“Help! I’m a senior who just started my job search and I really, really want to work in investment banking. I have no finance experience and go to a non-target school. I also only got interested a few weeks ago. Can I work at Goldman Sachs?”
I’ve been getting a lot of emails similar to the above recently. While I hate to ruin your hopes of getting into the field, the reality is you are at a pretty big disadvantage if you get started late in the process.
I know this firsthand because I got started quite late myself.
But you’re at an even bigger disadvantage if you rush and try to compete with everyone else who has had previous finance experience, vying for spots at the top names.
The Usual Story
The usual story is simple: banks come to campus to hold recruiting events and you see all your friends running off to the presentations – so you go and do the same. And even if you hadn’t been interested in banking or finance before, suddenly you get interested and wonder how you can break in.
Sometimes this happens later in your career. I receive a lot of email from working professionals in other fields like accounting, marketing and engineering who suddenly realize they want to work in finance – or at least something faster-paced than what they currently do.
Or sometimes MBA students realize, after missing the all-important banking internship their first year, that they really do want to do finance after all.
The Usual Problems
Regardless of how you got here, your problems shared by everyone else in your position: others have had a head start in the field and you’ve been left (relatively) behind.
Even if you’re more interested and capable than the next guy, you won’t have the quality or quantity of contacts in the field that he will. And you won’t have that all-important “finance experience.”
Recruiters will also find it more difficult to believe that your interest is sincere if you only became interested in the last few months.
If you are starting late and need to get in, what can you do?
Well, you could make an all-out, last-minute effort to cold-call and cold-email every bank you can get a hold of and hope you get lucky.
And you could reach out to 50 alumni, friends and acquaintances each day in an effort to get in and take advantage of the fall recruiting season.
But none of that sounds particularly fun (not that recruiting is fun in the first place…).
So the less obvious but better solution is to not make breaking in a last-minute, all-out effort but rather a long-term goal that you work on each week, and make sure you do it consistently.
It’s better to consistently contact 10-15 people in the industry each week rather than 100 per week… and then get tired of it in week 2 and never start again.
Wait, Are You Sure?
This might seem counter-intuitive: if you have less time, shouldn’t you work harder?
It turns out that it’s actually counter-productive and you’ll get tired of trying to cold-call 50 firms per day on top of balancing real life, work, and classes.
And while most major banks recruit mainly in the fall, regional boutiques and other smaller firms – which you should be focusing on anyway – have more flexible hiring schedules, which means you could get lucky at any point in the year.
In short, regardless of whether you’re a freshman, a senior, an MBA or a mid-career professional who’s switching fields, breaking into banking is a marathon, not a sprint.
There are a few constraints – if you’re in college, for example, you may need to line something up by graduation. But even if you start “late,” at the beginning of your final year, that still gives you almost an entire year to break in.
Even if you only reach out to 10 alumni or acquaintances in a week, that’s still over 500 in a year – which should be more than enough to get at least one interview.