My Recruiting Story: The importance of reading emotions and the appearance of intelligence

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.

Comments (76)

Jun 20, 2020 - 3:01pm

I'd also love to see how you organized your resume and cover letter

path less traveled

Jun 20, 2020 - 3:08pm

This man is just trying to find his next gig to hook his followers once day trading doesn't work out.

Next gig: IB recruiting. WSO has got some competition

Will update my computer soon and leave Incognito so I will disappear forever. How did I achieve Neanderthal by trolling? Some people are after me so need to close account for safety.
  • 1
  • Prospect in IB - Gen
Jun 18, 2020 - 10:33pm

Thanks for sharing this, it was so insightful to see your view on this, and believe there are truly good people in the industry, and not full of some these infamous WSO personalities. Wishing you the best of luck in your future endeavors. But how did you go about increasing your ability to just make conversation with anyone and everyone. and becoming better at reading a room?

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Ind
Jun 19, 2020 - 12:42pm

I have always been in leadership positions and debate clubs/teams, so speaking is not something I have trouble with. Having an actual interest in Finance combined with speaking skills made me stand out.

Most Helpful
  • Analyst 1 in IB - Ind
Jun 18, 2020 - 11:22pm

I don't disagree with much you said, but I don't think it's efficient to label Philosophy and Economics majors at LACs as a "joke". Just because someone is interested in pursuing a given discipline for 4 years (especially at a school that doesn't offer Finance) does not mean they are unworthy to learn and fill that role in the future. It's great to have a UG business school, but you can't discount the quality of an education due to the lack of one. Also this is from the perspective of someone who studied Finance at a non-target and broke in, just like you...

  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Jun 18, 2020 - 11:51pm

Economics is much harder than Finance at most top schools. Wharton is the only exception I know of.

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Ind
Jun 19, 2020 - 12:46pm

OP here. I completely agree with you. Top schools are top for a reason. On average, a bottom tier student from atop school wipes the floor with the average non-target student. However, because of what I have experienced at competitions, events, interviews, work place, and through people I know across the industry, I have developed a bias against "targets". It just blows my mind how some of these "top" students are so outclassed by students who go to "shitty" schools.

What I mean is, the idea of what a top target student can do was a lie, and I have come to understand that I was generalizing the performance of a student just because of where they went to school, not what they could do as an individual. The same way I overestimated targets, I underestimated non targets. For example, of the total SA class of like 30 people, out of the 20 targets only 3 of them knew what they were talking about. Out of the other 10 nontargets, about 8 knew what they were talking about.

I will admit that the only students from a top university that have impressed me/utterly outclassed me where kids from Cornell.

It just seems highly illogical to me that on the first day of work, I get hit with a financial model and am asked to use all my accounting knowledge, but the majority of people around me don't know what accounting is. It just bothered me a lot that I get looked down upon when the people looking down on me can't even perform well. I had so many jaw dropping moments of thinking "how the fuck did you get this job".

  • Prospect in _none
Jun 19, 2020 - 5:08pm

Goddamn bro chill tf out you got the job. Good on you that you were able to grind and achieve your goals but get over it

  • Prospect in IB - Gen
Jun 22, 2020 - 8:05pm

Must've been diversity kids you were working with. Everyone I've seen from targets have their technicals down easy.

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Gen
Jun 22, 2020 - 1:41pm

The LAC students, regardless of major, will be up to speed in a few weeks lol it's not rocket science. The reason you may perceive them as looking down at you is because while they learn about the world, business school hardos are learning the same financial shit over and over...anybody can do that..hence why LAC Philosophy majors get GS IBD offers...Firms love LAC kids and anyone who says that they're going obsolete or doesn't understand why they're hired is just so ignorant....Wonder how much MS I'm going to get from the 85% undergrad finance majors that lurk this site.

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Ind
Jun 22, 2020 - 2:53pm

OP here. Agree with you. What I mean is that the average target student did not stand out but the top 1% of nontargets did. In my situation, I came across more 1% of non targets than above average targets. Hence my views. Especially when things kick off, targets need to work hard to cath up to non-targets in terms of technical knowledge and most of the targets I have worked with had the attitude of "oh I don't need to know this topic very well" and were essentially cruising through the internship.

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Ind
Jun 19, 2020 - 12:49pm

Surprisingly, people on this site have said making a CV is a bad idea, but I differ. Every single thing I applied to I attached my CV to even though it was not asked for/required. I would get calls from a recruitier saying "I loved your cover letter we want you to interview" and am sure that my CV gave me an extra push to getting interviews.

Best reccomendations for making a good CV is making sure it is personalized and can stand out. There are a lot of templates, samples, and examples of what good CV's look like but they all follow the same pattern/flow.

Jun 19, 2020 - 4:34am

I can't believe you didn't get asked any technicals. You probably started talking about the Black Scholes model or ASC 606's effect on software subscription companies and its derivation or something for them to think ok, this guy clearly knows what's up. If it were me, considering you were from a non-target, I would totally ask you tehcnials, including anybody on my team. We have literal technical interviews only aas part of our sreening process.

Also, Vandy is not a "good" school by your definition and shouldn't be placed with UChicago, which is a "good" school. VAndy is a semi-target

Will update my computer soon and leave Incognito so I will disappear forever. How did I achieve Neanderthal by trolling? Some people are after me so need to close account for safety.
  • 1
  • Analyst 1 in IB - Ind
Jun 19, 2020 - 1:31pm

Yeah same. I just got lucky. I did do my fair share of case studies but they aren't really technicals. Pretty much all of my interviews went like this "Tell me why this country's economy will do better within 5 years" and after I explaind it would be "ok, tell me why that same country's economy will do worse within 5 years". So basically just conversations about things that I assume made the interviewers think "if they are talking about x topic they surely know about x topic so I will not ask them directly about x topic"

Jun 19, 2020 - 1:36pm

Analyst 1 in IB - Ind:

Pretty much all of my interviews went like this "Tell me why this country's economy will do better within 5 years"

What the heck. This is not an IB question. This sounds more like S&T or HF for an international organization. There is no way you got asked this in "pretty much all of your interviews". I have never seen this question in my life and I run recruiting for my bank at the junior level.

Will update my computer soon and leave Incognito so I will disappear forever. How did I achieve Neanderthal by trolling? Some people are after me so need to close account for safety.
  • Intern in HF - Other
Jun 19, 2020 - 8:28am

This is good, but like chill out with the hate towards "top schools." A chip on your shoulder is good motivation to getting in, but once you have a job you will be working with these people and honestly no one cares. There are plenty of kids at Ivy+ schools with low knowledge and technical skills who don't deserve an IB job, that's probably why they're in a non-target superday rather than a target one. Again congrats, the non-target grind is much harder than the target one, but also relax with the inferiority complex before you start working.

  • Incoming Analyst in IB-M&A
Jun 19, 2020 - 9:04am

Glad you got in but honestly seems like you have an inferiority complex because you went to a nontarget school. "Looks, sneers, and laughs of disdain from students who went to targets"? They probably werent even thinking of you. Also, do you think Philosophy and Econ are some bullshit departments just because your school's departments were shit?

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Gen
Jun 20, 2020 - 1:00am

in a professional setting where everyone's only goal is to do well in the interview, it's highly unlikely one would go out of their way to do something like that which has no payoff to them. please recognize the difference between your perception and the reality.

meanwhile, coming from a major target, it's simply untrue that ppl at targets somehow are ... stupid? also recognize that many people i know prefer not to come off too / only smart in daily life as no one wants that to be their "image."

Jun 19, 2020 - 1:03pm

What is the author's core thesis in this passage?

A. With hard work and determination, it is possible to get an Investment Banking offer from a prestigious firm as a non-target student, even though they may have major insecurity issues about going to a non-target and getting ignored by every person they reach out to potentially because the passage conveys that the author might have a huge inferiority complex that leads him / her to believe that they are just as capable if not more than target candidates who don't know "anything" about finance and are doing stupid degrees while the author has a true passion for finance due to "blowing through the technicals" and being able to have an unnaturally canny ability to read people's emotions and appear intelligent to the point that according to the author, the interviewers would be so impressed that they would give the author an offer

B. Target school kids are idiots.

C. 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.

D. Non-target kids are treated unfairly in the networking process but with the right motivation and skillset, are able to perform well in interviews if given the chance.

Will update my computer soon and leave Incognito so I will disappear forever. How did I achieve Neanderthal by trolling? Some people are after me so need to close account for safety.
  • 5
  • Analyst 1 in IB - Ind
Jun 19, 2020 - 1:11pm

Part A is reaching a little but overall yes. Finally something not worthy of MS.

Jun 19, 2020 - 1:33pm

I'm assuming you didn't do well on the SAT Critical Reading section. You can't just go with a response that is "reaching a little but overall yes". The answer choice needs to be supported by the passage and everything that is stated in the answer choice needs to be correct not "reaching a little." Keep in mind that the longer answer choices are not always the right answers. In fact, they may suggest some nuances that the author may not actually agree with.

Also, if it doesn't deserve MS, can I at least get an SB? Hoping to get 1,000 more SBs in the coming days so I can finally be anonymous....

Will update my computer soon and leave Incognito so I will disappear forever. How did I achieve Neanderthal by trolling? Some people are after me so need to close account for safety.
Jun 19, 2020 - 1:44pm

Tbh, I'd rather be coworkers with the target school philosophy majors than the non-target finance hardos who can't hold a conversation about anything other than finance. At least the philosophy major majored in something interesting in undergrad while ending up the same spot as finance majors.

Jun 19, 2020 - 1:47pm

Non-target finance hardos are te worst people who will look down upon Columbia grads ilke me and think that they know more just because they know about ASC 605's nuances and I don't !

Will update my computer soon and leave Incognito so I will disappear forever. How did I achieve Neanderthal by trolling? Some people are after me so need to close account for safety.
  • 1
Jun 20, 2020 - 11:53pm

finally someone speaking some sense. when i read "the best target kids are from cornell", it became obvious that this op has no understanding of what the lay of the land in the target world really looks like. cornell is basically the hybrid state school among the ivys. not surprising they op and those kids see eye to eye. birds of the same feather flock together.

Jun 19, 2020 - 3:18pm

I agree with a lot of what you said re: interview prep, networking, how to steer convo in interview

I think you're greatly overvaluing technical knowledge / accounting skills when it comes to this job, especially before you even start FT.

Especially now that sophomores are getting interviews, from what I've seen banks are taking cultural fits over hardo finance-first kids because quite frankly just about everything you do on this job is taught on the job. They're betting these "target" kids who might not be as technically advanced today, will be just as caught up when they're halfway through their 1st FT year as the non-target kids, but a much better cultural fit.

  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Jun 19, 2020 - 11:07pm

Technical skills are great as an analyst / associate, but are very unimportant in the grand scheme of things. What makes the philosophy majors from LACs so valuable is effective communication, critical thinking, and generally speaking social skills (though less about major), all of which are more important for becoming a partner at a PE firm or an MD at an investment bank than knowing some obscure accounting question. Understanding the why of a problem is more important than fixing an issue - the ability to create a perfect model is useless without the capacity for understanding the drivers that go into it. LACs and majors often have stronger critical thinking skills and are able to create evidence-backed theses as a part of their academic careers, which is the most important and applicable skillset in finance (especially as an investor). Not to say that an undergraduate finance major could not develop these skills, but it is not built into their curriculum, and the sort of students with the intellectual horsepower and rigor of LACs rarely go to business school for undergrad (in my experience) since technical skills can be picked up on the job fairly quickly.

Jun 20, 2020 - 12:22am

TBH I don't know about all of this lAC preparing you to think more critically. How exactly does this work?

Will update my computer soon and leave Incognito so I will disappear forever. How did I achieve Neanderthal by trolling? Some people are after me so need to close account for safety.
  • Analyst 1 in IB - Gen
Jun 20, 2020 - 1:05am

partly I'd say it comes from the fact that you are constantly seeing, evaluating, internalizing, and communicating different opinions on the same issue when u major in things like philosophy

  • Prospect in Other
Jun 20, 2020 - 3:52pm

I mean theres no need to be bitter. You made it, just be happy about that! Does it suck that you had to work harder than someone at a target that doesn't know the first thing about finance just to get the same internship? Sure, but keep in mind a lot of kids at targets worked just as hard if not harder getting to those schools in the first place. Nobody's had an easy path, well maybe besides the ultra-wealthy legacy students or the kids whose dads are MD's, but besides them just to let you know everyone there deserves to be there and they proved it in one way or another.

Jun 20, 2020 - 3:53pm

Ultra wealthy don't have problems? Do you know how pissed off I am when daddy doesn't let me buy a Veyron and I have to sette for a Zonda Cinque? AHHH!

Will update my computer soon and leave Incognito so I will disappear forever. How did I achieve Neanderthal by trolling? Some people are after me so need to close account for safety.
  • Prospect in IB - Gen
Jun 22, 2020 - 12:06pm

Analyst 1 in IB - Ind:

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.

Do you mind explaining how you did this?

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Ind
Jun 22, 2020 - 3:07pm

Reading the room, sensing their emotions, getting feelers about them during the conversations, picking up on cues, pushing/pulling back on topics, etc. Essentially trying to get into their heads and perspectives to use what they want to hear/see to my advantage by playing to my strenghts and pushing away from weaknesses.

Jun 22, 2020 - 8:55pm

I feel bad for your analyst class as I def wouldn't want to work with you till late nights...

op, word of advice being in the game for almost a decade: although it's good that you have a competitive spirit, be understanding of others, be compassionate and helpful and you will succeed both personally and professionally. No one makes it to the top without help from others and they certainty don't make it by knowing all of their technicals.

I am still very good friends with my analyst class and if it wasn't for their peer support and help, I wouldn't have made it.

I really hope you can take some advice from everyone here...

good luck

Jun 24, 2020 - 7:44am

Wow. That's word for word how it worked. I wouldn't say someone isn't of good intelligence simply because they can't code and can't pull off Will Hunting though. That "disdain" for so called privileged types can also be an incredibly effective motivational tool, ever tried applying it wholesale throughout? That kid lacking your character doesn't stand a chance. Brilliant.

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