2020 End-of-Year Reader Q&A: Crisis Recruiting, Career Changes, and Book, TV, and Game Recommendations
It’s easy to forget that 2020 started with a pandemic that caused widespread panic, never-ending lockdowns, and massive government overreach.
Oh, wait, no, it’s not – because in many parts of the world, that “emergency state” has continued for over ~9 months.
The sad part is that many (former) friends buy into this narrative and believe that lockdowns should continue indefinitely.
But if you’re reading this site, you’re much smarter than these normies, which explains why the coronavirus update article a few weeks ago was uncontroversial.
Still, even if you understand the farcical environment, you’ve probably been affected by the virus because it has wreaked havoc on the traditional recruiting process.
That led to a flurry of questions about modified interview prep, whether early or delayed graduation is a good idea, how to handle canceled internships, and more.
I’ll answer the best questions here and then, since it’s the end of the year, give some recommendations and anti-recommendations for books, TV shows/movies, and games.
After all, where else could you read about Henry V, The Mandalorian, and Cyberpunk 2077 in the same post?
How to Hack Recruiting (Or Get Hacked) in a Crisis
More of the recruiting process has moved online, and it’s more difficult than ever to balance networking/interview prep with school, work, and life:
Q: I work in corporate finance in an emerging market, and our company stopped expanding because of the virus, so I lost my most interesting projects.
Should I mention that in my story as part of my motivation for moving into IB?
A: No. It’s a bad idea to go negative, even if it’s a legitimate part of your story.
Say that you gained exposure to deals via a debt or equity financing or something else involving bankers and make your motivation about that, even if it’s a stretch or not quite the truth.
Q: One of my internships was canceled, so I had more time to complete classes.
As a result, I can now graduate from university in 3 years (I’m currently in Year 1).
I already have a private equity internship for this coming summer lined up.
Should I list my graduation date as 2023 and recruit for summer 2022 internships in the first half of 2021?
I think I can win a summer offer at a lower-tier bank, then “delay my graduation” to 2024 and win a better offer for the summer of 2023.
A: I don’t think this is a good idea. If you perform well in the first internship, you’ll win a return offer, and it won’t look great if you turn it down to stay in school for another year.
Also, I’m not sure how a summer internship at a smaller bank will benefit you in BB/EB recruiting if you already have a PE internship lined up.
If you’re at a target school with good grades, you need only 1-2 solid, related internships to compete for these roles.
You should either: a) Graduate early, win the best internship offer possible, and convert it into a full-time return offer; or b) Graduate in 4 years and follow the normal recruiting timeline.
Q: I won a summer internship offer, but I got burned out due to the stress of remote classes and recruiting, so I did poorly this most recent semester.
Will the bank care about my lower GPA? And will they request an updated transcript?
A: If you’ve already submitted your transcripts, I don’t think they’ll want to see new ones.
And even if they do, I don’t think a lower GPA will be an issue unless you went from a 4.0 to a 2.5 or something similarly dramatic.
Q: I won a Big 4 audit internship, but they canceled it due to the pandemic. Should I still list it on my resume? If so, how?
A: Yes. Maybe just use a single line to describe it:
Big 4 Firm Name (Position Name) (Firm-Wide Internships Cancelled) [Originally Planned Dates]
I don’t think you should “describe it” since you aren’t going to complete it, but it helps to show that you won an internship at a brand-name firm.
Q: Almost everyone says it was more difficult to win summer 2021 offers at banks this year.
Do you think full-time recruiting for roles that start in 2022 will be easier if the economy has improved by then?
A: Don’t hold your breath. Even in “normal times,” it’s very difficult to recruit for FT roles without a previous or current IB internship.
There is a small chance that banks will suddenly need more people if deal activity skyrockets, but recruiting will probably be about the same as usual or worse.
For more, see the interview about last-minute IB recruiting.
Q: Will everyone keep working remotely forever? Will internships be virtual once again?
A: I doubt it because 24/7 remote work doesn’t work for most companies. Above a certain company size, cohesion starts to fall apart when everyone is remote all the time.
Also, I don’t think the uptick in deal activity in the second half of this year “proved” that meetings over Zoom were a viable alternative to building relationships in-person.
It happened because central banks decided to flood the markets with liquidity and give the wealthy trillions to play with.
I don’t think investment banking internships will be fully virtual next year, but I could see partially virtual or shortened internships.
Crisis-Era Career Transitions
“Never let a good crisis go to waste,” whether you use that crisis to expand government power massively or change careers…
Q: Do you think it’s a good time to apply to business school?
A: I think it’s a decent time to be starting business school, but not applying – because applications spiked this year.
If you’re a strong candidate for the top schools, sure, go ahead and apply, but if you’re borderline, you might have a better shot if you wait.
Q: I’ve been a project engineer at a Big Oil company for ~7 years. I want to get into IB or PE in Houston. How can I become more competitive?
A: Assuming that you want to work as an adviser rather than in the “acquisitions and divestitures” (A&D) team, you’ll need a top MBA to make the transition.
Also, you’ll probably need a pre-MBA internship related to finance or investing.
In a field as specialized as energy, you might be able to break in without a pre-MBA internship, but your chances would increase significantly with one.
Q: I have 1.5 years of experience at a Big 4 firm and a 3.1 undergraduate GPA from a not-so-prestigious university.
If I get into a top Master’s in Finance program, do I have a chance at IB roles?
A: The bigger issue is that it might be difficult to win admission into a top MSF program with those stats, so this path may not be viable for you.
Assuming that you worked in a group like audit, it’s probably easier to transfer internally to something more relevant, like Transaction Services, Valuation, or M&A, and then move in from there.
Q: I’m currently an undergraduate medical student, and I want to switch to private equity. My only other experience is as a program manager for an NGO. Is this transition possible?
A: You can get into PE eventually, but not directly from an undergrad program without relevant work experience.
You’ll probably have to win a boutique IB or valuation internship, turn it into a full-time offer, and then move in from there.
See the “medical school to investment banking” interview for more ideas.
Q: I went to a semi-target university, graduated with an average GPA, and have spent the past ~7 years doing corporate credit at a regional bank in an emerging market.
Can I get into IB?
A: Your best options are: 1) Attend a top MBA program; or 2) Get into corporate banking at a large bank and move into capital markets from there.
Even if you had only 1-2 years of experience, you would still need something like corporate banking to have a good shot.
Since this year was so uneventful, I decided to make things fun by changing our course packages in November, revamping large portions of the main financial modeling course, discontinuing an older course, and changing the installment plans and refund policies.
Q: In November, you discontinued the Advanced Financial Modeling course and changed the Premium package to include Excel & VBA, PowerPoint, and Financial Modeling Mastery (which combines the former Fundamentals and Advanced courses).
A: I don’t have much to add beyond the rationale on the page describing the changes.
The Advanced course was old, usage rates were low, and I didn’t feel like spending 1,000 hours creating a new version that only ~0.2% of our members would use.
Also, it had been borderline useless since 2014-2016, when the main financial modeling course expanded to include 10+ detailed case studies.
If something no longer works, cut your losses and move on.
Q: Was this a good business decision?
A: It’s too early to say for sure, but the old course packages were slightly better in terms of sales (though not necessarily in terms of after-tax profits).
However, I’ve now been running this business for ~13 years, and I’m at the stage where “reduced hassle” means far more than 1% higher sales.
We made so many other changes over the past 1.5 years (money-back guarantee period, removal of most installment plans, various sales, etc.), that the overall annual results weren’t much different.
Q: Hey, what about an updated version of that “Is Finance a Good Career Path?” article? Or that Infrastructure / Project Finance course?
A: An updated version of that article is coming, but I decided to wait until next year to see what impact these “vaccines” will make, and whether or not government policies will change at all.
I do want to create a new course eventually, but I’ll be honest: updating and maintaining the existing courses and articles is more than a full-time job already.
Finally, even a completely new course would boost my income by only ~2-3%, so I’m not especially motivated to drop everything and spend a year on that.
Hobbies, Interests, Books, TV Shows, and Games
People reacted to the chaos of this year quite differently.
Some of my friends became alcoholics, and others lost control of their diets.
Others become workaholics, and those with kids at home lost their sanity.
And I enhanced one hobby and picked up a new one:
Q: New hobbies or interests? How did you stay sane this year?
A: I always read books and watch TV shows, but this year I added the
vice “hobby” of video games to the mix and took my existing hobby of weightlifting far more seriously.
It might seem like a strange combination, but they synergize well: both can be done from home, and the government cannot shut down either one.
If you go by these strength standards, my new goal is to move from the intermediate-to-advanced range to the advanced-to-elite range on all major lifts (which could take years).
I also have some imbalances to address (e.g., my deadlift is comparatively weaker than my back squat since I’ve had less practice with it).
Q: Book/reading recommendations? Anti-recommendations?
A: I tend to go back and forth between “the classics” and modern “beach reading,” such as fantasy and sci-fi novels.
In terms of classics, I read/re-read all of Shakespeare’s histories and half his tragedies over the past year.
The most underrated ones were “the Henriad” (specifically, Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, and Henry V – but I’ll also throw in Richard II).
A surface-level reading makes Henry V seem like patriotic propaganda, but take a look at Harold Bloom’s books if you want to understand the true meaning.
The most overrated plays were Romeo and Juliet (ridiculously contrived plot) and Richard III (he has no depth and is evil for the sake of being evil).
In terms of “beach reading,” I was most impressed by Robert Jackson Bennett’s work, including the Divine Cities trilogy and Foundryside.
For an “anti-recommendation,” I was quite disappointed in The Witcher novels.
I liked the short story collections, but the full-length books felt like a lot of buildup with an unsatisfying payoff. The games are much better (see below).
Q: TV shows? Movies?
A: I’ve barely watched any movies this past year, so I’ll start with TV shows.
Recommendations: Succession is the best show on TV, but I’ve mentioned it multiple times already. I also liked Better Call Saul (Season 5, but the whole series is great), The Boys (Season 1 more than 2), Cobra Kai (same), and The Last Dance (the Michael Jordan / Chicago Bulls documentary).
Anti-Recommendations: Westworld, after an interesting Season 1, turned into a convoluted mess in Season 2 and a dull narrative with boring characters in Season 3. Avoid.
I did not like Tenet at all. Chamath Palihapitiya put it best: “It’s like the waxed end of a hipster mustache. Pointless, stupid, and incomprehensible.”
Finally, this is not an anti-recommendation, but The Mandalorian is one of the most overrated shows around.
It’s not “bad” – it’s fun to watch, and I like the action and fan service, but it is not a top-tier series in terms of characters or story.
It has benefited from the backlash against the incoherent sequel trilogy – if those movies had turned out better, there would have been much less enthusiasm for this show.
Q: Games? Have you played / will you play Cyberpunk 2077?
A: If you haven’t followed this story, Cyberpunk 2077 was one of the most anticipated games of all time – but its launch was a disaster, as the PS4 and Xbox One versions barely worked (it was so bad the NY Times ran a story on it).
And then the stock of developer CD Projekt Red tanked ~40% in two weeks.
I have a fairly good gaming PC, but I’m staying away for 6-12 months until they fix it.
With game recommendations, note that:
- I had barely played anything in the past 15-20 years, so I caught up with many older games, going back as far as 1995.
- I mostly play RPGs because games need stories and characters to interest me.
- And I don’t have any game consoles, so if it’s not on PC, I don’t play it.
My top recommendation is The Witcher 3 (not a surprise – it’s often cited as one of the best games of all time). Its main story isn’t that great, but it has some of the best characters and quest-specific writing of all time.
But I also liked Mass Effect 2, The Witcher 2, and NieR: Automata quite a bit, and I’m currently enjoying Dragon Quest XI (if you want a retro 90s game with modern graphics).
Anti-Recommendations: My biggest disappointment was Final Fantasy XII: Zodiac Age and, more broadly, most of the single-player games in the FF franchise since 2001 or so.
I don’t think the directors understand how to write engaging characters or well-paced stories – which is a problem when the games focus on those elements.
The series peaked in the 90s and has stumbled around since then, not quite sure of its direction.
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