How to Win Corporate Finance Jobs in Canada as an International Candidate
Is it ever a good idea to quit your full-time job, move to another country, and then start looking for a job when you land?
I would say, “No” in almost all cases.
But it can work if you do it the right way.
Plus, you’re bound to get some stories out of the experience.
Our reader today found that out firsthand as she moved halfway across the world in search of corporate finance jobs in Canada:
Origin Story: From Big 4 to Banking to Project Finance
Q: Can you walk us through your story?
A: Sure. I’m originally from “an Asian country,” but I completed my MBA in the U.S.
After graduation, I moved back to my home country and worked at a Big 4 firm and then a domestic investment bank.
At the time, the power sector in my country was booming because the government had encouraged a lot of private investment in infrastructure projects.
So, I worked on a lot of Project Finance and Infrastructure deals but focused on client relationship management rather than financial modeling.
I learned a lot, but the pace was slow, and there was limited M&A activity in the country.
I wanted a more traditional experience advising on M&A deals between normal companies, so I moved to a boutique corporate finance advisory firm that had an international client base.
We did all different types of deals, from debt and equity to M&A to restructuring to infrastructure, and the work was a mix of financial modeling, client relationships, and team management.
I also studied for the CFA and became a Charterholder when I was working there.
But I wanted more exposure to deals in a developed market, so I decided to move to Canada and look for an IB or PE job when I arrived.
I spent a total of five months looking for jobs, and, in the process, decided against the IB/PE route and found a corporate finance role instead.
I accepted the offer, started out as a Senior Financial Analyst, and have advanced up to the Director level here.
Q: Your move to Canada was quite a leap of faith.
Wouldn’t it have been easier to ask for a transfer instead?
A: Yes, but it wasn’t an option because my bank focused on emerging/frontier markets and only had offices in other Asian countries.
And I really wanted to go to a larger market, so I just did it.
Into the Blizzard of Canadian Recruiting
Q: OK, but logistically, how did you move to Canada? Didn’t you need a work visa?
A: Yes. I applied for Canadian immigration under the “skilled immigrant” category and arrived as a permanent resident there.
It took about three years to complete the process, but if you have the right work experience and degrees, it’s not that hard.
Since it took three years, this wasn’t an overnight decision; I had decided midway through my time at the bank that I wanted to move.
Q: So, you arrived in Canada.
Can you walk us through what happened from beginning to end?
A: I landed in a brutal snow storm and started networking aggressively via in-person events, LinkedIn, and other job sites.
I reached out to a lot of recruiters and used the story-telling tips from your interview guide to present myself.
Everyone reacted positively, but I didn’t win any job offers because:
- I had no work experience in Canada.
- The Canadian market is very small, and if you haven’t attended one of the target schools (Ivey, Rotman, Queens, Schulich, and McGill), it’s an uphill battle to get into investment banking.
- I focused on IB and PE roles, mistakenly thinking that my years of experience in an emerging market would make me competitive.
But bankers in developed markets, rightly or wrongly, tend to “discount” experience in emerging markets.
My case was also tricky because they didn’t know where to put me: I had far too much experience to be an Analyst, but they weren’t sure if I should join as a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd year Associate (or something else).
Q: OK. What then?
A: After three months of networking, I took a step back to re-position myself and aim for different jobs.
I figured that my transactional experience in power and infrastructure deals and the skills I gained from restructuring/turnaround deals could be useful for both “normal companies” (in corporate development/corporate finance) and consulting firms.
So, I looked up every relevant company in Canada and added them to my list.
Before I sent a single email, though, I completed a detailed valuation of a Canadian company that was undergoing restructuring.
Then, I created a presentation that recommended the best option for the company (e.g., liquidate, sell the company, or keep operating and renegotiate with lenders).
I sent the model and presentation to every consulting firm in Canada, as well as some energy/natural resource companies.
I received positive feedback from all of them, which led to several interviews.
Q: And then?
A: I went through interviews at some of the top consulting firms, but I found a better fit in a corporate finance role at a normal company.
It was a Senior Financial Analyst job where I would report to the CFO – I had 10+ years of work experience by that point, so it was a bit of a step backward, but I knew I’d need to start somewhere.
The company had recently been acquired by a private equity firm, so I knew there would be a lot of growth potential due to the likely add-on acquisitions.
The way I saw it, I could capture many of the benefits of being in private equity without going through the traditional PE recruiting process.
The CFO was impressed with my deal experience and the restructuring analysis I had sent over, and I won the job after interviewing with ten people at the firm.
Five months after landing in Canada, I had survived the blizzard and won a new job.
Q: Do you think it was easier to win a job offer since the company was private equity-owned?
A: Not really; they mostly cared about my restructuring and M&A experience.
I was in the right place at the right time, and I got around certain requirements (such as an accounting degree) because I had the right background and skill set.
Canada Corporate Finance Jobs: What to Expect
Q: Fair enough.
When you first started, what was your average day on the job like?
A: Initially, the company had no one with financial modeling expertise, so I spent a lot of time creating operating models, pricing models for the company’s 20-year contract, and models for strategic initiatives.
My time split looked like this:
- 30%: Managing the Annual Budget – And only 50% of this time was spent in Excel; I spent the rest working with different departments to get data.
- 30%: “Business Development” – This one relates to sales to existing and new customers and selling more via partnerships. I spent around 50% of my time here working with the engineering department to come up with better customer solutions.
- 25%: Strategy/Analysis of New Initiatives – What it sounds like; I still spent around 50% of my time here working with different departments (mostly operations and engineering).
- 15%: Valuations – I completed annual and quarterly valuations of the company for internal purposes. These were helpful for assessing our ability to make acquisitions as well.
Q: You’ve been there for several years now, so how has the FP&A role changed as you’ve moved up and become a Manager and then a Director?
A: As a Manager, I was responsible for the same deliverables, but I managed a Senior Financial Analyst (who did most of the Excel work), and I focused more on the story-telling/strategic aspects of projects.
I also spent more time on projects that played into future decisions and expansion strategies rather than day-to-day work.
As a Director, I’m part of the team that oversees all our North American businesses (not just Canada), so I:
- Develop financial plans for our existing businesses.
- Structure financing for deals that our M&A team is working on.
I’ve also spent time on business development activities at the platform level, and I’ve rolled out operating models for our businesses, pricing models for new customers, and valuations for all our business entities.
Q: Great. And what are your long-term plans?
A: I plan to continue in this career, working toward work-life balance without compromising on the challenges and the drive – if I can!
Q: Great. Good luck, and thanks for your time.
A: Sure. My pleasure.
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