How to Break Into a Career on Wall Street – What Your Professors Didn’t (or Couldn’t) Tell You

So – you think you want to be a banker, and you don’t know where to begin. Whether you’re still in college, a couple of years out, or already in an established career and looking for a change, it’s never too late to begin a career in finance. Finance is unique among many high-paying professions in that successful bankers come from a very diverse range of backgrounds. You don’t necessarily have to graduate from the most prestigious school, have the most impressive GPA, or complete a specific (or any) graduate program to make it. You simply have to have what it takes to get ahead and stay ahead in what has become one of the most competitive professions in the world.

Step 1: Do Your Homework

For many people, banking as a whole first comes to their attention by means of its lucrative and infamous salaries. There are few jobs out there that can garner as high a wage as a successful career in finance, but the field itself is very diverse and includes much more than your stereotypical private-jet-owning investment bankers. If you haven’t already, take a look through online resources detailing the differences between areas like corporate finance, financial planning, hedge funds, investment banking, and private equity to get a feel for what you might be interested in. Attend conferences, go to lectures, and if you can, pick up an internship. Since the recent financial crisis, Wall Street firms have been pulling more and more new hires from their summer and year-long internship pool, and taking an internship will allow you to explore and discover exactly which areas you might be interested in.

Step 2: Understand the Lifestyle: You are NOT in a 9-5 Desk Job

Readers beware: while a 6-figure salary straight out of college may seem like a dream come true, let there be no doubt in your mind that you will be working hard, long hours to earn those 6 digits. For those who choose to follow their hearts to the large firms of Wall Street, first year investment banking analysts have been known to work 100+ hours a week, running on nothing but ungodly amounts of Starbucks coffee. Think long and hard about what the position entails and why you are suited for it. Also, interviewers will be able to tell if you don’t actually know anything about the culture of finance when you come in. Do some research, ask around – know about the different fields and the different lifestyles attached to each one. Follow the news in finance beyond picking up a Wall Street Journal the night before you interview.

One [perhaps dramatized] example of Wall Street culture:

Step 3: Network Like Your Life Depends on It

Landing your first job at a bank is all about getting your foot in the door. Be proactive about meeting people wherever you go. Take business cards. Search your current network for people within the firm you hope to apply to. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70 percent of all jobs are found through networking. Use resources like Doostang or LinkedIn to your advantage to search for positions and make connections along the way. Knowing people within a bank you’re applying to will be able to set you apart from the hundreds of applications that are received every year.

Step 4: Send in Your Resume, and Be Yourself

Unlike career paths in academia, jobs in finance, especially in areas like sales & trading, don’t always rely heavily on your academic credentials to gauge potential. A successful analyst or associate is often someone who possesses certain personality traits – like the ability to prioritize, to work well as a part of a team, and to take entrepreneurial initiative. If you think that finance is a field in which you will excel, go for it and have faith in your abilities! it may take an untraditional applicant a bit longer to move up and land the job that you want, but soon enough people will catch on to your potential and you will be on your way.

Step 5: If at First You Don’t Succeed

Like we said, a lot of breaking into finance is simply about getting interested, informed, and your foot in the door. If you really think that you’ve got what it takes to be successful, don’t give up until you get a chance to show your stuff. Once you’re in any kind of job or internship, you’ll be able to learn and move up in rank quickly if you have the right skills and personality. So don’t let a round of disastrous applications get you down. Try applying to a smaller bank or for a job in a related field first. Work hard at whatever you’re doing, continue to network, and chase after that job until you land it.

And our last bit of advice: just be honest. Be honest with yourself, and be honest with the people you meet. If there’s something you don’t know or are unsure about, say something. People are much more likely to care about you and your career if you are honest with them from the get-go. By approaching each situation with sincerity, enthusiasm, and integrity, you will be sure to nail your interview, land your job, and create a successful and fulfilling career.

Best of luck future Wall Street wanderers,

Team Doostang

Comments

  1. says

    Seems like the Doostang team needs to go back to school on this one, or at least do a lot more home work.

    I’ve worked with the Wall Street community for over 20 years and one thing I have learned is that the school you graduated from and the GPA you earned does matter. It matters a lot!

    In my experience people who don’t graduate from a good school or perform well while in school are at a definate disadvantage. Sure there are exceptions as there are with most things. The benchmarks the investment banks look to start with the top schools and best performers. Period.

  2. says

    Seems like the Doostang team needs to go back to school on this one, or at least do a lot more home work.

    I’ve worked with the Wall Street community for over 20 years and one thing I have learned is that the school you graduated from and the GPA you earned does matter. It matters a lot!

    In my experience people who don’t graduate from a good school or perform well while in school are at a definate disadvantage. Sure there are exceptions as there are with most things. The benchmarks the investment banks look to start with the top schools and best performers. Period.

  3. Keith says

    I was a banker and am now in private equity. 80%+ of the positions are pedigree based. The recruiting is very structured for 80-85% of people. You have to have great grades, start at a young age and have great technical skills.

  4. Keith says

    I was a banker and am now in private equity. 80%+ of the positions are pedigree based. The recruiting is very structured for 80-85% of people. You have to have great grades, start at a young age and have great technical skills.

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