Hello WSO - I recenlty started a discussion requesting advice for my situation and had a few replies which I am thankful for. I decided to change the headline to grab more of the forum's attention and also needed to hit 10 BP's before I could PM so I had incentive.
First I want to go over my immediate story/background and build it up into the subject of this post: how and why I decided to forgo starting a career to honor my loved ones and friends who battled cancer. All fight the good fight, but not all make it, as I've learned.
After I "explain" myself and my story I have a few questions on my current situation and how potential employers will react to a December 2012 graduate who is looking for full-time now.
So, hopefully this serves a dual purpose - to formally intro myself here on WSO after being a lurker and to offer another story for people to read. Mine is not a success story, yet, but it may do something for you. Anyhow, here's my story:
I graduated from a non-target in December 2012 with a degree in Finance & minor in Economics. I was heavily involved in athletics my whole life - 2 sport athlete my freshman year (football/lacrosse) and transferred to a school down south after receiving a scholarship for lacrosse. I spent my first year there distracted by all that the sunshine state had to offer while serving as captain of the lacrosse team for 2 years and majoring in business but not really having direction until...
In my last 3 semesters I really found out that finance, and more specifically IB, was my calling. I can really accredit that to my freshman/sophmore year ECON teacher who later became my adviser/mentor and is a CFA/Ph.D himself. AND, to my father really giving me a "kick in the ass" with words on more than one occasion.
I had interviews at Credit Suisse for SA internships in IBD Operations and IT Operations two years in a row and felt very good about them. However, the opportunities did not pan out. Failure, in that instance, really lit a fire under my ass because it made me realize how tough it was to break into the industry and also provided me with a taste of what it was like to work for a real BB, or institution in general. I knew that banking was where I wanted to be even if I had to start in operations or back office. The "real world" as it seemed, would be more competitive than any football or lacrosse field I'd stepped on.
So I headed back to school and immediately got an internship for the summer of 2011 at a place called VR Business Brokers - it was a small 3 man operation and was a franchise or branch of the larger parent company. The firm basically handles RE except for small to middle-market businesses. A lot of gas stations, coin laundries, tanning salons, corner stores, delis, convenience stores (no corporates), etc. My job was basically to handle all of the marketing - newsletters, emails, website editing; creating listing profiles with sales highlights, location highlights, etc; and cold-calling , usually 100 calls a day to lists of business owners sent to our managing broker (that I also had to sort and rearrange in excel almost weekly!). The experience was great overall, but nothing that compares to a real 10-week SA gig.
I had taken a semester off prior to transferring so I was on pace to graduate one semester later than my peers - in December of 2012. In the summer of 2012 I interned in PWM with UBS for almost 7 months and learned a great deal. Had the opportunity to sit in on client meetings which ranged from large businesses whom the team I interned for managed their 401(k) , high-net worth clients and also many times there were hedge fund managers and representatives. Most of all, I was able to use Morningstar to research investments - helped reallocate the portfolio by developing some hypothetical investment illustrations and reported back to the portfolio manager. Overall it was my most in depth or useful experience.
I also interned at a pretty awesome renewable energy startup which basically created the 1st online marketplace for buyers and sellers of used oil/lubricants to come together. It was awesome to see the business start in Beta, obtain angel investing , and grow to a point where it should be one of "the next big things". The platform was really useful for business owners, big or small, to forecast what the market demand and supply for renewable oil/lubricants would be and ultimately optimize their usage.
So prior to graduation in December 2012 I had "decent", better than nothing experience, a 3.4 GPA, solid extracurriculars & leadership in volunteering and ncaa dII athletics but nothing that screamed at employers, especially in IB, to hire me.
I spent the majority of the prior fall/winter applying to internships for the summer of 2012 and also to full-time opportunities post-graduation. I had a few offers to be a financial adviser trainee and to be a budget analyst for some junky little firm near where I went to school and I was so busy with school and athletics that I did not have much time to do any networking. September rolled around and it was really settling in that I would be graduating without a job offer and I started to think heavily - it was the first semester in my life that I had not been heart & soul deep in athletics and I missed the competition the most. It dawned on me that I may not be able to compete in the arena that I desired : finance in NY; or at least not right out of school, as quickly as I wanted.
The time-period was very introspective. It was opportune time to reminisce on the past, focus on the present and prepare for the future. I did a lot of reading - market & finance related and got a 4.0 GPA in my last semester. I was also presented with an opportunity, late in the summer, to tryout for a professional indoor lacrosse team and was selected for the 23 man roster, but not the 17 man game day roster. It was another "knock you down" moment where I was proud to have made the 23 man roster but not the real thing. Again, I was put back in reminisce-mode as I looked back on my life to find answers for my future.
To be honest, I thought about my family, friends, trials/tribulations, good times and bad. At the time, my Aunt had just survived colon cancer and been declared in remission just a few months back. In my junior year of high school I watched my mother battle breast cancer and fortunately, all it could take from her was her left breast. It changed my mother, my family and my view towards her presence. In the early 1980's - my grandmother battled colon and skin cancer - and although it was before I was even thought of, I was thankful to have her around.
Slowly I began to think about how lucky I was - not just to have those 3 women still in my life - but that I had the freedom of my youth. I was not restricted in activity, relationships, relaxation, etc. I had something that people with cancer did not have: freedom. It makes you realize just how wide-open and limitless your potential is. And if your like me, it makes you say, "Why Not Me?", "Why Them And Not Me?". And I thought about the friends and community members who passed away from cancer at 18, 10, 28. So very young. I decided that I was going to do something about it and was hell bent on it early on. My sister and a few close friends talked about having jerseys made - pink breast cancer jerseys - and riding a bike across the nation. I knew deep down that I was the only one with the determination, the "why" and the will-power to actually do it so I decided, with them or without, I was going to make the journey myself.
I began doing research on bikes, tents and the cost to make this thing happen; logistics for hostels and some national parks to stay at; route planning. I was even putting together a small, kinetic energy - electricity producing mechanism that housed the rear wheel of a bicycle. As time went on , I still had the plan - but not the when. And I hadn't told too many people about it until one day I mentioned it to a teammate of mine from the lacrosse team who was into mountain biking and had friends back home in maryland who were into cycling.
When I told him I was looking to go cross-country on a bike, in the name of cancer, he laughed and said something along the lines of "you would do that man" and laughed, I guess more out of respect than anything and a second later mentioned that he knew a friend at home who had done a cross-country ride to raise money for cancer called the 4k for Cancer.
To cut to the chase, he ended up sending me the link to the website - 4k for cancer. As I read about the 4k for Cancer program I realized that this was exactly what I needed - the perfect opportunity to honor my friends and family who had battled cancer and to raise money through proactively uniting communities against the disease.
After the interviews I was accepted to the program in October and immediately started a crowd-funding website because my official page would not be up for another month. Once accepted for the ride you had to commit to raise a minimum of $4500 before the start of the ride that all went directly to the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults.
I finished up the semester and had done my planning. The ride did not start until June 2nd, but I had a hell of a lot of money to raise; enough training to ride 80-120 miles a day for 70 days straight; and I also was named a "Leg Leader" to help lead the 26 members of the team across the nation. I decided that my plan would be to work 30-40 hours part time, train/fundraise/perform leg-leader duties, and study for the June 2013 CFA Level I exam so that I remained diligent and dedicated to the profession and my future career.
Damn - I really did not realize how busy I would be. I spent every hour of my time from December to June 2nd buried in the CFA curriculum - working a horrible part-time gig at enterprise rent-a-car and trying to fund-raise, train, and perform my leg leader duties.
The CFA curriculum is demanding - I'm speaking to an educated crowd here who knows all about it. Enterprise, as a part time gig, is just that: a low-paying part-time gig to pay the bills save money for my student loans, car payment and to have some funds for the 4k for Cancer journey.
The "Leg Leader" duties ended up requiring so much more than I had expected. After I collaborated with the two ride directors and few other leg leaders on planning the route, My job was this: to secure a host to sleep at, a food donation and a shower facility for the 26 riders to stay at in each of the cities we would be staying in for the first 1/3 of the leg. So that was about 20 different cities. The job basically amounted to cold-calling random YMCA's, Churches, Community Centers, Colleges, High Schools, Hotels, Visitor Centers, etc, etc. etc....the list goes on; and then convincing them to let 26 cyclists sleep on their floor, to provide food if possible, and "Oh by the way we'd love it if we could use your shower facility?". So you catch the drift. The job was extremely time consuming - and frustrating - there were times when I almost told the ride directors that I had too much on my plate with the CFA Curriculum, Working, Fundraising and Training to be bothered with the petty task. I didn't realize until we were in the middle of the journey, just how important my role as a leg leader proved to be.
So, long story short, that is how I spent December 2012 - June 2013. After taking the CFA Level I on June 1st, I hopped on the bike the next morning with the 4k for Cancer, Team San Diego and proceeded to cross the country on a bike: all in support of fighting cancer and benefitting the Ulman Cancer Fund.
I could go into more detail about the amazing experiences, communities & people we touched, but here is another shorthand version.
The ride was 4,300 miles; took 70 days; we slept on YMCA/Church floors 98% of the time; we spent between 5 and 12 hours a day on the bike (usually 10 hours); rode in all the elements - 40 degrees in Colorado and 112 in Arizona; all the topography - flat in Texas and steep in Colorado to the tune of 12,000 ft climbs; and EVERY NIGHT, no matter how tired or beaten up we were - we presented to communities in churches and YMCAs ranging from 10 to 40 about our personal connections to cancer and why we decided to sacrifice our summer as well as the support services offered by the Ulman Cancer Fund.
We also hit all of the major cancer centers from Baltimore,MD to San Diego, CA and volunteered our time to clean or sit and talk with cancer patients: American Cancer Society in Atlanta, University of Arkansas Medical Center in Little Rock, Susan G. Komen in Memphis, Livestrong in Austin, TX and USC Cancer Research Center in LA.
After 70 days, we arrived in mission beach in San Diego on August 10th. One thing is for sure, it was teamwork that got us through the ride and it was one of the most amazing experiences in my life. In my athletic career, I've been proud of my team and always appreciated hard work and bringing the best out of people but I've never been more proud of some of the people on this 4k for Cancer journey in my life.
It comes down to young people realizing one thing: The youth that we have is a gift - it provides us freedom and opportunity that we must seize; and it's about living life to the fullest. I firmly believe in that. But during that time, many of us get lost in concentration on ourselves, and bettering our situation or pursuing our career. A lot of it is rushed. For me, I'm thankful to say I had the opportunity of a lifetime - and I was able to step back and be passionate about something that was not at all for personal gain and all for the benefit of others. I've been a high school and NCAA All-American athlete, Team MVP, Conference POY and numerous other accolades but I've never felt so moved by something I had taken part in or accomplished in my life. When the days were long, the sun was beating down or I was fighting for oxygen at 12,000 ft high in Colorado I simply remembered why I was riding. That "why", I might add, was magnified by my Aunt's remission back into Colon & Stomach Cancer about 2 weeks before the ride started. I would check back in with her regularly during her intense chemotherapy. My personal battles between myself, or my legs & bike and the desert elements or rocky mountains were NOTHING when I knew that my aunt was battling chemo-therapy.
I really didn't intend for this post to be so long. Hopefully if you are reading this then your still interested in the conclusion...
I completed the ride with complete satisfaction and a refreshed outlook on life - I did it for my mother, aunt and grandmother and the amazing people we met along the way who explained their stories. I also learned valuable life lessons in leadership, teamwork and selflessness.
The ride did offer one thing I did not mention: it was time. Sometimes time alone. Which I value mightily, especially after this trip. I've always been an achiever - and very ambitious. The next goal for me to conquer was my career: IB and a job on the street. There were days though, whether it was in the middle of downtown charlotte - cruising by the panthers stadium at 22mph on my cannondale - or in the middle of the desert in New Mexico - where I questioned that career goal; I questioned everything for that matter. I had time on my side though. When your mind and body is working so closely together, and for such a good cause might I add, the task of pedaling a bike becomes almost mundane - and personally, I could enter what some psychologists might call a state of "flow", where my mind could think so efficiently and clearly that at times I was in almost a zenn-like state of peace with my thoughts and myself.
All of the thinking helped me to clarify my goals and renew my desire to pursue a career in finance and in banking, more specifically.
So now that I have told that story, hopefully it has benefited you somewhat. Maybe some of you will be inspired to do something different right after graduating college or to take a hiatus from your career to do something out of the box that benefits others.
****After the ride I booked it back to Maryland in one of the support vans with a few friends from the team and made it back to the east coast on August 15th. After a pit stop in NYC to see some friends I made it back home about 2 weeks ago and have been planted at the computer. Filling out applications with the list of IB's provided by this site, editing cover letters for each, networking with the small number of people I know and studying for the December 2013 CFA Level I (yes, I failed to mention that I was somewhere 10,000 feet up in Colorado when I got the results - I was part of the 62% who failed in June).
I have been applying to most, if not all, of the 2014 Analyst Programs and that is my first choice in terms of starting my career. I know that they are hard to get into, so I have applied to a bunch of other positions as well, including Equity Research Associate roles, Corp Finance Analyst roles and even some gigs in Operations.
Questions to WSO:
1. If you were a potential employer, how would you view my situation, specifically my decision to delay starting my career to participate in the 4k for cancer?
2. I'm applying for many positions, like the Analyst programs, that are geared towards recent graduates (December 2013, Spring 2013) etc. How does this affect my chances?
3. I've created a website on Wix for potential employers and recruiters which has a video intro, my resume and a bunch of other relevant information and supporting documents. I would love it if some fellow WSO users would be willing to critique the site/resume? If so, PM me and I will send you the link.
4. After hearing my story, does anyone have any tips, leads or advice they would be willing to give me?
Thanks for your time ( a whole lot of it to read this)