The Road Less Traveled

Rags to Hermes's picture
Rank: King Kong | 1,235

I was reflecting on my path the other day, and I decided that it is time to share my story with WSO. I am going to warn you in advance, it is going to be long.

Rewind to senior year in high school, I was a good student at a school of 400 kids in a rural part of fly-over country. At the same time, I was a three sport athlete that was getting recruited to play in college by numerous division three schools. Growing up, I always had a curiosity for business, but things changed forever when my Grandfather gave me a book called "The Seeds of Wealth". The book showed the power of compound interest and investing at young age. My interest in investing and finance was piqued. Shortly after, I put $1000 of my savings in a Roth IRA. I funded it with money I saved up from working weekends and summers at Burger King since sophomore year.

I decided to attend a small liberal arts school where I had received an academic scholarship with the intent to be an athlete. At this time I was oblivious, slightly awkward, and much uncultured. I was located in a city of ~150,000 people and I thought I was living in the "big city". It was also my first real exposure to ethnic diversity. It is really quite comical how naive I was about everything.

I entered school with the intent to major in accounting, but switched to economics after taking micro that first semester. Being a student athlete gave me structure and helped me build the work ethic necessary for finance. A typical day would include 5:30 A.M. practice, breakfast at the cafeteria with the team around 8:30, and class from 10-4 with maybe an hour or two break in between. After class we would workout out or hit the batting cages for a couple hours and then hit the library until 9/10. If a project or paper was due, it would obviously be much later. After the library, we would play video games or shoot the shit for a couple hours and finally hit the sack to repeat again the next day. We had one day per week where we didn't have any practice or sport-related activities. That was really our only day to actually party. Without the structure provided by collegiate sports, I definitely think I would've been a partyaholic shithead my freshman year.

The first year went by fast and everything was going well. My sport was great, I loved my Economics courses, and I had a 3.9 GPA. That summer I worked for the park and rec department cutting grass to give me some spending money for school in fall. However, I had started seriously contemplating what I wanted to do post-graduation. I started reading finance books in my spare time. Liar's Poker, Monkey Business, Graham, Buffett, everything. Eventually I found this site, and as I got through the sophomore year I decided I needed to try to get an internship.

At this point I had horrible interview skills, a bad resume, little finance knowledge, and I was at a no-name liberal arts school. I applied to any type of business internship I could find, but I didn't have many options due to geographic constraints. I got about 5 interviews ranging from helping a financial advisor to treasury at a local bank. I struck out. Due to my lack of success trying to find internships, I started contemplating transferring.

I eventually decided to transfer for two reasons:
1. I took an investments course that spring and decided I wanted to go to a school with an investment focused curriculum.
2. I wasn't enjoying my sport anymore and I wanted to get serious about my career.

It was May, and I had decided to transfer to a non-target state school with an applied investment management program. In order to get into my major immediately and remain on-time, I took 9 credits at a junior college that summer while cutting grass 40 hours/week again for the Park and Rec. I worked from 7:30-4:30 and would drive 30 minutes to the school to get to class by 5:30. After class, I would go to Starbucks to do homework because I lived in the country and had extremely poor internet.

That fall, I hit the ground running at my new school. I joined the student investment club and was able to get an internship helping a financial advisor. My passion for finance continued to grow. I spent hours a day in the student finance lab messing around on FactSet/Bloomberg, got a WSJ subscription, and read anything finance that I could. (Don't worry, I still had plenty of time to booze with the guys and mess around with women.)

I was located in a top 25 metropolitan city now, with a decent finance scene for its size. I applied to any investment related internship I could find, and eventually got an opportunity with a small buy side Asset Management firm. They threw me into the fire, and I got exposed to a lot. I got to meet with management of companies we were looking at, sit in on the daily discussions, and do my own independent research. We were generalists, so I learned a lot about a wide variety of companies and sectors. At the end of the summer, they asked me to stay on during the school year. That fall, I worked between 20-30 hours/week (more during earnings) at my internship while taking a full course load. My skills really started to improve, and I sourced a name that got into the portfolio. Later that fall, they told me that they would hire me on full-time upon graduation. I loved my role on the buy-side. After that, I started passing on interviews elsewhere....

It's the end of January, and compliance went through the yearly review. Being at a small shop with no formal process set up, I got very little compliance training. I am not going to elaborate, but they told me that I could no longer stay on after graduation.

There I was jobless, and it was past the main recruiting cycle. I had not been applying, so I had no leads. I started reaching out to people that I had turned down earlier. They all asked why I had re-considered, and despite having great experience, they considered me a risk. I decided I needed to cast a wider net geographically. I applied to every Equity Research role I could find on LinkedIn/Monster. I lived in the school finance lab and I wrote Equity Research reports on a couple companies that I included with my applications. Despite being at a no-name school, with my internship experience I was able to pull some phone interviews with boutiques. Many of them were impressed with the research reports I had sent. I also started writing on Seeking Alpha.

It was May, and I was set to walk across the stage on Sunday. I had under $500 in my bank account. I paid my own living expenses including rent throughout college, and not working that semester killed me. I woke up extremely hungover on Friday morning with a voicemail from HR at a small firm I had applied to. The message said something to the tune of "We have good news for you! Please call us back". I immediately started panicking as I was still drunk from the AYCD wrist band deal from the night before. I chugged water and talked as little as possible. I accepted the offer on Monday and was to start three weeks later.

I threw one final kegger and said goodbye to all my college friends before heading home for a week. I took my job offer to the bank, and took out a $2000 loan so I had cash to move. Two weeks later I threw as much stuff as I could fit in my dented 2003 Toyota Corolla and drove 15 hours to my new location. I worked there for 6 months, and now I am in sell-side ER at a bulge bracket in New York. The hours are long, but I honestly can say that I enjoy my job. I guess I am one of the rare people who are truly passionate about finance. My long-term goal is to get back to buy-side asset management for a value-oriented firm.

If you would have told me when I was a senior in high school that I would go from living in rural nowheresville America to Wall Street within 5 years, I would not have believed it. My family still doesn't believe it. When I come on here, it really irks me when I see posts by kids struggling with rejection, contemplating which Bulge bracket is better, or posting about getting into IB/ER with really no clue what the role entails. This is one of the most competitive industries in business, it is not easy to get in. What are you doing to separate yourself from the 1000+ others that are applying for the same position? I know I busted my ass to get into this industry, and I don't plan to stop anytime soon.

Mod Note (Andy): top 50 posts of 2017, this one ranks #44 (based on # of silver bananas)

Comments (20)

Feb 5, 2017

Great read.

Glad you were able to get into a position that you are truly passionate about, hard work says a lot about a person. People from small towns definitely have it harder when it comes to getting on Wall Street, congratulations on making it.

Feb 5, 2017

Good read - I didn't bust my balls to get into a BB though. Depends how lucky you are, and what your background is.
I fell into my job, and literally at the interview told them I wasn't sure what I wanted wether it was trading or sales (they decided for me). So it's still fair for people to come on this forum who have no clue about the business to try and ask about it in a very superficial way.
I didn't even know what my job entailed during my grad program, it's only a month after starting on my desk I realised what I had been hired for... Passion will only get you so far, I personally prefer to hire people that are smart and can learn the job. A liberal degree in history or English is a plus, as that means they will be fun to talk to about other things than work.

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Best Response
Feb 7, 2017

The degree obsession on here is ridiculous. Math majors can talk about things other than work too, and liberal arts majors can learn to build models.

Come on people, stop being formulaic

Feb 12, 2017

I'm glad more people are starting to realize this.

Had an interview the other day at a BB and my interviewers literally stated something along the lines of, "While we obviously appreciate financial acumen, we can teach you the business. What is significantly harder to teach is to be good with people."

Feb 7, 2017

If I may ask, when did you 'fall' into your job? I assume it must have been in the 90's or early 2000's.

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Feb 14, 2017

It was a little bit pre-Lehman so not early 2000's
I was at what you call a "target school", but that's the only real thing that had me on the path to banking. I also never did an internship in banking before my full time.

Feb 5, 2017

great read, congrats!

Feb 5, 2017

I can't get enough of these "against all odds" stories. You put your shift in and got the rewards you deserved... well played.

Absolute truths don't exist... celebrated opinions do.

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Feb 6, 2017

Inspiring. How did you manage the transition from your former position to BB after 6 months?

Feb 6, 2017

Luck. I wasn't actively pursuing a new role. A contact I had reached out to earlier, and kept in contact with, told me about it and passed on my resume. The team I am on needed a more junior person to fill in quickly. Being off-cycle probably helped. It was a short turnaround between roles.

Feb 7, 2017

Not bad. I need some of that too.

Feb 7, 2017

Awesome work my friend. The less path traveled shows a lot of characteristics in due part of being a successful individual, both person and career wise.

Just keep killing it!

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Feb 11, 2017

Writing articles for seeking alpha is definitely a great gig to make some cash on side while you're unemployed

Feb 16, 2017

Sum Zero is better. They peer review you before letting you post and have a diligent vetting process.

Seeking alpha is great and all, but anyone can post. I'd say ~80% of whats up on the site is garbage.

Feb 12, 2017

For those reading here, the magic ticket is seeking alpha. Working for them does wonders for your finance skills.

Let me hear you say, this shit is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S!

Feb 12, 2017

Small town sports kids have work ethic like no other - Dirt roads to wall street, congrats. I know what that feels like.

Dec 24, 2017

Your story is compelling and really highlights the opportunity in America. You are clearly tenacious and I really really enjoyed reading your story.

Feb 2, 2018
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