Today I'm going to tell you a little story. No, it's not the "walk me through your resume" story that must have precisely 3-4 jumps, with a positive and negative at each juncture that logically progresses to a career in IB. This is the story of how I was finally able to break into IB in a small firm by landing a boutique summer analyst position.
To those of you out there who read the above and think "a boutique? not a BB? why am I wasting my time reading this?"...well, you don't have to read further if you don't want to. But this year has been especially brutal for summer analyst recruitment, and I have seen many threads asking if anyone is still hiring, if it's too late, how do I break in now, etc. I've also dished out some advice on those threads and received many PMs, so in an effort to consolidate this info, I'm writing this post.
"In the beginning..."
I'm from a lower-middle class immigrant household, and worked hard enough (and was lucky enough) to have been able to go to a non-Ivy target school through need-based financial aid. Upon starting undergrad, I didn't know much about finance or IB, and I focused on softer disciplines like Philosophy and Political Theory -- things that had been interesting to me in high school. I maintained a very high GPA (above 3.8 cumulative and nearly 4.0 in my major), but I did not attend a single recruitment event, didn't reach out to a single alum with the exception of one who was formative in my finance interests and pursuits, and did not submit a single finance application through OCR during my time in school. Then tragedy struck, my parents lost their jobs, and on a whim I graduated school early, broke and unemployed.
"Good is the enemy of great."
After some months of being unemployed, I began frequenting WSO habitually, reading about IB, and decided I wanted to go for it. Unfortunately, the timing was way off, and what little I had to offer in terms of finance wasn't going to get there.
I was then lucky enough to land a decent job at a software company doing IT support. I posted about it on WSO, everyone instructed me to look for finance jobs aggressively and try to leave IT ASAP. By the metrics of many, this job would really be a dream -- I got paid pretty well and worked a 7am-3pm schedule. It was fine, but that's all it was. I wasn't learning anything, I wasn't getting anywhere, and the Type A in me was bored to tears...I needed something far more challenging, something that wasn't just "good". In my vanity, I wanted to do something great.
"Networking........it'll save you from ANYTHING."
At this point, I decided to apply for the MMS program at Duke, was admitted, and will be attending in July. The program has great placement in IB, both in NYC and elsewhere, but obviously it's not a free pass (no program really is, these days). But how would I, with no finance experience, explain during my full-time interviews that this was what I wanted? How could I make sure that my investment in this program wouldn't go awry?
I began reaching out to banks everywhere, focusing on the Southeast where the Duke brand would be strongest. I sent upwards of 150 e-mails to MDs and VPs, with a response rate of roughly 10%. Many have asked for the template I used:
Dear Mr/Ms [person's last name],
I hope this message finds you well.
I realize you must be very busy, and thank you in advance for your time. My name is [first name] [last name], I'm a [college] graduate heading to Duke's Fuqua School of Business next year to complete a Master of Management Studies program. I am interested in building a career in investment banking focusing on [whatever you are interested in] upon finishing at Duke, and am wondering how I could best position myself for a summer analyst position with your firm in the upcoming months. I am eager for the opportunity to learn the business and welcome any advice that you might have with respect to [firm name] or the industry at-large. I've attached a copy of my resume for your review.
I hope to hear from you soon.
[first name] [last name]
During this time, I was also lucky enough to land a part-time position with our very own Business Development team at WallStreetOasis, which has strengthened my application for finance jobs immensely.
I kept a spreadsheet of contacts and updated the books as people responded (or in the vast majority of cases, didn't respond). Whenever the going got tough, especially during days when I sent 30 e-mails and received 0 responses, I reminded myself that if I knew that the 201st person would respond and I'd get an offer, I would absolutely send the first 200 e-mails.
Alas, that number wasn't 201, it was right around 150. And it didn't come from someone who responded to me immediately -- in fact, I had sent this person several messages before hearing a response. Remember, these people are busy, and most of the time are not responding not out of any malicious intent. Keep following up.
I would have a first-round interview with an Analyst at this boutique bank, followed by a final around with the managing partner. My understanding was that the former would be very technical, the latter would be far more fit-based and qualitative.
"Preparation is the key..."
Preparing for interviews is something that needs to be tackled from all angles. I sometimes find it hard to focus on a topic unless I'm reading a book about it, so I knew that the first plan of attack needed to be some concise book that goes over valuation in a digestible manner. Enter Rosenbaum and Pearl's bible for prospective monkeys...
This book, in conjunction with the WSO Technical Interview Guide, brought me from zero knowledge about valuation to beyond interview-ready. Some of the terms can be a little cryptic in R&P if you have no accounting experience, but the WSO guide comes in handy for deciphering these terms. Obviously, R&P goes to lengths that are far deeper than one will need for a technical interview for SA (or perhaps even full-time), but I think it's important to truly get a solid understanding of valuation before embarking on this quest. I firmly believe that if you read this book, you will be FAR ahead of the game, and if you use the WSO Technical Interview guide in conjunction, you'll be gold.
I have to praise WSO again for the Behavioral Guide ...I think most people ignore buying this one because they think they can "wing it", but this guide really explains how to answer the fit questions that you WILL get in ib interviews. They're different from fit questions you'll get elsewhere, and the guide does a fantastic job of breaking down how to answer them without just giving you a generic answer that you should use. Obviously fit is something that's endogenous to you, and the WSO Behavioral Interview Guide is great for helping to mold those answers.
When it came time to interview, I was able to breeze through all of the technical questions and the fit interviews as well. 45 minutes later, got the call, got the offer, and I'll be starting in the next month.
Like I said at the beginning, this is the first step in a long journey, but it means a lot to me personally for many reasons, and is very important from an objective professional standpoint. I'd like to thank the many members of the WSO community who have read my resume, helped me prepare for interviews, and answered questions I had about particular firms and questions in general. I couldn't have done it without this site and the great folks that we interact with here on a daily basis. The road isn't over yet, but at this point, I feel like I have what it takes to go all the way.
Please PM me with any questions or if you want to add me on LinkedIn or something. I'm always looking to make connections in the industry, and being that I'll be going through full-time recruitment in the fall, I don't think it'd kill me to know a few more folks. :)
Thanks for reading and sorry about the length.