Never, ever, ever, give up.
I know it's a jungle out there guys. It's tough for people just graduating to find jobs, but it's even tougher for those in the work force and those with a non-target educational background to break into Finance (let alone work in a competitive sector). This story is a testament to ALWAYS maintaining the conviction in your mind that your circumstances are not reflective of who you are. If you maintain your self belief, know that everything will play out in your life as intended, and express gratitude towards others, you can literally accomplish anything you want to. I never used to believe this stuff, but because of how my life has played out, I can honestly say it's true.
So You're Telling Me I Have No Chance With This GPA?
So how unlikely was my chance of success to begin with? I'd say it was enormous. I originally attended a non-target Undergrad as a Biology major, I've never taken a Finance class in my life, and I graduated with a GPA around a 3.2. My Freshman year of college resulted in my grades tanking (and set a pretty substantial trend) as I faced the possibility of being homeless and not being able to afford tuition. When I graduated and realized I didn't want to become a doctor (and that I really wanted to break into Private Equity), I had to figure out the next steps in my life. How was some Bio Major going to break into PE and Investments from the get go? I simply picked up the phones. I made lists of firms near me, and cold called.
Success rate? 0.
Got no email responses, got no call backs, nothing. In order to pay my bills, I continued working part time as a Pharmacy Technician while also working full time at a "factory" type Pharmacy from 3:30 pm until 11:00 pm at nights. It was hands down one of the worst experiences my life, as I was surrounded by people that were thoroughly negative.
I had about $800 dollars in my bank account.
One day when I was on vacation with my family, my friend gave me a call and told me his operations department were looking for people. It was at this moment that I knew that I had to take the first step to break into Finance. Within two weeks, I managed to secure an Interview, secure the job, and I moved up to Manhattan to work. I had about 800 dollars in my bank account. I slept on a twin sized foam mattress on the floor in my friend's Studio, and we split the rent three ways. The pay at my job was pretty terrible, and some days I had to balance between washing my clothes or eating dinner.
It Got Worse...
Shortly thereafter, I got a terrible case of Walking Pneumonia, and hit a 103 degree fever. I clearly remember on one particular day, the walk back from the subway to my shared studio was one of the most difficult things I've ever done; I legitimately remember thinking that I might die as the rain completely drenched me on the walk back. Looking back on it, it's probably one of the moments I appreciate the most, as I was the most unhealthy, broke, and unhappy I'd ever been in my life.
After a couple months, the firm I was working at was slammed with a number of scandals, and my roommates decided to head back to their respective homes. There was no way I could survive in the city without living on the streets, so I started applying to firms back home (now that I had a few months experience in NYC).
I made it to the final round of an Investment Sales associate position, even interviewing with the CEO of the firm. Unfortunately, the company told me that they couldn't hire me due to a non-compete agreement with that of the previous firm. For about three weeks, I called the previous firm, telling them that I had no client interaction, I wasn't FINRA licensed, and there was no reason that I should be subject to a non compete. The lawyers at the previous firm eventually agreed to push back my non compete from a year to only 4 months, but by that time, the firm I was interviewing with gave the position to someone else.
Cold Calling Blues
For three months, I applied, and applied, and applied to every and all firms I could, all while paying bills and watching my bank account near zero. I did more cold calling. And more emailing. And I got nowhere, until I found an opening for an Internal Wholesaler at a boutique mutual fund firm. I did everything I could in my power to convey how BADLY I wanted this job, and it apparently worked as I obtained the position. About 3 months in, my firm announced that it was on the market, and that it honestly had no idea what was going to happen to the people at the company. I realized that I had to do something. The sale was completed, and the new CEO came in and told us that in about 8 months there would be layoffs. I'm not one to wait for the axe to fall, so for the remainder of the year, I really hammered the phones, learned about the markets, and honed my Sales and Business Development skills while winning numerous awards and consistently ranking #1 across various metrics.
Some Hope or Another Bad Offer?
I figured because I had a year experience in Sales (including Cold Calling), I'd have a better shot at a few Investment Banking/PE firms. I revamped my cover letters. I called and emailed Managing Directors and CEOs of IB and PE firms directly....and, I found success (kind of). I had 3 interviews with two IB firms and one PE firm, but unfortunately the IB firms turned me down, and the PE firm made a very, very weak offer that reminded me of my downtrodden NYC days. Something in my gut kept telling me to wait.....
And my waiting paid off. Shortly after turning down the only PE offer I had, I got a call from a well regarded PE firm in NYC for an Associate level role. They told me they were particularly impressed with my Cover Letter, and loved my Business Development skills. After coming up to interview from 10 AM until 7 PM straight, I received an offer the same evening. I accepted the job, and moved up to the city where I live pretty comfortably (and I can now afford to both wash my clothes and eat dinner!). The people at this company are wonderful, the culture is amazing, and they're willing to train me in all aspects of transaction structuring/finance that I don't know. 2 years later, I'm where I originally envisioned myself to be.
All I have to say is no matter what is thrown at you, keep trucking on. Have an image in your mind of where you want to be, maintain it, and never give up on yourself. The two constants in my life through all of my tougher moments, was that I always believed that it was only a matter of time before I would attain what I wanted to, and I also always said "yes" to every opportunity and risk presented to me. The Universe does not work on your schedule, but it will work for you...just give it time.
Also just wanted to give a quick shout out to WSO. I would've had a much easier time landing my current role using their Investment Banking Interview Prep Course and Private Equity Interview Prep Course. They are genuinely great resources to help prepare for IB/PE. For those that in my shoes looking for a first step, it's a two thumbs up from me.
Hope this helps!
Mod Note (Andy): Best of 2016, this post ranks #2 for the past year