Turning the Corner Onto Wall Street
Applying for finance jobs is a bit like applying for college: You have your reach, target, and safety options. Except it isn’t as likely to find a “safety” firm as it is to find a safety college. Of the estimated 1.5 million people graduating from four-year colleges, hundreds of thousands will try to go into finance. It takes a lot of time, effort, and savvy to get Wall Street to notice you-the one, individual you-back.
A generation or two ago, money-making jobs students hoped to land fell more into the medicine and law categories. Nowadays people want to make money, and they want to do so right out of college-not after another four years of medical school, plus residency, or after three years of law school. The two industries with the most stable right-out-of-college promise seem to be finance and tech, and many tech jobs require specific skill sets, like engineering or computer science, even at the BA level.
On the finance side, even those who do elect to (or find the need to) attend an MBA program, it is a year shorter than law school, and many first-year MBA students already have two years of Wall Street analyst salary lining their pockets. And most finance firms are not major-specific in their career recruitment; experience and personal skills matter more than a “business” concentration. Especially for those who already have student loans taking bites out of their bank accounts, finance starts to sound like an ideal industry choice.
But don’t finance jobs equal sitting at a computer all day digging through Excel spreadsheets? Most any job today requires some face-time with a computer screen. And while yes, most finance jobs do involve a close relationship with Microsoft Excel, there is also a lot more to the story. Most positions involve a great deal of research-whether it’s of stocks, commodities, companies, or industries-and an even greater deal of analytical thought. Being an analyst is not simply a matter of plugging numbers into Excel formulas.
So let’s start with the reaches. In investment banking, these would be bulge-bracket banks-the world’s current nine most-profitable firms. This list includes Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley. These are also the banks with the most stringent and hardest-to-breach recruiting processes. If you make it in and get an offer, congratulations. If you don’t, welcome to a very large crowd. Target banks might be more boutique ones. These are smaller banks with smaller staffs, so they are not necessarily looking to hire x number of analysts for every graduating class like Goldman would. Their recruitment cycles are thus less stringent, and especially if you are able to make a personal connection, it may be a slightly easier in.
This breakdown is only for investment banking. Each finance sector-from sales and trading to consulting to private wealth management-has its own hierarchy of companies. As with applying for college, if you only shoot for the ones at the very top, you might end up staying at home for the next four years. And as much as you might still appreciate mom’s cooking, that is not the most desirable option.
Wall Street is no easy street to find a parking place, but once you do get one, you will know you have earned it and deserve it. And after a couple of years, you will be able to park a very nice car.