Not in school? A foreign student? Recruiter doesn’t come to your school? You can still get an interview. And you can still get a job in I-banking. Here’s what our insiders recommend if you fall into one of these categories.
If you already work on Wall Street, you know where to go-and you’re probably not reading this guide. If you’re coming from another industry, you’ll probably have a tougher time. Everyone is happy to hire lawyers who are fully proficient in banking or, on the research side, people with deep industry experience. And a few firms are willing to take a chance on a brilliant academic. But most tend to fill the gaps in their analyst and associate pools with men and women who have worked in a similar capacity for competitors. If you are a lateral hire, the good news is that you don’t have to suffer at your current job waiting out the long recruiting season. Throughout the year, recruiters scurry around to replace those analysts or associates who have either defected or fallen off the corporate track. Because lateral hires are typically not interviewed during the normal training-program season, they usually begin their new jobs without much, if any, formal training.
For foreign nationals who lack the right visa status to work in the U.S. after attending an American university, the process is less complicated than you might think. Investment banking is an increasingly global enterprise. Recruiters unanimously agree that candidates who are not U.S. citizens are treated the same as any other applicant; your working status is not an issue. In fact, your proficiency in several languages and close ties to your own country may give you a highly desirable edge. If you receive an offer, the firm will arrange your visa and, after a given number of years, your green card.
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“I don’t have a prestigious undergraduate degree and/or I attend a second-tier MBA program. Is all hope lost?”
No. If the top firms’ analysts all appear to be summa econ graduates of U.S. News & World Report’s Top 10, or if the associate class seems to have been culled from the ranks of former analysts or the Penn and Harvard Clubs, you’re not far off. Investment banking firms are disproportionately staffed with Ivy Leaguers and top-tier MBA graduates who get scooped up on the recruiting tour. But there is no need to give up just because the scoop never came for you. There is a way in, albeit a more difficult one. If you’re going to be the exception, you need well-honed interviewing tactics. Preparation, strategy, and aggressive but discriminating networking will all help get you the job.
The first step is networking. Do not waste postage blindly mailing your resume to every firm. Focus instead on setting up appointments with industry insiders, either through introductions from friends (or even friends of friends) or by targeting alumni of your school who work on the Street. Ask lots of thoughtful, informed questions and demonstrate your commitment to investment banking. Keep in mind that, like the S&T hopefuls, you will probably have to fly yourself to headquarters (most likely New York) on your own nickel and pay for your lodging. This show of initiative may just be your ticket in. Remember: Being hungry for an investment banking job is at least as important as having a top-tier school on your resume. What really makes a candidate stand out is enthusiasm and commitment to the work. One recruiter told us of a candidate she hired from a school where the firm does not recruit: “On top of her excellent academic and professional experience, I was so impressed with her initiative to seek out several people in the firm. She demonstrated a genuine interest in investment banking when she flew to New York to meet with us and several other firms over her Thanksgiving break.”
Most insiders concede, however, that candidates from lesser-known schools need to have either stellar work experience or the ability to fill a unique need at the firm, particularly for CorpFin positions. It also helps if they have previously worked with someone in the firm who can serve as a reference. At the same time, several recruiters for sales and trading reveal that they interview-and hire-many graduates from no-name undergraduate schools or MBA programs. One insider explains that if you went to a lesser known institution you need to be prepared to give a valid reason. The best reason, as you might guess, is that you received a full scholarship. And if you’ve already had a lot of relevant experience, the good news is that where you went to school has much less impact on your candidacy.