In 2016, Goldman Sachs attracted 250,000 student job applications across the bank that included 30,542 MBA applicants.*
JP Morgan only hired 2% of its graduate applicants into the investment banking division and Citi was not fair off with 2.7%.*
These statistics merely confirms that the industry is competitive and a lot of people want to work in this industry and if you don’t differentiate yourself you can quite easily get buried under the 200,000 CVs or resumes!
So how do you do land a job in investment banking ( or any other industry) if you don’t have work experience, or a network, or have an Ivy League or Oxbridge school credential?
Well I was that person not too long ago, I didn’t have any finance work experience, zero connections in the industry and I didn’t go to a target school in fact, my undergraduate degree is from an Asian University most people would not have heard of– yet I broke in!
HOW DID I DO IT and HOW YOU CAN TOO
Well, I always had the determination to push for things I want, despite how ambitious it may seem. And it’s an attitude that has always paid off!
So firstly a strong positive mental attitude is a MUST.
I stumbled upon investment banking when one of my boyfriend’s ( now husband) friend was interviewing at Investment Banks post his MBA. As unspectacular as it sounds, that’s how I stumbled onto banking. I grew up in a country where Doctors, Accountants and Engineers were highly valued compared to a career in banking!
Though, when I decided I wanted a career in banking, I felt I could bridge the gap by doing a Masters in Finance. So I went full throttle. I should add this is not a requirement, and it’s a decision I made with knowledge and options I had in 2005.
Time wasn’t on my side, since I missed most of the application deadline for top schools, so I had to make a calculated choice of waiting another year or choose from what’s available and after much deliberation, I choose a Business School in London.
Masters in Finance
As soon as I started the course, we were immersed with career events, networking presentations, more events….application deadlines….( what I already missed the application deadline – again??)
Plus if you recall I only just discovered this whole new world of banking and now I have to decide what area to apply, know what they do in great detail ……know whats happening in the financial markets……aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh! Stop right there…..I’m overwhelmed….
Naturally I followed the herd at the beginning, I threw everything into the kitchen sink, I applied to every job opening ( BIG MISTAKE!!)…..and I was lucky enough to be invited to one, but guess what? because I spread myself thin, I didn’t have enough time to prepare or in fact even knew the right way to prepare then and in no time I was shown the door! …..
I was so terrified of the interview and culturally it was more forward than my conservative Asian culture, it was definitely an education! I couldn’t legitimately discuss high yield bond versus investment grade bonds. I was still very new to the bond world, and while my undergraduate was in a technical subject ( engineering) I was not ‘interview ready’ at that point to discuss the bond markets eloquently!
That first rejection was PAINFUL. Always IS. Can’t say it got easier, but it definitely made me resilient.
So after multiple online application rejections, and not being invited to interview and getting over my dejection, I realised there had to be ANOTHER way. How did those that were getting interviews and ultimately jobs did it?
I realised for some, they came from a generation of bankers, i.e. either or both of their parents had a banking career, or some had ‘old money’ connections and were getting referred.
So here I was, no work experience, no connections, and have been rejected multiple times, How Do I get in?
I knew it was ALL OR NOTHING and I wasn’t wiling to give up YET.
So I started observing these high performers and speaking to career mentors to ask how do I break in. One sound advice I received was build your own network.
As obvious as it sounds, I asked myself, why didn’t I think about it then??! And my next question was errrmm HOW?
I also realised that I had a better chance of getting people to take me seriously if I knew what I wanted and knew it well. This was my light bulb moment. I decided to test it out – I reached out to an alumnus of the school who was in investment banking and asked him some very specific questions. Guess what? Firstly he was very friendly and helpful. And he later told me, he was impressed that I knew what I wanted and hence why he was willing to refer me to his friends in the bank. I spoke to a Credit Trader ( VP) and I had several follow up interviews from that.
So I thought, right this works, and now how I do I replicate this to build a network?
It was definitely A LOT of hard work, doing my research and finding senior bankers to reach out to.
I should also add, I was terrified of reaching out to people I did not know. I felt why should they take a call or meet a nobody?!
I had all these nightmare thoughts going through my head
*Gosh He/She is going to scream at me and tell me to F**k off*
**They are going to tell me off and say I’m a loser**
Worse they might say I don’t deserve a career in banking which would be soul crushing and confidence crushing
Then I told myself, right what’s the WORSE that can happen, they tell me the above…and what next?
A wise career mentor told me, take every rejection as a quota to building your resilience to getting your job.
These mistakes and rejections teach you how to do things better!
And that’s exactly what I did, over the next several months I did some in depth research into the area I was looking to target, found senior profiles to reach out to and asked them for a quick coffee chat. I had around 80-85% success rate.
At these meetings I would ask their advice, ask them about themselves and how they did it and more importantly I would follow through the advice and keep in touch with them. I didn’t bug them all the time, just gentle emails telling them how I was getting on with a no further response necessary email. Some of them referred me to interviews on the back of the meeting, and others I would let them know I have applied, when I submitted an application.
And that’s how I landed interviews with ALL the major investment banks and secured a job with a leading investment bank.
So to summarise, I created a SYSTEM, instead of randomly throwing everything into the kitchen sink, I created a system of strategically and systemically building my network of potential interview leads.
- Researched the industry – I really sat down and read through which area within banking I wanted to work in. Next I looked at all the potential roles within this area. What does it take to succeed in the area. What are the different paths to get there? Often there are more than one way to get into the area you are targeting which might require up skilling at another firm or industry before transitioning.
- Identify Companies to target – I researched all the banks that had the role/division that I wanted to get into
- Build your list of ‘referrers’ – This is where I researched to find all the senior people working in the area I was looking to get into.
- Reach out to them, get their advice, nurture the relationship
- Land those interviews – If you have done a good job at researching the market, the company and nurtured the relationship, landing the interview becomes an effortless process.
*SOURCE: Financial Times, June 4, 2016, Laura Noonan, Goldman Sachs attracts 250,000 student job applications