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.

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