3/10/14

My Background

In the fall of 2011 I decided to attend College in the U.S., and in the process leave my home in Scandinavia. I began my college career at a community college with no idea of what I wanted to do in the future, but, that I wanted to major in Economics. Through research, and spending countless hours reading WallStreetOasis, I soon figured out that I wanted to work in the financial services industry in New York. With this realization came the added anxiety of realizing the amount of work and perseverance that achieving this would require.

In the interest of keeping this part short, I'll try to sum up my initial experiences up. I spent two years at my Community College, got a high GPA, involved myself in relevant extra-curricular activities on campus, and stocked up on Economics, Accounting, Finance, and Business classes.

I eventually transferred to an "Ivy League" school as an Economics major in the fall of 2013 and I'm now attempting to break into the Finance industry. So far I've managed to get an unpaid internship during the semester at a capital placement & advisory firm in NY, and as a contributing author here at WSO.

How to benefit from an international background

Through this article I intend to focus on how to efficiently utilize your background while interviewing for internships, by displaying a certain element that I believe is highly valued by recruiters.

While interviewing for summer/semester internships, two questions frequently appeared in all my interviews, more specifically, "Tell me about yourself" and "Tell me about a time when you had to take a risk". These questions might appear informal and trivial at first, yet this provides you with the opportunity to "hook" your interviewer and display that you are a person that possesses the specific characteristics they are looking for.

As an International Student you have something to offer that sets you apart from your competition; the story of how you decided to leave your comfort zone and brave the unknown by moving to another country. In answering this question, I suggest that you attempt to highlight what I like to call "Thoughtful Risk-Taking"

Thoughtful Risk-Taking

By "Thoughtful Risk-Taking" I refer to how you weighed the pros and cons of attending College in the U.S. You want to highlight that you considered the risks and benefits you run by leaving your country, a trait which recruiters has actually praised in my past interviews.

For example, the risks might include that you could have a hard time developing a social network, encounter cultural differences, not liking life in the U.S., and running the risk of feeling alienated. However, you need to clearly articulate that you believe that the benefits outweighed the perceived risks.

Some possible benefits you can name are the possibility of meeting new and interesting people, acquiring a quality education, grow as a person by forcing yourself to face an unfamiliar situation, and having the opportunity to work in the U.S.

By clearly demonstrating your ability to practice "Thoughtful Risk-Taking" you are implicitly suggesting that you have a highly developed sense of "Critical Thinking", something that appears to be key in most finance careers in my view.

It suggests that you evaluated your decision to:

  1. Study in the U.S
  2. Attend your current school
  3. Choose your particular major
  4. Seek a career in the financial services industry
  5. Apply for an internship at this specific company

Most importantly, by displaying that you practice "Thoughtful Risk-Taking", you show the recruiter that you are committed to your choices despite the perceived risks. It tells him or her that you dont make decision based on a whim but rather that you carefully analyze your choices.

I genuinely believe that displaying this trait greatly benefited me while interviewing, and that it was one of the underlying principles that granted me my current internship.

My Blog

Through this blog, I intend to create a series of posts aimed at giving advice to International Students who share my interest in finance. I'll give my view on how to benefit from an International background in recruiting/interviewing and tips on how I have been able to succeed despite starting out without any connections in the U.S., coming from a City College, and having no relevant finance experience.

Although this blog will be focused on international students in the U.S., the content may very well benefit those studying outside of the U.S.

Finally, please feel free to give me feedback on my posts. Students, was the information helpful to you? Professionals, do you agree/disagree with my advice?

Comments (24)

3/9/14

Actually, this post was helpful to me, an American who studied at an American university, as I spent some time teaching English in _____stan. I think your template for discussing this experience is great, and I will doubtless be modifying it to suit my experiences this fall during OCR.

3/9/14

danin650:

Actually, this post was helpful to me, an American who studied at an American university, as I spent some time teaching English in _____stan. I think your template for discussing this experience is great, and I will doubtless be modifying it to suit my experiences this fall during OCR.

Thank you. Be on the lookout for my future posts as they will continue to feature advice for students.

WallStreetOasis Contributing Author - Intern

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3/9/14

Good thread. I'm an international student as well, so it would be interesting to hear your perspective. Maybe we could have some discussion on getting a Visa sponsorship in US, which seems to quite a challenge these days.

3/9/14

marktennis:

Good thread. I'm an international student as well, so it would be interesting to hear your perspective. Maybe we could have some discussion on getting a Visa sponsorship in US, which seems to quite a challenge these days.

Visa sponsorship is something I will try to adress in my future posts as I currently dont know enough about it to really discuss it. Be on the lookout in the future though!

WallStreetOasis Contributing Author - Intern

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3/10/14

really good thread. This is a much better way to describe the foreign living experience.

3/10/14

appyz168:

really good thread. This is a much better way to describe the foreign living experience.

Thank you, I appreciate the feedback.

WallStreetOasis Contributing Author - Intern

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3/10/14

+1 on everyone else. Being an international student in the U.S., I found this post very useful.

3/10/14

Love this advice and can't wait to read more :-) Thanks for sharing!

3/10/14

Good comments, here's what I would add:
Talk about how lucky you are to have the opportunity to come to the US and are motivated to make the most of it.
Talk about how you had to deal with obstacles most domestic students don't face (language, separation from home, having to provide for yourself in another country, adapting to the culture, etc.)
Talk about how you have to work harder both in and out of the classroom in order to prove your worth so that you get picked over a domestic applicant.

Current international student here, starting FT in June. Thought I could give my $.02 as well.

3/10/14

Thanks for the praise guys! I look forward to providing you with more quality content.

WallStreetOasis Contributing Author - Intern

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3/10/14

As an international student who will be in S&T, I can definitely agree with the part about risk. I had more than one interviewer ask me whether I was risk adverse, before noting that I had moved to the other side of the world by myself when I was 18. Thanks for this post!

3/10/14

encore:

As an international student who will be in S&T, I can definitely agree with the part about risk. I had more than one interviewer ask me whether I was risk adverse, before noting that I had moved to the other side of the world by myself when I was 18. Thanks for this post!

Risk taking seems to be part of every internship interview hehe.

WallStreetOasis Contributing Author - Intern

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3/10/14

Great post! Looking forward to reading the rest of your blog.

3/10/14

this is super relevant. I know a few international students who have broken into finance and are really good at their jobs. I have no doubt that many international students possess competitive advantages and fit personalities to succeed in a competitive field like finance. As soon as we know what work environment is like and what employers are looking for, I believe we can apply and take the most out of it. Thanks for posting!

3/10/14

Honestly, after traveling and living in a few different parts of Europe with university-age people, I believe that many Europeans have an educational advantage prior to the university level. After that, it is very much up to the individual student to make the most of their opportunities.

Many of my relationships with international students at US educational institutions showed me that those with the proper motivation excel faster and have a much broader comprehension of academic topics. They also seem to be able to provide a diverse cultural context for understanding various economic and investment theories, as well as theories on globalization that will significantly help them when interviewing.

It is important for US students to recognize these cultural differences and be sensitive to them, in order to gain some of the advantages that they offer International Students.

Great post though.

We are here to drink beer. We are here to kill war. We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us. - Charles Bukowski

3/10/14

hakuna.matata:

Honestly, after traveling and living in a few different parts of Europe with university-age people, I believe that many Europeans have an educational advantage prior to the university level. After that, it is very much up to the individual student to make the most of their opportunities.

Many of my relationships with international students at US educational institutions showed me that those with the proper motivation excel faster and have a much broader comprehension of academic topics. They also seem to be able to provide a diverse cultural context for understanding various economic and investment theories, as well as theories on globalization that will significantly help them when interviewing.

It is important for US students to recognize these cultural differences and be sensitive to them, in order to gain some of the advantages that they offer International Students.

Great post though.

I think part of the reason behind what your describing arises from the fact that we actually leave our home country in order to focus on school. I can only speak from personal experience, but I know that the sense of seperation from family and friends back home definetly motivated me to do well at my U.S. College. To me, it felt as if I was wasting time if I did not aim high and do my absolute best.

Now, I would like to add that I know plenty of "not so motivated" international students, so I guess it depends on your personality.

WallStreetOasis Contributing Author - Intern

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3/10/14

I agree. The (sometimes substantial) additional cost and strain to a family is a huge incentive to capitalize on the situation and prove that the adventure is worth the effort. I did the reverse, and studied at an international university from the US, and that was a definite consideration in my travel/study time ratio.

We are here to drink beer. We are here to kill war. We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us. - Charles Bukowski

3/10/14

I can attest to weaving your international background into your story for extra hook. I've been asked what some difficulties in transitioning from my country to the US were and whether I want to go back to Asia (answer is no). When asked what my biggest strength was, I said my flexibility and adaptation skill because heck I took a 24-hour flight here with only 2 suitcases, leaving my parents home to live in a completely strange land, I'd better prepare as hell.

3/10/14

I'm also an international student. What are your plans regarding Visa? Do you have a STEM co-major (allowing STEM OPT extension) or are you just going to cross your fingers for H1B during regular OPT? Do you have plans to return home if you don't land work Visa? All my non-citizen friends who have full-time offers seem very worried about Visa... for good reason.

3/10/14

Great article and I fully agree with your advice. Keep writing!

3/11/14

Thank you for this post, Goldf1nger.

Being an international student myself, I've been using the same tactics. However, it'd be helpful to hear the opinion of those who interviewed candidates for SA or FT positions on whether speaking about your move to a foreign country is a good answer to the question about your greatest challenge in life. I used it as an answer to this question at a couple interviews but I'm not sure how it is perceived by the people on the other side of the table.

Is it a legit answer or should you rather be talking stictly about your greatest professional challenge? (provided you've already had some work experience)

3/11/14

WannabeBSD:

Thank you for this post, Goldf1nger.

Being an international student myself, I've been using the same tactics. However, it'd be helpful to hear the opinion of those who interviewed candidates for SA or FT positions on whether speaking about your move to a foreign country is a good answer to the question about your greatest challenge in life. I used it as an answer to this question at a couple interviews but I'm not sure how it is perceived by the people on the other side of the table.

Is it a legit answer or should you rather be talking stictly about your greatest professional challenge? (provided you've already had some work experience)

I agree, it would be interesting. I have used that particular answer when posed with those questions, and I've enjoyed good feedback from the recruiter. Yet, its hard to tell for sure how he/she rated the answer.

I like to think its a proper answer but if someone with more experience would like to share their thoughts that would be great.

WallStreetOasis Contributing Author - Intern

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3/17/14
3/18/14

WallStreetOasis Contributing Author - Intern

Check out my Blog

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