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I've been in the industry for several years and I've come across every type of situation. I've met guys from top schools who work in bulge bracket firms, but I've also met people from those same schools who can't seem to land a great job. Conversely, I've met guys from non-target schools who managed to get into a top firm.

Simply stated, I do recommend you attend the best school you can get into. Being the underdog is no fun and even if you "break in" it will take longer to get where you want to go. As well, there are many employers you'll meet along the way that are very rigid about the "rules". So even if you get in, it may still be harder to get promoted or find a better job later on. Therefore, the best solution is to attend the best school. This leads me to the first rule:

Rule #1: Remember the Michael Jordan Rule:

Jordan was the best basketball player of his era. Charles Barkley was arguably #2. On any given night, Barkley might outscore Jordan. However, NO ONE would ever remember Charles Barkley as the best player of his era. The same rule applies for b-schools. There are many schools that rank "top 20" and claim they are almost as good as the top b-schools in the country. However, they are the Charles Barkley of b-schools. Even if they are that good... they'll never get you the same amount of respect in the job market.

The next set of rules are suitable for people who don't end up going to target schools:

Rule #2: Start small and work your way up: If you can't land a job as an FX trader out of school (and it's your ideal job), try to get a job as a commercial FX trader. Commercial traders are people who sell FX to mid-size companies under $100 million in size. You might not be able to leverage that towards an IB associate position, but if a bulge bracket firm is looking for an institutional FX sales or trader, they will look at someone with mid-market FX sales experience. I was told this is the case by an MD on an institutional FX desk who was looking to hire a junior trader!
In similar fashion, if your goal is to do M&A in a bulge bracket firm, you should get a job doing M&A at a boutique or an accounting firm. The same rule applies for lending: a commercial banker will eventually be able to land a corporate lending job. It takes 2-3 years of experience and a bit of patients but you will eventually get in. Also, remember that your time spent doing mid-market IB/FX/lending will not necessarily count as work experience in the big leagues.

Rule #3: Continue obtaining designations: Unlike b-schools which can vary in terms of credibility, nobody questions the value of an accounting designation or a CFA. All these things help! Keep trying to obtain additional letters after your name and your ability to land interviews will surely improve.

Rule 4: There is no substitute for passion and industry knowledge: I once met a young man who went to a non-target school and was dying to land a job in IB. Except that this kid was different! He seemed to know modeling cold. He opened a small investment club at his local school and was investing $30k on behalf of the student members. All these things helped. He stood out from the crowd! Anyways, this guy landed an M&A summer analyst role at a top firm. All the guys from target schools probably didn't stand out. It is likely that none of them had started a small investment club!

Rule 5: Rules are made to be broken: If there is one rule I have learned over the years it's that "rules are made to be broken". Where there is a will there is a way. You might not get into Goldman, but there are ways of getting into other firms if you try hard enough.

Time is on your side. If you are 22 years old and are trying to get into IB, you have 43 years until you reach retirement age (i.e. 65). Even if you end up working in a tier 2 firm from 22 to 25 and then go for an MBA from 25 to 27, you could still end up joining the industry at 28 years old. That still leaves 37 years until retirement! Most successful bankers are considered "old veterans" after 20 years of experience.... With 37 years to go you have nothing to worry about!

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Comments (35)

  • Cries's picture

    I wish I had read this 2-3years ago, so I didnt have to figure it out through trial & error.

    This should be required reading for any non-target very early on.

  • AQM's picture

    Hey thanks for this article! It was a great read. The part about the top 20 business schools was especially insightful!

  • grapefury's picture

    Generally, on target and correct. Good write-up.

    It's really all about odds.
    Go to a top school? dramatically increases your odds.
    Cold call good contacts? increases your odds a bit.

    Simply put: You want to spend your time doing the things that yield the best increases.

  • DM123's picture

    grapefury - good analysis

  • F. Ro Jo's picture

    Stockton was #2 bro

  • MJ99's picture

    Fantastic article! Banana awarded! I wish there was more help for people from Non-Target Universities!

    You win a few, you loose a few, but you keep on fighting.

  • Bondarb's picture

    Barkley was not even close to the second best player of Jordan's era. Magic, Bird, Malone, Olajuwon, Ewing were all better and thats just off the top of my head.

  • In reply to Bondarb
    AndyLouis's picture

    Bondarb:
    Barkley was not even close to the second best player of Jordan's era. Magic, Bird, Malone, Olajuwon, Ewing were all better and thats just off the top of my head.

    "not even close" is definitely an overstatement. he wasn't #2 but he was in the ballpark at least
  • In reply to Bondarb
    WallStreetOasis.com's picture

    Bondarb:
    Barkley was not even close to the second best player of Jordan's era. Magic, Bird, Malone, Olajuwon, Ewing were all better and thats just off the top of my head.

    Indeed

  • Hooked on LEAPS's picture

    DM123:

    Rule #3: Continue obtaining designations: Unlike b-schools which can vary in terms of credibility, nobody questions the value of an accounting designation or a CFA. All these things help! Keep trying to obtain additional letters after your name and your ability to land interviews will surely improve.

    I like this rule a lot. Letters next to your name are always a good thing.

    Competition is a sin.

    -John D. Rockefeller

  • droking7's picture

    Really ground-breaking OP...

    So basically work hard, choose a field that you can see yourself having a career in, and do things that will improve chances at getting your dream job? Seems like common sense to me.

  • wannabeaballer's picture

    Jordan went to a semi-target, and that's a stretch.

  • In reply to droking7
    SECfinance's picture

    droking7:
    Really ground-breaking OP...

    So basically work hard, choose a field that you can see yourself having a career in, and do things that will improve chances at getting your dream job? Seems like common sense to me.

    If it was common sense 75-80% of the posts on here wouldn't exist.

  • Macro Arbitrage's picture

    DM123:

    Rule 4: There is no substitute for passion and industry knowledge: I once met a young man who went to a non-target school and was dying to land a job in IB. Except that this kid was different! He seemed to know modeling cold. He opened a small investment club at his local school and was investing $30k on behalf of the student members. All these things helped. He stood out from the crowd! Anyways, this guy landed an M&A summer analyst role at a top firm. All the guys from target schools probably didn't stand out. It is likely that none of them had started a small investment club!

    I think I know who you're referring to. Did he intern at Barclays?

  • Macro Arbitrage's picture

    DM123:

    Rule 4: There is no substitute for passion and industry knowledge: I once met a young man who went to a non-target school and was dying to land a job in IB. Except that this kid was different! He seemed to know modeling cold. He opened a small investment club at his local school and was investing $30k on behalf of the student members. All these things helped. He stood out from the crowd! Anyways, this guy landed an M&A summer analyst role at a top firm. All the guys from target schools probably didn't stand out. It is likely that none of them had started a small investment club!

    I think I know who you're referring to. Did he intern at Barclays?

  • In reply to Bondarb
    rm1234's picture

    Bondarb:
    Barkley was not even close to the second best player of Jordan's era. Magic, Bird, Malone, Olajuwon, Ewing were all better and thats just off the top of my head.

    Magic and Bird were reaching the tail-end of their careers as Jordan was hitting his peak; their eras overlapped, but I would say they were distinct (I think Magic/Bird were drafted 5 or 6 years before Jordan).

    I'd say the 2nd-best player of Jordan's era was Olajuwon, but Malone, Barkley and David Robinson were in the mix (honorable mentions going to Ewing, Isaiah Thomas, maybe even Stockton, Drexler, Pippen, Kevin Johnson).

  • Tommy Too-toned's picture

    whatever yo, if MJ's Stanford, the next best player is a Ball State communications major

  • In reply to rm1234
    Bondarb's picture

    rm1234:
    Bondarb:
    Barkley was not even close to the second best player of Jordan's era. Magic, Bird, Malone, Olajuwon, Ewing were all better and thats just off the top of my head.

    Magic and Bird were reaching the tail-end of their careers as Jordan was hitting his peak; their eras overlapped, but I would say they were distinct (I think Magic/Bird were drafted 5 or 6 years before Jordan).

    I'd say the 2nd-best player of Jordan's era was Olajuwon, but Malone, Barkley and David Robinson were in the mix (honorable mentions going to Ewing, Isaiah Thomas, maybe even Stockton, Drexler, Pippen, Kevin Johnson).

    I do not think Robinson was better then Ewing. He had a better tail-end to his career when he played second-fiddle to Duncan, but during the Jordan-era I think Ewing's outside game was way superior to Robinsons and therefore he was the better player overall. Ewing also had no supporting cast at all. I agree that Olajuwon was better then both of them.

  • In reply to Hooked on LEAPS
    prospie's picture

    Hooked on LEAPS:
    I like this rule a lot. Letters next to your name are always a good thing.

    definitely. especially if you're talking about roman numerals after a name shared by a former governor or company chairman
  • wannabeaballer's picture

    I'll have to second Hakeem as a second to Jordan. We know how he fared against Barkley.

  • DM123's picture

    no he did not intern at barclays.

  • TonyPerkis's picture

    how is everyone forget about Yinka Dare?

    I eat success for breakfast...with skim milk

  • sandsurfngbomber's picture

    Haha how did this turn into a basketball hall of fame forum? Nonetheless, coming from a non-target, I definitely appreciate OP putting up this article. When I first joined WSO I was legitimately depressed because it seemed like my odds of having a solid career in finance were slim to none, all because I did not attend the top tier schools or held senior exec contacts. Articles like this give me hope and structure my approach without giving me unrealistic ideas of walking into GS without any credibility. Common sense maybe but when you get this tunnel-visioned into a highly competitive field you tend to forget the basics that are right in front of you.

  • In reply to Bondarb
    rm1234's picture

    I agree that Robinson wouldn't have won championships if it weren't for Duncan. But I feel that Ewing and Robinson were about equal on offense (Ewing had a higher skill level, but Robinson was more athletic and a better rebounder), and that Robinson was a slightly better defender. I don't think Ewing won an MVP, and Olajuwon vs. Robinson was always more hyped-up than Olajuwon vs. Ewing (though the Texas rivals thing probably played into that too).

    I have to admit that since I was born in the '90s I've actually seen few games from that era - my conclusions are drawn from that small sample as well as the advanced stats off basketball-reference.com!

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