Harrison Careers

My path to an elite Investment Bank

Following on from my blog last week – when I remarked on how getting a job offer is not easy, particularly in the current market – I recently spoke about this to one of our coaches at Harrison Careers, an analyst at a world-leading investment bank. Below, he shares his personal perspective on the difficult path ahead.

“I recently joined a top tier investment bank as a junior analyst. Looking back to where I was three years ago, this was a very unlikely event.

In the autumn of my second year of a four-year Bachelor program at a top European Business School, I attended a financial services career fair – and I was convinced after just a few hours that I wanted to start my career in Finance. The Investment Bank representatives all had very interesting backgrounds, the presentations were flawless, and the face-to-face conversations charismatic. After attending this career fair, I decided to apply to the banks’ Spring Internship programs – since I had not yet had any professional experience, I was not eligible for any other program.

Over the course of the next 3 months, I submitted 27 spring internship applications. And they were not just “copy & paste” applications! I sourced out interesting reasons as to “Why this company” so I could make my cover letter or application answers stand out. I spent about 20 hours per week for 3 months applying to every single bank that offered spring internships. I refined my CV and cover letter countless times in consultation with my university’s careers services division. I practiced psychometric tests and prepared for interviews.

By January, I had been rejected numerous times, and was left with only 2 ongoing applications. For the life of me, I could not understand why I didn’t even get an interview for a single one of the other 25 applications. I speak 4 languages, had top grades at a top-tier business school (a target university for the banks I was applying to), I was decent at programming, and I had my fair share of extracurricular activities. But still I was rejected outright by the majority of banks I applied to.

Then came February. 80% of spring internship offers are made before February, because most banks work on a rolling basis. I received my rejection for one of the two ongoing applications.

By the middle of February, I had accepted that I was probably not going to be successful – but I was frustrated.  It was the first time in my life that I had spent 100+ hours working on something, and simply received nothing in return. Then, as I was walking out of class at around 14:00 on a Monday, I saw a call from a UK number – it was the investment bank I was waiting to hear back from. The recruiter told me they were offering me the internship, and I accepted it immediately on the phone. I actually thought that I was dreaming for a couple of days! I like to think that I got lucky.

As I met other spring interns, it turned out that many of them had received 3-4 offers. Why was this the case? And why had I all-but failed? The more I talked to the interns, the clearer it became – their application strategies had primarily focused on networking, and this is what had helped them to get multiple offers.

After I completed my spring internship, I applied to many other investment banks for summer analyst positions – and my success rate was 60% (6 offers from 10 I-bank applications). A vast improvement! Sure, having done a spring internship helped me, but I think I succeeded because I shifted my strategy. I talked to numerous professionals who had landed a full-time job, and my focus became networking.

The moral of the story is this – had I found the right sources/partners to guide me right from the get-go, I would have saved myself countless hours of work that I thought was important, but it really wasn’t. I would have also landed more interviews, and hence more offers. I think it is imperative that a student applying to Finance doesn’t just try to figure things out by himself/herself – guidance is crucial. As the first step in your Finance applications, my advice would be to first and foremost talk to experts in the field, and base your future decisions on the conversations you have with them – don’t just go out on your own; you will waste a lot of time.”

Thanks to our great coach for his insightful story!

I have written extensively about networking in the past (have a look at http://harrisoncareers.com/blog/), and networking is a key aspect of our hiring strategy for Harrison Careers Clients. Want some help? Let me know! As always, thanks for reading – I love to hear your questions or comments. I’m on peter.harrison@harrisoncareers.com.