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.

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