After another long absence, reader Q&A makes its return today.
It seems to come around once a year by this point, so I’m labeling this the “2012 edition” (there, a partial date before you leave another comment complaining about the lack of dates).
Today we’re going to talk about networking gone wild (no NSFW photos, unfortunately), strangers in strange lands (career transitions), how to decide between multiple offers, and then a bunch of personal and site updates and randomness.
Mermaids may or may not make an appearance by the end.
Networking Gone Wild: How Much is Too Much?
With recruiting tougher than ever before, you might have resorted to “creative” networking tactics… sometimes you’re a little too imaginative for your own good, though.%
Q: Let’s say I found someone via online stalking, i.e. Googling or searching social network profiles for hours and tracking down their information. Is it wrong to contact them?
A: Nope. I would still contact them and ask for a chat – it never hurts, and the worst they can say is “no” or ignore you.
Just say you found their information “online” if they ask (or to explain where you found it in your initial email). And if they really press you, say that you had a mutual connection on some network and found them there.
Q: I’m at a non-target. Should I go to information sessions held at target schools?
A: Yes, absolutely.
Some people may get pissed off, but you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. And if you think it’s too expensive or time-consuming, your priorities are all wrong and you should give up on getting into front-office finance roles right now.
Q: Do you think it’s going too far if I show up at a firm’s physical office location and demand to be let in? I really want the job more than anyone else!
A: That would be going too far. And it won’t even work at large banks because they have security.
There are urban legends of people doing this successfully in ancient times, but I don’t think it would work well today. Maybe if it’s a tiny firm and you could spin a really convincing argument it might work, but this strategy is still too aggressive for me to recommend.
Q: Do you think I should buy gifts for everyone I just interviewed with? I want them to know that I REALLY want the job.
A: That would be more than a little weird. Maybe send “thank you” notes if you can do it quickly, but buying gifts for people when you’re just interviewing is going too far.
Q: What’s your view on emailing multiple people at the same firm? Do my chances improve if I speak with everyone there?
A: I would advise against emailing too many people, especially if you’re just emailing them and you don’t actually get through and speak with anyone. It can be especially annoying at smaller firms, where everyone will see your emails and talk about it.
If you’re emailing lots of people at the same firm, make sure that: 1) You contact people in different groups and not more than 2-3 in the same group; 2) You space out your emails so that you don’t seem too annoying.
A lot of people in finance perceive email from unknown senders as “spam,” and you don’t want to become a King Spammer. It’s better to be more aggressive at in-person events and over the phone.
Q: So I found this MD’s home address. I also have a camouflage kit, and I noticed there’s a lot of foliage in his backyard…
A: OK, now you’re abusing this. Next topic.
Strangers in Strange Lands: Got Career Transitions?
So, do certain areas in finance really make you too specialized? Can you move geographies even after you’ve been working in one place for years?
Q: I started out on the west coast of the US, but I want to move to New York.
I’m doing real estate consulting here and I want to move into PE but I keep running into resistance over my geographic change – what can I do?
A: I don’t think this “resistance” is about your geographic change – the problem is that you don’t have transactional experience and yet you want to move into private equity.
You should learn something about transactions and financial modeling on your own or get some type of experience that looks relevant, and then start making lots of in-person trips to New York to network (find relevant conferences to attend to explain it to your current company, and then network with PE people when you get to NY).
Q: I’ve done an internship in business development at a tech company. Pre-MBA I was doing engineering. Can I get into investment banking? How do I do it?
A: First, consider fields outside of banking: venture capital is the most obvious one if you have that experience.
Within banking, focus on tech or TMT groups and talk about how you want to combine your two interests.
And then, the usual advice about keeping all your options open, thinking about smaller banks, and so on.
Q: So, can I really get into private equity without an investment banking background?
A: Yes, you can.
At the mega-funds and even the larger middle-market funds it’s dominated by bankers (and sometimes consultants), but there are thousands of smaller firms where you’ll find people from all different backgrounds.
Spin your experience into sounding relevant for PE (any type of ROI analysis you did, managing teams, finding new customers, partners, etc.) and make sure you know the technical side very well.
Q: I’m an intern at the corporate finance department of a F500 company. How can I get referrals to their internal M&A team?
A: A couple tips:
- Do it while you’re still working there – it’s much harder after you leave.
- Ask your team, but name a couple different areas you’re interested in rather than just M&A. That way it seems like you want to get to know more people instead of hopping over to one specific team.
- Go to internal company-wide events – big firms should have tons of mixers and networking events.
It’s definitely possible to complete an internship in another area, and working in the M&A team will make it easier to win IB offers later on.
Q: You’re being way too optimistic with the exit opportunities from specialized groups like FIG. Isn’t it really, really hard to move to other areas after starting out there?
A: Yes, it is more difficult, and yes, I agree that the interviewee was being quite optimistic.
But it’s an interview and it reflects his own opinions, based on his personal experience. Everyone’s different, and a lot depends on your bank, your region, and your group.
Here’s the thing, though: you inevitably get pigeonholed into more specialized roles as you move up.
One friend worked on a single telecom M&A deal at a boutique 10 years ago, and from that point onward he kept getting shuffled into TMT-type roles at banks and hedge funds all because he was “the telecom guy.”
So while I agree that some groups are more specialized than others (FIG, Energy, Real Estate), you’d become more specialized as you advance in almost any industry group.
Deciding on Offers: Bulge Bracket Death Match
Apparently the article on how to decide on internship offers wasn’t enough, because the questions keep coming in…
Q: I have an offer at a top private equity firm in their real estate group, and then a generalist investment banking offer at a smaller bank. What should I do?
A: Depends on what you mean by “smaller bank.” If this is a regional boutique with 2 people, I would take the RE PE offer; if it’s a middle-market or larger bank, I would take the banking offer unless you are hyper-enthusiastic about real estate and want to stay in it for the long-term.
Real estate is another field where it gets harder and harder to leave the longer you stay in it.
Q: I have an offer at a small PE firm in Asia and a bulge bracket investment bank in the US. If I want to do private equity in the long-term, which one should I take?
A: Go with the bulge bracket offer, for all the reasons outlined here on why you usually want to start out in banking. If it were a mega-fund you could make a better argument for taking the PE offer instead.
Q: Regional boutique bank offer vs. MBB (McKinsey, Bain, and BCG) consulting offer. If I want to do banking long-term, which one should I take?
A: Assuming that this is for an internship, I would go with the MBB offer because brand matters a lot.
It would be a closer call if these were for full-time positions; there I might lean toward the boutique bank because it’s still difficult to move into finance from consulting, even if you’re at a top firm.
Q: I have a Restructuring offer at an elite boutique and an M&A offer at a bulge bracket bank. Which one should I take?
A: You can’t go wrong with either one, but I would go with the bulge bracket offer because you get broader exposure and you may get more networking opportunities.
But if you really want to do Restructuring or Distressed M&A for the long-term, the boutique may be better.
Q: Dude, why does everyone else on this site have internship offers except for me?
Can you start a marketplace for people with multiple offers who want to sell one of them off?
A: Not a bad idea – please take care of it this weekend and have a draft of the new site design on my desk by Monday morning.
Personal Updates, Site Plans, and Responding to Criticism
Yes, the real reason you read M&I: my own antics and sarcasm-laden responses.
Q: So where are you geographically now?
A: I moved back to the US in 2011 and I’m based in New York.
Traveling for a few years was fun, but after a certain point you get tired of logistics, having to make a new set of friends in each place, and so on. Or maybe I’m just getting old…
Q: Someone should interview YOU, Brian! What about your own story?
A: I think it’s a little self-indulgent, and I would rather focus on readers and interviewees who are working in the finance industry. Answering a few questions once in a while is OK, but some of the appeal of this site would go away if I started sharing every detail of my personal life.
Do you really want to see videos of my cats? (OK, I actually don’t own pets)
Q: These interviews with readers are filled with inaccuracies! I’m going to kill you and burn down your house!
By the way, I’m going to keep telling you they’re horrible and then refuse to contribute anything or be interviewed myself.
A: I think you just answered your own question: if you feel something is inaccurate, go ahead and send in the correct information. Or volunteer to do a quick 15-minute interview with me to share your side of the story.
I do agree that a few interviews could have been better labeled (make it clear that it only applies to one specific region in a country, or that the person was just an intern, etc.) and that will be done more effectively in the future.
Interviews are not going away anytime soon because there’s only so much that I, and the rest of the associate editors, know – the real power of this site lies in the community and the wide readership.
Q: OMG you have so many competitors now! Everyone has a blog about how to get into finance! How are you different? What are you going to do?
A: First, we’ve been around since 2007 and have published hundreds of articles and created hundreds of hours of video since then.
Most other sites get started and die in about 2 months.
Most “competitors” also make a few key mistakes: 1. They’re not prepared to quit their full-time jobs and stick with it for years; 2. Their content is poor or non-existent; 3. They don’t say or do anything different; 4. Most importantly, they don’t care about people and are just looking to make a quick buck.
If you want to start your own site, do the intelligent thing and take a different angle or add something new to the discussion. And be prepared to stick with it for the long-haul and care about your readers, or don’t bother writing.
Q: Upcoming plans? Courses? Interviews? Videos? HBO series based on your short stories? Bottles?
Can you get me a meeting with Jeremy Lin since you’re both in New York?
A: A lot is going on behind the scenes. And if your attention to detail is really good, you can already figure out some of what’s coming.
I’ll get back to you on the meeting with Lin..