It’s no secret how demanding top-tier internships and full-time positions are to land in finance. Doesn’t matter if it's investment banking, consulting, or asset management, colleges are pumping out record numbers of highly qualified (on paper at least) candidates who have checked every box when it comes to the traditional hiring process. Their resumes seemed to be packed with every conceivable accomplishment possible.
So how do you stack the odds in your favor? Maybe you went to a no-name school and even with a stellar academic record and resume, you won’t have a chance to get noticed among the flood of applicants and resumes. Maybe you went to a well-known school but don’t have the padded resume and GPA to compete with the top-notch candidates out of Harvard and Yale. Finally, what if you are a top-notch candidate from an ivy league school, but want a spot at the absolute best-of-the-best hedge fund or private equity shop. How do you stand out among in that competition?
All three of these scenarios reflect varying degrees of the same problem. You come out of school as a commodity, unless you (and no one else will do this for you) can show the world why you matter and what you can do for an employer. It’s that simple. The role of the resume and traditional college path is becoming extinct. It’s not that colleges don’t matter; they do, but it’s like any commodity market. You can’t earn high returns as an undifferentiated product. Most college graduates currently come out of school looking too much like one another. Again, how do you differentiate yourself in a credible and verifiable way?
Before we talk about solutions, let’s examine all the popular advice that is bullshit. Most advice is vague anecdotes that everyone already knows and is already applying. You can’t take the same advice and expect different results. When I searched for how to land a job in investing banking, I found more of the same repetitive and useless advice:
1. Get a good GPA. True but useless. I suspect you already know that and most of you already have top-tier GPAs. So again, not a differentiator. Although of course, I don’t endorse getting a bad GPA – that will kill your chances.
2. Get some leadership experience. Again, most of you will agree, but how does this set you apart when every other applicant has the same experience? And exactly how and in what form should you get that leadership experience? Any random college club? Sports? Volunteer at a non-profit? All are worthy endeavors, but won’t help unless it’s a role other applicants cant replicate. If you are applying for a job where the other applicants don’t have leadership experience, you are either very lucky or not at a competitive firm.
3. Network. I agree, but how and to whom? Do you just randomly reach out to industry contacts? Or just people you know? Way too vague to be useful, although networking (I would call it building relationships and providing value) is one of the secrets. But the secret is the implementation and process of how you go about networking, not randomly going about it.
4. Have Patience. Of course you need patience. These jobs don’t happen overnight. But what should you be doing with your time while you are being patient? Do they ever talk about that? Usually not. Patience won’t help you if you don’t have the skills and can’t share that with the word. The focus should always involve around what actionable steps can you take to improve your chances.
5. Work hard. Probably the most famous of all pieces of advice. Yes, we all understand this is hard work. But what should you be working hard at? Working hard just to work hard doesn’t work. Work needs to be applied intelligently with the goal of creating a differentiated candidate. Again, mostly vague and worthless advice that doesn’t help anyone.
6. Etc, Etc, Etc.
Ok, so what should you actually do to grab attention and land that job? I have a simple thesis behind my claims. The war for talent has become ultra-competitive but also more meritocratic. Meaning, there are more fantastic graduates who are seeking the best jobs. However, companies are beginning to realize that top-tier schools, GPAs, and spotless resumes don’t correlate well with long-term employee success. The world is moving quickly to a meritocracy, where your ability is judged not on paper (degrees & resumes) but on what value you delivered the world. What do I mean by value delivered to the world? Well, have you helped solve someone’s problem or made their life easier? Here are a few finance examples:
1. Have a you produced an in-depth initiation report on a sector/industry/company? Companies and analysts are always looking for new ideas and new angles of thought. If you deliver that, you have provided a great service that will possibly lead to someone making money or forgoing a loss because of your work. That’s value delivered to the world.
2. Have you built a published record of contrarian viewpoints on popular companies? Again, contrarian and differentiated analysis leads to investment success. Hedge funds and investment banks will pay up for that skill. Notice this has nothing to do with your resume or school you went to. It’s completely in your control. No one expects your thoughts to be perfect and every idea to workout. Get over your fear of perfectionism. It’s hard to do (I struggle with it all the time) but trust me and take a chance.
Providing value to the world can take many forms, but the key idea is that you are providing advice or analysis that helps other people in their jobs or personal life. This idea extends beyond finance into all areas, but we will remain focused on finance.
The Two Steps
If you trust and follow my logic, here is my guide of how you should build your “system” to establish yourself as a provider of value. There are only two steps:
1. Create good work.
Step one was briefly mentioned above but we will go into more step by step detail.
2. Show good work.
Steps two and three involve showing your work to the world. There are two ways you should do this. Build a website/blog and build relationships to share your work.
That’s it. Two steps. I took these ideas from Austin Kleon, who wrote a couple of fantastic books, Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work. They are great reads if you are struggling to become a “creative” and fear publishing and creating work to show the world. The books are short and are well worth the read. I’m applying his ideas to the world of finance jobs.
I’m going to provide as much practical and step-by-step advice to make sure the roadmap is clear on how to achieve this goal. I don’t want little ambiguities or technicalities to get in the way of this process. I want to show you from start to finish how I would do it if I were in your position.
However, each of these topics deserves a separate article, so I will send out future articles with detailed thoughts on creating good work and showing good work. But before I finish, I will give you a short preview on these two steps.
Creating Good Work
There are a couple ideas behind creating good work. I mentioned the value it provides if it helps someone make money or avoid a loss. That’s straightforward. There is also a second reason because there is tremendous value in producing a major report without anyone telling you to do, without anyone paying you to do it, without anyone giving you guidance on how to do it, and doing all of this with an uncertain payoff (maybe no one will read your stuff? It’s always possible…) At a minimum, you are showing the world you can produce quality work with your own initiative and hard work. If I had a candidate that did that, I could work around almost any other flaw. That’s a big piece of the value you need to realize exists. Most graduates won’t take that step because it’s a lot of work and not always clear how to accomplish this idea.
In my next article on creating good work, we will examine specific ways to create compelling content and. Here are some ideas to get you started:
1. What should you write about?
Ideally, you will have a few stocks or industries that naturally interest you. Don’t force the issue and write about something you have no interest in. It WILL show through on your report in the level of effort and detail. As mentioned previously, the best reports provide counterintuitive and original analysis. That’s incredibly hard to do, even for seasoned investment professionals. Don’t worry if it feels like you are just recapping a company earnings report. You will get better as you do this, so start early and you will improve your message. There’s always value in providing an industry overview, because those are longer reports that are often neglected because they take more effort and time. Just make sure to have a thoughtful conclusion or call to action at the end. A thorough overview is useful to many investors/consultants/bankers and again shows you can do the work under your own initiative.
2. What are the elements of good work?
The goal is always to become regarded as the “expert” in a certain industry, company, or issue (Fed, gold, economy, etc). At first, you won’t be very good and your analysis won’t be that differentiated. But as you practice and learn, your ideas and edge will produce value insights for readers. You have to take that first step and start producing. Don’t wait for the perfect time. People won’t care if your initial work is garbage because they understand the difficulty of this path. Trust me. Most people will forget the bad stuff you wrote and remember the good. As long as you are producing regular content, the good work will always stick around and dominate the bad work. Good work should be contrarian, timely, thought-provoking, and well-researched.
3. How often should you publish?
The short answer is the more the better, because the more you practice the better your work will become and the better chance of creating something valuable. If you just put all your effort into one piece a year and it’s off the mark, you’ve wasted that entire year on one “bet” and lost. Aim for once per week. It’s a predictable and steady balance of output that allows you to do adequate research and not rush publication. These reports can be 5-20 pages and need to be insightful. Length is less important. A short but timely call is worth more than a deep report that is 6 months late. Later, I will provide a schedule to plan your content. Why a schedule? It forces you to remain on task and removes ambiguity when it comes to thinking about what to publish.
4. What should your mix of content be?
Make a blend of shorter commentaries, mid-length reports (5-10 pages) and a few deep dives (20 pages) into bigger issues or industry trends. In a year, I would target 50 pieces: 20 short commentaries, 20 mid-length reports, and 10 deep reports.
5. Much more detail and guidance to follow in future articles…
Showing Good Work
You ABSOLUTELY MUST have your own website/blog
This is your platform and body of work. When people search for you, they need to see everything you have done in one place. Don’t make them search five different applications or websites to find your material. It’s absolutely fine to share your content on as many platforms as feasible, but always bring your content or links back home to your site.
Add personal history, interests, etc. The people who hire you are human too. They want to see you have a life and understand what makes you tick. Don’t worry about oversharing as you will know when you cross the line. There is nothing more effective than when a future employer finds they have a common interest with you. It provides an instant connection and empathy and puts you in front of your competitions. As you can see, if you start to do these little things right, you build a massive and insurmountable advantage.
LinkedIn is a must for all professionals and students. There is no other platform like it to not only share content, but be able to direct that content to your network.
Again, I will follow-up with more detail in future articles. These topics are too big to cram into one article, so follow me or send me a connection request to stay up-to date.
This topic is a big deal for both graduates and professionals. If I can help a few people land their dream job, my job will be done. Thanks for reading.