Why I made this post: This website has been a helpful reference point over the years and I figured it might be time to give back. Partly what spurred this rant was a cousin of mine calling me asking for advice on consulting and banking recruitment and her dramatic apocalyptic responses regarding her having "No chances" and other such statements. Below is more or less a summary of what I told her, with a few add-ons. I then got curious and began reading some content on this website and felt it largely echoed her dramatic sentiment. Hopefully this post provides a bit of perspective that is brutally lacking from this website and many undergrads minds. I also hope it makes some of you younger guys and girls feel better in these tough pandemic riddled times.
My Background: I'm 5 years out of school (28) and went from a well-known bank, to business school, and now a well respected consulting firm. I also have a brother who is 3 years older who got his PHD in a science related field and now works for a unknown, but pretty dope VC firm.
My Advice to Undergrads
Your First Job Doesn't Really Matter
On this website, I have seen posts asking questions about if people were "Screwed because they didn't get a return offer?" or if they have "No chance with a sub 3 GPA?" The truth is your career likely will last from 22 all the way to 65+: a whopping 43 years! In context this is going through college 10+ times. Think about how much you, and the world, has changed over your high school or college years and you will recognize how fleeting a first job really is. I fear younger adults sometimes don't have the perspective or the long term thinking required to think about their first job critically and it results in anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts that really are quite unwarranted. Your first job is a starting point, but the path you take is up to you. On the same vein:
Careers Are Way Way Less Linear and Rankable Than You All Think
The rankings posts are madness because of how unrankable jobs eventually become. Many now know "The Track" of IB->PE->HBS, but there is little consideration to what happens after that. The truth is after that, and before, the world gets way way more random. Also, this arbitrary 6 year track is myopic and ignores what a good career really is. The whole point of job searching and working hard when you are younger should mainly be about finding a job you actually like doing, that can also support you and your financial goals. This isn't likely to be a linear path because the world changes constantly and so do you. I don't know how to explain this concept of careers being nonlinear aside from detailing the paths of my friends/ the reality of what career paths actually look like. These are real people not simply hypothetical scenarios:
Friend 1 + Friend 1.2: Both joined a top consulting group out of school. One went to get his MBA, the other went directly to the corporate world. Both of them are now working for well known companies in the S&P 500 working their way up the corporate latter. One likes his job, the other finds it political and boring. Both work like 9-5 hours, earning decent pay. I'd argue they are roughly in the same position at their firms despite one having an MBA and the other not having one.
Friend 2: Went to a State School and graduated with a sub 3.0 GPA. He got a job out of school making 42k a year at a shotty market research firm and quickly realized maybe partying instead of class was a bad call. He jumped jobs after a year, and ended up at a no-name consulting firm for 2 years. He got his MBA and now will be working at a well known investment bank as an associate. The dude is pumped and I think he might actually be a lifer in the industry.
Friend 3: Worked for a well known hedge fund out of undergrad. He is still there and likes it. Works some pretty harsh hours, but I'm sure he's comped well.
Friend 4: Started at a BB bank and stayed. He is a VP now and hates his job and the hours. That said, he frequently discusses his salary and loves talking about the firm.
Friend 5: Really sharp, but was oblivious in terms of recruiting and a more nerdy/ meek person. He got an internship at a family office that no one had ever heard of, but the founder was a successful investor. He was the only intern and went back to work there doing roughly 9-6 hours. The employer paid for his MBA part time and now he has carry in the firms investments. 90% sure he cleared upward of $1 million last year at 27 years of age.
Friend 6: Did BB-->PE Megafund. Unfortunately, the dude sorta snapped, ended up pulling a Dave Chappelle and now lives in South Africa.
Bro's Friend 1: Went to Law School, practiced for 2 years, now a VP at a BB.
Bro's Friend 2: Started various failed companies before eventually starting a guacamole company. Seems to be going well and I would guess when he exits he will have an annualized return far exceeding $1m including all the years he spent failing at companies.
Bros Friend 3: Went from consulting to a Hedge Fund and has stayed there.
Bros Friend 4: Asset Manager--> PE MM --> Megafund PE. The dude is pretty disillusioned and is slowly staring to recognize he will likely never call the shots because the people above him will never leave.
My Bro: PHD--> Research ---> Venture Capital
Me: IB-->MBA-->Consulting---> ???? :)
I could go on and on. The point I am making is how random these paths really are. Your career has some luck involved, but the only real mistake is not going on the journey or staying in a job that makes you miserable without a reason why. Your starting job is like looking at the S&P on one down day and extrapolating that we are in a bear market. Hard work and sacrifice over time becomes obvious and the trend over time is much more important than your static position at year 0.
Spend Time To Determine What Actually Matters To You
There was a time where I thought I might accept a well paying PE offer, but it would have required me to move to a city where I knew no one. I took some time to reflect and realized I would rather be paid less and be around my friends and family in a city I like. You drive the ship for your career and you don't have to know exactly where you are going, but you can back your way out of some things. For example, if you hate the east coast maybe it wouldn't make sense to interview there. Or, if you don't care about immediate income, you might forgo a Megafund PE offer for a MM PE in which you would learn more. Or you might accept an offer from Baird over GS because you like the group of Baird and recognize either decision can lead to the same outcome 5 years down the line for the career path you are interested in. Your career path should partly be based on personal values and there isn't a one size fits all approach.
Quick! How much money do you personally need to make a year to be happy? If you don't know, maybe think about this question. The truth is at a certain point money just doesn't matter. You see this a lot with finance professionals who start to make 200k+. After a point (it varies depending on where you live), your quality of life doesn't increase. You either are working because: 1) You like your job 2) Have rampant, runaway, spending problems 3) You are in a junk measuring contest for money, power, or status in which you can't ever win. Thinking about your endgame is important so you don't get lost in the sauce.
On that same topic, it blows my mind how little basic finance education is given and how supposed "experts" in corporate finance can't budget for their life. Live in a smaller place than you can afford and budget your personal life. Nothing is quite as ridiculous to me as a 50 year old MD who hates his job, but can't leave because he has to make enough money to afford his mortgage for his over-sized house, divorce payments, and tuition for private school for two families. This is a man who despite being in the top 1% of earners is somehow simultaneously broke and living paycheck to paycheck. It's pathetic and if you don't create concrete goals in terms of personal finance, this pathetic caricature can quickly become you.
A manager who I really respected once said: the difference between an adult and a kid is a kid looks for a boyfriend or a girlfriend and an adult looks for who will make a good mother or father. If you can't imagine a guy or a girl being able to take care of your future kids they might be a bad prospect. I'm watching this unfold with my friends and my brother's friends and it's tragic.
The same manager also had this wisdom: "The beauty of the game is you just have to find one person. All it takes is one!" The dude had a hot wife and honestly, while funny, it's very true. Most women or men could think you are an absolute dog 0/10, but if one person thinks you are a 10/10 that's all the matters.
Don't Be Trapped By Dogma
Look at the founders of the firms that many on the platform idealize--KKR, GS, MS. None of them listened to people on the internet or group think--they all thought independently. There are deeply held opinions on this website that if you listen to, you will become like everyone on this website. Which, from viewing posts, are either other lost undergrads, miserable finance professionals, or blow-hards who hoard status and get off on looking at this website and their supposed superiority. A general note--the real money makers at banks or butt kicking analysts aren't concerned with WSO posts. They are too preoccupied with actual work.
These Posts Aren't Reality
I read one post that was particularly gross where this "success story" described some kid lying about his major to get an internship, securing a FT offer, reneging and ending up at another firm. Comments were praising the individual as crafty and everyone was high-fiving about how he played the banks like they play candidates. Really all the kid did was behave unethically and burn bridges for a marginal gain. That behavior is the sort of stuff that any firm with good culture would sniff out and he'd be rejected swiftly. Yet, on this website he was praised as a hero. Additionally, recruiting posts often have just blatant lies on timing and process because idiot undergrads think the world is zero-sum.
Also, as far as recruiting goes--business isn't school with rigid rules. It is way more improvisation and involves constant changing. My first job at a bank I received an offer 3 months past a bank's recruiting deadline because the office was expanding and realized they would need another analyst. Keep trying and keep networking because information a week ago might not be true today. Also, an anonymous poster saying they talked to HR or received an offer is about as reliable as chunky milk--you just shouldn't trust like that.
Don't Be A Bully
If you are working in finance or going to a decent university, odds are the individuals you are interacting with are decently motivated. If you are a bully or a jerk people will remember it and motivated people generally hold grudges and will be powerful when you grow older--even if they take a different path than you. When I was a freshmen in undergrad, I interviewed for a business fraternity while at the time knowing nothing about finance. One of my 3 interviewers was an upperclassmen and after I couldn't properly identify the 3 statements ridiculed and swore at me ranting about how I was a joke. As luck would have it, 8 years later a friend called saying they had just interviewed that individual and since we went to the same school he wanted to know if I knew him. I explained the story and the guy didn't get the job.
Always treat people with respect. Especially those under you. At a certain point the playing field will be leveled and no one wants to work with a jerk-off. The world is small and treating people poorly will come back to bite you. It's not an if, but a when. Even if its that idiot kid that interviewed or that fumbling summer analyst.
And Lastly, Don't Eat Dodgy Mexican Food Before an Interview
Out of college I was interviewing for what I thought was my dream job and I had a burrito from a food stand many hours before. As fate would have it, that burrito hit me during the technical portion of my interview and I had to leave mid-process, while horribly sweating, to prevent brutally pooping my pants. I didn't get the job and was pretty distraught at the time. Looking back, and as a life-rule, almost pooping your pants is almost always funny. That said, be cognizant of what you eat prior to interviews and if you do happen to get the runs during the technical portion, it likely will still work out in the end.