Many of the questions that have come in surround recruiting for front office Wall Street careers from a Non-Target so we’ll start with some ideas for recruiting, move on to interviewing, preparing for the job and finally long-term career management advice.
Before we begin, it has been beaten like a dead horse many times, but whatever you do, attempt to transfer to a target school if possible. Do anything and everything to get into a target school if you truly want to work in a FO Wall Street job as it is the best way to improve your chances. 1) Get a 4.0 and apply to a different major not offered at your current school, 2) get job experience, 3) write outstanding entrance letters. Everyone knows the basics laid out above and with the importance of attending a target school out of the way lets go ahead and run with the assumption that you are at a non-target and want to recruit.
Attend Wall Street Events: Even if no banks recruit at your school one of your best options to at least speak with a bank is to go ahead and attend target school events. Many schools close these events off however, many firms also hold informational sessions and you can likely find the rooms and attend them. In fact when you recruit at target schools, you will likely see a few non-targets at the event floating around the room. So it is certainly a viable option, particularly if you have strong salesmanship.
Find Niche Banks: Notably, your best bet to obtain interviews is to gain access to a banker’s time and attention. What this means is you likely have a much lower chance of making a strong impression at a GS or MS event as hundreds of people will be in attendance and you may get lost in the pile. Instead find small to mid cap banks as well where a minimal number of students will attend (think 10-20). Here you will have more time to make a positive impression, make sure every person in the room you speak to remembers you – in a positive light.
Making a Positive Impression: After the above remarks this is an obvious next question which can be summarized in five key items: 1) Job Experience, 2) Knowledge of the Job, 3) Knowledge of the sector, 4) knowledge of the bank and 5) Coursework/Academia. An example of a decent greeting would run something like this.
“Hi I’m [name] from [university] graduating in [date] and I am interested in working for [specific] group within [specific] sector because of [reason]. I think I’d be a good fit because of [reason – usually job experience related] and was wondering if you could provide more information on [specific question regarding the bank].”
(Caveat, if you are recruiting at truly small banks, not public/regional/unknown an elongated email may be of use, this would be equivalent to a cover letter)
By phrasing your intro in two quick sentences you can quickly convey that you know exactly what the bank does and why you want to work for them. If the Company is a boutique medical device M&A shop and you have a degree that is medical related and have worked in private wealth management, you could be a good fit for their internship program. Essentially your job is to shine the spotlight on your positive experiences, if you are asked why you did not go to a target school have a strong back story and do not apologize for it, good back stories include: 1) Financial reasons, 2) Family reasons, 3) Change of interest post college (example went into medical but then decided you wanted to do finance your junior year).
Cold Email: We already posted an email example of how to cold approach banks so use the template located below and tailor it for your personal experience internship/full time recruiting:
“Hi my name is [name] and I previously worked at XYZ bank doing XYZ and YXZ tasks. Given my previous experience in XXX and XXX I believe I could be a good fit with your organization. In particular I am interested in your company because of XX, XX ,XX. If possible I would like to set up a quick phone conversation regarding any openings you may have at your earliest convenience.”
You should again find niche banks in your area and use the same pitch 1) Who you are, 2) Why they should hire you, 3) What you can bring and 4) Exactly what position you hope to obtain. Again keep this short, 3 sentences or so and send them out on a Friday.
Pitfalls: With the basics out of the way here are some key things to avoid when you are recruiting as a non-target (a lot of this can be applied to targets as well).
1) Do not ask questions that can be obtained via a simple internet search. As a simple example you should know at least 2-3 product groups or sectors within each firm for each city you are applying to so asking if a bank covers financials when you are speaking to a bulge bracket bank would be an immediate ding. Instead focus in on **specific** questions such as completed deals and offerings at the bank.
2) Do not have a single error on your resume, while verbage is debatable mis-spelling words and poor formatting is quite common, a simple example is using periods for bullet points on some line items and not including periods on other bullets (we recommend excluding all periods).
3) No bragging. This is the most common of all mistakes on resumes and during the recruiting process, achievements are vastly overstated. We already expect an exaggeration factor but writing down accomplishments that are over the top will prevent many interviews. Here are a few examples: 1) C-level of [insert] company, 2) CFA Level 1 Candidate, 3) Returned X% above market for X years straight (while still a college student).
The problem is if you are a true C-level executive you’re not going to interview for an investment banking analyst or associate position so it is better to stick with the duties such as “helped design a website for X company”.
CFA level 1 candidate means you nothing was accomplished (yet) and anyone with a CFA charter is going to immediately ding you for placing that on your resume, CFA level 2 Candidate is certainly acceptable.
Finally, the stock portfolio performance comes off as too confident so it is best to say “investing” and when you receive questions during the interview simply let them know you do invest in stocks and they will likely ask you to pitch one.
4) Veer on the side of professionalism/conservatism during any interaction. Better to give a correct response that can pass than an incorrect response that will ding you immediately. A good example would be your hobbies, unless you are certain you have made a friendly relationship with the person choose interests that won’t get you dinged such as “played football for the college you are attending for the past 3 years”.
TL;DR: 1) Be humble, 2) Show you’ve done your research by highlighting specific bank information, 3) Do not waste the time of a Wall Street Professional, 4) If you have not accomplished something, do not include it on your resume.
In this piece we are going to do a quick walkthrough on how to stand out assuming you have landed the interview.
The Setup: The first thing you need to know before you walk in the door is the type of personalities that are generally on Wall Street. In two words, Risk Averse. What this means is that in general, a Wall Street firm will choose the least risky candidate time and time again not all is lost as you’ll see later in this post but we’ll begin with some common myths.
Myth 1: You are not equal when you enter the interview room. This is going to rub some people the wrong way so here’s the quick explanation: Knowing that you are interviewing with risk averse people if you have a Non-Target candidate and a Target candidate all else equal you are choosing the Target candidate. Why? Well if you and another candidate have the same answers to questions and the same work experience why should they take on additional risk by going with a non-target? They shouldn’t. With that said it should also emphasize the point that you should always shoot for a high level when you are networking (IE: networking with an MD would give you a much better shot than networking into an interview through an Associate).
Myth 2: Lazard/Quatalyst/Moelis/Evercore are boutique banks… This is simple mis-understanding of the space, boutique banks are small firms that people on WSO would unlikely recognize. That’s how you should classify boutique. For one reason or another some people still believe they are boutiques when in reality you should consider them “Elite Boutiques” (term seen on WSO) which essentially means just as difficult to break into as a bulge bracket bank. The truth is a firm like Moelis/Evercore etc. may actually have tougher standards than a bulge bracket bank. Why? If a bulge bracket bank hires 100 analysts, an “Elite Boutique” hires much less maybe just a handful per office. So if a bulge bracket hires a few poor candidates they do not lose as much by training them and subsequently firing them on a relative basis. Again Wall Street is risk averse so “Elite Boutiques” have to carefully handpick the best they can find to make sure they don’t have underperformers as each candidate is likely going to see a wide range of responsibilities where bulge bracket banks can manage a few poor hires.
Myth 3: Many people on here get this last one, however getting all technical questions correct is not important. While you cannot miss easy ones such as how to calculate enterprise value or how to run a DCF, many interviewers simply push your technical knowledge to the edge until you admit you do not know more. This is for two reasons 1) they want to see if you are going to lie and 2) they want to see how much finance you know and of course the more the better.
Samples: With the setup out of the way how exactly do you “stand out” when you answer questions? The answer to this is again two words: Make Connections. What this means is you should tie in all of your work experience, bank knowledge and Wall Street knowledge into all of your interview answers. To avoid beating around the bush here are three examples (feel free to adjust wording, the message is the same in bold).
Why should we hire you? Your average target is going to have a cookie cutter answer such as XX internship, XX interest in banking, hard working because of XXX. So you’ll have a similar answer but you need to spin it and avoid making any comment that suggests you are “smarter” than the other candidates as this will only highlight that you are at a Non-Target, instead highlight your positive points such as work experience and bank knowledge, something like this.
“I’m sure there are a lot of highly qualified people interviewing today and I believe I would be a good fit because of (specific reasons linked to group you are interviewing for such as medical experience if interviewing with healthcare group). In addition, I am primarily interested in XXX space for XXX reason (reason is backed up by resume line items) and have a strong interest in expanding my knowledge in the space where (job position) will offer a steep learning curve. Overall I believe my experience/knowledge in XX will be helpful and am willing to put in the long hours necessary to add value as quick as possible.”
Message: I have experience that is useful, I am humble, I know what I am signing up for and I have a passion for the job.
Why Did You go to XYZ School? The answer to this question for most people will be the finance courses offered and other general target school answers. This is actually a set up for you to sell yourself if you went to a non-target. The worst thing you can do is say “I did not get into a Target” again you need to spin your reasoning. Some good examples are 1) financial, 2) location and 3) family.
“I went to Non-Target as I was fortunate enough to receive a XXX scholarship in XXX for XXX reasons. I saw that the school offered XXX finance courses and felt that I could take XXX courses and network into a Wall Street position. Given the cost savings and curriculum I felt that it was a good decision for me to make and I have enjoyed my time at Non-Target”:
Message: I am not apologizing or complaining about the school that I went to, I do have an understanding of finance and I have a legitimate reason for making these decisions
Why Our Bank? Here you have a good chance at standing out. Generally speaking most candidates do not know much about investment banking deals/transactions so if you did your homework you can give a standout answer.
“I want to work for XXX bank because I believe my experience in XXX, XXX and XXX fits into the Company’s long history of XXX (type) transactions. As an example I am interested in XXX space and the Company has recently completed (transaction 1, transaction 2, transaction 3) in the last twelve months and this is the type of work that I am interested in.”
Message: I know exactly what the bank does, I know deals that have been completed recently and I know how my experience can fit into the group.
TL;DR: As a Non-Target your goal is to 1) highlight your strong points on a resume, 2) connect with the highest possible person in the firm, 3) have strong answers that explain your decision making over the past 4 years and 4) stand out by knowing and understanding the bank/space better than the Target school students.
Give answers that would sell well to a Risk Averse person and be sure to Make Connections between all of your positive characteristics and those that will make you appear to be a strong fit for the firm.
Below is your guide to standing out, not getting fired and diluting the importance of your alma matter.
Training. When you begin on the Street you’ll be sent off for a training session at your firm’s head quarters (usually NYC). Here you will have to pass a series of tests, take accounting courses, Training the Street modeling courses and the classic excel formatting classes. When you begin training there will be two sets of groups 1) the extreme go getters, 2) the extreme partiers. Generally, you don’t want to be a part of either of these groups, instead you want to strike a balance in-between with a slight lean towards being an above average go-getter.
Why do you want to do this? Here is the reasoning below:
Your training results matter. Your scores on all of the accounting tests, Training the Street material etc. will all be passed along to Senior Members of your group. What this means is when you return from training they will already have a perception of how good you are. If you come back from training and you had the lowest scores in the entire group and the company needs to lay off workers… You’re gone. So as a Non-Target given that they already had slightly lower expectations of you, don’t be at the bottom of the pack shoot for being in the 75-80% range (top quartile)
This leads to point two – the most important job advice you will ever get before joining – because you’re likely wondering why don’t I simply get ranked #1 in everything?
“Never unnecessarily raise expectations, lower expectations, deliver higher results”
Now that you know your MD’s will have the results of all the tests you also do not want to be the Rock-star analyst/associate. The reason why is you’ll enter on day one and you’ll immediately get staffed and grinded. You’ve unnecessarily raised expectations too high. You want to leave some room for error so your MD/, Director/VP all see improvements from their criticism of you. This does many things for you 1) you have now set a bar that can easily be beat, 2) your bosses will now believe you take criticism well and are able to improve and 3) this lowers your hours slightly out of the gate. If you are getting ranked on the all time list for speed in the excel formatting exercises… You’ve gone too far.
Political Management. Now that you’ve entered your first Wall Street gig with your light blue t-shirt and oversized suit, it’s time to start taking notes regarding the hierarchy within the office. Being from a non-target you want to do everything possible to link up with the highest ranked MD. All MD’s are not created equal. Instead of explaining in a long-winded fashion how you can flush out the bad MD’s from the good ones here’s your step by step guide.
1. Find an Analyst who is getting promoted to the associate level (3rd year)
2. Do not ask the third year analyst any questions, leave work related questions for year two analysts
3. Befriend the third year analyst by talking about non-work related items
4. Become proficient at the job by continuing to ask smart questions (that cannot be answered by Google searches) to the second year analysts
(Replace Analyst with Associate being promoted to VP if you are a first year [A1] Associate)
The four steps above will quickly give you an idea of how you get promoted because you will have a direct line of sight to success. Find out who he works for, these people were the ones who made sure he got the promotion and of course they are also ones who will help you get promoted in the future if they like you as well. If it isn’t broke don’t fix it so follow the path of successful people before you.
With the politics and general perception out of the way all that is left is correctly performing on the job. At this point people in the office should have the following impression of you 1) Hard working, 2) Not the star in the office but above average (both in work ethic and intelligence from you top quartile scores) and 3) easy to work with due to social skills. From your perspective at this point you should have a direct line of sight on who you want to work for and who you do not want to work for. This will also help you decide which projects you will prioritize during the 120+ hour work weeks.
Work Performance. Now that you’ve set the stage it is all about work performance. Here’s your bulleted list on how to impress your higher ups.
1. Don’t ask dumb questions (notice a trend from the interview advice). If you did not google the question at least three times and have not at least attempted to solve the problem yourself you cannot ask a question
2. When you have questions write all of them down and ask them all at once, send a single email with them clearly laid out or knock on the door and have them answered. The key is to not waste their time.
3. Respond immediately to emails, “Will Do” is the classic response, so send this immediately when an item hits your inbox. Notably, you should have an email flash for new items that hit your inbox.
4. Write down mistakes. You will mess up several times on the job and make sure this does not reoccur and always admit fault when you mess up state the following “I am sorry and it won’t happen again”. Note when you say it won’t happen again it should not, this will create trust.
5. Triple check work. Take a highlighter and highlight every item that has been completed. This way you never have to worry about missing a task. After you’re certain all items have been completed now you can move onto mundane tasks such as triple checking formatting. The key is to check your work in order of priority 1) Tasks completed, 2) Numbers match, 3) Key Questions/issues with the model/book/project, 4) Formatting. If your first project has perfect numbers and the instructions were followed to the T they will not fret about formatting errors as you will learn this over time.
TL;DR. When you join the Street 1) Stay within the top quintile but avoid being the Star from the get go, 2) Lower expectations if possible, but out perform, 3) find the important people within the firm and 4) Prioritize appropriately, do not make the same mistake consistently and avoid asking questions you can answer yourself.
Long-Term Career Management
Here we’ll address some opinions on long-term career management and how you’ll be compared, on a line item basis to a Target entrant. Notably, a lot of this advice can also be applied to Target entrants as well.
On the Job: We previously outlined how to perform on the job 1) lower expectations, 2) stay in the top quartile but avoiding being the “rock star” and 3) correctly prioritizing tasks. With that in mind, we would estimate that roughly 6 months into your job, you will be equal with all of the Target students.
The reason why is after roughly 6 months, the firm has a strong understanding of how good/bad your work performance has been. Up until this point, banks will remain risk averse and likely still lean towards keeping a Target student. Once you clear this 6 month marker however, you will see a move toward more meritocratic upward mobility.
Job Mobility: This is the biggest part of a Wall Street career, correctly navigating your moves on the Street and here is where many people make severe mistakes both as Targets and Non-Targets.
“Always Go To the Buyside”: This one is going to garner a lot of negative feed back but it needs to be said: “Going to the buy-side is not always the right move”. Before all of the down votes come in, this also does not mean all buyside jobs are bad, what it does mean is that getting promoted to say an Associate or VP may be the better long-term move. If a person simply says “buyside is where one should go 100% of the time” you should be next to certain the person has never worked on Wall Street. Below is how you should really view switching firms, ask yourself the following:
Do I have a chance of being promoted to an Associate/VP? If the answer is yes you should be careful when you consider a jump to the buyside for the following reasons 1) Your pay is about to increase in a meaningful way 33% at minimum, 2) you have built trust with your firm and they may be considering you as a long-term asset/banker meaning they will treat you better, 3) You will unlikely ever need an MBA, 4) Your pay is more stable.
If you have considered all four of the above and truly have an interest in the buyside then by all means jump. Notably, if you track candidates who blindly jump to the buyside many end up returning to the sell side, they catch a patchy year and see pay decline substantially or end up joining a group that is a bad fit for them.
To end this short rant on why leaving the sell-side isn’t always the correct decision remember to write down the following: “If everyone else is blindly doing it, it is probably a bad idea”. As a quick example, going from an Analyst to an Associate position at say an E-boutique will likely help you more (again long-term pay in mind) compared to simply jumping ship to a mediocre buyside shop.
Non-Target Stigma is Relatively Short: For an intelligent reader, you can read between the lines and realize that if you are able to receive an associate promotion or VP promotion, the stigma of being from a Non-Target quickly goes away. The reason? Investment Banks and businesses in general are about driving profits and adding real value. If you are promoted this will trigger a large signaling effect as banks realize that you were outperforming within the firm. It is relatively rare to see Analyst to Associate promotions or Associate to VP promotions for Non-Targets so the change in title would quickly dispel any concerns regarding work productivity.
Develop an MD Relationship: This is where many Wall Street Professionals slip. When you join an Investment Bank if you can develop a strong personal relationship with a Managing Director you’ll unlikely ever be unemployed again. This is a bold claim however it is relatively true. If you have worked well with a Managing Director he will help you with your career in ways you never imagined. The Managing Director would 1) take you with him if he switches firms*******, 2) help you join a corporate finance job, 3) search for private equity slots for you and 4) alert you of hedge fund opportunities.
Notably, things are changing rapidly and less and less high end professions want to hire unproven candidates, making a Managing director relationship of utmost importance and why the phrase “don’t burn bridges” is used profusely on Wall Street.
Concluding Remarks: The TL;DR of the entire elongated post would be the following: 1) Get real finance experience, 2) Network appropriately and stand out in the interview by showing your expertise/research, 3) Stay in the top 25% of your class but don’t be #1 to avoid raising expectations and 4) think long and hard about long-term career management as many professionals will make the mistake of following the herd.
One last caveat to relationships is a low end analyst/associate would unlikely move with the MD, however the point stands that a MD would help the analyst/associate switch into a new career if he has helped the MD make money in the past (IE: strong work within the bank).