I recently accepted an offer as a quantitative equity analyst for a largefirm. My story of getting there is probably a bit unique as the odds were stacked against me on paper and had some major ups and downs. Hopefully my advice will help those who feel the same uphill battle when discovering where they want to be and what shape they want their careers to follow.
Six years ago I was unemployed post-graduating from a Tier 2 private Midwest university following the worst of the financial crises. In April 2010, I took a job working in theof a commercial bank, doing data entry.
Tip One: Find something you're better at than most, then become better at it than everybody else
For me in this job, it was.
Thankfully, the bank's back office operated like it was 1993, so there were ample opportunities to build reports, learn how to write macros, and work on projects. I was the 'go-to' guy for anything that needed to be built in, and was the lead analyst on any project that needed liaising with IT.
After three years of moving around on different projects of different size and a few different departments, I realized the only exit opportunity from back office was to join the formal credit training program and lead to a career as a commercial banker. I had no interest in this, so I looked into Grad School to hopefully transition into a more investment-related role.
Tip Two: Figure out some semblance of what you want your career to look like before targeting Graduate School Programs
Knowing it was-investment-related-something was enough for me to look into MSF programs and consider pairing that with the CFA program. I was ~24 and knew I would have nothing to bring to the table in an MBA. I also knew I didn't want to sell my soul to make money and work 100+ hours a week, and thought that the value of the work experience with a mid-tier PT MSF + CFA would get me where I needed to be. The required return was sufficient and I did not need to break the bank for a top program given what my end goal was. This is crucial given the price inflation in graduate schools relative to employment.
Tip Three: Network. Network. Network
Over the next several months, I met with tons of recruiters, friends, mentors, etc - but could not find a job. So I dropped a few online applications in to some firms and of course got an interview and was hired by an quasi-investment related firm (think Factset/Morningstar/Bloomberg) as a data analyst the same day I matriculated to school.
Tip Four: When it rains, it pours + things happen when you least suspect them, so always keep your head up
I came up with absolutely nothing trying to do things the right way (networking) then had multiple offers by applying online (read: this is NOT an endorsement to not network). Go figure. Just remember to take up every opportunity and leverage any and every resource you've got.
Fast forward a year into my new job and I passed Level I of the CFA Exam and completed year one of two of grad school with a 4.0. This job taught me how to do in-depth data analysis and manage projects. I was also promoted to a team lead, so added that to the resume. At this point, I started an investment club with some friends, created a website, and began writing for Seeking Alpha. Our website gained some decent following and we were able to set up our strategy on Ditto Trade and Covestor. I did this to showcase my ability and interest in the financial markets as my job was much more data-centric.
Tip Five: Wherever possible, create and show interest in learning
Whether it's an investment club, online classes, tutoring, publishing on Social Science Research Network - whatever it is - keep and eye on the main prize and think outside the box if experiences aren't directly available at work.
Then I got fired. Apparently my club and website didn't jive well with my employer, who saw it as a conflict of interest.
Tip Six: Run everything by HR
So here I was - no job, 6-8 months of grad school left, and only passed Level I of the CFA curriculum. Not a game changer. I picked myself up, networked day and night and ended up with an offer at a middle office hedge fund administrator within two weeks. Did I mention I had just dropped a decent chunk on an engagement ring and proposed the weekend before? So add that to the list. The job actually paid me ~12% more than I was making at my last job. Once again - go figure. I took the job knowing I could kick butt, keep my head down, pass Level II, finish school, and then finally try to make a move to Asset Management. I continued to standout for myabilities and project management skills, and took a lot of time to learn VB better, Python, and SQL. Studying for Level II really piqued my interest in statistical analysis and more quantitative research methods. I knew this one year was going to be my chance to prepare myself as best I could. I also began networking internally, hoping to jump into the Asset Management arm. I was mildly surprised how receptive managers and employees were to meet with me, even if just for 20 mins over coffee.
Recently, that one year has passed, and I am proud to say I graduated school, passed Level II, am married, and have broken into asset management as a quantitative equity analyst. All the time spent outside of studying, work, and class learning programming has paid off. The biggest keys to me were relentless pursuit of my goals - both at and outside of work. I carry around a piece of paper with my professional goals on them and cross them off when they're met. Small things go a long way. Focusing on becoming the 'go-to person for X' is huge as well, as it's afforded me opportunities at every job. Lastly, learning how to network is essential, not only do you get your name out there, but you can really help yourself figure out what you want to do in your career, and articulate that to others. Best of luck to everyone in finding their dream jobs - no matter your background, just work hard, and it will pay off.