How I Broke into Finance: BB S&T

Many prospective monkeys on WSO find value in learning what one must do to "break into Wall Street" because as many of you know, getting your foot in the door is probably the most important single event for a career in finance. Then once you're in, with some networking, hard work, and natural talent, you can more or less choose your own path in the industry. However, the truth is that the process is rarely formulaic; more luck determines our fate than we would like, as is shown in my story. So without further ado...

This is the story of how I got my BB S&T summer internship in college.

I went to a top target school for undergrad in the United States. Now before all of you stop reading here because you're thinking "it must have been so easy for him to get that job," hear me out and let me assure you that it was not.

It was hard to get good grades in my school, but that didn't mean people couldn't do it. In fact, a lot of people did, and the wide range of GPAs in the study body made it easy for recruiters to separate the chaff (like me) from the wheat. I had a 3.1 GPA going into recruiting season, and you'll see below how this severely crippled my chances of breaking into finance.

My extracurricular life definitely played a role in how I did not find much time to study. But while I involved pretty heavily in a couple of activities/organizations during my first two years, they were not spectacular or finance-related by any means. One was unique (I founded a competitive video gaming club), but I knew it was going to be hit or miss during interviews. I was not a varsity athlete, and only later did I find out (to my great dismay) how much value such a status held during the recruiting process. But all in all, I did not tailor my college experience toward getting a job in finance, and while that may have lowered my chances of being hired, I do not regret it at all and in retrospect (hindsight is always 20/20!), I would have been miserable otherwise.

Perhaps related to that is the fact that I did not really think about my career until mid-sophomore year. Sure I was studying financial engineering and some people were talking about investment banking and trading from day one, but I tended to avoid thinking about the subject because I knew my grades were mediocre. But what were my other options really?

I considered switching to computer science but my grades were also poor in those classes and I knew that I didn't have the raw programming mindset required to major and work in that industry (even though I could probably get by coding in other industries). I considered grad school, but given how terrible I was in academics in undergrad, that did not seem like a wise decision. So I took the easy way out. I pursued finance.

Note: I'm going to generalize with my next statement and it may offend some people. The people at my school who wanted a job in finance (and there were many) fell into three categories: smart kids from difficult majors with high GPAs, varsity athletes majoring in social sciences or liberal arts, and misfits like myself who had little to show and just applied to every firm that recruited on campus. You might be able to guess which group was the most successful in this process (hint: the people who worked out the most).

How did I prepare for junior recruiting? Well, there's really not much to talk about in terms of how I tried to buff up my resume before then. Like many others, I tried applying to sophomore IBD programs and I received zero interviews with my 3.1 GPA, and I ended up doing research for a professor in my department on campus that summer. I knew I was going to be in trouble come interview time in junior year, and man was I right.

I submitted around 100 applications (all the finance positions, and some tech stuff) in my junior fall. While some of my higher-achieving friends received dozens of interviews, in the end, I somehow received a potpourri of six first-round interviews:

  • Software development internship at one of "those three" west coast tech companies: I made it to the final (second) round, but like I said above, what chance did I have against all the "real" computer science majors?
  • Quant intern at a famous hedge fund: Simply put, I was not smart enough and bombed all the technical questions.
  • IBD summer analyst at Citadel: LOL remember when Citadel had an investment bank? Anyway, it was during this interview that I realized I would never do investment banking. It was supposed to be a 30 minute interview, but it only lasted 19 minutes because I clearly knew nothing about (and showed no interest in) DCFs, comps, etc. At least I dodged that bullet since the division liquidated later that summer.
  • Trading intern at a reputable prop shop: I thought I had a decent chance here. I made it to the on-site final round but choked on the math/probability questions. It also probably didn't help that I woke up late that morning after a long fight the previous night with my girlfriend at the time and had the company expense a cab for me from campus to get there on time even though they had already booked (and paid for) a train ticket.
  • Fixed income S&T intern at a BB: See below.
  • Trading intern at another prop shop: This interview was my last, so I mentioned that I had an exploding offer with the above BB and they gave me an offer after a first round non-technical interview. I turned them down for the BB. This is where I currently work. Perhaps I will tell that story another time. ;)

How did I get that BB S&T interview and offer? It was pure, unadulterated luck. Like I did with all the other bulge bracket banks, I went to the company's main information session one evening and chatted with the sales and trading people there. Somehow, I managed to have a short conversation with the fixed income S&T recruiter (if you ever read this, thank you for getting my foot in the door; I have come a long way since that evening) and for God knows what reason, she decided to invite me to a target candidate breakfast the next morning because someone had backed out at the last second. Luck: 1, peyo212: 0

Honestly, I didn't even want to go because it was an 8am breakfast and my first class wasn't until 11am (current college kids you feel me, right?), but I dragged myself out of bed the next morning and was given a handwritten name tag when I walked in the door (everyone else had printed ones, confirming my suspicion that this was a select event and I was lucky to be there). During that hour, I just sat and ate my breakfast quietly and asked maybe one question the entire time, and afterward I remember thinking that I lost those 3 hours of sleep for nothing. I couldn't have been more wrong.

I received the interview a few months later and I knew it was probably related to that breakfast. Then it turns out that my first round interviewer was at that breakfast and we remembered each other. Luck: 2, peyo212: 0 Consequently, I was invited to the superday the next day in NYC and my first interviewer really liked my involvement in the gaming club and thought it was one of the most interesting things she had seen on a resume. Luck: 3, peyo212: 0 Then, the only MD out of my multiple interviewers was an alumnus of my school AND appreciated how my life story was unique from those of the other candidates. Luck: 5, peyo212: 0. It all happened so fast and I received the offer a few days later. After some deliberation I took it and the rest is history.

Side note: I helped the bank go through resumes/recruit before I left for my current job and there is no way my resume would have been picked this past year. So to this day, I'm really not sure what happened. Luck: 6, peyo212: 0

Comments (33)

 
Sep 2, 2013 - 7:15pm

Great story, thanks for sharing it.

 
Sep 2, 2013 - 9:46pm

Thanks for that. Luck definitely plays a big role in breaking into that first great job.

On a side note: I always found that playing a varsity sport throughout college and being involved in other extra-curriculars really makes interviewers forgive a low (3.1) GPA.

 
Sep 2, 2013 - 11:06pm

adrianthegreat:

Thanks for that. Luck definitely plays a big role in breaking into that first great job.

On a side note: I always found that playing a varsity sport throughout college and being involved in other extra-curriculars really makes interviewers forgive a low (3.1) GPA.

My opinion has always been that varsity athlete >> almost all other extracurriculars during the BB recruiting process. I've seen it as an applicant as well as from the other side. I could be biased though.

 
Sep 3, 2013 - 8:58am

Speaking of luck and SC.

I once had a 2nd round and one of my interviewers was a old school Starcraft Brood War guy and he totally loved that I organized charity LAN tournaments in conjunction with local businesses. He basically spent the entire interview chatting me up about the current state of professional gaming in Korea.

Anyways, loved your post and thanks for sharing. I think all of us had these moments whether we'd admit it or not. Some people just don't want to give up any credit.

73 good sir!
  • 1
 
Sep 3, 2013 - 7:45am

So let's get this straight. You had a low GPA because you were too busy playing video games. You were involved in extracurricular commitments which had nothing to do with either career development or sport. You weren't able to answer the technical q's at an interview because you didn't do your homework. You felt like sleeping in instead of attending a breakfast interview, and regardless of the fact that you went, you were completely passive when you were there. This is all rather telling of your character. I think the moral to this story is not that luck helps to defy the odds of landing a job in finance, rather that only the unprepared need rely on it. Successful people make their own luck.

 
Sep 3, 2013 - 1:21pm

diverse_kanga:

So let's get this straight. You had a low GPA because you were too busy playing video games. You were involved in extracurricular commitments which had nothing to do with either career development or sport. You weren't able to answer the technical q's at an interview because you didn't do your homework. You felt like sleeping in instead of attending a breakfast interview, and regardless of the fact that you went, you were completely passive when you were there. This is all rather telling of your character. I think the moral to this story is not that luck helps to defy the odds of landing a job in finance, rather that only the unprepared need rely on it. Successful people make their own luck.

I will quote a comment below yours to respond to you:

AgentBishop:

I think all of us had these moments whether we'd admit it or not. Some people just don't want to give up any credit.

Also, I had a great time in college and I learned a lot about life outside of the career aspect of it. :D

 
Sep 3, 2013 - 8:08am

What happened to Luck: 4, peyo212: 0 ?
Great story btw, thanks for sharing.

"When a defining moment comes along you define the moment or the moment defines you."
 
Sep 3, 2013 - 10:12am

Good stuff bro...Being in the right place at the right time never hurts.

All the world's indeed a stage, And we are merely players, Performers and portrayers, Each another's audience, Outside the gilded cage - Limelight (1981)
 
Sep 5, 2013 - 8:54pm

peyo212:

I was not a varsity athlete, and only later did I find out (to my great dismay) how much value such a status held during the recruiting process.

Judging from the fact that you founded a semi-professional video gaming club, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say it wasn't the lack of awareness as to the value of being a varsity collegiate athlete that prevented you from being the middle linebacker at Penn.

Array
  • 1
 
Sep 6, 2013 - 6:23pm

Hmm...Peyo, really liked your story. Gives hope to those who are ambitious but don't have ____ [filled in the blank] to back it up!

When you were going through the process at the BB, during the later interviews, did they require your transcript? And if so, your "low" GPA didn't prompt any questions from theM? Really curious.

 
Sep 6, 2013 - 9:58pm

canucksfever:

Hmm...Peyo, really liked your story. Gives hope to those who are ambitious but don't have ____ [filled in the blank] to back it up!

When you were going through the process at the BB, during the later interviews, did they require your transcript? And if so, your "low" GPA didn't prompt any questions from theM? Really curious.

I might have been asked during one interview during my final round, and I quickly dispelled the concern by saying some of my extracurriculars were pretty time-consuming. Your GPA only matters BEFORE you get the interview, and they did not ask for my transcript then (but they knew my GPA). As I found out later when I was helping choose kids to interview, exceptions are definitely made and a high GPA (especially in an "easier" major) without anything "special" doesn't mean a thing and won't get you an interview.

 
Sep 8, 2013 - 5:22am

Great story, luck does sometime play a part in recruitment and getting your foot in the door. I wish you the best of luck.

You're walking around blind without a cane, pal. A fool and his money are lucky enough to get together in the first place. Gordon Gekko
 
Sep 8, 2013 - 5:01pm

respect for following your interests in your own time. can't think of anything more pathetic than spending one's free time in college on the finance/investment type clubs that were enormously popular at my university.

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