I was fortunate enough to recently get a full-time offer at ain NYC as an Assoc. for class of 2010 in M&A and I wanted to share the experience. I definitely did this in a "non-traditional" manner and thought that it might be of some help for many of those on this board who are starting the process, running into headwinds or just trying to stay the path. This will be a bit of a long read, so apologies in advance.
First off, my background
I'm a bit older (30).
Went to a big, but non-target state school (3.6 )
Worked for 5 years in Strategy in Healthcare/Pharma
Went to a top-10 B-School but NOT one that is particularly targeted by finance recruiters ie. Wharton, HBS, Chicago
To start with, I got interested in banking before I went to B-School and pretty much knew by the time orientation started that it was what I wanted to do. Fall 2007 recruiting treated me well and I ended up getting a summer 2008 internship in acoverage group at a (Different from the one I'm going to).
I was on top of the world and everything was on track. Then everything that was the first half of 2008 (Bear, $150 oil, etc) happened, and my group ended up giving less than 30% of the summer associates fulltime offers. Honestly, there was no hate here, the people who got offers were rockstars and they deserved it. Despite this, I really did enjoy my summer and it had confirmed that banking was what I wanted to do.
I had planned a semester abroad for fall of '08 and decided to go through with it. Bad idea. My first week in my new country, Lehman happens, then the rest of all the disasters follow....one after another. I was in a panic. I took an emergency trip back to the US (24+ hours total travel time from where I was) to meet with people and talk about opportunities, expand on my networks and to basically beg people to see me. Nobody was hiring (I'm talking 20+ firms in finance, consulting, industry); firms that were chasing me the previous year for the summer were totally filled up. Despite my frustrations, I did my best to keep my relationships with people I considered "friends" at various firms.
However, as January/February rolled around, I was still hustling and still had NO job. Then finally, someone I knew connected me with a GP at afirm. Two people from where I summered also knew this guy and wrote him personally on my behalf. In the end, the firm offered me a position at one of their portfolio companies (producing industrial chemical ingredients) doing sales and forming joint ventures. I was thankful to have a job, but I vowed that I wouldn't let this be the end of my dream of doing the biggest deals with the biggest companies.
One positive result from all my (failed) recruiting over the past two years was that I had a fairly good network of people who were looking out for me; they knew I wanted to do banking, that I was serious and that I wouldn't embarrass them if they vouched for me. So when I took my new job, I kept in touch with them, told them how I was doing and asked how they were doing.
I had been in my new job for about 5 months when, in November, I started hearing little tidbits here and there of some's, as well as MM's, looking to add fulltime staff. I was given contacts at various firms along with personal recommendations and started reaching out to them. What followed was 2 months of secret phone calls, email exchanges, personal days for trips to NYC (sometimes even trips after work for dinner meetings). Finally, a contact I had known since before B-School hooked me up with a good friend who was a MD in a M&A group. We had a 15 minute conversation (maybe even less) and an hour later, I'm getting a call from the group's staffer asking to set up interviews. What followed were about 8 interviews spread over 3 trips up to New York; at the conclusion of the third, they made me an offer and I took it on the spot. FINALLY. One year late, but hey, if all a global depression costs me is one year, I'll take it.
The lessons learned I would like to share with everyone is this.
1. You have to be lucky. As in all things luck plays its part and that's just the way it is. But it only plays a PART. So you have to......
2. Place lots of bets and be prepared: thats how you take advantage of lucky breaks. I didn't know which contact would come through or when, so I kept up with as many as I could. I still read the WSJ and kept up with deals. Made sure that if I ran into an MD in an airport I could sound like I knew something about what was going on. Right there and then.
3. Finally, I had help. Lots and Lots of help. I looked at networking as keeping up with friends; I tried to develop relationships with people I actually liked vs. people who superficially seemed like they would be most helpful. That made it easy to always talk to them because I actually ENJOYED speaking to them. It also made it easy because they were helping out a young guy who they liked and wanted to see do well. Even once I got my offer, the first thing I did was send them all thank you letters and updating them on my success, even at the firms where I won't be going to. Who knows where I'll be in 18 months.
About a year ago I was down and just about out. I was finishing up B School and had nothing to show for it: I had no job, certainly nothing that looked remotely like finance or banking. But then, a contact gave me a small break. I made the most out of that and then came a few more breaks. No matter where you are, what your situation is, or how far you think you are from your goal, you are exactly a little time, a few helping hands and a lot of hard work away from EXACTLY where you want to be.
P.S. if anyone wants specific info on how I modified my "story" for interviews throughout this process, or anything else more specific, I'm happy to help them via PM.