After reflecting on my recruiting experience I decided to give back to this forum to serve as a resource to others, and to see if anyone else has experienced what I experienced.
A bit about my background without being too specific for privacy purposes, I am a FT analyst at a BB about to start virtually. I went to a semi/low-target known for its sports teams and graduated with a 3.8 and a Finance degree. I was very involved in every facet of my school's College of Business and was known by all faculty, staff, and students for my involvement in case competitions, events, clubs, organizations, mentoring/mentee programs, etc. I really took advantage of anything and everything that came up. I did so not because I was a hardo or a tryhard, but because I was a nerd and love the world of business. It seemed natural to me to be involved and push myself to do better in everything I could improve in. I did not grow up rich or have a nice childhood so beeing able to go to university was something I wanted to make my family proud of and I wanted to be the best at everything I did to make my parents proud.
Even though I liked learning about finance and business, I had not heard about IB or the "Front Office" jobs that are talked about on this site until the second half of my Sophomore year. I had been focused on the S&T industry and wanted to become a trader alike what I saw in movies, until I realized that that kind of job is not for me. I became interested in IB because of the money, opportunities, prestige, and competitiveness of the field. I saw breaking in as a challenge and decided to pursue the IB path as a testament as to what I could accomplish. My mindset was that of a realist where I knew that most likely I would work at a "shitty" finance job, but wanted to aim high and target IB jobs with a small chance of success. I had always been an above average but not too above average person in everything that I do and wanted to prove to the world that I could achieve whatever I wanted. My decision was made and it was time to grind for the job.
My school does not have strong IB placement outside of 3-4 outliers who go to "lesser" firms like DB, Wells, and RBC. However, my school does have a Finance club with some alumni and members that know what they are talking about when it comes to recruiting and placement. After speaking with them, attending meetings, reading this site, and coming up with a plan/path to break into the industry, my main two goals were 1) Learn, memorize, and truly understand every single technical question I could find 2) Network.
Very quickly, I blew through the technicals and had developed a very strong foundation of knowledge. However, when it came to networking, I gave up on the endeavour entirely. In all the calls and emails I made (around 200) not a single person actually helped me. The calls were all the same where after chit chat, follow ups, and making a "bond," I would hit a brick wall and no referal came or no further thing came. I felt as though I was stuck in a loop where I was wasting precious time and resources on something that had yet to give fruit. I decided to give up on networking entirely and focused all my time on the resume, cover letter, and technical knowledge.
Once I felt confident enough to begin interviewing and sending my resume out, I applied to every single thing I could possibly apply to. Not just IB and FO roles, but everything. I had the mindset, cultivated by this site and my peers, that I was very unlikely to land a good job and was going to end up a bank teller, so I was casting a very wide net. If I had to guess from the gmail and excel I made to track everything, I applied to around 400 roles across the U.S, Europe, Canada, Latin America, and Australia.
This is where the weird part comes along. For some strange reason, whether it was my resume, cover letter, or plain luck, mostly every single Front Office job I applied to got back to me. All in all, I had around 25 interviews for I.B, MBB Consulting, Equity Research, REPE, Credit Research, V.C , etc, across the U.S and in London. I am not a diversity candidate, I do not have family connections, and I did not network. The results of my applications were completely unexpected and what makes matters even more strange, is that "lesser" firms (Wells, RBC, SunTrust, DB) all rejected me, but every single "top" firm (BAML, Citi, GS, MS, JPM) gave me a shot. I did not hear back from any boutiques.
At this point in time, I had been interviewing for different positions and had a good amount of experience with interviews in general, but had not had an FO interview yet. I was very surprised to be given these opportunities and to be honest I thought that I was only being interviewed so that these banks could say "yeah we hire 99% target schools but are throwing in this one kid so no one calls us out on it". I was not banking on anything and went to the first couple of interviews with a loser mindset.
This is when the experience I had from interviewing came into play. I had gotten accustomed to interviewing and did not feel any stress, pressure, or anxiety from any of these FO interviews. I was confident, not cocky, but sort of knew what was to come and completely accepted the fact that there was a possibility I would fail. Soon after, I noticed a pattern in all of the FO interviews I had. In all of my interviews, except the Consulting ones, I was never asked a single technical questions. Not once. Sure, most of all the conversations I had were about the markets and the economy, but I was never asked "What is the effect of Depreciation on the Fin STatements" or something of the like.
All my interviews fell into the same pattern of me walking into a room with a complete stranger, striking up a conversation, having a new person walk in, repeating the process, saying thank you, and leaving. I was a little surprised when this would happen but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I had a strong resume, CV, elevator speech, and confident demeanor, so in my mind, when someone would walk into an interview room and saw who I was and what I had accomplished, they did not even bother asking me anything because it was a waste of time. The thing is, I am not a super smart guy. Sure I know what I am talking about but I am in no way a genius or financial wizard. A combination of luck, being able to speak intelligently, read the room and conversation, and confidence landed me roles.
My advice to non targets or anyone looking to interview, know your technicals, but focus on the power of being able to speak to a room full of strangers and leading a conversation. What helped me not get asked technicals was also the fact that I was able to push my interviewers down a line of conversation where I was sure there would be no reason for a technical question to come up. A solid resume and C.V that gives the appearance of mastery of a subject and is proof of intelligence plus the ability to steer and command conversations led to the results I had. Focus on being able to speak, read the person interviewing you, and nudging the conversation to a field, topic, or subject you are comfortable speaking about and your interviewer likes, and dive into it. It worked for me, I hope it works for you.
On a side note, I was intimidated and scared by the people interviewing with me. Several times I was the only person from a non target and several times I received looks, sneers, and laughs of disdain from students who went to targets. However, I still got the offers and they did not. Sure, some students go to better schools, but they are still LAC. The knowledge they have is laughable and the technical skills that are needed are just not taught at their schools. Several times I was around people from top 4 schools in the U.S, and some of them had never heard of a DCF before. It blew my mind how someone who was supposed to be one of the greatest minds of my generation did not even know what a Balance Sheet is.The general lack of prep and knowledge was sad, and when push came to shove, out of 10 SA's on my team, the only 3 who came back where non-targets. Out of the 6 FT (including the 3 SA's with offers) for this year, only 2 of them went to "good" schools (UChicago and Vandy). Everyone else is from large state schools. Get rid of the mindset of thinking less of yourself and understand that while you are sitting in your accounting class getting drilled daily by extremely difficult questions, the other kids are chilling, learning about Philosophy and Economics so are at a technical disadvantage. This doesn't mean, get cocky. This means, double down and play to your strengths of having knowledge from a class plus an IB guide while understanding some of the people you are up against barely went over a guide/understand what finance is. In my experience, going to the non-target with a strong technical background makes getting your foot in the door much harder, but landing offers much easier, compared to going to a target with no technical background.
Once you are able to break through the resume screen and initial process to get through the door, what you know does not matter, but the way you communicate what you know does. The more you speak to a person and are able to lead the conversation, the more success you will find.