How I went from non target 2.3 gpa to 7 figure buy side seat

Preface

I was recently advising a family member on IB interviews and remembered this site which was valuable during the early part of my career. I didn't read many success stories from people in my situation so I'm sharing this to give people hope and maybe some valuable lessons or ideas. I'm going to be vague about certain details to keep this anon.

College

I graduated with a 2.29 GPA from a private school that places okay regionally but not nationally. I had always been a good test taker, 1500 SAT, but mediocre student due to effort and undiagnosed ADHD. I received several F's for classes that I no showed entirely, and spent most of my free time (when not parting) playing and winning at online poker. I invested my winnings in stocks and became obsessive about finance and investing my senior year of college (2010). It was at this point that I was diagnosed with ADHD, began taking adderall (lol), and read dozens of finance books. 

Post grad

My resume was pitiful except for one mediocre internship, minor poker accolades and a couple of personal factoids that made me interviewable. I emailed my resume to hundreds of banks and trading firms.

This was GFC crisis era and the hiring market was still bleak. After a few weeks of nothing I got one reply from an MD at a regional boutique firm. After a phone interview, he called me in for a full interview day for an IBD role. I spent countless hours on WSO prepping. This was my very first full time interview. I left my GPA off my resume and was extremely worried that people would ask about grades but luckily only one did. My response: "I was told to leave GPA off if it's below 3.5." That's it, say no more. I hit it off with everyone and BS'd my way through questions with the help of WSO browsing I'd done.

The firm had laid people off during the crisis and was now very understaffed. They just needed anyone who could do monkey work for little pay and start immediately. And just like that, I had a banking offer although one many would sneer at: $40k base salary, no bonus and the expectation of long hours. But I had the cushion of savings and accepted without hesitation. 

First job

At the above firm, I worked ~90 hour weeks which translated to about $8-9/hour. Most of my time was spent on ECM pitches and modeling for crappy companies in the industry we covered, and I spent work downtime teaching myself the finer points of excel and ppt. It was a brutal time for my social life but I was paying dues.

After about 18 months I started getting frustrated because this firm was failing and there was no path up. Hiring on the street was picking up, I had learned the basics and decided it was time to try to lateral. My passion was still investing, I didn't care for the hours or work and thought equity research would be a better fit. I emailed sell side analysts who covered the industries I worked on and miraculously within 6 weeks I had two offers in hand. Although I was only 18 months out of college, interviewers no longer cared about school or GPA which was a big relief. They only cared about what I knew, what I had worked on and if I could get the job done. 

Second job

I accepted a role as a BB equity research associate with base pay of $80k, a 100% increase. I ended up getting along great with the analyst and worked in this role for almost four years. During that time I passed the CFA exams and earned the charter. I still had a chip on my shoulder from my poor college experience and non target undergrad brand, and thought it would help my resume if I ever wanted to go to the buy side. I was promoted to VP, began covering a few stocks and my pay topped out at over $200k. A far cry from an "unemployable" 2.3 gpa grad five years earlier.

Third job to present

At this point I was a quasi expert on an industry with a solid  network and a marketable resume. I decided it was time to try to lateral to a buy side seat. My industry was hot and I got several interviews at top firms: every MM hedge fund, brand name mutual funds and a couple PE shops. After several strike outs I landed at the fund where I still work today, and have worked my way up to be a consistent alpha generator with seven figure all in pay. I'll leave my firm/role vague for obvious reasons.

My message

This is especially for those from non targets or with poor GPAs... You can't change the past. Find a way to get your foot in the door and then the rest falls on you. Have no illusions about pay or your worth until you've proven yourself. Early career pay is irrelevant in the long run. Own your past, accept the hill you have to climb and be willing to outwork everyone. Diplomas and grades mean nothing if you aren't willing to work hard, learn continuously and dedicate yourself to being great at what you do. And always keep a long term perspective.
 

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Comments (60)

Aug 15, 2021 - 7:48am

Hi, I find your story extremely inspirational and was wondering if I could dm you because I'm in a rlly tough spot rn, almost the reverse of your situation in fact. I have a good GPA but I struggled to get jobs, took a job in Big 4, but I am struggling a lot in that role too.

I have looked online but found nothing that I can relate to, but this post really struck a chord with me, especially as I recently got diagnosed with ADHD myself and am not sure if it's part to blame.

Would appreciate it very much, thanks.

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Aug 15, 2021 - 1:12pm

Incredibly inspirational and informative. Specifically that bit about interviewers not caring about your school / GPA after 18 months. As a current undergrad I find it hard to just take the foot off the pedal and find myself sticking to the safe path of maintaining my GPA, but my takeaway from this is to relax on that front and focus on what I could actually bring to the table rather than arbitrary grades. Thank you and very well-deserved!

Array
Aug 15, 2021 - 3:07pm

A well rounded 3.5 with tangible skills is far more interesting and valuable than a 4.0 who's a book worm. The real world has a lot of nuance and gray areas, and I have witnessed many 4.0/perfectionists struggle with failure. I don't suggest anyone handicap themselves the way I did but a 3.3 or 3.5 is typically enough to pass an initial screen.

  • Incoming Analyst in IB - Cov
Aug 20, 2021 - 3:16pm

still, a 2.3 is complete shit lol i wouldn't go that far. this guy's work ethic is unmatched. there's a happy medium here that i'd push to find. not that i have industry experience but that's what i've gathered.

  • Prospect in IB-M&A
Aug 15, 2021 - 1:26pm

What do you think is the key to generating alpha? How do you find these great investment opportunities?

Aug 15, 2021 - 3:11pm

Process. Finding a few market inefficiencies and then applying a disciplined, repeatable process to exploit them. Joel Greenblatt on special situations is one of the best thinkers in this area. But nothing beats experience, patience and discipline.

Aug 16, 2021 - 12:09pm

Fellow "non-target" with past struggles of motivation (or lack thereof) and undiagnosed attention disorders (same as anyone else I reckon) here. Really appreciate the post, people in this industry seem to get very caught up in prestige and following the set path (for fair reasons albeit). Always nice to know that it isn't the only thing that matters after a while. Hard work, consistency, and drive are key; hard works beats talent when talents fails to work hard to echo the age old adage. Very happy that your efforts have paid off. Cheers! Keep killing it.

Aug 16, 2021 - 1:11pm

Awesome story - will definitely be hanging those last three sentences as a quote somewhere in my room. I think a lot of people that have early success in college end up getting complacent in their career, but you kept on grinding despite your initial struggles, so cheers to you.

  • Partner in IB-M&A
Aug 20, 2021 - 12:16pm

Life is a grind.  I am so proud of those who had to grind extra hard and often at smaller shops to get comfortable.

What you want to be at the end of the day is a partner or owner.  You can have a wonderful and rich life as the owner of a small regional firm with a few partners.  You will likely out earn most larger firm MDs...and your quality of life will be 3x.

If ownership/leadership returns and opportunities excite you then...

Hard to make a good living as an owner of a small PE, okay in VC, but best way to be an owner is to stay in Ibanking and learn to relationship development.  With little more than one year of working capital you can launch a shop.  As a service business It is the most entrepreneurial of the practice areas.

Aug 20, 2021 - 7:51am

I think my vague goal was to be a PM at Citadel but even that changed slightly over time. Have a list of goals for roles that both you would like and could excel at and narrow over time. Build skills that are broadly applicable and that might be in your free time. But absolutely have goals and something to work towards. Inertia is a career limiter.

Aug 17, 2021 - 1:21pm

"This was GFC crisis era and the hiring market was still bleak. After a few weeks of nothing I got one reply from an MD at a regional boutique firm. After a phone interview, he called me in for a full interview day for an IBD role."

Not taking away from OP but this seems like the entire journey wrapped up

Crazy how random luck makes or breaks stars

Aug 17, 2021 - 1:56pm

Awesome share, there needs to be more of these break through stories on the platform because it really is more common than people realize.

One follow up question: Over a decade after your entry into the industry, how has the landscape changed for this kind of "back door"opportunity? Meaning not going to an Ivy League then BB.

Aug 18, 2021 - 7:23am

Thanks for your insights. It is very I inspiring for me. I have ADD and had trouble getting my first job because of bad GPA/non-target school. After many rejections I have finally received a FT offer at a Big4 (Valuation/FDD/IBD) based in europe. So I can relate to your experience. I was wondering what helped you to manage your Adhd? (i. e. What would you tell your younger self?) Do your colleagues know it or is it better to keep it as a secret? What books/ courses can you recommend in general and for investing/equity research?

Aug 20, 2021 - 7:57am

I wouldn't share anything because people are judgmental but a lot of finance workers take stimulants and not all are diagnosed. As far as managing, I never read anything. Create routines and stick to them, physically write down to do list and cross off as you complete, drink lots of water and get consistent exercise, remind yourself to actively listen more than you speak. Those are just some things that have helped me.

Aug 18, 2021 - 8:47am

Great account so thanks for sharing. Things are tough when you have a low GPA, from a non-target or if you are an older candidate trying to break in but when you deal with people, anything is possible. 

  • Associate 1 in IB - Cov
Aug 18, 2021 - 11:12am

Congrats I love your story. I'm a first year mba associate but I love the public markets. Would you still recommend entering the Hf industry? Do you think I could get looks from MM firms even though I'm post-mba?

Aug 20, 2021 - 8:12am

You will get looks but the degree won't help you, you'll be judged by the depth and quality of your ideas. It's still a very lucrative career but harder than ever to find and keep a seat. Much safer to stay on deal side where's there's less disintermediation.

Aug 20, 2021 - 6:22am

Is this even possible to do now that we aren't in a huge recession and that competition is so fierce? Not to take away from the hopeful message here, but I don't see this being very feasible for most people nowadays since banks don't seem to be desperate enough to employ people like this. Thoughts?

Aug 20, 2021 - 8:27am

This is wrong. Competition at that time was tougher believe it or not. Not only was finance/banking a more popular career path but there was a significant glut of people laid off or underemployed. Every bank had major layoffs in 08-09 and it wasn't uncommon for first years to get laid off/no bonus or college seniors to have offers rescinded. My luck was that I was willing to work for peanuts and happened to get along well with the MD. Sometimes that's all it takes.
 

Imagine today if a BB analyst were laid off…would that person then want to work at a bucket shop for 40% pay cut and no bonus? Likely no. This was the dynamic at play. 

Aug 21, 2021 - 4:48am

Any recommendations for someone that's already a junior at a completely non-finance school looking into investment banking? All I have going for me is a love of investing and a few business course credits like intro accounting and management. I have a big network and experience in my major and industry already though, and don't know if I wanna give that up, though I might be able to break in sideways in the future.

Sep 20, 2021 - 5:04am

This was my experience. I was non-target undergrad and in 2009 had to compete with recently fired or rescinded applicants from targets or BBs. Many of whom were interviewing for the same shitty M&A shop I ultimately landed a job with.  The only difference was because of the uncertainty of virtually all businesses at that time, the partners wanted their analysts to do both M&A support and equity research, which required writing quarterly reports that became newsletters to our clients and potential clients about the sector we covered. Part of the interview was a timed writing exercise summarizing a few quarterly transcripts into a digestible narrative. I ended up being the best writer so I too was paid $40K with no promise of any bonus.

I parlayed that job into a corporate strategy role at a $1B public company where I worked on another lean team as the only direct report to a harvard mba and he reported to the CEO. Again, the crisis was still fresh and companies were lean, afraid to add the expense of more staff. I was incredibly intimidated by my boss's pedigree because I really had none but much like you I was a veracious reader of financial information. The interview process was an hour face to face in each of the C-level's offices because I'd be working with them frequently, and then finally my boss. He didn't really like me but the CEO, COO, and CFO did and like a good ladder climber, he covered his ass with their favorable opinion of me.

When it came time for me to get ready for mba applications, I decided I'd rather spend $200K trying to launch a business. It wasn't easy but eventually it grew to a comfortable size thanks mostly to the inorgranic strategies I learned in my jobs. Now my net worth is $35m-$40m and I make $3m-$4m per year. 

I recently came back to WSO to read the post of one of the people I mentor about a couple of job offers he is weighing. This community was very helpful to me when I needed to be conversant in all things IB careers but intimidating because I felt like I was so far behind. Congrats on your well earned success and glad to know there are other underdogs that started here and made it far.

Aug 20, 2021 - 6:23am

Hey OP, thanks for being transparent. I was in a similar situation. I had around a 2.5ish GPA. 2 internships from boutique investment banks, during my senior year I ultimately landed a commission private equity internship/ job, was during their startup phase, which was semi-offer, but commission-based, gotten from cold emailing from previous internship network. but I ultimately quit because I was uncomfortable with the ambiguity of the uncertainty of pay. grander scheme of things, I moved on and didn't enjoy it all that much, because I was more money-hungry than actually loving the work, and highly valued my freedom. made more money than the regular Workers in the industry doing my own things. I may consider an MBA /master,  but not likely as is expensive and 1/2 years of your life studying BS and having to back break getting the attention of fake smiling people. 

Aug 20, 2021 - 11:16pm

Yep many ways to make it in life. I have a friend who was regional top tier bank. Hardly lasted 2 years due to hours.

Left early went to PE. Hated that then went to a more unconventional alternative fund. Through the networks he built, he started investing on his own. Recently struck an IPO deal (he was invested way earlier), walking with $20m+ NW now. 

not everyone needs to aspire to be MD to make it. In fact that's almost the way to not make serious money.

well done OP

Aug 26, 2021 - 4:15pm

This is actually very close to my story as well... 2.x GPA, non-target school. Took years to break in, but worked hard and rose fast. Not at the 7-figure point yet, but doing better than I ever thought I would. Been on the street over a decade now. Got my foot in the door at a firm whose name you wouldn't recognize, but worked my way up to ones that you would. I liken it to starting in the minor leagues and working up to the majors. 

I just wanted to reiterate the OP's broad message... it isn't easy, but it is possible. 

  • Prospect in IB-M&A
Aug 30, 2021 - 6:03pm

would you recommend working for an mm hedge fund?

Sep 11, 2021 - 2:21pm

Hey I feel like I'm in a similar path with my career. I went to a nontarget and graduated with a 2.8 gpa after switching 3 majors. I finally got into investing and I really love it. Currently I am pursuing the CFA (taking level 1 exam Nov) because I want to get into Investment related roles. The only offer I could get was a Relationship Banker job at JPMorgan Chase so I took it. Do you have any advice on how I can get into the buyside or Investment decision making type roles?

My plan is to work at my current role for 12-15 months and I can get promoted to Private Client Banker dealing with 150k+ net worth individuals. If I dont get I will look for more on the Investment side.

P.S. I think my interviewing skills were not great because I had some decent interview opportunities and did not got an offer on any.

Sep 12, 2021 - 2:33pm

This is a great story. I graduated from a semi-target with a 2.6, no internships and the only notable experience I had was my part time bank teller job. Graduated in May 2020 where most of the jobs I applied to disappeared, had to move back in with parents for five months. I got a remote back office role, worked that for about ten months, then finally landed a middle office credit risk position with a local firm. I'm not the epitome of success but I feel like I've come a long way from being miserable in my parent's basement one year ago, having zero clue what my careers options were, to now having a very cushy job with my own place downtown. Motivated to keep networking with the local boutiques after reading this post. 

Sep 15, 2021 - 12:38pm

Hey! Just wanted to message to let you know how inspiring your story is and how you are absolutely right. I come from a community college (aka the definition of non-target, lol) and I landed an internship at a VC fund and a BB bank this fall my sophomore year. I think this website makes it seem like the path to success is quite linear when it really is not. I had to take many unpaid internships and work pretty hard to get where I am, but I still made it and I think it is very worth it :) 

Thank you for sharing, these stories really inspire me to go above and beyond. So, so happy for you I hope I can emulate a fraction of your success! 

  • Prospect in IB - CB
Sep 20, 2021 - 6:33pm

BB internship your sophomore year? are you diversity? i ask because i am a sophomore myself with the same background as you and i feel many banks do not respect only CC on resume (transferring next year tho) so focusing on MM and boutiques

Sep 25, 2021 - 4:27am

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