Doostang News: Job Search Oasis – Achieving Career Success in a Tough Market

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Whether you’re set in your field or just aiming to break into a particular industry, moving forward in your career in this job market is no easy task.  Fortunately, there are resources out there that can set you on the right career path and guide you along the way.

And here at Doostang we’re bringing you some insider tips from one of these.  Read on for some career wisdom about finance, online businesses, resumes and more.

Doostang News October 26: Q&A with Patrick Curtis.

Doostang has recently partnered with Wall Street Oasis, an online community for finance professionals and those trying to break into the industry.   We got a chance to speak with its CEO and Founder, Patrick Curtis, who singlehandedly combined two seemingly unrelated industries – finance and web 2.0 – and created this informative resource.  And he has some invaluable insight on how to achieve success in today’s tough job market.

1) Tell us a little more about Wall Street Oasis. What inspired you, what is it’s purpose and what were you trying to accomplish with this site?

WallStreetOasis.com is an online community of finance professionals and students trying to break into Wall Street careers.  Our main purpose is to provide a place where young finance professionals can plan their next career move, let off some steam and help give advice to college students trying to follow in their footsteps.

I was inspired to start the site because I didn’t see any social networks that specifically addressed my questions when I was an investment banker.  I was looking to jump to private equity after two years and all the information I got (whether that was a list of recruiters, a compensation database or interview tips) was 2nd hand through co-workers and hearsay.  I felt that if I could establish an online community that took a more lighthearted and fun approach as well as start publishing guides that were more specific to this market, that I could fill a need.  I also knew from experience what some of the young bankers were going through (working 100hr weeks, a lot of stress and an uncertain future) and enjoyed providing a platform for them to speak their mind.

The community has continued its strong growth since 2006 even through the financial crisis.  We’ve built a loyal community that gives great career advice and insight into specific firms.  So far, we’ve released nine guides aimed at investment banking, private equity, venture capital, sales & trading and general career advice.

2) You have extensive investment banking and private equity experience. Why did you decide to shift from a more traditional finance route and focus on running an online community? What has this experience been like?

I made the shift from a more traditional finance route with the help of the entrepreneurial community here in business school.  I knew I really enjoyed running Wall Street Oasis but without the help from my classmates at Wharton and the entrepreneurial programs here, I would not have been able to make this a full time job.  I’m really excited to be able to work on the community full time when I graduate this May.  I was working on WallStreetOasis.com full time (without a full time job or classes) this past summer for the first time and we made a lot of progress — so I am confident that we can keep improving.

3) What were some challenges and what helped you along the way? What recommendations do you have for someone who wants to start a successful online community?

The primary challenge was finding the time to keep the site alive when times were tough and finding the right people to outsource some of the work.  There were several botched launches / upgrades, many attacks on the site and growing pains I had to manage while working 70-80 hour weeks.  I had no background in social networks so every day was a learning process.

If someone wants to start a successful online community I would give three main pieces of advice:

1.  Start early, stop planning.  What I mean by this is you don’t have to have all the bells & whistles that other more mature community sites have.  You can save yourself a lot of time and money by making sure there is enough interest first…most niche communities will be happy there is a place for them to go and will cut you some slack early on.

2.  Always Get Feedback and have an open dialogue.  I always try to get feedback from my users and they are brutally honest with me.  But that is what I want because a lot of our best ideas have come from my users.

3.  Find a Hook.  For Wall Street Oasis, the primary hook we used was a Compensation Database.  We keep this free but require a visitor to register to see it.  It is one of the ways we grow our community and I think it was one of the primary reasons we were able to achieve a critical mass early — which is crucial to any social network.

4) Wall Street Oasis claims that its ultimate aim is to inform. What would you say are the key points that someone with an interest in finance needs to know?

I think a lot of college students get wrapped up in rankings and prestige of Wall Street when they should really be focused on the type of job that will suit their personality best.  Yes, brand names have value on Wall Street like everywhere else in life, but if you come from a “non-target school” or don’t end up at Morgan Stanley or Goldman Sachs straight out of undergrad your life will go on and you can still be very successful.

It’s tough when you’re 22 and you see all of the talk about compensation and exit opportunities and X group vs. Y group.  I think sometimes this leads to information overload for these students and they have a skewed perception of what the industry is like.  I think in any highly competitive field people will occasionally romanticize the reality.

Other things being equal, obviously a high GPA and strong extra-curriculars will give someone an advantage in recruiting, but I would argue that finance is no different than any profession — those that learn how to network effectively and are the most persistent will ultimately rise to the top.

5) One of the services Wall Street Oasis provides is resume reviews where you personally review and give feedback on people’s resumes. Having seen thousands of resumes, what would you say are the most common resume mistakes people make and what are some ways to fix them? What makes a stellar resume?

We actually have a very famous discussion on our forums related to this exact topic titled More Classics from Resumes and Cover Letters. While somewhat harsh, this is the reality of the resume screening on Wall Street.  Analysts are often in charge of the initial screen and overselling, over-embellishing, or trying to “sound smart” can push your resume to the trash pile very fast.  Sometimes, in an attempt to impress, students cross a line and actually hurt their chances.

Other common mistakes are simple formatting / spelling errors.  Every resume needs to be printed out and reviewed several times in hard copy to make sure everything is aligned (just like a banker would).

A stellar resume is when the candidate is strong (high GPA, target school, good scores, relevant classes) and they also get involved on campus and hold a few leadership positions.  It is more important to have a few extracurricular activities that you excel in rather than being a member of 10 clubs where you play less of a leadership role.  Another attribute of a stellar resume is that each and every bullet should have a purpose and communicate an accomplishment or a responsibility held by the candidate with concrete facts / numbers / figures.  Come interview time the candidate should be able to elaborate on each of these bullets comfortably.

6) Many Doostang members are seeking a career in finance. What advice would you give to someone looking for employment in the financial sector? Can you provide some insight into the industry or the hiring process?

This is THE most difficult year I have ever seen recruiting wise.  So my main advice this year is to be patient and look for a backup.  It is important to realize that a lot of firms have a hiring freeze on or are only hiring a few candidates.  Even at target schools, where investment banks and consulting firms traditionally hire most of their work force, the competition this year will be fierce.  If you don’t get something immediately make sure you keep working your contacts, the alumni network and think of creative alternatives.  Can you go back to school for another degree?  Can you do some work abroad?  Can you work on a family business or try a start-up?  I would also highly recommend using services like Doostang to expand your network and stay up to date on opportunities that are a match for you.

And there you have everything you need to make your career prosper in this economy – some exceptional inside advice on achieving success in today’s market and Doostang to give you the best career opportunities.

Now go out and get them!

Team Doostang

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