representatives in person, and reaching out to ANY contact. Few students take advice from firm employees and follow up.

McKinsey and other firms hold coffee chats with students on some college campuses. It takes initiative for a student to ask around or be on the lookout for these events, and there are limited slots open. Those students who end up having an informational session had a 50% chance of getting selected for a first round interview, which is much more promising than the average 7% invite rate.

3. How do I get informational interviews?
If you are set at working at a couple of firms, email a contact there (preferably couple months before the official resume drop or in advance of recruiting season if they don't recruit at your school). Don't ask for a job outright and don't email your resume in the first message.

Keep the email short - no more than 5 sentences - and mention the reason why you're contacting them (i.e. interested in learning about the industry, want to hear about his experience, how he / she broke in)

If you get a response, have a phone call with 3 or 4 pointed questions prepared.

If you don't, email others until you get a response.

Once you get a response, build rapport with the contact. Every couple months send an article over that might be of interest or give a few book suggestions. Be genuinely interested in what they have to say. Don't use these contacts as means to an end.

There's no guarantee that everyone will want to give you an informational interview over the phone or in person, but you need to keep contacting people and trying to be personable, friendly, and serious about wanting to break in. The ones that like you will give you a shot. Others may not but that's part of getting yourself noticed in a positive light.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

About us, Frequently Asked Questions, and Resume/Cover letters

1. Why did you start this site?

Despite being at a top school, our university career centers gave poor advice on how to write resumes for finance and consulting jobs. From working at top management consulting firms (McKinsey/Bain/Boston Consulting Group) and interning at a few of the bulge bracket investment banks (Goldman Sachs and others) in New York, we know exactly what the most selective firms are looking for.

We’ve reviewed hundreds of resumes from students, including those from target and non-target schools. We were also on the recruiting teams for our schools at our respective firms -- and have the experience of deciding who is given an interview slot and who isn’t.

Many people have the credentials --good grades, good scores, good experiences – but lack the inside perspective to write a winning resume/cover letter and subsequently nail the interview. At a target school (Ivy League plus MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, Michigan and other top undergrads where firms have formal recruiting cycles), it’s difficult to stand out among the pack of resumes. At one target school:

  • A bulge bracket received 500+ resumes for a sales & trading summer analyst position.
  • Only 32 interview slots were given out.

  • One MBB received 300+ resumes for a summer internship.
  • Only 20 first-round interview invites were handed out.

That means for about every 100 resumes seen, only 6 are interviewed -- this is where good writing and a solid story really make a difference when it comes to deciding who should be interviewed.

At a non-target, the standard is often even higher -- firms could fill their entire analyst and summer internship classes with students from target schools, and thus it’s absolutely necessary to have the resume/cover letter in top shape.

This is a no-nonsense look at these fields. We give the most realistic, personalized advice out there.

2. What's your background?

We attended a target school. In finance, we worked at bulge bracket firms. In consulting, we worked at one of the top management consulting firms–McKinsey, Bain, Boston Consulting Group (MBB).

We managed to successfully land positions at the most selective firms because we pitched our stories in our resumes and cover letters.

We did this without having special advantages and without traditional backgrounds. We DID NOT have:

  • any alumni or family connections
  • a pre-professional education in business/finance
  • formal (case) interview preparation from other websites
  • resumes/cover letters reviewed by other professional editing services

In spite of this, we were specifically told by recruiters at the top firms that our resumes were the highest rated in our starting classes.

We didn’t mimic the resume templates already out there. We customized our applications to portray our strengths in the highest light.

We were successful in landing our jobs through experience, insight, and judgment.

We’ve each been through over 60 interviews and know how interviewers will ask questions based on how the resume is written. It is crucial to have your story down, know how to think off your feet based on what you have done in the past, and steer the interview and resume to your strengths. Having this success in recruiting all starts with the resume and the cover letter.

3. Who have you helped break into banking and consulting?

We've reviewed hundreds of resumes of students from:

  • Liberal arts backgrounds (with no finance / economics coursework)
  • Engineering backgrounds
  • Math/Economics/Finance backgrounds
  • Non-targets and semi-targets, including: a Business and History major who wanted to work in consulting; a freshman who wanted to start getting finance experiences; an Arts & Sciences student wanted to break into a hedge fund at a university with an undergraduate business school; a Math major who wanted to do risk management at a bulge bracket
  • Top targets, including : those with prior internships at Goldman Sachs who wanted to move into consulting for full-time; those who interned at Sales and Trading for their sophomore summer and wanted to move into Investment Banking for their next summer internship; a Neuroscience major who wanted to do banking his junior summer; an Art History major who landed a job at a hedge fund; and countless others
  • Those with no finance or consulting experience whatsoever

Regardless of your background, there is a right way to write a resume and specific core competencies recruiters are looking for.

Unless you’ve successfully landed jobs at several firms in the past and have been on the recruiting team, you wouldn’t have a clue of what is an exceptional resume and what is a good one.

We have the inside perspective to help you start landing those interviews.

4. How is your cover letter and resume review service different from others?

  1. Our editors include past management consultants, investment bankers, traders, equity researchers, and those who worked at hedge funds and in the investment management division of bulge bracket banks. When we receive your resume, the editor reviewing it has worked in the same position you are applying for — and will give a personalized, professional re-write. At other sites, the editor is oftentimes someone who works only in one position (e.g. in investment banking) and can only give general feedback for someone applying to trading or consulting — they do not provide detailed and precise knowledge on how your resume will be reviewed by the recruiters at the division you're applying for.
  2. At least two editors will review your resume/cover letter. So say you are applying to sales & trading and investment banking -- you will get feedback from people in both positions. You tell us what you're applying for, and we'll give you tailored advice at one price.
  3. We have an incentive system where the editor’s interest is aligned with your interest. After getting your winning resume, you provide feedback and give a rating, which determines that editor’s discretionary pay.
  4. Editing is a two-way process, and it doesn't end with the resume or cover letter. We give extensive, actionable comments, and will ask you to makeover parts for our immediate review. This means you will get to know how your reviewer thinks, and afterwards learn how to pitch yourself in a light that resonates with recruiters and interviewers at any firm for any position.

Monday, January 11, 2010

How to turn business cards into your high-powered contacts

It helps a lot to have a point of contact at a firm. An insider can coach you through the interview process and gives tips on who you'll be interviewing with. They can also put a good word in for you to HR. When you are in the "maybe" pool, having a contact more often than not can make you get the offer. It goes without saying that the odds tip in your favor when you have a contact.

We've had posts on how to collect business cards at networking events and informational sessions. Remember to have a casual conversation and try to get to know each analyst or MD beyond work. If given the chance, talk about where you grew up, where you like going on vacations, what music you listen to, any interesting books you read lately. MDs don't forget it students that have shared interests.

To illustrate, a politics student at an East Coast university talked with an alum, an MD at a bulge bracket firm, about recent elections. The student had worked on the Obama campaign, while the alum had worked on a campaign one summer as an undergrad. The alum mentioned a fundraising event for a candidate, and invited the student to attend even before the student had followed up. The student attended, had built a strong connection with the alum, and got to learn about the alum's job and the industry as a whole. This was the student's "way into" banking.

What should you take away from this?

At informational sessions on campus or at networking sessions, there are always a huddle of students around each analyst or MD. Do have your questions prepared, and also listen in on what they are saying to other students. If the MD and analyst are alums, they are bound to talk about what it was like being an undergrad -- what clubs, teams, classes they were a part of -- and you can strike up a more personal, enjoyable conversation based on the alum's interests.

Maintain professional presence and talk as if you would to a professor you know well. By striking the right balance between professional drive and being personable, you stand a greater shot of landing your dream job.

Friday, January 8, 2010

A non-target success story

This is a guest post by an investment banker at a bulge bracket firm. He attended a non-target school in the mid-west, where no firms come to recruit. Here's his story on how he took a spot at a prestigious firm away from a target school kid.

Hope 2010 is going well for everyone. My first week of the new decade has been packed and hectic at work. It looks like I'll be in the office this weekend--such is the life of a banker!

I started at my bank in June 2008. My journey here was a long one, and I'd like to share my tips and tricks into the industry.

I grew up in the mid-west and decided to attend a public university near home. I had no clue what investment banking was at that time. And it isn't something on the radar where I went to school. There were no info sessions and as far as I know few, if any, who went into banking. That means I didn't have a network base to tap into to learn more about it.

It wasn't until I took a class my junior fall on Investments that I seriously thought about finance. My professor was a trader at a hedge fund for the past 15 years and quit in 2005 before disaster hit. I did well in that course and was ambitious enough to believe I could do it as a career.

I went to my professor's office hours and did my due diligence on trading as a career. I asked him the hard questions - why he had left and if he regretted doing trading. It sounded like a great way to apply my finance knowledge, and make a killing for a few years.

I asked my professor for any contacts he had, for anyone who wouldn't mind my getting in touch. I started reading the Economist, Deal Breaker, and industry classics (Liar's Poker, Barbarians at the Gate), so that I really knew what was going on in the markets.

I got on the phone with traders at hedge funds in Chicago. Because I came from a non-target, the trader did not expect me to have ANY idea what trading was, much less what was going on the markets. He asked me what I thought would happen with a couple indices in the next year and in the next five years. I didn't know what the indices were (one was a credit derivatives index), but I responded by explaining the market dislocation for agency securities. The trader held the same exact view--he was impressed, and put in me in touch with recruiting at the firm.

I was lucky to know how to respond to that answer -- it was my big break. I ended up doing an internship in Chicago that summer, learning anything and everything about the markets. I rotated through three product trading desks, and got high reviews.

I went in an hour earlier than anyone else and left an hour later than everyone--I worked my ass off! I joined professional industry groups and other networking groups for traders. I went to at least one event every weekend to meet others in the industry. My advice is to be vocal and talk to as many people as you can at these events--I am not an extremely extroverted person but realized I needed to find other people to learn the ins and outs of different firms and positions. By the end of the summer, I'd been to around 20 networking events and had met around 130 people, a couple of which became my good friends.

As I went into senior year, I had a full time offer in hand from the hedge fund. I enjoyed and did well in trading. But given that I was a "late comer" to finance, there was a lot in finance I knew nothing about -- banking, asset management, prime brokerage, and even financial consulting.

I updated my contacts on how I was doing throughout the summer and at the end of my internship, asked if they would be up for meeting for lunch on a weekend or for coffee during the week. I ended up meeting 15 people, and they agreed to forward my resume and cover letter to the right people. I was open to pretty much any position, and played up the projects I worked on at the hedge fund. The people meeting with me knew that I could handle really quantitative work and also work with clients on the sales sides. They sent my resumes to a variety of positions -- these firms included boutique banks, a risk management firm, event-driven hedge funds, and bulge bracket firms. I cast a really wide net, because at the very least it would be a networking opportunity for me.

I didn't waste any time and started preparing for informational interviews. This means knowing the news, brushing up on my finance knowledge, and asking my contacts for advice on what I should do to prepare. I knew I would face very technical questions off the cuff--and that I would need to answer them without fail to even have a shot. I went to Chicago two times once school started, and also went on my own to New York for a day. This was all on my own time and with my own money.

I got used to talking with senior people during interviews, and was very familiar with my resume. I only had one major finance experience and had to really sell myself based on that. I also highlighted my persistence and discipline in wanting to work on Wall Street. When it came to the real interviews, I had my story down cold. I wasn't nervous and knew how to make an argument in response to any question.

In the end, I interviewed at 8 places and had 3 offers--one at a hedge fund, one at a boutique, and another at a bulge bracket. I decided that starting in New York and at a large, name-brand firm would do the most for me career-wise. I love trading, but again was also excited at the opportunity of doing banking.

So that's how I got to where I am today.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

How to break in from a non-target, for those with gaps in pedigree and GPA

Bulge bracket firms and other ibanks tend to recruit at a sample of target schools.

That means that you can spend 100 hours on your resume, cover letter, and interview preparation and be rejected after a 30 second scan of your application. All because you don't go to a target school.

If you:
  • don't go to Harvard or Wharton or another top school
  • don't have a 3.5+ GPA
  • don't have prior finance/consulting experiences, and
  • don't have connections to the industry
you can still break into finance and consulting.

1. Attend every information session you can and make a positive impression.

If banks and consultancies don't come to your school, go to your friends' schools and nearby schools where they do recruit. Sessions are usually packed so go early, try to speak with anyone at the firm who is free -- and keep the conversation casual. If you build up that rapport with them, they often ask for your name. At that point, introduce yourself more formally and ask what the application process is for you.

They will tell you to apply online or whatever, but that is bullshit -- honestly, the firm rarely chooses people who only apply via the website (there are easily over 20,000 applications). What should you do?

2. Get to know the analysts and firm representatives and get the real scoop on how you can get in.

Analysts are responsible for reviewing resumes. They are also the youngest people at the firm and the easiest to relate to -- which means you should take the initiative to talk and hit it off with them.

Be persistent but not annoying. Talk to everyone you can, be aggressive in having a few talking points and good questions (not those "what is a typical day like?" questions). If you stick around and show your commitment, and have interesting things to say, it's likely that more than one person will recall your name and they are more likely to give you a shot when they review resumes.

Collect business cards and follow up -- I maybe get one or two students, if that, email me questions and call me to talk more about the position. The worst case scenario is that he or she doesn't email you back. But it's the analysts' responsibility to talk to interested students from info sessions, and they hand out business cards so that students can follow up. So do it.

Even then, it takes well-thought out questions and a certain type of initiative -- while being likable -- for me to push for someone to get an interview.

3. Once you have a network, set up informational interviews and coffee chats.

There is only so much you can do over the phone or via email to get yourself seriously considered.

After a phone conversation or two with an analyst/associate/vp or MD, raise the possibility of getting coffee and talking more about the firm.

At that point, if they are up for it, set a date and meet in person at the office or somewhere nearby. Afterwards, if the banker/consultant is impressed, he may introduce you to more people at the firm. That's a GREAT sign that you'll get at least an interview. If you're likable, and the bankers / consultants think you'd be a fun person to work with, they'd take you over the typical target kid.

We had 8 interns in one industry group last summer -- 2 interns were hired from non-target schools, and had this plan of attack to get an offer.

They had a low 3.0 GPA, but made up for it with outside of school involvement. They also were the most aggressive in networking, setting up informational sessions, and following through in talking to the contacts they made to be successful in the recruiting process.

In the following post, we'll have a guest writer -- a non-target graduate who will give his inside tips on how he became a banker at a bulge bracket in New York.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

How to crush the resume and cover letter

You need to nail the cover letter and resume to even have a shot of becoming a trader/banker/consultant/what have you.

Many aspirants try to "stand out" from the competition by getting creative and informal. I've seen this happen before -- let me tell you, 99.9% of the time they stand out for the wrong reasons.

Here are some humorous examples:
  • Applying to a management consulting firm, a junior at a non-target school sent a PowerPoint deck -- each slide telling a different section of his resume. It was 20 pages -- or, in other words, 19 pages too long.
  • Applying to a bulge bracket firm, one applicant applied for a sales & trading internship. His cover letter was filled with a list of trading ideas.
  • At another bulge bracket firm, an applicant for a full time investment banking position talked about he worked 2 days non-stop on a group project at school--he used this experience as a qualification for the job. (even though this may have been true, the cover letter is not a space to talk about long hours of an IBD analyst)
Finally, here is what a cover letter should do:


A cover letter is meant to highlight your strengths and steer the recruiter to rally for you. A cover letter is compelling when it tells a marketable story -- it should pitch why a firm should hire you. At the same time, it shouldn't be pretentious and boastful -- one of the worst things is if you come off as a tremendous tool. Recruiters can sense that and won't think twice about not offering you the interview or job, regardless of how stellar you think you are.

From the firm's point of view, a cover letter is used to gauge:
1. how articulate the candidate is -- some candidates are outstanding academically, but what if you can't talk or present yourself well?
2. how polished and crisp the candidate is -- if you have typos and can't be concise, do you think the firm would entrust you with work they will show to clients?
3. the candidate's true interest in the job and the firm -- especially in later rounds, recruiters will refer back to the cover letter to make those tough decisions on who really researched the firm and is the best fit in their corporate culture

That being said, what should a cover letter have to be successful?
An excellent cover letter accomplishes three things, all within the space of one page:

1. Why are you excited about working at Firm X?
2. Why are you set on being a banker/consultant/trader/etc?
3. Why should Firm X hire you?

Though this seems like an easy task, most applicants give generic, trite, and overused answers. Successful applicants have done the research--speaking with people at their desired firms and reading up on the industry--to write a personal and memorable cover letter.

Which brings me to my next point: exceptional cover letters, by themselves, do not mean that you will land a job. Cover letters need to go hand in hand with a strong resume. Without a strong resume, it's difficult to write a strong cover letter.


The resume, like the cover letter, should tell a compelling story on why the firm should you. Recruiters often spend 30 seconds to a minute looking at your resume--what is the message and takeaways you want to get across?

  • High quantitative ability -- especially for liberal arts majors
  • Strong sales / interpersonal skills -- which matter a lot more as you become more senior and take on more client responsibilities
  • Past achievement in a team setting -- working in a professional firm is not like writing an essay in the library alone for class; be prepared to show how you thrived and led a team in the past
  • Leadership and engagement on campus -- active and involved student leaders tend to do well in a professional setting, taking charge of projects and capitalizing on opportunities
  • Record of strong results in whatever you have done -- to land a job at a selective firm, you need to convey that you've driven and successful
The more of these you have, the better.

Some more technical details on the resume:

  • Don't pack on everything you've done: pick and choose the most important experiences that highlight your strengths
  • Include your GPA. And many bulge bracket firms will also request to see your SAT / ACT scores, or GMAT. Without these, firms will often throw out your application.
  • Focus on results, not the process. No one cares if you spent your days doing data entry, compiling a PIB, answering sales calls. How did your efforts lead to actual contributions? That is what recruiters are interested in knowing.

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