How to Get a Wall Street Job without Connections
Hey monkeys, I'm on a plane from CLT to PHX, and I have wifi, and I'm not in the mood to work on my book. I like giving you guys some of my more thoughtful newsletter articles every once in a while, but I've never directly contributed to the forum. I have a few hours to kill, so I wanted to share my thoughts on how to get a job on Wall Street (which is what we are all here for).
It is hard, almost impossible to get a job on Wall Street if you are an outsider. And, if you are in school, and you have no Wall Street experience, you don't know your ass from a hole in the ground, no matter how many books you have read, and you are going to sound like an idiot in an interview. There are no two ways about it. The good news is that many people are in the same boat and will sound like idiots in interviews. The bad news is that some of these people know guys on the inside.
When I started at Lehman, plunked down in the 2001 Associate class, the first thing I realized was that everyone seemed to know each other. Lots of my classmates already knew people at various places in the firm. Partly this was because some of them were interns the summer before, but also, rich kids tend to know other rich kids from the Tri-State area. It's a small community. People know each other. That's a fact, and you can't do anything about it. All you can do is to work on making yourself a more attractive candidate.
So going back to when I was in business school, in 1998 or 1999, I tracked down the one and only guy I knew who was a trader, called him up. He told me that I had no shot and I should just give up. Actually--he did have one piece of advice--he said I was going to need a story on why I wanted to become a trader, and it was going to have to be a good one. Then he hung up, expecting never to hear from me again.
How to Break into WS from a Non-Target School
I went to what you call a very non-target school, and I was fully aware that the bulge-bracket banks didn't recruit there (even the local broker-dealers, like Montgomery or H&Q or Sutro didn't recruit there), so I decided I was going to have to do it the old-fashioned way--by working my way up from the mailroom. Not quite--I got a job as a clerk on the trading floor, fetching coffee and sandwiches and entering in trade tickets and running risk reports.
But then something interesting happened. While I was fetching coffee and sandwiches and entering in trade tickets, I started to learn a lot about options. I mean, I was working on the damn options floor, I was immersed in it. It's like the best way to learn French is just to live in France for a year. So I got really smart about options even though I never had any formal quantitative instruction like the kind people get when they go to University of Chicago. So when I was in that final round interview at Lehman, and the head of interest rate derivatives started asking me options questions, and I got them right, he was stoked because the whiz kids from Wharton never did, because they only had textbook knowledge, not practical knowledge.
Getting the interview was another matter entirely. That was a function of pure aggression, like, cold-calling recruiters, something I don't enjoy.
My intern at The Daily Dirtnap is off looking for jobs this week, in Boston. He is lucky, because I was able to introduce him to people. This makes him an insider, not an outsider, and he doesn't have to work as hard. He's tried on his own. Non-target school, average resume, no chance. But he is gaining experience working for me, and won't sound so dumb in an interview.
There is a life lesson here. It's not a matter of luck. You have to make your own luck. Mailing in a resume is a million to one shot. For every Bieber and Upton "discovered" on YouTube, there are a lot of people sitting at home, waiting for something to happen to them. But nothing happens to you in your apartment. And if you can't get in through the front door, then you get in through the side door or the back door. And sometimes it takes time. Sometimes it takes years of fetching coffee and entering in trade tickets. I think younger people don't understand this. The back office or middle office job can be a huge stepping-stone, even if you have to suffer occasional indignities from bankers or traders. And these days, working at a small or mid-size firm can be just as good, or better, than a BB.
And if all else fails, and you don't get the job, there are a lot of other ways to make a lot of money in this world. You just have to be a little more creative.
Mod Note: Best of WSO, this was originally posted December 2013.