Call up recruiters for advice on getting a Wall Street job straight out of college, and you might expect them to say: “Well, do you have connections, say a family friend with power and pull? You have a boastworthy degree from an Ivy League university, right?” And last but not least: “It helps if you are white and male, you know?”
Thankfully, these are not must-have qualifications for Wall Street jobs. Of course, a topnotch degree like one from Harvard would help and so would some avuncular contacts in high places. But people without such blessings have also managed to make their dreams come true. Investopedia gives the example of former Wells Fargo Chairman and CEO John Stumpf, who grew up in a dairy farm and went to public schools in Minnesota, as an “outsider” who made it to Wall Street.
Why is it so hard to get a job on Wall Street? Why do a majority of aspirants get rejected?
The biggest reason is often that you simply may not have the qualifications or experience Wall Street companies are looking for. A non-business undergraduate degree and the lack of a top-drawer MBA have snuffed out the ambitions of many a candidate. Top investment banks look for people with an Ivy degree or great employment history so that they don’t need to spend time and resources training new recruits from scratch before assigning them to their teams.
Another reason is that prospective employers are unsure how a particular candidate’s skills could be useful to them, says an article in efinancialcareers.com. A career coach points out that if a firm is unable to see how your skills line up with the position you are applying for, it will never hire you.
On the other hand, if you are able to clearly convey what your skills are, you may get the green signal immediately. You need to stand out from the crowd, and this is only possible if you research what skillset the company is looking for and show that you really have this precious package.
Wall Street doesn’t really like braggers, and may reject candidates who come across as too confident and lacking a light coat of humility. Firms know that such candidates are often poor students on the job and may not care to learn a number of new things they need to learn. If you are looking for a Wall Street job, you need to strike a good balance between confidence and humility and show a keenness for taking new lessons.
Candidates’ failure to create some quick chemistry with the interviewer is also a factor. If you come across as nervous, shy, or tense, or you fail to send out signs that you have a sense of humor, chances are you will be passed over. After all, though it is your unsentimental Wall Street, you are still dealing with human emotions, and one question is going to linger in the mind of the recruiter: “Do we want to spend 10-14 hours a day with this person?” A candidate who seems to be able to keep cool and intelligently tackle the interview is likely to get the nod.
Some candidates tend to go on and on when answering the question, “So, tell me about yourself.” The interviewer stops listening soon enough and wonders how to butt in and end the interview. On the other hand, they are all ears for candidates who are well-prepared and give interesting and succinct replies. Obviously, they are the ones likely to progress to the next round.
Then there are candidates who say they are “passionate about Wall Street” but don’t bother to brush up on their knowledge of the markets. Their “enchantment with the markets” apparently doesn’t cover basic aspects, such as the P/E ratio for some of the leading stocks, for example. Failure to update your information before going for an interview proves costly every time.
The interview itself can be extremely stressful with a lot of tough-nut questions. Predictability is hardly the name of the game, and interviewers are not going to ask you what the capital of Germany is or what the Chinese currency is called. Their questions are more likely to be a weighty punch in the solar plexus than an encouraging pat on the back.
A CNBC article invites us to sample these interview questions: “Why don’t you have any offers yet? What’s wrong with you?” or “Which line on your resume contains the greatest lie about yourself?” or “What is the outlook for cucumber prices over the next five years?” Obviously, they are designed to ensure a brutal knock-out.
Of course, the point is not to give “correct answers” but to remain cool and confident and perhaps make a comeback with an interesting response. The interviewer is only trying to test whether you are tough enough for the big bad wolves of Wall Street. You certainly can’t reply with a feeble “I don’t know.” You need to stay and fight.
Investopedia gives three broad categories of jobs available at Wall Street investment firms. The first category of jobs are as a member of investment teams, where you could be a research analyst, portfolio manager, or trader. But you may hardly be able to just walk into a team as a newbie unless the firm as a multi-tiered structure that hires fresh graduates. The first two types of jobs often involve the same functions at some firms.
In any case, you better have an analytical and mathematical mindset, knowledge of accounting and economics, and ability to focus on the nitty-gritty. You may have to do pretty hard timings at work, but the hours are unlikely to be so long that they overwhelm you. The typical day starts and ends with the opening and closing of the markets, and involves tasks such as collating financial and economic news about specific companies and contribute to making decisions on which securities to buy, hold, or sell.
The second category of jobs involves working as a member of client/operations teams, which includes functions such as client relationship, marketing, risks, legal, and back-office work. These jobs may give you the entry ticket to an investment firm. You need an analytical mind, an ability to learn on your own, communication skills, and of course, a grasp of portfolios and the working of stock markets.
The third category is sales, jobs similar to what salespeople do at companies that sell their products. In investment banks, the product is either research reports or portfolios. The most important traits are a knack for customer-relationship building and interpersonal and communication skills. Entry-level jobs are available, as sales assistants or junior analysts. The hours are long and there can be a lot of travel. A keen financial mind is useful, though it is not the most important talent a candidate should possess.
Obviously, if you are an engineer and a technical person looking for a Wall Street job, you need excellent technical knowledge and usable expertise in the engineering aspects of business.
An article in financewalk.com gives general hints about what an engineering graduate requires to work on Wall Street. It points out that though it is your education and work experience that mould your skills, your other “qualities of the head and the heard” matter just as much. You need to be a self-starter and enterprising, and good at technical problem-solving and trouble-shooting.
As a Wall Street engineer, you need to be able to think out-of-the-box and focus time and energy on the task at hand and help protect clients’ investments. You need to be able to take up challenging tasks successfully and overcome situations that test your mental and physical limits.
What is the trend when it comes to engineering jobs on Wall Street? At five of the biggest financial institutions in the US — JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, and Citi — not all jobs are going to traders and investment bankers. Candidates with AI/machine-learning skills, programmers, and data scientists are getting their due, too.
The new “hot” skills for investment banking, hedge funds, mutual funds, information providers, and exchanges are machine-learning, predictive analytics, robotics, automation, and cloud computing, according to an article in news.efinancialcareers.com. No wonder then that JP Morgan has 10,000 IT employees and that 25 percent of Goldman Sachs employees work in its tech departments.
So how do you get a Wall Street job with no experience? Obviously, you really need an undergraduate degree in math, finance, economics, or accounting. You should choose one of the three broad job categories mentioned above, and then make a list of potential employers.
If you are keen on investment banking, you should also include merger and acquisition firms and hedge funds. If you want to get into sales, include both buy-side and sell-side firms, advises Investopedia. An article says that you may want to list some companies that participate in markets but are not well known as asset managers (for example, small accounting firms that offer investment advice, or a college/university endowment fund).
When looking, keep in mind your skills (major subjects, skills acquired during internship or regular work), personality traits (strengths/weaknesses, likes and dislikes), goals, lifestyles (whether you can travel or work long hours), and type of firms (small or big, national/international/local presence).
Finally, call companies, talk to recruiters, and send out resumes. Use social media, and find connections that can help or mentors who can guide you or provide resources. While in college, try to secure a Wall Street or finance internship.
Remember that once you find a job, parallel shifts are possible, such as from operations to other wings of the organization. Risk has transitioned from operations to investments division, and administrative assistants have moved into marketing roles. Similarly, client relationships and sales often share mobility from one to the other.