A Story of Persistence: If I Can Make It, You Can Too
Rewind back to October 2011. I was a Senior at a fairly prestigious state school, but it was a non-target university. I was graduating with a major in History, and I believed I wanted to go to Law School eventually. My father and mother both went to Law School and it seemed inevitable that I would do the same. However, in October of 2011, I opened an E-Trade account. I did some qualitative analysis on IMAX, and when the stock went up from beating projected earnings, the stock went straight up. I was hooked from that point forward.
I loved the idea of analyzing and investing in companies, but I didn't know shit at that point. If you asked me what a Balance Sheet was, I would've looked at you dumbfounded. I also didn't know even know how to put formulas intoat that point either. I knew there was a long and extremely difficult road ahead of me, but I knew being involved with investments is what I wanted to do.
I decided to build my knowledge by starting slow; I thought I would be able to digest the material easier at that point. I recorded all the shows about the market (e.g. Mad Money, Squawk on The Street, Bloomberg Rewind, and Closing Bell). From watching these shows, I got a good understanding of the markets but I still didn't know the fundamentals. I thought the next logical step would be to sign up for the CFA. I didn't even know I wanted to go intoat that point, but I decided I would be able to learn a lot regardless.
I spent thousands of dollars on the exam fee, Schweser videos, books, and secret sauce. All the sections were completely new to me, and I spent hours upon hours studying the material. In June of 2012, I took the CFA Level 1 exam. It was disastrous. I ended up getting a Band 4 aka I failed miserably.
While I was studying from the CFA, I also was able to secure a couple interviews but I failed at all of them too. One particular interview feedback from a large creditfirm stuck with me forever, and I still have it. In it he said, "However, what we look for in internship candidates are those that not only show a high motivation and specific interest, but those that also show very high potential to be successful long-term at XXX." Translation: We don't think you're good enough.
So there I was, I was graduating with no relevant experience, failed the CFA exam, and my overall GPA was about 2.9. Did I mention that? Yes, my GPA was really low too. I took it all in stride though; my ambitions wouldn't let me quit.
Running out of options
I knew I needed relevant education to even get a shot at securing a position. After graduating in June of 2012, I signed up for a certificate program for Investments. I was doing well in the program, but it was nowhere near where I wanted to be. I reached out to alumni of that university and my Alma mater alumni as well, but neither yielded any actionable results. I also cold-called hundreds of places, and got one interview. And guess what? I didn't secure that position either.
I randomly was going through Wall Street Oasis one day, and saw there was a new MSF program that @TNA" posted about and he also recommended it. I had just moved to the area too and it was a fairly good university. I thought what the hell, what do I have to lose? I figured if I didn't get in, I'd just take CAIA to see where that takes me. After waiting patiently several months, I got in! To this day, I have no idea how I got in, but I did. I'm going to take this opportunity and run with it.
I felt like I got a new lease on my career ambitions. When I first started the MSF program, a few classmates and I started an investment club. Though it never became official, we brought in investment professionals and presented in front of the finance board as to why we should invest endowment money. The next step was to secure an internship. I applied to a boutique investment bank, and was able to secure the position. However, it was full-time, unpaid and an hour commute each way. It was the best opportunity I had, so I took it. It was exhaustive to go to school full-time at night, work 40-50 hours per week, and drive an hour each way during the week, but I knew I could leverage it to my next gig, and that was most important.
MM PE Internship:
After I finished that internship, a new opportunity arose. It was at a large, well-known middle-market private equity firm. I was in the last few months of the MSF program, and I knew I wanted to be involved in Investment Banking or Private Equity. However, the private equity firm only recruited from a target school but I had access to the career postings because my undergraduate university was in the same university system. I ended up getting to schedule an interview, and crushed it. I got an offer, but it was unfortunately an internship too. It gave me an opportunity to learn more, and expand my network though.
Why you should intern at a PE Firm:
During the winding days of my internship, I called our Principal of Origination to set me up interviews in Investment Banking. IF YOU WANT TO GET INTO INVESTMENT BANKING, I RECOMMEND INTERNING AT A PRIVATE EQUITY FIRM FIRST. PE firms and IB firms go hand in hand, and the sourcing guys know all the Investment Bankers. You will have somebody vouching for who you are when your resume reaches the Bankers inbox. The hit rate is 100x higher than if you were cold calling or cold e-mailing.
Low and behold, I was having coffee with one of middle-market bankers, and he loved me so much that he verbally offered me a job on the spot. And that's where I'm at now. I start my Analyst job in January. I guess I am good enough. Also, when you get in front of a banker, be on your shit. I recommend taking a look at Investment Banking Interview Course from WallStreetOasis.
Effort & Dedication:
If you come from a non-target, have a low GPA, and/or have liberal arts background, you can make it too. I had all three riding against me, but I still made it. All it takes effort and dedication to do what you believe you can achieve. Luck only plays a small factor, but when your opportunity comes, be sure to not miss it. I've missed numerous of opportunities, but I was able to finally grab one. People often said my dreams were unobtainable and I would be the last person they'd pick for a career in banking. Guess what? They were wrong. Believe in yourself and everything else will take care of itself.
I'm in VC now and love every minute of it.
Mod Note (Andy): Throwback Thursday - this originally went up 12/2014