Black Jack's Recruiting Advice
I received a lot of PMs over the past month asking me for advice/resume help/etc with people seeing that I had had a lot of success landing interviews at many places. I will preface this by saying that I am not in the industry, and like many of you am just trying to break in. I was able to land a top notch job for this summer, despite that fact that I don't go to one of the main targets (I'm a non target for most firms), I don't have above a 3.7, and I have virtually no finance background (1 pretty solid soph internship).
There are things I did wrong in the recruiting process, but for the most part I think I approached it the right way, and I wanted to share some of what I think made me successful with you others who are in or soon to be in a similar position. I'm going to post some stats/firms, not to gloat but merely to show that someone without amazing stats can compete with the best of them.
1st rounds: Baird, Sandler, KBW, Simmons, Blair, Lincoln, Jefferies, RBS, UBS, Gleacher, Centerview, Greenhill, Morgan Stanley, Goldman (New York, Chicago, and San Fran offices), JP Morgan, Blackstone M&A, Lazard MM, Oppenheimer, Nomura
Of the above, I received a super day with 14/21 (including the 3 Goldman offices).
The Resume: Having a strong and polished resume is one of the main things that WSO and other sources emphasize, and this is really a no-brainer. Not worth even going into further detail here. Have a 3.5 or above (unless you go to a school where everyone has a 3.95), do an internship sophomore summer (I always push federal reserve, wealth management is fine, anything else is good too). Then have things on your resume that aren't finance. Most of my interviews were spent talking about my interests, hobbies, items on resume unrelated to the job directly. I have been sent a couple of resumes from people on here where interests involves tutoring in math and investing/being on the investment club- (not to throw anyone under the bus)- finance clubs and that show interest in the industry, but you need to seem like an interesting person- you like to travel, play a sport, play an instrument- I think of the top 75% of a resume (academics and experience) as the qualifications, and the bottom 25% as a way to show why someone would enjoy working with you.
Technicals: I'm from a non-finance background, but I learned most of the basic technicals this fall. End of the day, there are a few questions that get asked and that you should know. There is no excuse not to know them besides laziness, because they are not complicated concepts.
3 ways to value a company
DCF- know it inside and out- discount rate, free cash flows, etc.
Accounting- there are about 5-7 questions asked about occurrences and how they affect the 3 statements, know them.
On occasion I was asked more detailed options/LBO questions, but this happened 1 or 2 times. The technical questions (besides at a few shops or with a few stiffs who went to Michigan/Wharton and think they are the end all be all of the interview) don't matter much at all. If you don't know a question don't panic, try to solve it, or say you haven't learned it and ask them to help you through it. The stuff isn't rocket science, and if you don't know something it is likely a matter of you haven't been exposed to it but could learn it in a minute if you were taught it. But if you don't get an offer/super day, it probably is not the technicals that did you in- unless it is a purely technical interview, these questions are a fraction of the total assessment.
Networking: Networking sucks. You go into an info session, you think of some questions to ask people from the firm (you already know the answer to all of your own questions), you try to get a business card, and you follow up by email. It sucks, but everyone knows it sucks, so play the game and just do it. Here are some things networking wise that really helped me out:
1. The line between persistent/enthusiastic and annoying: This is everyones biggest fear, and it is for me as well. Networking is all a fine line between showing someone you are interested in the position and industry, talking to them and building a relationship, and generally getting them to like you without thinking you are annoying. There is no special way to do this- you know if you're being annoying.
2. Building a relationship: Something that was particularly effective for me was building a long term relationship with alumni or other people at firms. I reached out to a number of them during my sophomore year (towards the end of the firms' recruiting), and was unsuccessful in getting interviews at their firms. However, I contacted them again many months later (same email chain), and picked up interviews this year for every firm. The reason- if an alum gets 20 emails from students in October wanting to discuss the position, and he knows that one of them emailed (and in my case spoke with) him back the previous February, who will he be more inclined to help out? These people don't want to feel used, so the more you can convince them that you don't just want a referral the better. This is not to say you should be reaching out to contacts 2 years in advance (see the fine line between persistence and annoying), but try not to reach out to them in December or January when your intentions are obvious.
3. The phone call. There is no reason to not set up phone calls with alums and people at firms- most are willing to chat on the phone for 20-30 mins. In an email don't ask for a job but ask to learn about their experience with the firm. And when you talk to them do the same- people, particularly older people, like talking about themselves and looking back on their own pasts- questions like "how has the firm changed, what made you interested in xxx sector or in investment banking, what has made you successful in your role," are great. Don't try to impress someone with knowledge of the markets, the industry, or the expertise you picked up working 8 weeks at a PWM shop. They spend their entire work week talking about this stuff, and the last thing they want to do is talk more about it with a 19 year old with an ignorant opinion on it (you older guys can feel free to disagree with that). At the end of the phone call asking for advice on internships, advice on interviews, advice on recruiting in general is a great way to wrap up. And guess what, not every one of these phone calls will lead to an interview or referral or anything- but a good number will.
4. Getting interviews: I've come to the conclusion over the past few months that if you have solid experience and a solid GPA at a good (not necessarily target) school, there is no reason to not get an interview most everywhere. I approached the recruiting process with this attitude, and save for a few places where I was referred to HR by very senior contacts and didn't get interviews, I was successful. If there is any alumni base at a firm then follow the networking steps above. If there are not then here are a few things that worked for me. Also this stuff has been said before in other threads as well.
1. Cold calling- I called a few firms and just asked to speak with who was in charge of recruiting. HR plays a bigger role than you would think, and at many of the smaller firms there is no real HR but rather an associate who handles recruiting- if you can get in touch with this person you are golden- Greenhill and Lincoln are examples of 2 shops where the intern program is run by an actual banker. I landed a few interviews just by calling the main offices, getting in touch with these people, having a conversation (as described earlier), and them simply offering me an interview.
2. Look for people with connections- if you go to Yale email someone at the firm from Harvard. Michigan? Email someone from Wisconsin. If you grew up in LA email someone who went to school at USC. If you played football in college find someone else who was on their college football team. Even high schools- you would be shocked at the strength of networks like Deerfield, Exeter, Andover- I didn't go to any of these places, but things like that can be huge.
5. The interviews: Once you get to an interview it is all on you- doesn't really matter what experience you have, what your GPA is, or anything (I'm sure it is different at different places). If they choose to interview you they usually have decided you are qualified. So now you need to be personable, you need to present yourself well, and you need to be likable. The last 1 is far and away the most important, and there is not a way to teach that. Practice makes perfect- I had the opportunity to do a bunch of mock interviews, and the more comfortable you are with your story the better. Practice walking through a DCF, talking about your summer job experience, explaining what stories you have been following in the markets.
Try not to sound rehearsed- tell your stories and thoughts as if you are having them at the time, not as if you are reading them from a script. Cliche as it is, the best interviews are like a conversation- they aren't reading from a list of questions, but rather asking you something and then delving deeper into that because you have hooked them. Like I said before, if you get that interview they know you are qualified (particularly for a super day)- at this point it is about them thinking you can do the work and liking you.
You need to be fluid, smooth, and confident. Confidence is king- look like you want to do the job and will be able to do the job, and you'll do great. At the same time, there is a fine line between confidence and cockiness, and you have to know it- you aren't entitled to anything, compared to even the worst analyst at the worst firm (might be an exaggeration) you know nothing, and you should come in trying to get the message across that you want to work hard and you are hungry to learn as much as possible. I know in a few super days it was intimidating for me to be up against kids from stronger finance backgrounds with nicer suits, rolex watches, and all that jazz, don't let it change your game plan.
Anyways, that is all I got- hope it useful to some of you, and best of luck to everyone still in the process. It is truly an unnecessarily miserable time.