Breaking In: Self Transformation to Fit the "Right" Mould

Rashers's picture
Rank: Orangutan | 282

Excerpt from LS Hilton's "Maestra"--which touches upon what most people who want to break into finance at the highest levels, but don't have the pedigree, undergo in their chameleon like dance to fit the right mould, smooth put the rough pointy edges, and be a smooth member of the inside. But, there's 1000 codes, invisible, only known by insiders, so most people can be fooled but not everyone.

I had never really seen people who looked like that, let alone a place that looked like that. They belonged together, those beings and those buildings; all those generations of effortless entitlement melded honeyed stone and honeyed skin to an architectural perfection in every time-polished detail. I had lovers at college, yes, but if you look the way I look and, frankly, like the things I like, maybe girlfriends won't ever be your thing. I told myself I didn't need them, and besides, between the library and my part-time jobs there hadn't been much time for anything except reading. I didn't stick to the books on my course list: along with Gombrich and Bourdieu I read hundreds of novels, scouring them for details of the customs of the strange country of class, of how to speak, the vocabulary that marks out those who belong to the invisible club from those who don't. I worked endlessly at my languages: French and Italian were the tongues of art. I read Le Monde and Foreign Affairs, Country Life and Vogue and Opera Magazine and Tatler and polo magazines and Architectural Digest and the Financial Times. I taught myself about wine, about rare book bindings and old silver: I went to all the free recitals I could, first for duty and then for pleasure; I learned the correct use of the dessert fork and how to imitate the accent on which the sun has never set. I knew better by then than to try to pretend I was something I was not, but I thought if I became a good enough chameleon, no one would ever think to ask.

Comments (14)

Nov 2, 2018

Yeah I don't know about all of this. To be fair, I'm not at a top 5 bank and am in PubFin so maybe it's different in Goldman TMT or something. Just having basic social sense and the hunger to learn and want to be here is what worked for me. Basic social sense in the interviews would be:

  • Firm handshake with the directors/MDs when you meet them and MAKE EYE CONTACT
  • Make sure you aren't focused on the person who asked the questions, go back and forth looking and the other(s) so everyone is involved
  • Showcase how you can manage yourself and that you want to work WITH them, not simply for them. You're all working towards the same goal. In that same sense, don't act smug or think you're better than where you're at as it shows

I'm sure others can add to it but those were much better to focus on and learn how to be than simply talking and acting like someone else.

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Nov 2, 2018

Which are things that can be learned in minutes, as opposed to the sheen picked up from 2 decades of continuous polishing since leaving the womb. There is a difference. This one is more mental, as opposed to physical actions.

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Nov 2, 2018

This is an exaggerated version, perhaps outdated, but not wrong. As effortlessly as "hood" kids learn the streets and can navigate them, people born into educated/cultured families have a similar natural canny inside office walls that ones born outside of this world don't have.

When I look around at those I grew up with (family + friends) I realize that not only did no one work in a profession growing up, but the key to a better life was primarily some self-funded small business endeavor. That or get a good, safe, job following orders making middle of the pack pay, with a plan to retire in 20-30 years (super outdated thinking btw). This lack of sophistication does not compare to larger sole proprietorships or professions or any other well organized machine.

The expectations are different for yourself and other people, the topic of conversation, the mannerisms, voice inflections, choice of dress, the food that's eaten, etc, is all world's a part. When you meet other people, it's not a sure thing that it will all be new, but you might find that your culture is local to where you grew up, or particular to your household and direct circle of contacts, but doesn't extend beyond that.

I found out later that a lot of people were more comfortable outside of their direct culture because they had been exposed more to other foods, languages, or customs (even if they grew up poorer). Others were comfortable too, but they couldn't connect because the practices were at such a wide gap that a connection could never be made.

When you come from a disconnected culture, that will be a tremendous obstacle. It will take someone's guidance and mentorship on a consistent medium to long-term to give you a step up. It's kind of like getting a push in the right direction. You'd have to be extremely daring and unafraid of letting your guard down to get exposed. And even then, taking the absolutely right steps is difficult as there is no road map.

But that's why I say freshman should be happy to meet as many people as possible, maintain an open mind, actually try to be friends with everyone, and don't be afraid of being outside of the mold a little bit. Leadership is about knowing how to say no as much as when to make the right moves. Don't be weird and don't sit around a lot (including sitting around just doing drugs).

Read Marcus Aurelius Meditations. Listen to the words about not getting too excited or too upset. It's all about balance and just getting to the essence.

And all of this is to say that, it takes a great deal of time to walk into an IB interview (or most professional environments) and be prepared in the CORRECT way. When that interview starts, it's too late to realize that you hadn't thought about something or just realized it. So, it's a big climb up, especially if account for having the wherewithal to take the necessary prerequisites everyone needs to take like going to a college, building a resume before experience, learning the appropriate material for interviews, networking, etc. All of those will be their own challenges where the cultural disconnect will work against you to slow you down.

But it's not impossible, just worlds more difficult. I think reading Auriellius will help, as well as trying to get exposed as much as possible as early as you can.

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Nov 2, 2018

Seneca has been my go to dish, Aurelius was okay. Definitely exposure is beneficial in the sense it gives you comfort with wide ranging approaches of people. Exposure to inside circles too for outsiders can be helpful when trying to get inside. There will of course be some unnoticeable tests many will fail that will prevent them from getting all the way in. But desire and lack and the pursuit to close the gap between are not worthy reasons for the anxiety and mental unease that result, which as you know, part of being "in" is never having to worry about doing the right things to get in. Many are surprised to learn that lack of concern and an ease of mind with oneself are the key ingredients of those in the right places. Over-ambition, and a hurried pursuit to attain are symptoms of lack with satisfaction of one's station.

Nov 2, 2018

"Know thyself." It is counterproductive to chase prestige in this way. People who are truly posh will know in an instant that you are not (and why does their approval matter?), people that are not posh will dislike you for pretending, and you will be left in a social circle of chameleons chasing an illusion, wishing desperately to be something else but with only the ability to change color.

chameleon

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Nov 2, 2018

Very true. And chameleons can be fun, except you never know when they will change colors, so they must be treated with care. This unpredictability is what gives them away from the genuine ones who are been emulated. Moreover, I'd rather banter with a peasant who's real and unapologetic, than have smoke blown in my direction with the assumption I wont notice. You feel safe with those who are not constantly shedding their skin. And there's something attractive in people who live without worry; they're found in two classes--super rich or super broke. Everything in between is filled with anxiety filled try hards--either worrying they'll sink back down, or being close to the top but never really reaching it--all those invisible gates be dammed!!

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Nov 2, 2018

I really like your post and this discussion. Better off accepting your own background and seeing the hard work you put in and every obstacle you over come as your differentiating factors than trying to fit a certain mold. That's what I've realized. You'll never fully be "in"; sure you might work on your polish and be able to come across as confident during your interview and eventually land that GS/MS/EVR internship, in a way "fake it till you make it." But once you start on the desk everyone will be bonding over which prep school, where they summer, time playing LAX, and stuff you'll just never be able to speak upon inevitably making you feel like an outsider. Continue to do things to polish yourself, (big fan of Aurelius and Seneca) and become a better individual, but don't try to self-transform just for the sake of fitting in to the "right" mould.

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Nov 2, 2018

Nailed it.

Nov 2, 2018

This reminds me of Batemans monologue at the beginning of American Psycho and when he tells his fiance that he works at the bank because he "wants to fit in." I don't have much to say here since I am not from a socially elite background or anything but I have also not had any trouble fitting in. I saw that I was different than a lot of kids at my college but once I got to know them, we turned out to be pretty similar. My ways have changed over the years, most apparent in how I put myself together. You've been really on it with the deep threads lately.

Dayman?

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Nov 2, 2018

There could be a possible correlation between the degree of lack of self knowledge and acceptance of oneself and the level of prestige from external sources pursued. Discounting those who end up at top places by accident, as in not knowing what to do with themselves and not really needing the approval that comes from the branding one gets from these places, this may describe those dead set on certain places very early with a forced adoption of interest of these fields. Like how many people actually enjoy their life consuming work with the delusion they'll make partner if they just slog through the crap? Bateman's sense of self is derived from extreme control, up to the point of deciding who lives or dies and the method he uses to Execute that decision.

Nov 2, 2018

This took me a second to wrap my head around but this is very well said. I definitely do think there is a large population of people in certain industries who enter because they want to be a part of a different group or distance themselves from the crowd they are current in. A lot of people put so much weight on the name of where they work and they let that define them. It conjures up memories in that "The Goldman Sachs" video where the guy is like "you could open a sweatshop that makes handbags and call it the Goldman Sachs--it is just a name."

Dayman?

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Nov 5, 2018

On my first day working at a hedge fund, I felt so lost. Sitting next to me was a PM who had worked for many reputable firms and is truly a veteran in the industry. Across from me was a former physicist with a PhD from Cambridge who is currently the Head of Research. Sitting behind me was an analyst who holds a PhD as well in Atmospheric Science. As for me, a first generation graduate from a non-target school with a finance degree.

Now, you may ask how the hell did I fit in with this crowd? First, I told myself although I do not have the prestigious background like them, there's a reason I was chosen for the role. Second, I embrace the fact that everybody here is smarter/more knowledgeable than I am. It's a great opportunity to learn from the some of the best in the industry. Finally, to be myself and that's probably one of the most underrated thing ever. Having and maintating your own identity/personality is the best way to fit in, IMHO.

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Nov 2, 2018
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