One email I’ve been getting lately goes something like this:
“I just don’t know if I can get in anymore, there are so many qualified people out there… what chance do I stand if the market stays like this?”
Everyone agrees that there are fewer finance jobs now than at any time since 2002-2003.
But what about the other part of this statement? Are there really “so many qualified people out there?”
No, there aren’t.
And thinking otherwise prevents you from achieving your goals.
How Many Princeton Students Does It Take to Overestimate the Competition?
Several years ago, an acquaintance was giving a guest lecture at Princeton University on business and entrepreneurship.
He was speaking to a few hundred highly motivated, intelligent students.
As a “prize” following his lecture, he promised to give a free round-the-world plane ticket to anyone who could contact 3 “impossible-to-reach” celebrities – Bill Clinton, Oprah, Donald Trump, etc.
According to the rules, you didn’t even need to give real proof that you had successfully contacted any of these people – you could just produce some scribbles on a piece of paper and claim it was from a celebrity. If no one else came up with anything better, you would win.
Of the 40 students who went up to him afterward and asked about the challenge, exactly 0 submitted responses.
Yes, really. And they all cited the same reason: “someone else would win” or “someone would know a celebrity and immediately get a response” or “the competition would be too tough.”
As a result, no one won a free round-the-world plane ticket worth several thousand dollars – when 5 minutes of effort scribbling down an illegible sentence from a half-hearted attempt at contacting J-Lo could have won the prize.
Ok, But Getting Into Investment Banking is Harder Than Contacting Celebrities…
In terms of time and effort, yes. But if you look at it in terms of percentages, it’s probably more difficult to get a response from Tom Cruise than it is to get a response from Goldman Sachs’ HR department.
I realize these 2 tasks are not directly comparable, but that’s not the point – the point is that many intelligent, capable people overestimate the competition, and it’s always to your detriment to do so.
Why You Shouldn’t Overestimate the Competition
These days, there are a lot of people “with finance experience” walking around looking for new jobs.
The Resume / Interview Selection Game: Numbers
I’ve been over the resume / interview selection numbers before, but they bear repeating: we might select 50 people for interviews out of 500 resumes, then select 10 for 2nd round interviews out of those 50; and then give offers to 2-3 of those 10.
What’s more illuminating than those numbers, however, is a different set of numbers: how long it takes to decide on a particular applicant.
Sometimes I can look at a resume and tell within 5 seconds that the person does not have a shot. In an interview, it usually takes exactly 1 question for the person to be put on my mental “yes” or “no” list.
But it’s not because these people don’t know how to model a dividend recap in an LBO or because they don’t know how to model a reverse merger with the Swedish subsidiary of another company.
It’s because they can’t answer the basic questions (or because their resumes contain elementary mistakes) that they don’t get selected for an interview, or for the next round of interviews.
The Good News
Luckily, there are 2 bits of good news for you:
- If you’re reading this site, you’re already in a small minority of those interested in finance – and that alone gives you a huge advantage.
- Do not overestimate the competition… assuming you’re actually prepared.
So, What Now?
First off, don’t be like those 40 Princeton students who missed a trip around the world because they thought each of their classmates was directly related to Bono.
Keep preparing, keep doing everything you’ve been doing, and don’t give up because there are “so many qualified people” out there.
Because honestly, there aren’t.