This is a guest post by Justin for Student Stories.
Without a doubt, getting a job in investment banking with a top firm is statistically impossible.
Out of the couple of left over full time spots allotted to your prestigious university from each respective firm, you’ll compete against the best, brightest and most connected individuals from your graduating class. Being that I’ve been able to do so despite having several disadvantages (i.e., lack of business fraternity affiliation) using specific tactics, I believe that my template for becoming a highly competitive applicant will be applicable to students seeking employment in industries including, but not limited to, investment banking.
I believe there are three main barriers preventing you from being a competitive applicant: qualifications, cultural fit and effective interview skills. Another “x factor” that you can leverage to differentiate yourself is proper networking strategy/execution. Let me explain:
The art of looking good on paper. Figure out how to attain a high GPA; take on internships during the school semester and take on leadership positions in relevant clubs/organizations to develop a host of relevant experience; and become an interesting person who engages in unique extracurricular pursuits/interests. Consider becoming certified in highly utilized programs, such as PowerPoint and Excel, to demonstrate your dedication and ability to add value early on.
2. Cultural fit
The art of fitting in. Picture the typical working environment and realize that the team you’re looking to join must be able to stand you for several hours at a time, day after day for several months, if not years. You have to be polite, easy going, relatable and generally amiable. You must be lively, enthusiastic and somewhat fun to be around. Oh, and you have to demonstrate all of this during your first impression or else your likelihood of getting the job drops significantly. Yes, cultural fit is that important in most interactive, front-office/client-facing professional industries. Think about it like this: The person who is recruiting you must be confident that if they push you forward to the first/next round of interviews, you won’t make them look bad. Therefore, you must look good on paper, be a cultural fit, and possess solid…:
3. Interview skills
The art of effectively demonstrating your qualifications, behavioral fit and overall poise. Without saying, this requires serious preparation. The question is: How do you do so effectively (i.e. without wasting time preparing material that isn’t relevant). This is difficult because you have to become familiar with what your industry typically expects from you. Perhaps you should be aware of current events, technical knowledge, line of business products/services and those of competitors, etc. Also, one thing that will really differentiate yourself is learning how to look/dress properly (proper grooming – nails, hair, etc., properly sized attire, proper color-coordination, and adhering to commonly known rules such as leaving your bottom button of a suit jacket unbuttoned, matching your belt with your dress shoes, etc.) to give off the impression that you are someone who takes self-presentation and good judgment demonstration seriously.
X-factor: Networking skills. It’s much easier to interview with a team and convince them you’re interested and dedicated to joining their team if you’ve already held an informational interview with three of them and learned a whole host of particular insights about their personalities, line of work, etc. Not to mention, it’s much easier to get an interview in the first place if you have already met with several individuals from the team you’re looking to join. So, get on LinkedIn, connect with alum / recruiters, request informational interviews over the phone, prepare for them, and try to have a great conversation. Then, ask them to connect you to another teammate so that you can learn more from others. It won’t take long before your name is well-known in the office, and when recruiting season comes around, your name will be much more familiar: “oh yeah, I remember that kid – (s)he seems really cool. Plus they look good on paper. Let’s bring ‘em in for an interview.” Bam.
Bottom line is: Everything is a matter of probability. The game is revolved around properly identifying what metrics influence your probability of getting hired. I’ve identified them to be broadly based on the three aforementioned barriers. Your job is to use your creativity to figure out how to reduce those barriers as much as possible. Companies are made up of teams, and teams are made up of individuals – so, develop a system that results in the broad appeal to “gatekeeper” individuals and you’ll inevitably become appealing to teams. Remember, your K-12 schooling and x-number of years in college have led up to this point in time, (i.e. your ability to execute on this final test). Develop a strategy and maximize your probabilities. After that, it’s just a numbers game. Good luck.
About the Author:
Justin is a UC Berkeley graduate, currently working as an investment-banking analyst for a top firm in the technology sector.