I'm a long-time lurker on the forum, but recently decided to join and thought an AMA might be helpful to someone. A little background on myself:
- Disadvantaged beginnings. No money, no network, from the middle of nowhere, no finance knowledge at all, etc.
- Ivy League undergrad
- Broke in as investment banking analyst at BB; eventually moved to elite boutique
- Analyst to Associate promote. Very involved in both training and recruiting activities at the firm
Ask me anything
Ask me anything and I'll try to be helpful if I can. If you're feeling down about recruiting or work or whatever, and want some encouragement, feel free to raise your hand, too!
Looking for a mentor? Check out this mentors profile here
Full update below
I thought it might be helpful for someone out there to expand on my first bullet above. I know hearing about other peoples' success stories helped me a lot coming up, so I hope this does the same for somebody else. Sorry in advance for the length!
I hustled my way into an Ivy
I grew up in a single parent, immigrant home in a pretty remote place with not a lot of money. I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do in life, but I was hell-bent on changing my family's lot and going to college. We didn't have money for that, but I had an excellent high school record and applied to schools anyway, with a mind to happily enlisting in the military if financial aid didn't work out. Ironically, the Ivies were the only schools with endowments large enough to support the need-based aid I needed to go to college. So I went - with barely a clue what the school was (I went largely because I liked their school color!) I showed up not knowing anyone at all and never having even stepped foot in the town before.
How I became interested in finance
Gradually, I got exposed to the finance industry through on-campus events and hearing about experiences from upperclassmen. I didn't know what finance was, aside from my little credit union back home. But I was drawn to the intellectual stimulation, the rigor, and, of course, the money. I felt that it was the one way to make as much money as possible, as quickly as possible, so that I could help support my family. I was determined to succeed at this nebulous prospect. I was smart, hard working and tough - what could go wrong?
I was a mess!
My God - I was a mess! I was completely unprepared and out of tune. I was utterly ignorant, inexperienced and unguided. In my early college years, I thought I was doing all the right things - going to networking events, signing up for every possible relevant campus activity and club, doing informationals and coffee chats, attending site visits, creating a mock portfolio, practicing at the career center, reading forums, hunting for school-time jobs, trolling for business cards and emailing like mad - you name it, I did it. But I had no guidance, no way to get the necessary feedback in a safe zone that would've refined my approaches outside of game time.
I bombed so many opportunities. I sent cringe-worthy emails to recruiters that were longer than the Iliad. I talked so much during my first-ever interview, desperate that they truly perceive my eagerness, they straight up just said, "You talk too much" and were adamant I didn't get an offer. After a short program at another big firm I had managed to get into - and suck balls at - I visited the office to speak to an employee I met there on how to improve, regardless of not knowing my offer status. By the time I had gotten into the lobby to leave, the recruiter called me and said grumpily, "Why are you here? We're not giving you an offer. We already gave you feedback" - and hung up. Once, I showed up to an IB office in jeans and asked an MD, "So, is selling stocks like selling shoes?" Another time, I had a VP tell me over the phone, "You are not special. Frankly, you're not even that good. There are a million other candidates out there who are much better than you." This horrid list goes on.
I had no network
Most frustratingly, I had no network. I had no one. Not even a friend I could reach out to to navigate this mess. I quickly realized what a deficiency that was. I remember going to an interview at a large IB in early days and seeing a candidate getting a kiss on the forehead, a hug and a warm "good luck" by a senior-looking employee. I had a schoolmate whose father got her an amazing internship at a prestigious firm for freshman summer to which she just rolled her eyes. Many other classmates were the kids of millionaires and billionaires, closely connected with all the right people in all the right places. They had what was so key, and arguably worth more than the cash I was seeking: social capital. Even if they weren't that impressive technically or that interesting in person, they knew how to dress and present themselves, how to connect and be comfortable with people that (I thought) were ultra wealthy, and thus, far beyond me.
Meanwhile, I thought that I was barely deserving of a $65 leather belt I bought from Hugo Boss - my first ever luxury purchase, with money earned from my first little internship. It is weird to feel pride and guilt for something you worked for honestly.
The turning point
I think my turning point came when I went to attend an on-campus networking session for a sophomore IB internship one night. My GPA had really suffered up to that point due to some atrocious things I was going through, and that cut me out of a lot of programs. I was already so crushed from so many rejections and put-downs. I showed up to the event, more than eager, and immediately asked if I could still be considered if I had my GPA. The recruiter very politely said "No, sorry." It was a breaking point for me. I found a bench on a side street, called my mom from 3,000 miles away, apologized to her that we would be poor forever and that it was my fault, and cried and cried and cried...
How I landed my first BB internship
But I was more determined than ever to make it. I was going to get into this industry no matter what, and I was going to be the fxcking best that I could possibly be. I was going to ascend as many rungs on the socioeconomic ladder I could and bring my family with me. Every last person on the planet was going to have to tell me "no" before I was going to quit. I knew I had to walk the walk and talk the talk - become a mirror image of that which I coveted. I would need to create from scratch all the things that I lacked. I studied like hell to become as technically proficient as possible (a quality I continue today) and read everything I could. I critically reviewed everything I had gotten wrong so many times before and worked incessantly to improve them. I took every relevant opportunity possible to improve my resume and my knowledge. I changed my look and my swagger, and even spent $400 I didn't really have - nearly all of my savings at that point - to buy new, better looking suits. I refined my "why me?" pitch to be honest, concise and highly effective: I was a poor, smart, hungry kid willing to work my face in for whomever gave me a chance. I did this again and again until, finally, a gracious MD at a BB decided to take a chance on me for my junior summer.
And that was the end of the beginning. I've learned so much in the past decade, many from very painful lessons (even more I haven't even mentioned here...life doesn't end after your first job!) But I've been able to really help my family and others financially and otherwise because of what I went through. So, to wrap up this already egregiously long edit, here are some of those learnings:
- The world does not give a shit about you or your problems. There is so much unfairness, so much brutality in life. But what you don't strive to change, you choose. Don't be a victim of your own life.
- Really cherish the real ones who stand by the real you. Recognize the people who helped lift you up and don't be afraid to lift others up, too. As you elevate your life, people will come out of the woodwork to connect. While it's important to have a network comprising different types of people in your life, think about who will really be with you if the trappings disappear. People will so easily betray you, shut you down or lie to you to keep you from success. Be strategic.
- Take self-care time. It's okay to feel weak and tired and hopeless. It's okay to cry, to do nothing at all. It's hard as fxck out here sometimes.
- Do your best to be nice and humble. We're really not that important.