How to Get a Job on Wall Street (Or Anywhere Else)

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This post discusses getting a job on Wall Street, but the basic principles apply to whatever your area of interest is.

An EPJ reader sent this email to me earlier today:

Tomorrow morning I plan to go knocking on doors at different PE firms in the Houston Area. Those firms do not have a career section on their website, so I have decided to go the old fashion way and knock at their door. Basically, I want to get an entre level analyst position and start from there. Today, I am starting an online MSc. in Corporate Finance, so I hope that could help me.

My question to you is, what tips would you suggest me when I go tomorrow morning? would that strategy work?

I receive many emails like this. Early in my career, at one point, I actually went door to door and managed to get a job on Wall Street that way, but it is extremely difficult. You have to be prepared for lots of rejection, you have to know, going in, everything about the job and firm that you are attempting to get an interview at. You have to be clever, pushy and lucky to get past the receptionist and you then have to make your points, powerfully and succinctly, as to why you would be a good fit for the firm. Then you have to be prepared and have answers to any objections. Did I mention accomplishing all this is not easy?

An alternative might be to contact smaller firms by email or phone, contact the partners, and tell them you are willing to work for free for 6 months to prove yourself. Be a pest.

I also like the idea of working for a temp agency. Befriend someone at a agency and tell them that you are willing to work as a temp in the PE industry, hedge fund industry etc., whatever it is you are interested in, because you want to get in the door. Once you are in the door, you can be judged on your skills. Be a pest at the temp agency, so that you are on their mind.

Another strategy is to start a blog, not an opinion and policy blog like mine, but a blog that shows your skills in the field you would like to enter. If you want to get into the PE industry, write one or two analytical posts per month that analyze sectors of the economy and why it may make sense for the PE industry to get involved in those sectors (or why they should be avoided). If you consider yourself, say, a good stock analyst, then start a blog where you post one or two detailed stock research reports each month. Email links to your posts to the people you would like to work for. I know of two analysts that got their starts this way.

When all is said and done, it’s about being clever and focused and knowing well the person/firms you want to work for, so that you can show them the skills you have that can help them.

I found the profile of Tracy Britt Cool in BusinessWeek fascinating. She clearly had been thinking about working for Warren Buffett for a long time and she went about in a methodical way attempting to get a job with Buffett. And, got it! BusinessWeek writes:

When Warren Buffett bought half of a commercial mortgage finance company in 2009, he hired a 25-year-old fresh out of business school to keep tabs on the investment[…]Now 29, Cool is one of Buffett’s most-trusted advisers, traveling the country to assist a constellation of companies too small to command her boss’s direct attention[…]

“When I first met her I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this girl’s scaring me, she’s so professional,’” said Teresa Hsiao, a classmate at Harvard College. “Her idea of fun may not be what we consider fun, like looking at 10-Ks,” the annual reports filed with securities regulators.

Cool, who declined to be interviewed for this article, met Buffett through Smart Woman Securities, the group she and Hsiao founded while Harvard undergraduates. SWS aims to educate members about everything from compound interest to preparing a pitch to prospective investors.

Cool and Tiffany Niver, a Harvard classmate from Nebraska, wrote to Buffett and asked if members could visit. He agreed. The pilgrimage has become an annual event for the group, which has expanded to 17 chapters[…]Cool was inspired by Buffett’s value-investing principles when she built SWS, Horne said. “I don’t think that was unconscious,” she said. “She clearly had Warren in her sights.”

While at Harvard Business School, Cool wrote in an essay: “My goal is to work with a great investor, who even more importantly is a wonderful teacher and mentor.”

Think about this. She set her sights on working for Warren Buffett and accomplished that! How many people would kill to get a job next to Buffett? A lot. But she did it. Why?  Because she did many things that others don’t do. She had a methodical plan. She developed her skills that would make her valuable to Buffett and then she developed a plan to get in front of Buffett so that she could demonstrate her skills.

Go forth and do likewise.

Reprinted with permission from Economic Policy Journal.

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