Interview with an Equity Research Associate (Part 1/2)
The following is an interview with Equity Research Associate IntoTheRain (he is also available to answer your questions)
- What is your job title?
- What are previous positions you have held and how many years of experience do you have?
- Did you go to a "target", "semi target" or "non target".
Target for accounting, semi target for finance but somewhat different stream/program
- What was the most useful thing you learned in ugrad that you apply in your current position?
N/A – general path for my program was the Big 4. However a portion of the class eventually branched out into other areas (e.g. industry, valuations, consulting, banking) after they pick up their Chartered Account designation (a lot more recognized in Canada than the CPA in the States)
- What was the most useful thing you learned in ugrad that helped you get where you are now?
Build relationships early and often, with people above and below your year, in and out of your program. Don't network only when you need to find a job. This costs very little other than time (which you'll have a lot of during school) and the rewards are exponential down the road.
- What was your most useful class and why?
There was a public speaking course which was very relevant for presentations, meetings and interviews in the workplace. You were recorded every class on a topic and critiqued by a workshop class of around 20. We were taught structured speeches as well as impromptu and the recordings allowed us to see our gradual improvements week after week.
We use a percentage system, if converted:
Undergrad before OCR recruiting to get Big 4 placement – 3.9
Undergrad after landing job – 3.7
Masters – 3.9
- During recruiting, how were you able to set yourself apart from other competitive candidates at your school?
Our program has pretty good placement rates in accounting. I had decent grades, good extracurriculars and did some work as opposed to sitting on my ass the first summer. I was also not too awkward while networking in person. Guess it filled out their checklists.
- What kind of internships did you have during ugrad?
My internships were all with the Big 4. I stayed after full time. It was great for progression as long as you were good, they count your experience so moving up within the firm is quite fast. My program was very insulated so while there were a few keeners networking and flying out to NY their upper years to interview with BBs, I was pretty much in a bubble and content with coasting through school and picking up my CA first. I recall a roommate of mine was telling me about interviewing withand my only response at that time was "that's nice… but does it involve alcohol?"
- Did you get an mba (or msf or equiv) or are you considering it?
I have a Masters in Accounting. Will not consider a MBA given the opportunity cost and the fact that I would be able to pursue the same roles that a MBA could with my CA. Along with the fact that my preference is for research anyways so I doubt I can "upgrade" from where I'm at. Eventually, I may be interested in going to the buyside but job experience is much more relevant than a MBA at this point
- What was the most useful thing you learned in grad school that you apply in your current position?
The number of papers improved my writing. Also, reading and proofing my team's writing during group assignments highlighted what shitty writing looks like.
- Do you have any professional certifications (CFA / CAIA / etc.)? If so, how has that certification helped you in your career?
CA is mighty useful in this country since you're not just seen as a bean counter if you have some interesting experiences to back it up. Working on the CFA now, probably should have started the same time as my friends, who mostly are finished by now but I have no regrets going on those vacations instead.
- How did you initially "break-in" to the industry?
Saw a posting that was looking for a CA as a minimum requirement. Applied with very low expectations or even general awareness of the role. I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that I knew very little about banking, research, PE etc etc but that's where WSO came into play (and the main reason I'm doing this as appreciation for the resources that this site has offered) A lot of interview rounds, case studies and self-studying later, I was able to land the role.
- What were some of the main factors in getting the job position you have now?
I had a lot of friends come to bat for me on this one… remember how I mentioned networking above "for fun" even if you're not targeting a job? I didn't keep in touch with people because I needed them for something, but I enjoyed their company and shooting the breeze from time to time. By building a solid long-term relationship with these people, it's certainly a lot more effective than cold calling contacts from the past when you need something. So basically one day I casually mentioned I was apply for a research role during lunch and my friend mentioned that she knew a friend who was an associate at the firm. She willingly vouched for me and I kept in contact with that associate after each round of interviews. Another friend who was a banker overseas stepped up and sent me research reports of the group to help me prep as I was not too familiar the industry. A PE friend gave me some helpful advice as he was close with some associates in that department. Apparently the analyst who hired me and I had a common acquaintance as well and even though that person never told me she gave me a glowing review…etc etc.. you get the idea…
So yes, I did get lucky on some parts, but the moral of the story is don't be a douche, make lots of friends, and don't only connect with people when you need them. You'd be surprised at how easily things fall into place when you need a bit of help down the road.
Now of course, you can't get in purely by being a good sport:
- I had a very good track record with the firm – top rating at the "top group" with a recognizable client list and diverse extra-curriculars.
- Good academic record and previous experiences (probably would have had a reasonable shot at banking…if I even knew what it was back then heh)
- Even though I was in accounting, I had a lot of exposure to transaction services, due diligence, forecasts for IPO, valuations/modelling. I had a positive relationship with the partners and stayed out of the office politics so I guess they liked handing me these one-of projects.
- I think I presented relatively well during the interviews, there were many rounds over a long period of time. (a few months) but I had the "I'll take what I can get" attitude so it didn't really feel like such a grind.
- I was given an industry related pressure cooker (less than an hour) case study/modelling test which I punted but I think I was honest and managed expectations throughout so they weren't expecting the moon
I was told afterwards they picked me final round over a top tier(GS, MS in NY, UK etc) banker. Found it quite amusing…I guess I probably got there based on "fit".
- What are some of the specific things you do in your current position?
Maintain models, keep up with the industry news, write reports… same thing as most other associates in this field I would expect. I have a very good boss who is interested in mentoring me as opposed to using me as an excel monkey so that's always a plus. There's no emphasis on face time either so once I'm done my work I can bounce.
- What is a day in your life like during the workweek? Can you give us an hour by hour run down of your typical day?
Non-earnings season 7 am to 6 pm, earnings 7 am to done. I usually come in one day a weekend. It's kind of hard to give an hour by hour as most days are different. The job is very reactive so it's very dependent on the news front.
- What is your favorite part about the job? What is your least favorite?
Least favourite: I'm not a morning person and I can no longer get plastered at the bar on Thursday night and roll in 11 am on the Friday.
Favourite: I like to follow the news even on my own and am a very curious person by nature. A lot of the "work" I do doesn't really feel like work so it's pretty sweet I get paid for this. Also, I'm around very smart people who take pride/ownership of their work and have almost unlimited resources at my disposal for researching my own ideas.
- How did your background (life up until graduating college) best prepare you for where you're at now?
I generally get along well with people and can honestly say I have no enemies or people I dislike. Since I didn't really attend class much, I guess you can say I had a lot of time to recharge my batteries before hitting the workplace.
- What is the company culture like at your firm? What is the size of your firm?
Big. Culture in research is rather reserved but everyone seems smart and polite
- 13. If you have worked in multiple countries, what are some noticeable differences regarding work culture and hiring in these countries?
N/A – I've been to the States but it's like Canada without the "eh"
- What type of person (what background / knowledge / experience / personality) is best fit to do your type of job?
I think a solid foundation in accounting is very important as you need to break down those financials quickly. Otherwise, general interest in the market and preferably your industry is nice. Personality wise, you'll need to be calm and collected, but always confident and articulate (written and oral) in defending your position.
- Did you ever have a mentor and who were some other influential people who helped you along the way?
I consider a lot of the people I work for/with in the past to be my mentors. Like to take a little bit from everyone and build my own identity.
- Are the sacrifices you've made to date worth the benefit realized by you so far in your career?
- If you weren't working in finance, what do you think you would be doing?
I assume this means business/number related professions as well? It would probably be law.
- What keeps you motivated?
Even if I win the lottery tomorrow, I would still live my life exactly the same. I'm pretty content at the moment so just keeping the course is enough to motivate me for now.
- How much does money motivate you?
Motivate a little in the sense that it's one form of measurement for success. But otherwise not a whole lot. Partly why I would not consider banking at this point in my life as I personally do place a value on my free time and would forgo a potentially bigger payoff via the banking/PE route.
- How much does someone in a role like yours make per year (base + bonus)?
As far as I'm aware, research doesn't typically hire straight out of school in Canada so your comp. is variable depending on a multitude of things: your previous experience, designations, industry, analyst, performance of bank and yourself. It's very discretionary and bonus scales nicely with your experience. I am personally satisfied with my pay.
- Have you ever considered leaving your job to start your own company?
No, I'm not emotionally attached to the things I do, so for me starting my own business limits my flexibility if I'm financially invested.
Equity Research Associate (Big 5 Cdn Bank, top ranked team/analyst, popular sector)
~4-5 Years assurance/advisory at a Big 4 Accounting Firm. Left at Manager level.
On the job
ps - mod note: here's another great discussion on equity research interview questions and answers.