I work in London and an analyst and myself had to travel to Canary Wharf to discuss financing options with one of the banks based there. Whilst getting our stuff ready, there was a power outage across the whole area (similar scenario to if there was an outage on Wall Street). We were stuck with no electricity and so got talking. I've been working with the guy for about 5 months now but had never really asked how he got to where he is today. I was expecting the tried and tested formula of target, IB, mba but his response surprised me somewhat (permission granted to re-lay).
He grew up in Russia and went to university there. His family were relatively affluent and so could secure him a finance position (apparently most jobs in finance over there are secured this way). However he did not want to rely on them.
So when he was 24 he came to London with about £1000 and enrolled in language school whilst working a part time job (his Visa only allowed part time work).
His first job was at Subway which only lasted 2 weeks. Then he moved to a travel agency, where he worked Monday to Friday, a car wash, where he worked Saturday and Sunday and as a hotel receptionist, where he worked the night shift on Friday and Saturday nights. All the while he was living in a hostel in Earls Court, sharing a room with one other. He was there for 18 months.
He then heard of a migrant program with effectively gave you a score based on factors such as previous work, age e.t.c to judge whether you could receive a two year full time Visa. He applied three times and on the third time, he got it.
Following this he applied to a large research/journalism/computer terminal company (...) and managed to land a job. He had been there for four years when the crisis hit and was made redundant. Haven't spent so long in back office with little progress, he wanted to move to the front of house preferably Private Equity. Whilst searching for jobs, he stumbled across Mergers and Inquisitions. It was here he learnt how hard it is to land a job on the buy side and the pre-requisites involved. According to Brian at M&I there were three ways.
1. Following a graduate program at a target. Nope
2. Through networking. Had it been in Russia, maybe, but in London, nope.
3. By getting an MBA.
So he spent the next year on his application to London Business School. When this didn't work out he looked towards getting a masters in Real Estate Finance. There are a few good schools in London for this but arguably bar LSE the best is Cass Business School. So he applied to Cass and somehow managed to get in.
The schools' fees are roughly £17,000 a year and of course he didn't have that lying around. Normally one would finance this through a loan, but this was 2011 and debt was pretty hard to come by. But again somehow he managed to secure one albeit not on the best terms. So he spent a year at Cass and came out with his masters. He was searching for a job for around two months afterwards and eventually managed to secure an internship (at the age of 31). After four months, he moved up to analyst and is coming up to the end of his first year
I love WSO and believe it to be a truly useful tool. However I think someone coming on researching the possibility of landing their first job in PE/HF might be put off by the "track" that's preached so much. Admittedly I followed that path, but I just though that a story such as this might be an encouraging reminder to those looking to the buy side that there is no one route to get in.