Mod Note (Andy) - this AMA originally went up last December but @THE PsYcHoLoGy wrote and said he could still answer questions
WSO, I joined this site during my junior year of college, and it has proved to be a great resource time and again. There is a wealth of information on this site ranging from first year analysts to industry veterans, which provides a robust and diversified view of many areas in finance. The playbook for success is on the site, but it's up to you to decide how to use it. I'm grateful to have come as far as I have, and am always looking for ways to help others that were in my shoes - so I am posting an "ask me anything" ("AMA") to answer questions and provide any advice / insight that can be useful to the WSO community.
I'll outline my story below for your reference to provide some context. Looking forward to answering your questions!
I went to a large state school and studied finance and entrepreneurship. I was very active with one of the top finance clubs, which was critical in helping me land both of my internships and my full-time position - can't stress how important it is to get involved. My internships included a wealth management role my sophomore year and a financial analyst role my junior summer with an F500. While in school, I also: i) was a business finance teaching assistant; ii) placed 2nd in a national F500 team-based case competition; iii) wrote an honors thesis; iv) competed in olympic weightlifting; and v) graduated with a 3.9. I've always been a pretty intense competitor (mostly with myself), so I took my collegiate career very seriously.
Landing My Investment Banking Analyst Role
During my junior year, I organized a trip with my finance club to go meet with a few investment banking firms. At this point, I had no desire to work in banking - I had read Monkey Business and thought the hours and lifestyle sounded absolutely insane. However, when we met with one of the banks (a top MM firm), I took a sharp 180. Walking out of that meeting, I turned to my friend and said: "I want to work for them." Mind you, I had already accepted a summer position with an F500, and I'm not the type of person to undo myself from a commitment. So, I went into the summer with the mindset of wanting to pursue investment banking, and spent the time I had outside of my internship networking, reading books on IB and researching (side note: I also watched American Psycho and Wall Street several times a week because I was obsessed). The key resources I used were i) the WSO investment banking interview Guides (technical and behavioral); ii) "Investment Banking" from the Wiley Finance series, by: Rosenbaum and Pearl; iii) the WSO forums; and iv) "Polished" by Scott Morris. That summer, I kept in touch with the banks I met with my junior year, especially the MM firm that inspired me to do banking initially and began to drop resumes online and reach out to people.
When I returned to school in the fall, I was in full recruiting mode - studying the guides whenever I wasn't studying for classes. Thankfully, my school has a pretty strong MSF program that attracts a few banks each year, but they typically only hired a few (if any) underclassmen. When these banks came to campus, I was at the info sessions and all of the networking events with the MSF kids. I knew I was disadvantaged from a credential standpoint, so I also reached out to 5+ alumni from each bank to learn more and to show that I was passionate - it's also great to reference that you spoke to several people proactively outside of the interview process. Note, I also had a few calls with the aforementioned top MM firm, speaking with everyone in the office and offering to meet the MD for coffee. I ended up getting first round interviews with three large MM banks, followed by 3 super days. However, one of the banks didn't initially give me a first round interview, despite going to all of their networking events and showing my interest. So, I sent a fairly aggressive email to one of the directors asking why I hadn't received an invite, and I basically told him that I would run through walls for X bank and would go sell ice cubes to Eskimos in Alaska if they wanted me to. They proceeded to invite me to the process.
When all was said and done, I went through three super days and had an unbelievable interview experience and met some very fascinating individuals. Thankfully, I received an offer from the firm that initially inspired me to do banking. I was ecstatic and incredibly thankful. It was the start of quite the adventure.
My Term as an Investment Banking Analyst
I completed three years in banking with a top industrial-focused group at my MM firm. Year one was exceptionally tough - from the hours and learning curve to dealing with associates, it was an absolute grind. I'll admit that I was by no means a strong first year analyst - I was in the bottom of my class (and bonus tier) my first year. However, I maintained a very positive attitude and showed my passion through my work ethic and willingness to learn. There were often times I thought though, "Is this for me?" or "Can I make it?" My first year was a very humbling experience.
Year two was probably the most intense in terms of hours worked - we closed the largest deal my office had ever done and had unprecedented pitch activity (13 pitches in 12 months). I recall my January-February was absolutely brutal, working 100-120 hour weeks for two months straight (80-90 outside of that). Year two I was in the lower middle of my class and bonus tier.
Year three, I was a senior analyst and had fortuitously come significantly up the learning curve and was frequently doing associate-level. I attribute a lot of my success to the great people I worked with that acted as my mentors and my positive attitude (one of my greatest strengths, especially at 3am!). My third year was much more enjoyable, though I still worked 80+ hours consistently. At the end of my third year, I was in the top bucket for performance and bonus. During my three years in banking, I met a lot of very talented and intelligent people, learned a ton and closed five sellside transactions.
My Move to Private Equity
After three years on the sellside, I was ready to switch over to the buyside and try something new. Where to start thought? I had a great deal of success with WSO resources for banking, so I knew that was the place to start. I purchased the new private equity guide, updated my resume and hit the networking trail. I used CapIQ to screen for PE firms in the areas I was interested in living and started cold emailing people at funds (typically start at the analyst / associate level and move your way up). To be efficient, I drafted a template email to use (below for reference).
[Name of individual],
I hope this note finds you well.
My name is [your name here], and I am currently a 2nd year investment banking analyst with [Name of bank]. I joined [Bank's X] team in [location] during the summer of 2012 and recently accepted a third year / Senior Analyst position, which I am very excited about. During my time with [bank], I have worked closely with [couple senior banker names], on multiple [industry] sellside transactions. The experience I have had thus far has been both challenging and extremely rewarding, but I am beginning to consider opportunities for a transition into private equity in the summer of 2015. I have strong ties to the [region] with [my family and friends], leading to a preference to [move / stay] in the [region] to pursue private equity.
If you have time over the coming weeks, I would enjoy the opportunity to learn more about your experience with [PE firm].
I have also attached my resume to give a sense of my background and interests.
I probably sent ~50 notes in the above style and had ~20 informal informational interviews and a couple lunch / coffee meet-ups. However, I landed my interview process with a firm I only did an online resume drop with. Once their interview process started, it moved very quickly. The interview process consisted of four rounds: round 1) phone interview with behaviorals and technical; round 2) skype interview; round 3) technical interview with a partner; round 4) super day with 6 interviews, including an hour defense of a case and three-statement lbo model prepared based on a CIM they sent me a few days prior. I thankfully secured a full-time offer with a solid firm ($1-2b fund size) that had a great reputation in the industry.
Life on the Buyside
I've been in my new role four months and have closed two platform investments. So far, it has been a much better experience than banking - the work is more rewarding and you have more flexibility / control over your life. Also, you are treated like an adult, which wasn't always the case in banking (nor should it have always been). Given my deal activity, the hours have been pretty intense, but the type of work I'm doing and how it is actually used, makes the overall experience more enjoyable. Looking forward to the next 2.5 years and what they bring! Then, it's off the business school! ?
That's a bit about me - feel free to ask whatever you'd like to know that would help you on your own path!