From South Korea to the US

Edit: Got an offer at MBB (Seoul office), set to join after completing the internship at one of the MF PE firms mentioned below.

Hello everyone, I'm not sure what hiring is like for Asians coming into US MBA programs, so I'm seeking for advice on this forum. I did my prior research, I don't think there are any posts that are directly relevant.
I am attending Seoul national university, which is the best university here. I've been trying to break into investment banking in Seoul, but it's been difficult. There's no headcount here-BB banks hire 10 or less summer interns each year, so the competition here is intense. For guys in Seoul university, the typical route is like the following. Complete 2 years of military service, join a student banking club to network (otherwise near impossible to break into banking), then do 1 or 2 internships for local PE shops, then do an off-cycle internship at a BB bank for 6 months, and then finally get a summer internship. It takes really, really long.

I am 27, near graduation (entered university late, didn't get accepted to SNU straight out of high school). I will soon be doing a 6 month internship for an MF PE (KKR/Carlyle/TPG/Bain Capital), although the Seoul office is admittedly small compared to other Asia regions. Not sure I will be able to break into banking even after this internship.

So my question is, if I end up starting my career at a local PE shop as an analyst, and I manage to do well on the GMAT, what are my chances of breaking into banking in the US through an MBA? I've been doing a lot of internships while postponing my graduation date, I'm not sure how this will be perceived by both MBA admissions people and the investment banks in the US. Age, relatively short experience for that age, and a seemingly abnormally long time in university all feel like disadvantages. Plus, even if I intern at a mega fund here, if my full-time career is in local PE, I fear that might not be well received either. Do I need to break into BB banking at whatever cost here to have a shot at an MBA?

Sorry for the tsunami of questions, if you have read up to this point thank you so much. Any feedback whatsoever would be greatly appreciated. Thank you! 

 
Most Helpful

If you don't have US citizenship and are not a long-term permanent resident in the US....

1) Get a job locally and then initiate an internal transfer, if you know how to leverage your network and the contacts you have. It is probably also the "most likely" scenario, especially for a US destination. So try finding an employer in your country who is willing to move you abroad after the minimum wait period and also sponsor your visa.

If the goal is to permanently move and reside in another country, however, there are alternatives that may make sense

2) further education if you can afford it; and then go the CPT/OPT/H1b route which may take a few years. But this is still a viable option to obtain residency in the US and, eventually, citizenship.

3) family sponsorship is also possible and a straight-forward route, normally. Your first degree family members can sponsor you (i.e. parents, children, siblings)

If the destination country is more important than the career you currently have - some people have a life-long dream of starting their own business or do something else than sit at home or commuting to the office. If you have already decided that moving to the other side of earth is the right thing, why not go one step further and also rethink your career? Now might be the best chance.

4) investment based green card; possible if the amount of investment exceeds 900K (immigrant route)

5) Extraordinary abilities, O visa for professionals in entertainment, modeling, acting, singing, science, business, (..) - if a strong case can be made based on outstanding, published results (i.e. SAG/AFTRA credits, scientific awards, noble prize, published in national/international media, Olympic medals, ..). It is possible to get the O visa if you are a strong contender within your space, but not for a regular finance employee who works in an office.

Alternatives:

- Canada. Easier to migrate to, but more difficult to figure out the job market, especially within finance.

- If you are not married yet and want a more permanent residence in the US - dating/marriage is also a solution.

- There is, unfortunately, no working holiday visa in the USA. These are just ideas and I am not an immigration attorney, of course, and a legal professional may provide further assistance.

Also, if you qualify: keep  participating in the the diversity green card lottery.

On the VWP you are legally allowed to enter the US at an official PoE and you are then (normally) given 90 days to exit. In this time frame you are also allowed to meet prospective employers, even interview or undergo training - just not work, or get paid. It is very unlikely that a US based employer would interview someone who doesn't hold a work authorization.
Also, the MBA (or any degree) route is no guarantee for the H1b or a green card. They may make things easier to get further jobs/visas, but there are plenty intl. grads who go home in the grace period given by USCIS. The quality of your school is relevant.

For non-immigrant purposes there are quite a few more alternatives that are easier, if all you want is to live in the US for a while and then return.
Also, as a citizen of your country, you are most likely in a treaty nation with the US. This means you will have considerably more options than people from other nations. It won't be easy, but it is at least possible to live in the US.

The initial, relevant visa avenues should be L for the transfer, E1/E2 for either personal investment or corporate transfer (depends on details like how the company is structured, nationality of the company, etc), F visa for students if you want to go for a degree, H1b for transfer or post F, E3 if you hold Australian citizenship, O if you have extraordinary skills. J should no longer apply to professionals (J could apply post degree though!)

Your odds of entering a good MBA program have a big influence over the career afterwards.

 

Hey there! It sounds like you've been on quite the journey already. I can see why you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed, but let's break this down together.

Firstly, your experience in PE, especially at a mega fund like KKR, Carlyle, TPG, or Bain Capital, is definitely valuable. Even if the Seoul office is smaller, the name and the experience you gain there will carry weight.

As for your age and the time you spent in university, I wouldn't worry too much about that. Everyone has a unique path and it's all about how you frame your story. You've shown dedication and perseverance, which are qualities that both MBA admissions and investment banks value.

Now, regarding your chances of breaking into banking in the US through an MBA, it's definitely possible. Many people use an MBA as a way to pivot their careers. Doing well on the GMAT and having a strong application will be key.

As for whether you need to break into BB banking at all costs, I wouldn't say it's a necessity. It could potentially boost your profile, but it's not the only path. Your experience in PE, especially if you perform well, can also be a strong selling point.

Remember, this is just one monkey's opinion. I'd recommend reaching out to others who have made similar transitions and see what insights they can offer. Good luck!

Sources: https://www.wallstreetoasis.com/forum/investment-banking/breaking-into-private-equity-from-banking?customgpt=1, Breaking into BB IBD for an Indian., Analyst at 27 or head to B school?

I'm an AI bot trained on the most helpful WSO content across 17+ years.
 

Fellow Korean here - based in London but know a few friends in Seoul/HK

If you're set on breaking into banking, think US should be far down on your priority list... 

Heard of internal transfers from Seoul/HK to London/NY but rare and usually not a permanent move

Further education + Banking move may be eaiser in London JFYI (shorter degree programmes / lighter visa requirements vs. US)

 

Thank you for the reply! It’s been a while since I posted this and I managed to get an offer at one of the MBB firms here in Seoul (will be joining after my PE internship). Definitely interested in the Finance scene at London, is it best to do an MBA at the US and apply to positions in London? Was also wondering whether applying for project experience in London would be beneficial as well (out of MBB, will be working at the one that has the global “one firm” policy).

 

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