30 year-old breaking in

I am still not sure if this will add any value or if anyone will find this useful, but I've seen a couple of "Too old to break into IB?" topics lately and I thought I'd share my journey with you. The advice and stories I've read on this forum have helped me maintain my sanity after more rejections than I wish to remember.

The following story is not a story of someone from a troubled background, poor family or anything that would excuse my failures. I simply made poor choices along the way, for which I had to pay the price. My story begins with me just having graduated from high school and it's a long and complicated one, so bear with me or skip ahead to the last few paragraphs.

18 years old

University is free back home, and since my high school grades were decent, I was good at maths and had no clue what I wanted to do next, I enrolled in a five year joint BSc and MSc programme in mathematics. Boy, was that a mistake!

After one semester I hated it and decided to take a break from uni to pursue a career as a painter and theatre designer. Wrap your head around that! I still look back and want to timetravel and bitchslap 18 year-old me.

19 - 22 years old

While I was passionate about art, I was utterly mediocre at it. Combine that with the fact that being an artist, even a talented one, doesn't pay sufficiently to make a living, reality came knocking after three years of failing to make it in my poorly chosen pursuit. I needed to do something else in my life, but I had no clue where to start. Hence, not knowing what else to do, I went back to uni to finish my degree.

22 - 25 years old

3 years passed by and I was sick of it. I simply was not interested in math. I had to push through and figure out what I would do afterwards. I had somehow managed to pass all the courses and all I had left to do was to write a dissertation to get my degree. I didn't write my dissertation. Instead, I took a second break from uni to start my own business.

25 - 27 years old

I don't know whether I had a high level of risk-tolerance or whether I was simply unaware of the risk involved, but after a series of discussions with my best friend, we decided to start our own business. I was still a student while he had just graduated. We had a decent idea and a solid network of people who would be our potential first clients, so after conducting market research and writing a business plan, we dove in. We bootstrapped the whole thing, and what followed was the two most fun and stressful years of my life.

Aggressive sales, technology and complementary skill sets enabled us to grow the company rapidly. We had 10 employees after one year, captured more than 50% of the market share, revenues were 6 figures and we maintained great margins.

This was my first contact with accounting and finance. Somewhere along the way, I started reading about finance; anything I could get my hands on. I also had money for the first time in my life. I was fulfilled and happy, until I wasn't anymore.

After two years of running the business, an external investor approached me and asked to buy my shares at an attractive price. I knew that my partner did not want any outsiders in the company, so being a good friend and valuing my friendship with the guy, I offered him to buy me out at the same price. No competition, no bullshit. He agreed and to this day we still have a great relationship.

27 - 28 years old

The next natural step for me was to write my damn dissertation and finally get the godforsaken maths degree. However, obligations came knocking: the military. You see, military service is mandatory in my country for a year. While completing my military service, I also managed to finish my dissertation and got the degree. Mid-summer of 2014, I was honorably discharged, had my degree and still had no clue what I would do next.

28-29 years old

I thought maybe I should do something related to consulting or finance. At least, those were careers that had piqued my interest in the past. Or perhaps, I would do a MSc degree somewhere in western Europe. I started researching the world of finance. Eventually, WSO was one of the sites I came across. I read and read; forums, textbooks, financial modelling guides, guides about how to tailor your CV and cover letter for investment banking positions. If you haven't checked out the IB Interview Prep Course, you definitely should.

I became obsessed. I liked financial modelling, I liked the work that I thought analysts do, so I started applying to positions in London: Off-cycle internships and graduate schemes. I was technically after all, a recent graduate and I also had a unique background. I thought that maybe "I might actually stand a chance" since banks boast on their websites how they welcome diversity and people from various backgrounds, I thought naively.

Right. Out of 100 applications in 4 months, I was invited to only one phone interview. One. And they rejected me of course.

I was 1,500 miles away from London, with no opportunity to network, and a degree from an unknown - to U.K. recruiters - university, which had taken me 10 years to complete. None of my friends or acquaintances even knew what investment banking was; my only source of knowledge and advice was the internet.

And the internet unanimously concluded that I would need some relevant experience under my belt and an MSc degree from the UK if I wanted to stand a chance in recruiting.

So I did what came naturally to me. I went to the offices of a regional bank (multiple times) and offered to work for free in their investment banking division. After two weeks, they interviewed me and I broke in. They didn't have an internship programme, but I guess they liked my persistence or it was pure luck.

December 1st 2014 was my first day at work. There was no training provided and I was initially given menial tasks. Fast forward a few months, I built solid relationships with the team and was given increasingly more responsibility. I had a very close relationship with an MD. He essentially made me his analyst and even tried to get the bank to pay me something, though he didn't succeed. However, I was slowly building my skill set, forming relationships with people in the industry and getting staffed on deals.

Subsequently, the MD encouraged me to apply to an MSc programme in London, which I did and to which I was accepted.

29-30 years old

In the summer of 2015, the bank offered me an analyst position. Bear in mind that although the pay did not compare with pay in western Europe, the economic and political situation in my country was extremely unstable. A "stable" job in an environment like that would have been a blessing to most people. I rejected the offer with the goal to complete an MSc in London and then pursue a career in the city. The people close to me thought I had lost it (to be fair, it wasn't the first time the thought had crossed their mind).

Some insight on how I chose the uni and the MSc programme

Let me make a distinction first. It's not necessarily true that a uni's graduate programme will place as well in IBD as the same uni's undergrad programme. I know because I checked. I checked hundreds of LinkedIn profiles to see specifically where graduate programmes were placing their students. University rankings do not matter. The only thing that matters is how well a uni places at the firms you want to work.

For EU students who don't have a BSc from a UK uni, even if you do a MSc in the UK, recruiters and HR will still prefer people who got their BSc at a UK uni. However, this shouldn't stop you from doing a MSc in the UK or apply for positions. Just be aware of how you are perceived.

I knew that Oxbridge, LSE, LBS, Imperial and Warwick were the main targets for IBD, but I also knew that they would reject me. I applied to LSE which rejected me. And then there were the semi-targets. Location and being able to network was extremely important to me so I chose to attend a uni that is in London and is below LSE, LBS and Imperial in terms of placement (you can probably guess which one).

I arrived in London and the uphill battle continued. The university in London was good, and they pride themselves on having an excellent careers office. No. The careers office, and probably most careers offices, provide excellent advice to clueless foreigners who have never written an application in their life. But if you know how to write a cover letter and a CV (get some feedback from people in the industry), a careers office will not add any value. Just check the page where they post available positions. They did organize a career fair at the beginning of the first semester and I met some people whom I still keep in touch. They also brought in some speakers from the industry, but those people rarely stayed for networking after their speech. So after going to a couple of these events, I realized that I can spend those two hours more efficiently, so I re-calibrated my approach:

a) Submit a large volume of online applications either on the company's website or on the countless jobsites that exist.

Surprisingly, applying online in the UK is not the black hole that is in the US. A well-written cover letter and CV does actually go a long way (if anyone actually reads them). Trust me on that. I have helped more classmates than you can imagine with their cover letters and CVs. The ones they sent or wanted to send before editing were horrific. Do not overestimate the competition.

b) Following-up after an application to any company, I went on LinkedIn and connected with people who worked there.

I sent them a short message, where I introduced myself, told them I had already applied to the company and asked them to have a quick conversation over coffee or over the phone. Almost 1 out of 5 agreed. Every person that was either an alumnus or came from my country agreed to meet me. All levels. From analysts to MDs. Also, most Americans agreed to meet with me. I guess they're more used to networking like that.

Another thing that I learned through this process is that at Bulge Brackets, MDs can help after your CV has passed the HR screening process; not before, at least that's what they told me. Does that mean that you shouldn't try to meet them? No! Meet everyone. Leave no stone unturned.

c) If I applied to a smaller company and no one connected with me on LinkedIn, I waited for a few days and then called them.

I asked if they received my application and told them that the position was my dream job and that I would love to work for them. I received three interviews on the spot using this method.

d) I joined a relevant society (M&A, PE, Investing, etc) at uni and took up a leadership role.

At the beginning of the year, there will be many enthusiastic classmates who will want to participate in societies. As schoolwork piles up and becomes increasingly demanding, people will give up. Out of the initial 40-50 people in a society by the end of the second month, only five will still participate actively. You want to be one of those five! Organize events and invite people as speakers from the industry. Give them at least two or three months notice. Make sure to advertise your events and bring an audience. Out of all the speakers, some will be definitely willing to talk to you about future job prospects.

I still keep in touch with all my contacts, send them an email every two months to update them on my progress and see how they're doing. I ask to meet them for a quick coffee again if they have time.
I'd encourage everyone to do that. People will let you know about positions that aren't even advertised.

That was my approach. I was rejected immediately from all the Bulge Brackets I applied to.

I applied to over 150 firms this year alone. I made it to several final rounds at banks, consulting firms, PE shops and a couple of HFs. My technicals were tight, but so were other people's and these people had better pedigrees. I was rejected by most of them.

Up until May I had nothing solid. A few more first, second and final rounds, but no offers. I had several fit interviews, case studies, modeling and powerpoint tests under my belt.

Two weeks ago, I had the third and final round with a small advisory firm. So far, I really liked the people who interviewed me and the work that the firm does. I had to present a case study which I prepared at home for the partners, sat down with them and got to know each other. Four days ago, on Monday, one of the partners called and offered me the position. I accepted. In the following days, I received two more offers. Since I prefer the first firm more than the other two, I will be starting with them in September.

Some final thoughts

- I was lucky. I persisted a lot, especially over the last couple of years. However throughout most of my journey up until now, I was also lucky. It's not just hard work.

- If you have a weird background, target smaller firms. People there are more approachable and they actually have more influence in hiring decisions.

- I did my due diligence on the firms. Researched recent deals, people who worked there and understood how their business model worked. I practiced my technicals as well as crafted an interesting story which could be presented within two minutes.

- I am extremely thankful to all the people who were willing to meet with me and give me 15 mins of their time. I have invited some of them out for lunch and will invite the rest of them soon. They all bought me a cup of coffee and shared their best advice. The least I can do to thank them is take them out for lunch.

- I mentioned that throughout this soul-crushing process of continuous rejections, some classmates asked me for help. I tried to help them as much as I could. We might even have competed for the same positions in a few cases, but it doesn't matter. What goes around, comes around.

- At the end of the day not being a complete asshole is good for the soul.

I want to thank everyone here, who without realizing it has helped me along the way.

Thank you WSO!

I hope that some of you got something out of this, or were at least entertained.

Mod Note (Andy): Throwback Thursday - this was originally posted June 2016

Comments (46)

Jun 10, 2016

Congratulations- I hope it turns out well for you

    • 1
Jun 10, 2016

Thank you!

Jun 12, 2016

This is a very positive story. Congratulations to you!

    • 1
Jun 12, 2016

I love stories like yours. Glad your persistence and hard work paid off!

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Best Response
Jun 13, 2016

Haha, man I am in the process of going through exactly what you went through in terms of starting to get into finance later than most peers, came from an arts background, and now trying to pull a complete 180 to get credibility and break in...thank you for your encouraging post.

    • 4
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Jun 10, 2016

Thank you for the encouraging words.
@OCbFree good luck with everything!
If you or anyone else has questions, feel free to PM.

Jun 14, 2016

tl;dr I'm an idiot, Russia sucks.

" At the end of the day not being a complete asshole is good for the soul."
-Some complete asshole.

    • 5
Jun 14, 2016

Congratulations! Thank you for sharing!

It ain't what you know, it's who you know

    • 1
Jun 14, 2016

This is great to hear, Thank you and best of luck! Keep building

    • 1
Jun 14, 2016

which type of art were you originally focusing on?

do you still do it as a hobby / do you still find ways to express your creative side?

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Jun 10, 2016

I started with realism, portraits mostly, and gradually moved to a more abstract style.

I rarely paint anymore, as for me it's not something that I can do for 1 or 2 hours every day methodically. When I painted, I sat for days in the studio and just did that.

I never felt an urge again to express the creative side through any art form like painting or music, once I stopped pursuing a career in art.
Believe it or not, the creative side is mostly expressed through brazilian jiu jitsu (martial art).

    • 1
Jun 14, 2016

Congrats! I admire your positive attitude and I hope you find the right balance in banking!

As an American who lived in Europe - it was always fun to meet people who were foreigners to me, so I always took those chances too. As you say, not being an asshole is good for the soul.

    • 1
Jun 15, 2016

I really like reading these long road stories. Sounds ridiculously challenging and I have to tip my hat to whoever does this.

    • 1
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Jun 14, 2016

was just thinking i'm 3 years older than you and i put that image for the post.... haha

thanks for sharing your story

WSO's COO (Chief Operating Orangutan) | My Linkedin

    • 2
Jun 16, 2016

Thank you for sharing, success stories like these keep me motivated.

"- I mentioned that throughout this soul-crushing process of continuous rejections, some classmates asked me for help. I tried to help them as much as I could. We might even have competed for the same positions in a few cases, but it doesn't matter. What goes around, comes around."

This is a key thing to understand, even if you haven't made it yet you still have the potential to help others achieve their goal. I'm still looking for my big break into finance, but I know that I have helped several others make leaps and I am very happy for them. My time will come, but their time doesn't need to wait on my success. Fantastic advice.

Dec 29, 2016

this is incredibly important... once you stop helping people just cause they might be competition, just kills relationships which is the most important thing especially at a young age in college or graduate schools

Jun 18, 2016

Very well done Jack. Really inspiring, all best wishes to you! :-)

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Jun 18, 2016

That was a fantastic read, congratulations on your new job! Does your age impact your work in any way - positively/negatively?

    • 1
Jun 10, 2016

Thank you for the kind words.
Yes, age does impact my work. The most obvious one is that I can't take an allnighter like a 22 year old would and then perform my best the next day.
However, I have more experience in dealing with people and building relationships, which helps threefold; I can connect better with seniors, I can deal better with conflict and I can be trusted when put in front of clients.

One major concern of everyone who interviewed me was whether I was flexible enough and able to acquire new skills because of my age. The never said it, but I am sure they were thinking it.
An MD at a BB even told me outright: "I talked to HR, they like your background, but they want someone who just graduated. You're just too old for the position."

I eventually addressed the issue by demonstrating how I learned new skills in the past, how I was comfortable to follow orders by way younger people who were my superiors (the military helped with that) and by showing genuine interest, passion, and curiosity about the work that the firms did.

Jun 18, 2016

You're welcome. Your post comes at a really opportune time for me. I am going to attend a non-target in NYC this fall for a finance degree and I will be around 30 by the time I am out in the job market. I have been told its a big gamble, not the right market condition, not the right age, etc. so your post does give me the right mindset.

When applying for the jobs, did you make it obvious for the HR to "guess" your age?

    • 1
Jun 19, 2016

Nice story and +1, but how did you finance all of this? The Msc alone would have been over 30,000 pounds, and living costs in london must have added at the very least 20,000. Just curious as I also want to commit to an advanced degree in London.

Jun 10, 2016

The financing came from selling my stake in my company, couldn't have done it otherwise.
Tuition was slightly less than 30k, housing (student accommodation) was about 11k and living expenses about 600-700 per month, or 6-7k for the 10 months but it can be less than that.

Total investment came to 45k - in GBP.

Jun 20, 2016

I'm gonna be 36 and just starting my mba by the time I get out of the military.... hoping I can still swing a banking job by then... if its still around in the way we know it.

    • 1
Sep 8, 2016

Congratulations man! I was once an international student in the US and somehow being in your shoes too. You are really persistent and determined and deserve what you got today. Good luck and enjoy your new job!

Everyone has a plan until he got punched in the mouth.

    • 1
Oct 20, 2016

@Jack.M.T.

Would love to hear about your inquiries after applying and the story behind putting not being an asshole on your list.

How is my grammar? Drop me a note with any errors you see!

    • 1
Dec 29, 2016

As an older student (28) currently pursuing my undergrad after being lost for a good five years this post really struck a chord with me.

Cheers and congrats on breaking in.

    • 2
Jan 26, 2019

I'm in the same boat. I'm currently in a Big4 M&A group & my role offers some opportunities that I want to experience prior to making the jump in IBD. I'll be a 28 yr old analyst & prob an Associate by 30, but I will have had all the life experiences I've wanted along the way like OP. It the grand scheme it's no big deal.

Work hard, work clean, & most of all do not give up.

    • 1
Dec 29, 2016

Congratulations on your success.

You think I can be the MVP without practicing? -Allen Iverson

    • 1
Dec 29, 2016

Congrats! Great story. More proof that persevernece is key in success.

    • 1
Dec 29, 2016

It is never too late to be what you might have been

    • 1
Dec 29, 2016

wowwww

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Dec 30, 2016

Good post. I like your views. Thanks for sharing.

    • 1
Jan 3, 2017

This is such a great and inspiring story! Thanks for sharing it with us. I'm really glad you made it!

    • 1
Feb 27, 2018

You must be Ukrainian! Awesome story, man! Thanks for sharing!

    • 1
Feb 27, 2018

Thank you very much for sharing. It is always motivating to hear a story such as yours, and you very much deserve to be where you are today. I particularly loved the part about all your friends thinking you were crazy. I actually went through the exact same thing.

Sounds as though you have lived a very interesting and exciting life!

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Jan 26, 2019

I've got a feeling you went to Cass. Anyhoo it sounds like you've lived a great life in your 20s.

Work hard, work clean, & most of all do not give up.

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Jan 25, 2019

Yeah sounded like Cass.

Great school at MSc to get into IB programs. Terrible for MBA -> associate programs.

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Jun 10, 2016

Maybe I did, maybe I didn't. But yes, Cass would not be a great choice for an MBA.
Life was good in the 20s, it's even better in my 30s.

Jan 25, 2019

Congrats, good job. You should be proud of yourself.

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Jan 27, 2019

What kind of market were you in that you captured over 50% of the market with less than 1mil in revenue?

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Jun 10, 2016

A very small, niche one ;)

Jan 29, 2019
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Jun 10, 2016
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