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Mod Note: This was originally posted 12/2013

Hey monkeys, I'm on a plane from CLT to PHX, and I have wifi, and I'm not in the mood to work on my book. I like giving you guys some of my more thoughtful newsletter articles every once in a while, but I've never directly contributed to the forum. I have a few hours to kill, so I wanted to share my thoughts on how to get a job on Wall Street (which is what we are all here for).

It is hard, almost impossible to get a job on Wall Street if you are an outsider. And, if you are in school, and you have no Wall Street experience, you don't know your ass from a hole in the ground, no matter how many books you have read, and you are going to sound like an idiot in an interview. There are no two ways about it. The good news is that many people are in the same boat and will sound like idiots in interviews. The bad news is that some of these people know guys on the inside.

When I started at Lehman, plunked down in the 2001 Associate class, the first thing I realized was that everyone seemed to know each other. Lots of my classmates already knew people at various places in the firm. Partly this was because some of them were interns the summer before, but also, rich kids tend to know other rich kids from the Tri-State area. It's a small community. People know each other. That's a fact, and you can't do anything about it. All you can do is to work on making yourself a more attractive candidate.

So going back to when I was in business school, in 1998 or 1999, I tracked down the one and only guy I knew who was a trader, called him up. He told me that I had no shot and I should just give up. Actually--he did have one piece of advice--he said I was going to need a story on why I wanted to become a trader, and it was going to have to be a good one. Then he hung up, expecting never to hear from me again.

I went to what you call a very non-target school, and I was fully aware that the bulge-bracket banks didn't recruit there (even the local broker-dealers, like Montgomery or H&Q or Sutro didn't recruit there), so I decided I was going to have to do it the old-fashioned way--by working my way up from the mailroom. Not quite--I got a job as a clerk on the trading floor, fetching coffee and sandwiches and entering in trade tickets and running risk reports.

But then something interesting happened. While I was fetching coffee and sandwiches and entering in trade tickets, I started to learn a lot about options. I mean, I was working on the damn options floor, I was immersed in it. It's like the best way to learn French is just to live in France for a year. So I got really smart about options even though I never had any formal quantitative instruction like the kind people get when they go to University of Chicago. So when I was in that final round interview at Lehman, and the head of interest rate derivatives started asking me options questions, and I got them right, he was stoked because the whiz kids from Wharton never did, because they only had textbook knowledge, not practical knowledge.

Getting the interview was another matter entirely. That was a function of pure aggression, like, cold-calling recruiters, something I don't enjoy.

My intern at The Daily Dirtnap is off looking for jobs this week, in Boston. He is lucky, because I was able to introduce him to people. This makes him an insider, not an outsider, and he doesn't have to work as hard. He's tried on his own. Non-target school, average resume, no chance. But he is gaining experience working for me, and won't sound so dumb in an interview.

There is a life lesson here. It's not a matter of luck. You have to make your own luck. Mailing in a resume is a million to one shot. For every Bieber and Upton "discovered" on YouTube, there are a lot of people sitting at home, waiting for something to happen to them. But nothing happens to you in your apartment. And if you can't get in through the front door, then you get in through the side door or the back door. And sometimes it takes time. Sometimes it takes years of fetching coffee and entering in trade tickets. I think younger people don't understand this. The back office or middle office job can be a huge stepping-stone, even if you have to suffer occasional indignities from bankers or traders. And these days, working at a small or mid-size firm can be just as good, or better, than a BB.

And if all else fails, and you don't get the job, there are a lot of other ways to make a lot of money in this world. You just have to be a little more creative.

Comments (79)

  • yeahright's picture

    +1

    It's only getting harder too.This site makes it difficult for people to realize middle office and back office jobs are great positions out of college, just not the best.

    Frank Sinatra - "Alcohol may be man's worst enemy, but the bible says love your enemy."

  • jbone24's picture

    Very nice post +1

    "jbone is, believe it or not he's getting married". WHAT what an idiot! What a loser! Good, good, more for me and you!

  • WallStreetHope's picture

    Jared Dillian wrote:

    There is a life lesson here. It's not a matter of luck. You have to make your own luck. Mailing in a resume is a million to one shot. For every Bieber and Upton "discovered" on YouTube, there are a lot of people sitting at home, waiting for something to happen to them. But nothing happens to you in your apartment. And if you can't get in through the front door, then you get in through the side door or the back door. And sometimes it takes time. Sometimes it takes years of fetching coffee and entering in trade tickets. I think younger people don't understand this.

    Great. Great. Great.

  • MRCR's picture

    Thanks, Jared. I'm inspired but what about the fact that if you go into middle or back office roles that you can become labelled very easily as a middle or back office person and find it almost impossible to break out of that perception that you're the technology (or operations or accounting) person? This forum is filled with horror stories of people getting labelled and stuck and unable to escape their middle / back office roles after a few years in the industry.

    Pigeonholing workers seems to be very intense these days (probably because everyone and their grandmother wants to work on Wall St.) and as someone in grad school trying to break in I've actually avoided applying to any back office roles for fear of the back office trap.

  • PeteMullersKeyboard's picture

    Excellent post, and great story. Thanks so much for sharing, it's very encouraging.

    "When you stop striving for perfection, you might as well be dead."

  • JonDoe297's picture

    Jared Dillian wrote:

    There is a life lesson here. It's not a matter of luck. You have to make your own luck. Mailing in a resume is a million to one shot. For every Bieber and Upton "discovered" on YouTube, there are a lot of people sitting at home, waiting for something to happen to them. But nothing happens to you in your apartment. And if you can't get in through the front door, then you get in through the side door or the back door. And sometimes it takes time. Sometimes it takes years of fetching coffee and entering in trade tickets. I think younger people don't understand this. The back office or middle office job can be a huge stepping-stone, even if you have to suffer occasional indignities from bankers or traders. And these days, working at a small or mid-size firm can be just as good, or better, than a BB.

    And if all else fails, and you don't get the job, there are a lot of other ways to make a lot of money in this world. You just have to be a little more creative.

    Cool story! That is similar to what Soros did. He mailed every fund in London until he got a job as a bookkeeper; he proceed to work his way to trader. From there he went into ER. After that he started a HF.

    I do have a word of caution. For every Bieber there is a Tebow. Sometimes untalented people seem to succeed effortlessly while extremely talented people flounder. To his credit Bieber is a master marketer. He knows how to manipulate people to his advantage. On the other hand, Tebow is too nice.

    What do Bieber Dimon, Walter White have in common that Tebow does not?

    http://www.marketwatch.com/story/jamie-dimon-is-wa...

    http://features.blogs.fortune.cnn.com/2012/05/13/j...JPMorgan/

    "He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man." ― William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing

  • yorku's picture

    Thanks for the post. I had a terrible day at work due to our regional manager being very hard on us, my contributions towards my performance exceeded in year 2013 and essentially which led to increase expectations, work in a retail environment, I will def take your advice to break out of it, I do need your suggestion on how to handle this situation where expectations are higher however clear path of promotion is not clear since he would rather keep me because of my performance. Sorry it was bit irrelevant to your original post

  • BullMkt's picture

    Good post, thanks!

    The hills are alive with the sound of horsepower! - Jeremy Clarkson

  • jl2's picture

    In the 80s ,90s and 2000s,financial engineering shine,moving assets around,restructuring,selling,buying real assets is the place to be,so someone bought sears and kmart and see all these real estate properties which they can sell and make good money,to hell with retailing.
    Now e commerce rules and we will see plenty of physical bank branches,malls,strip malls for sale and factories?
    they are old and antiquated and would be demolished.
    Do we need an army of investment bankers travelling around the country advising ceos what to do?
    we do,but we dont need more,we need less

  • youngbull5's picture

    great post. very inspiring to someone like me, who is coming from a very non-target. moral of the story is if you want it bad enough, do what you got to do to get there.

  • JYeung Rutgers's picture

    Much needed inspiration, thanks a lot Jared.

    Jason Yeung
    Rutgers Business School
    Candidate B.S. in Accounting
    Candidate B.S. in Economics

  • Atl9339's picture

    Have to echo the importance of a good story. Nothing is more of a turn off for me than talking to someone who wants to be in private equity/ finance to make money. A true interest/ passion for the industry shows and and is more important to me than a resume (although it takes a good resume to get in the door usually).

  • BatMasterson's picture

    A lot of people are disappointed when they get nowhere after shooting dozens (or hundreds) of resumes. I think it makes more sense to make yourself useful, develop a niche, and solve a problem to where your utility ranking improves. If your work becomes known and recognized, you'll get a job sooner than later.

    "I like money (as do most females) but love is...great :)"-student
    "Perhaps you've failed to take into account my hidden assets"-007
    Storm: Orig Mix
    Oscar Wilde -Ballad of Reading

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