“I really want to sign up for your courses / coaching services / buy your $4.95 Kindle e-book… but I just don’t have the money.”
Yes, that one might just be one of the funniest comments I ever receive on this site.
To be fair, I rarely get this exact comment because most readers understand that it’s ridiculous to claim that you want to get into an industry that pay $100-150K at the entry-level, $200-300K as you move up, and then into the millions (or more) when you reach the top… and then say that you “do not have” $200-300 to invest in training to help get you there.
It would be more common if this site re-branded itself and we started catering to the hippy demographic, but don’t hold your breath waiting for that one to happen.
But I do see many variations of this comment, as well as similar comments about why you “can’t” accomplish various goals:
- I can’t network because I don’t have the time or money to travel…
- I can’t get into the industry because I have never even taken a formal accounting or finance class (neither have I, and now I teach accounting and finance. Oh, the irony)…
- I can’t convince boutique firms to hire me because I don’t have the right experience…
- I can’t get a good grade in this class because I’m not good at [math / writing / test-taking / sucking up to the professor]…
All of these excuses have 2 things in common: the words “I can’t,” and the lack of resourcefulness you display.
But not everyone thinks this way.
Some people out there, both in university and MBA programs and in the finance industry itself, are incredibly resourceful and will do what it takes to hustle their way into anything.
To demonstrate, I’m going to share with you today the story of one reader who took the right approach to everything above and not only landed multiple job offers, but also free access to a $497 package deal on all the financial modeling courses offered here.
This story is not just about bending the rules during one of our promotions, nor is it just about how to get into fields like investment banking, sales & trading, private equity, and so on.
This is a story about life itself and how to defy the odds, break the rules, and get whatever you want… as long as you want it badly enough.
You might want to pay attention.
In The Beginning: January This Year
There were a bunch of reasons for that, but the main one was simply that the courses were dramatically underpriced for the quantity and quality of instruction provided, and the underpricing was actually hurting sales (supply and demand only works perfectly in economics textbooks).
I expected that a lot of readers and BIWS customers would ask for discounts or upgrade deals to pay the difference between the $497 offer and whatever they had already paid for certain courses.
And I was right: there was a ton of interest in this offer, which resulted in our most successful promotion ever.
Most people just went along with the terms as stated or maybe asked for an extension or an “upgrade” deal…
But not everyone chose to play by the rules.
A Modest Proposal?
Right after the promotion was announced, I received an email from a reader that was both interesting and skepticism-inducing.
I almost always run in the other direction whenever anyone starts talking about “investment strategies” or starts asking about how they can help me make more money…
But this message had a slightly different twist on the usual email, and I was immediately more intrigued:
“Interested but skeptical” would describe my reaction…
And then there was the small issue that I don’t really invest in the public markets because I don’t have time to follow individual companies. So I wrote back:
An Offer You Can’t Refuse
But he wouldn’t take “no” for an answer, so he wrote back with a different proposal:
And this one got my attention.
It showed a couple very important points about his approach to problem-solving and negotiation:
- Most importantly, he understood what I wanted and re-framed his suggestions until they matched what I was looking for.
- He did a critical analysis of the site, and gave me feedback (“You’re lacking in material on S&T”) which was both useful and true.
- And then, using both of the points above, he made a specific proposal which would be mutually beneficial – he would get free access to the courses, and I would gain high-quality, long-term-traffic-generating articles on sales & trading.
We went back and forth on the details: the number of articles, the topics, and how long and detailed each one would be.
But those details were easy to work out, and you can see the results for yourself: all the S&T-related articles on recruiting, networking, interviews, and internships released over the past year (with more on the way… cross your fingers).
And, of course, he’s been able to learn accounting, valuation, and financial modeling with a $497 package that contains over 150 hours of instruction – and which is probably worth more like $1500+ if it were priced at “fair market value.”
To be honest, I should have been stricter about the requirements because I ended up spending a lot of time editing each article.
But that’s on me: the point of this story is that he was able to go around the official “rules” to achieve mutually beneficial results for both sides.
I emailed him earlier this year to let him know that I was writing this story about him and he approved enthusiastically, also adding in another interesting bit:
This story is the very definition of hustle: through sheer effort and by refusing to ever give up, he moved from a non-target school into sales & trading at a bulge bracket bank, won free access to the BIWS modeling courses, and networked with senior executives in the finance industry as a very young entry-level guy.
What Should You Learn from This Story?
No, the proper interpretation is NOT “Ask Brian for free stuff by offering to write articles for him” because chances are that you won’t be able to offer me anything valuable enough to justify that.
Of course, maybe you can… and maybe I am just testing your confidence with that last statement.
But here are the key points that you can take away from the story, even if you have no interest in writing articles or otherwise creating content for this site:
Most Finance Firms (and Most Businesses) are Small Businesses
Yes, they might manage $200 million… or even $20 billion… but guess what?
They still don’t have that many employees.
Even the biggest firms on the buy-side – the likes of KKR and Blackstone – only have a few hundred investment professionals.
And most places have far fewer employees than that…
Which means that there isn’t much “middle management” and it’s not that difficult to get in touch with decision-makers directly.
Like most small businesses, these boutique banks / investment firms are also laser-focused on ROI: they’re not going to spend time or money on something unless it increases revenue, reduces expenses, or saves them time.
But that also means that as long as you can offer one of those, they’ll be willing to speak with you.
This applies to more than just finance firms: the vast majority of businesses out there are small businesses, and the same principles apply anywhere.
If someone emailed me tomorrow and said:
“Brian, I see an opportunity to improve revenue / conversion rates / traffic… all you have to do is do Specific Thing X, because right now you’re missing out by not doing it, which results in Y and Z. I also have a bunch of other ideas, which I’ve attached in this Word document, and several more that I want to discuss with you.”
I would say, “You’re hired! When can you start working?”
But this rarely, if ever, happens because most people don’t know enough about Internet marketing to offer actionable suggestions, or are simply afraid of contacting of me in the first place.
Never Take “No” for an Answer
About 10-15 years ago, one guy in my “Friend Circle” was exceptional at picking up women. His approach could be summed up like this:
“Yes means yes, maybe means yes, and no definitely means yes.”
Naturally, he experienced his fair share of failures, he developed a bad reputation over time, and this strategy stopped working so well when he… became an unemployed forest ranger, but that’s a different story for a different day.
So I’m not suggesting that you apply this strategy to dating – but you should definitely apply it to your job search.
Look at what this reader did: he made an initial offer that sounded like a “win/win proposition” to him… but then I didn’t like it for reasons that he couldn’t have predicted, so then he proposed something different that was much more attractive to me.
Think of all the possible objections that a boutique finance firm, or any small business, would have when they’re considering hiring you:
- Do we need to train you? We don’t have the time / money for that.
- Can you add value right away? We need an immediate ROI.
- Why do we need you? Things are going fine right now, and we’re not over-burdened with extra work at the moment.
- We never hire interns because we don’t have the money / can’t hire you full-time / don’t need you to do grunt work for us.
Prepare responses to these objections in advance, and present them and change your offer until you’ve given them “an offer they can’t refuse you” (a mafia hit is optional, and I generally discourage killing people unless you can do so in secret).
Possible responses to the objections above:
- “Nope, I’ve already trained myself via [List Courses] and have completed [Training] – plus I’ve gotten materials from friends in the industry and have spent 100 hours teaching myself based on those.”
- “Yes, because I’ve already trained myself and have spoken with people who were previously in this role and know exactly what is expected, plus ways that I could make things more efficient.”
- “That might be true right now, but is there really nothing that you need extra help with? Do you spend 100% of your time on high-value tasks such as winning clients and 0 time on administrative work? And what happens in the future if things pick up and you’re understaffed?”
- “That’s OK – I’m not expecting a full-time offer out of this. Let’s make it a 3-month trial, see how well I perform and how much I help you, and take it from there.”
Sometimes, you can’t get them to say “yes” no matter what you offer up.
But that’s less common than you’d think; generally, if a firm is open to needing extra help for something, you can negotiate your way into a role.
…But Don’t Ask for Free Gifts from ‘Santa Claus,’ Either
On the flipside, though, don’t go in with an “entitlement” attitude and assume that just because you went to School X / earned a GPA of Y / did an internship at brand-name company Z that they’ll automatically hire you… because nothing could be further from the truth.
When you go in and propose a “trial internship” or any other type of informal role, you also need to offer something of value to them.
This may sound ridiculously obvious, but I often get emails like the following:
“Hi, I really like your site and I want to contribute, but I have no skills, no contacts, and no industry experience. What can I help with?”
Sadly, this is also extremely common in the job market: just look at the horrendous resumes submitted on sites like Monster.com if you don’t believe me.
Remember that nothing is really “free” – yes, if you propose an unpaid internship then it costs the firm less money… but time is also a huge expense, and time is more expensive than money since you can never generate more time.
If you cannot offer a time-saving, expense-cutting, or revenue-generating skill or service, don’t even bother arguing your case.
There is so much grunt work required at most companies that it should not be difficult to come up with something to offer – failing to do so reflects a lack of research and lack of initiative on your part.
Understand What Your Customer, or Employer, ACTUALLY Wants
One of the biggest mistakes that you can make when proposing a partnership or job / applying to business school / doing anything else that involves multiple people is failing to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
I saw this all the time when interviewing people for banking jobs – the conversation would often go like this:
“Me: Why should we hire you?
Interviewee: I go to Top School X and have a GPA of Y, and I’ve done internships at these 3 companies.”
Those are features, not benefits.
And if you want to sell anything successfully, including yourself, you need to sell the benefits: more money, reduced expenses, and/or time savings.
One of the reasons the reader above succeeded where others have failed is that he understood what I wanted.
I have no interest in content that goes out of date, general commentary on the economy, or anything else that would appear on CNN or in The Wall Street Journal.
Yes, occasionally I’ll write about current events, but those articles comprise less than 2% of the content here.
And yet, 90% of the story pitches that I receive are variants of: “I want to write about the Fed’s new policy decision!” or “I can cover the stock market!”
There are very, very, very, very few people who take the time to research an employer or customer in-depth, understand what makes him/her tick, and then propose something specific that is 100% in-line with what he/she wants.
And if you become one of them, you’ll automatically be in the top 1% of job seekers.
Propose SPECIFIC Solutions
I mentioned above how one common pitch sent to me goes something like: “I don’t know what you need help with, but I have tons of free time and can help you!”
A much better pitch is: “I have 10 hours per week of free time, and am looking to earn $X per month. I have experience editing essays and news articles and uploading them in WordPress. I would really like to work for you, and I would propose a trial run where we work together for 1 month, see how it goes, and take it from there.”
In the finance job hunting arena, one related problem / question that has come up repeatedly goes like this:
“Should I apply to multiple divisions at a bank? How many divisions should I apply to? Can I apply to both sales & trading and investment banking?”
Now you know the answer to all of those. No, it won’t necessarily kill your chances if you apply to more than 1 group, but applying to a lot more than that is not a smart move.
When you go in to propose a trial internship to a bank, PE firm, or hedge fund, don’t make it open-ended or you’ll never get them to make a decision.
People need constraints to make decisions: this is why, for example, when you network it’s a dumb idea to say that you’re free all day on Monday and Tuesday.
Give a very specific window, such as 12 PM to 2 PM on Monday and 9 AM to 11 AM on Tuesday to limit the options and reach confirmation more quickly.
Similarly, don’t approach a small firm and say, “Well, I’ll work for free… or we can do a trial internship… or I’ll do anything! Please, hire me!”
The better approach is to propose a 3-month trial internship where you work 40 hours per week and where you assist with tasks X, Y, and Z. If you can’t save them at least X hours per week and free up their time for more valuable tasks, no worries – it’s just a trial internship and there’s no long-term commitment or obligation on their end.
I’ve been referencing “trial internships” throughout this article, partially because they’re becoming increasingly common at all levels.
Many friends who recently graduated from MBA programs, for example, have used this approach to find work at small investment firms.
So don’t assume that “trial internships” only apply if you’re an undergraduate or recent university graduate.
Never Overestimate the Competition
Remember that initial promotional email I sent out in January?
Over 30,000 readers saw it. As I write this, there are now closer to 60,000 readers on the newsletter.
And guess how many saw what was going on, realized they wanted the package but couldn’t pay for it upfront, and then proposed a creative way to give me something of value in exchange for it?
The same thing happened last year when I put up the application for writers and customer support staff: the majority of applications were sub-par and many of the candidates applying for writing roles… had grammatical and spelling errors in their writing samples.
With this promotion specifically, many people just asked for discounts or special treatment without giving a reason why.
I understand where you’re coming from – might as well ask, right? – but this type of strategy doesn’t work well because most businesses have guidelines and policies for these situations.
So no, “the competition” is not to be feared… as long as you execute better than them.
Deliver on What You’ve Promised
Pop quiz: what is the #1 reason why finance firms would not hire you?
Is it because you have poor grades? Not the right experience? You didn’t go to a brand-name school?
It’s because they think you’re unreliable, that you’re going to screw up / slack off repeatedly, and that you’ll quit without notice or warning.
In part, they are right: most people in this world are unreliable and fail to honor their commitments. And younger people who are just out of school are generally much more unreliable because they haven’t figured out what they want out of life yet.
“Oh no,” you say, “Maybe that was true years ago, but today the market has gotten so much more competitive… everyone’s at the top of their game! You need to be a world-class superstar to get ahead!”
Well… not exactly.
Yes, things are more competitive, but a surprising number of interns at all levels simply can’t do anything right and are completely unsuited for the job.
Finance is not for everyone.
If you’ve read everything on this site and are not certain it’s for you, quit and do something else. Otherwise, you’re just wasting your time and the time of the firms that are interviewing you.
It was the same when the reader approached me with his offer: I discount most of these “proposals” since 90% of people will hype up whatever they want and then disappear off the face of the Earth, “have a family crisis,” or otherwise fail to deliver on what they promised.
He did the opposite: not only did he actually write the articles, but he wants to contribute even more in the future… even though it’s not strictly required.
That is how you set yourself apart from everyone else.
Yes, people are generally more competent, reliable, and intelligent in the finance industry… but you’d still be surprised at how many are not.
The next time you approach someone to propose a job / internship / joint venture / other partnership, ask yourself:
- Am I actually speaking with the decision-maker?
- Do I understand what they’re going to object to, and am I prepared to answer those objections?
- Am I offering them something of value, or am I expecting free gifts from Santa Claus?
- Do I understand what they want? Have I put myself in their shoes? Or am I only asking about what I want?
- Am I proposing something specific? Or is it so vague that they can’t possibly make a decision?
- Am I in a position to deliver on what I’m going to promise? Or will this make me look like a fool and burn bridges?
Most people never think about any of these points when applying to jobs or when attempting to go around the official “rules” in a contest, promotion, or any other application process.
And that’s why you gain the upper hand when you implement all these strategies.
Or you could ignore everything above, go back to square one, and fail to land offers as students from non-target schools who know how to hustle mysteriously get into the top firms.
Up to you.