From <2 GPA, to Bulge Bracket and Hedge Fund

Yesterday I received an offer from an equity long/short fund in HK and achieving my goal that I have been pursuing over the past 5 years. As a long-time WSO user, I have read numerous stories which have motivated me all the way. So I think it's time for me to share my story...

Background: building foundation and interest from reading and trading

I came from a local family in Hong Kong. Back in my high school days, because of my school's culture, the best graduates tend to become lawyer or doctors. I have no idea what an investment bank nor hedge fund is. Yet since the day I picked up a book about monetary policy and macro economic indicators, I start to feel obsessed with economics, and later investment. I started my trading account, and used my limited knowledge to try to identify investment opportunities by monetary policy analysis and value-investment ( least I thought I am doing it right back then). By the time I am graduated, I still perceive this as my interests, but not career option...

1st 2 years in college : from GPA IB porter

My first year almost killed my career: I become obsessed with student society work in college. I dedicated so much that my GPA in one semester dropped below 2.0. Don't get me wrong, I actually find this one of the most rewarding experience I have ever had throughout my college. I get the chance to achieve many breakthroughs that I cannot get from elsewhere. Yet until year 2 I have no idea what I want to do, and thus have no motivation to have good time management and self-discipline to achieve big.

Actually since year 1 I have already come across with investment banking and hedge funds. However, since year 1, there are lots of bright students, obviously understanding how intense the competition was to break into investment banking, working so hard and preparing themselves to get into investment banking, such as asking seniors for referrals, getting internship in relevant firms (such as Big 4, boutique IB), and preparing for interviews. With my mediocre academic results, I have never attempted to get into investment banking.

It was a 3-year college curriculum for me back then, so in my year-2 spring semester, with my blank resume, I have to start thinking about what I should be doing after graduation. It was that moment when I feel like I should reluctantly accept the fact that it was already good enough for a student like me being hired right after graduation by a small company, I receive a piece of advise from my relatives that "it is the best to find a job which fits your interest". When I look at my book shelf full of investment-related books, I feel like I should at least give it a try, and if I failed, I should still be better than sitting there and doing nothing right? **Yet, how can I even get an interview from an investment bank or a hedge fund with my blank resume?**

I decided to go bold: cold-emailing and cold-calling. It is actually less common back then in Hong Kong comparing to US or Europe for students to do cold-emailing and cold-calling. Thanks to WSO, I received many good advice to prepare for how to do cold-emailing or cold-calling. I have sent over 300 emails during the semesters to look for summer internship. However, obviously I was too late. It was March that I started to do such things, and most summer internship positions have already been filled. It was in late May when I suddenly received a call, it was a boutique investment bank I applied online before for a "summer internship" position. I was quickly accepted after 1 round of interview by a HR, and later I found out why the procedure goes so quick...they are actually looking for a porter, not really a summer intern with return offer opportunity, since they are moving their office to the new location across the street. And me, as an summer intern, has spent a sweaty summer packing all the documents and stuff in the office...

Year-3-and-4...and year-5 in college: from a porter, to hedge fund intern, and finally, a bulge bracket intern

**Yet after going back to school, I didn't give up. I know at least I have an investment bank on my resume now. I started to receive a few interviews for semester internship. One in particular caught my interest: It was a USD1bn equity long/short hedge fund. This is when I realize my readings over the years finally paid off. I have gone through all 4 rounds of interviews with my knowledge in monetary policy, in particular those of Asian economies, and stocks. When I finally receive an offer, and was asked to sign the contract in their office, I realize a semester internship in a hedge fund is not enough for me to get an investment banking or hedge fund job. So I decide to make another big decision: I offer to work for free, full-time, for half year in the fund by taking half-year off from school, and they accepted.

It was a fruitful year in the hedge fund. According to my managers before my internship ends, it is actually a wise decision for me to take a placement comparing to a semester internship, because it is also of their interest to allocate more resources to train me in all aspects, instead of giving me ad-hoc assignments, which I believe many of you might have experienced during an summer internship.

There is one thing that I have never stopped doing, cold-emailing. By cold-emailing I have actually landed an equity research internship in an investment bank right after my hedge fund internship. But by the time I have declined other interviews and ready to accept the offer, my offer was suddenly withdrawn, because "someone with special relationship" has taken my seat. I was shocked, but quickly accepted this as the reality of the industry (interestingly, during the same year, there are series of investigations and allegations against US-based IB granting special internship/job offer to candidates with "special relationship", in particular in Asia (/Hong Kong)). Fortunately my boss in the hedge fund was satisfied with my work, and was willing to offer me another 3 months to stay until I found another internship.

After 9 months of placement, I have returned to school to finish my last 2 semesters. When I start to hunt for full-time job, another opportunity popped up: an interview for an internship position for a bulge bracket bank. Perceiving it more like a office visit (of course, i did prepare seriously for that), it turns out I am so blessed to pass all 5 rounds of interviews and successfully landed an offer. This is when my reading works again: I talked about why I think Abenomics (Japan) is more likely to fail given how self-contradicting the policies were, I talked about why Indian economy is structurally a failure over the past decade, I explained why I think China will not have a hard landing, but instead a debt restructuring which could give rise to another infrastructure boom, etc. I talked about my stock pitch for an hour. All thanks to the reading and preparation I have done, and of course, my luck.

After finishing another fruitful internship and finishing my last semester in college, I have decided not to return to the bank, and went to a smaller but reputable research platform by referral from a network I know from cold-emailing, and recently landed in a sizable hedge fund. My efforts paid off.

What I think I have done which you can also try

1. Don't ask for tips, ask about how solid you are

There are always juniors asking me about "tips" during an interview, but indeed, my biggest "tips" is to seriously prepare for your technical knowledge, and it is fine to be over-prepared. These are the things that can knock you out from the next round once you get the answer wrong, but not the personality questions like "how do you foresee yourself in 5 years".

2. Your interviewer is looking for a colleague to work with, not a superhero

When I was doing mock interview for students, I sometimes realize how tense the students are, and always giving the same answers to the personality questions. Interviewer is looking for a colleague to work with, and thus it is sometimes a good idea to be more genuine and show your true self, such as smiling more, making proper jokes, asking interviewer personal (but of course, proper and not awkward) questions and further discuss on that (within a proper time horizon). Make sure that you show that you can also be a person he can hang out with after work. This helps winning impression as well. On the contrary, don't be over-confident, don't speak like you know everything. Your interviewers are always smarter than you. Stay humble in front of them.

3. Find a career buddy

1+1 >2. A good career buddy, or peer group, can always not only share useful resources (network, preparation materials, etc) among each other, but also motivate each other when one of you get an internship or interviews.

4. Setting long-term career goal, not just looking for a full-time job

Setting long-term goal and vision the process you need helps efficiently shape your career planning, such as resources/knowledge you need in the future, preparation for alternative career pathway, etc. For example, if you ultimately aim for hedge fund, a sell-side research experience is a plus, and therefore sell-side research is the first job you should target, not straightly targeting hedge fund. If you target to be a trader, you can foresee how trading will looking in say 10-year time, and therefore programming will be what you need. If you target to work in sell-side research, you can vision the impact from MiFID II, and decide whether the risk-reward is still worth for yourself.

5. Read, Read, Read

This is more of my personal advice, but reading did help me a lot. Good books give you edge when answering technical questions and make yourself unique. I also suggest putting your favorite reading list onto your resume to create one more topic between yourself and the interviewers. This works very well for me, and at least 3 times the interviewers actually have the same favorite book as me

6. Networking is not for internship, genuinely treasure the relationship you built for your entire life

After sending over 700+ emails, I actually did not get any internships from these. But I did receive many good advice, both work and life, which shape me to become who I am right now. Those you connect by cold-emailing usually have met someone else before. Therefore they know your intention. Build a good impression, and they will offer your help even after graduation. I still kept frequent contacts with at least 10 networks I built during college time.

7. Think about the downside, think about plan B

I met many people so determined to break into investment banking for various reasons. Yet one common thing I found is that they seldom talked about the downside they could possibly face. Many people quit investment banking 2-3 years after landing the so-called dream job because of not being able to sustain physically and mentally due to the high intensity of the job and the long working hours. To make things worse they could be sacrificing their family, spouse, friends, health, or time for learning, building new habits, gym, travel, etc until they realize what kind of life they want to be in. Sadly this is usually only realized by people working in the industry, while others will only see the bright side. Find people and talk, and be honest to your self. Think about plan B if investment banking is not your ultimate dream job.

8. Even if you failed to get what you want, you have already taken steps others didn't, and have grown to a better person

Recalling my journey, the one thought that keeps popping up in my mind is "fairly speaking it might be too tough for me to get into investment banking with a CV like mine". Actually til now, I agree with this, but what kept motivating me is the belief that even if I failed, I should have grown better. It is the process that matters, and when you keep pursuing excellence, something surprisingly rewarding will follow.

9. Don't be afraid to take gap year

The best decision I have made is to take gap years to enrich my resume. It is not only because of the extra time and names you can have on your resume, but also about the network you can get from the colleague, graduation, the potential return offers and making your next employees being convinced that you are really learning something from your previous experiences. Yes, it feel weird to defer a year and not being able to graduate with your best friends, but the reward is huge.

There are too many to share, but let's stop here first. I am happy to answer any question and share more stories.

Comments (34)

Feb 21, 2018 - 3:55am

Congrats on the success.

I have seen noticeably a lot of threads like this, hard work does pay off. If it is a dream, motivation and networking along with hard hours will pay off.

Keep going and don't slow down!

No pain no game.

  • 3
Feb 23, 2018 - 8:49pm

Very inspiring story!! I wish you the best.

"Be persistent and you will get, be consistent and you will keep it, be grateful and you will get more" #phuckQuotes
Feb 26, 2018 - 6:55pm
7. Think about the downside, think about plan BI met many people so determined to break into investment banking for various reasons. Yet one common thing I found is that they seldom talked about the downside they could possibly face. Many people quit investment banking 2-3 years after landing the so-called dream job because of not being able to sustain physically and mentally due to the high intensity of the job and the long working hours. To make things worse they could be sacrificing their family, spouse, friends, health, or time for learning, building new habits, gym, travel, etc until they realize what kind of life they want to be in. Sadly this is usually only realized by people working in the industry, while others will only see the bright side. Find people and talk, and be honest to your self. Think about plan B if investment banking is not your ultimate dream job.

Very true and rarely talked about on WSO.

congrats. +sb

  • 4
Feb 27, 2018 - 9:35pm

I guess it is the stories about the lifestyle of investment banking when IPO was still charged at 7% of the funding raised which create such fancy. The industry has changed drastically from IBD, S&T and research isn't it?

I did have a plan B back then if I failed to break into the industry. The truth is when you are facing so many bright students from different Ivy League school, it is already not because of yourself not being bright enough to be picked by IB, but whether you are a right fit to the team you are interviewing, and thus luck (/risk) plays a big role that you need to hedge yourself.

Feb 28, 2018 - 1:34am

Congratulations man. Seriously inspirational stuff.

If you do have the time, would you mind posting your reading list or at least the books you found to be of the most use? Maybe your favourite macro books as well as bottom up?

Thanks and SB in advance,MM

Remember, the grass is always greener on the otherside because it's fertilized with bullshit.
Best Response
Feb 28, 2018 - 10:00am


For macro, I will suggest everyone to read all Bernanke and Greenspan books. The reason is simple: They are the modern monetary policy designer. Their thoughts on how monetary policy should be is directly implemented, and thus by studying them you will know the most practical knowledge about macro.

If i need to pick, I will pick Greenspan's "The Map and the Territory" and Bernanke's "The Federal Reserve and the Financial Crisis". The former one explains in details how Greenspan/The Fed design monetary policy; the later is similar, but in more easy-to-read language and format.

Another author I will recommend is Martin Wolf, a columnist of FT. He always have fresh angle to look at macro topics. I like his "Fixing Global Finance" and "The shifts and the shocks".

"This time is different" should also be a must-read as mentioned by many users here. Deep dive into common reasons for causing financial crisis by studying historical financial crisis.

For bottom-up, I think first thing to do is study your textbook well. Next thing to go could be something about fraud investigation. My recommendation is "Asian Financial Statement Analysis, Detecting Financial Irregularities". But of course this may not fit well if you are looking at US listed co.

And just for sharing, my all-time favorite is Howard Marks' "Most Important Thing". It talks about investment philosophies.

Hope you will like them.

Feb 28, 2018 - 8:47pm

Wow, I wasn't expecting such a detailed response. Thank you!

In terms of more educational/technical books, are there any on macroeconomic and monetary/fiscal policy books you found to be excellent for practical use?



Remember, the grass is always greener on the otherside because it's fertilized with bullshit.
Mar 1, 2018 - 8:31pm

I am not quite sure if the following fits your appetite, "financial crisis: causes, context and consequence" by Adrian Buckley is a good read. Maybe you can also try "Modern Money Theory: A Primer on Macroeconomics for Sovereign Monetary Systems" by L. Randall Wray. "The New Lombard Street: How the Fed Became the Dealer of Last Resort" could also be a good read.

Actually Alan Greenspan's "The Map and the Territory" has a short session talking about the key indicators the Fed always use to consider rate hike or act as lender of last resort, which to me is always something that I will revisit.

Mar 2, 2018 - 4:45pm

Great list, will dive deep on some of these reads!

Have you read "The Alchemists: Three Central Bankers and a World on Fire" by any chance?

Mar 2, 2018 - 6:45pm

OP, thanks for sharing your story! Hearing about other people's perseverance also gives me motivation to go on. Can you elaborate on what you did during your gap year? I'd love to know.

Mar 4, 2018 - 1:47am


For my gap year on buy-side, it is more project-based, because it is an event-driven HF. I conduct industry, investment theme, and company research when the PM has a trading idea. I also assisted in some trading tactics study.

For my gap year on sell-side, I work on macro research. My life is basically like an analyst 1/2: responding to clients' request on a timely manner, assisting report writing, and sometimes contributing new ideas to the team. I feel glad that comparing to many interns the team was willing to share more value-adding, and less admin stuff (like arranging client meetings, etc) to me, which makes my gap-year rewarding. 1 thing in particular is that because they treat me as a full-time employee, they also have a high standard on me, which pushes me to grow so fast during the first 3 months (e.g. replying all email within 15 minutes after receiving them). Those hard time turns out to be highly rewarding and shaped my working style.

Mar 3, 2018 - 3:22pm

You've flunked on the Abenomics idea. It's been a huge success.

Drawing people back into the labor force, getting some positive inflation (and it's still going for their 2% goal).

A rookie on monetary policy but I like your energy.

Mar 4, 2018 - 1:33am

Actually I see your point of saying this, and I will say yes and no:

Back then when I was answering this question, Japan was still laying out the "old" three arrows, and as you may know they later come up with some new incentives (and back then there is widespread discussion saying the new incentives have faced too much political resistance and failed to be implemented, which is later resolved). Another key point I raised back then is the fiscal health of Japan when the interest rate hike cycle finally begins, which is a long-term view.

So my answer to this question, as I also told the interviewer and long story short, is assuming everything remaining static at that moment and in a long-term view, I can see Japan enjoying a rebound in short-term, but in a longer-term view, I remain skeptical about whether Japan can successfully have a sustainable rebound if US interest rate hike cycle begins, and if no new structural policy is going to be initiated to resolve Japan's weakening competitiveness with neighbors, esp South Korea, while whether wages could be raised to offset consumption tax hike targeting to resolve the fiscal deficit back then.

Judging by some short-term indicator, like employment, GDP growth, and in my view relatively more importantly, the national debt level, Japan indeed has a good start, that's why I somehow agree with you. But I think my stance for long-term relatively bearish view stays as well at this moment.

Of course I am not Japan expert as my focus is more on China. But I am also interested in this topic and would be great to have further discussion and learn from you :)

Jun 9, 2018 - 5:44am

I am a HK local student shared the similar to your background (Low GPA ~3) , (Took Equity Research Placement in a bank , worked in a prop trade firm while the boss also has its long short fund )... May I know how to you pass the screening of the HR.. you know usually they will shortlist those candidate with the Best subject (so-called God-Like Subject Qfin Gbus ). Did you cold call the head of research /Strategy in BB for an informational interview to have fast-track ?

Jun 10, 2018 - 4:39am

Hope my answer won't disappoint you: It is by chance. Firstly indeed the bank recruited me is one of the very few which is known to give special interview opportunity to a student with subpar GPA but something special in resume. Secondly I have a year-long placement in a hedge fund, which could arouse the HR's interests as well. This is why I was so surprised when I received a first-round interview invitation, and I genuinely believe luck plays a critical role for me to get past the first round, which is typically statistics (like GPA)/subject-driven. What you said is what I targeted when I cold email my connections. For me it turned out every job I got was through a typical interview process.
So I hope me as an example of non-QFIN/GBUS can encourage people like you to stay determined to prepare and work to break into the industry. As long as you work hard work strategically, it is not a dream at all.

Jun 10, 2018 - 7:15am

Thanks for your sharing. May I pm you or would you mind to chat via other software like telegram? As I really want to know about the investment bank that you mentioned which give chance to students like you and me. Plus, I really want to know more about coldcalling in HK... U know that how littlet attention will those sell side guys pay on us. As I think my internship backgroup is (ER analyst in prop trade firm + HF , upcoming foreign investment bank equity research..) quite similar to you. But I am in ust with a 2.9 gpa which I am so afraid of being screened out and dunno what I should do..

  • Prospect in AM - Equities
Nov 19, 2019 - 9:55pm

Hi! When you were cold emailing, did you target senior like PMs and CIOs or junior staff? Did you straight out ask for internships/interviews or just calls? Did you try attaching a pitch or work sample?

Jan 27, 2020 - 12:54pm

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