Getting an internship with a large Wall Street firm is notoriously difficult.
These are even lower acceptance rates than the nation's most exclusive universities. So if you're a student coming from a "non-target school," (not top tier school) you're going to have your work cut out for you.
Wall Street's bulge bracket banks are known for recruiting from the most elite universities, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and other Ivy League schools. However, some of the biggest names in finance came from unexpected backgrounds.
Alexey Loganchuk is the founder of Upgrade Capital, an organization that aims to change the way firms recruit new employees. Loganchuk told us about a couple ways to differentiate yourself, based on what he's seen.
Here's how to give yourself an edge, regardless of your education.
1. Form relationships with any connections you have.
No matter where you went to school, chances are you'll find some alumni who went into finance. Find those connections, and build them into strong and lasting relationships. This doesn't mean just sending them an email every now and then, but being on a personal, first-name basis. Go beyond just networking. One of the most valuable assets you can have is someone in the industry who is pulling for you.
Loganchuk encouraged students to reach out to financial firms to learn more or create those contacts. Financial firms are usually very willing to send representatives to speak with students. Even if you are not from a target school, don't be afraid to call up some of these firms and show your interest.
This also applies if you want to turn an internship into a full-time job. Having someone who sponsors and mentors you will help not only in grabbing a position, but for your future career advancements as well. "In general, it's an uphill battle for anyone," Loganchuk said. "In the end, it really comes down for everybody to making personal connections."
2. Practice for the job you want to have.
Learn as much as you can on your own, and read everything you can about markets and investing. This should come from an intrinsic appetite for knowledge and figuring out how the market works. The legendary investor Bruce Kovner went from being a taxi driver to a hedge fund associate after proving he had read more financial works than those interviewing him.
"The best student investors I've met so far, it's kind of absurd, they literally have read 50+ books on investing," Loganchuk said. "This one kid that placed into J.P. Morgan read 35 books just last summer."
3. Determine and cultivate a specific skill set.
Figure out where you best fit into the industry, what skills you need, and then work on developing that set of skills. Loganchuk said many beneficial relationships with industry insiders come from demonstrating value in a unique way.
He said students have the tendency to treat internships like classwork, and focus on only following instructions. Then, they end up shooting themselves in the foot, by doing exactly what made them successful in school.
"When you're dealing with the trading floor and investments, these people aren't your professors. They don't want to sit there all day and teach you, and spoon-feed you information," he said. "This might sound very simple, but it's something which the overall majority of interns fail at."
4. Focus on the way you present yourself to firms.
Financial firms are also looking for someone who has intellectual humility, who can accept criticism and work through it, Loganchuk said.
However, another part of success is knowing when to keep calm after a loss. Loganchuk said one intern he knew through Upgrade Capital lost a fair amount of money on a trade because of sudden geopolitical events. The student went around the entire floor apologizing, "basically being a bit of a wreck."
"You're not helping yourself if you're actively presenting yourself as having failed in some way," he said.
Learn to walk the line between accepting bad trades and arrogance.
5. Get involved with firms and portfolio managers early.
Loganchuk said one action students can take is emailing portfolio managers to ask for feedback. If you have an investing idea that's relevant to a certain firm, send the portfolio manager your work. "If the work is solid, a fair percent of the time the PM responds," he said. "And you can do this regardless of where you go to school."
"Now, if your email reads @princeton.edu or @umissouri.edu, that might make a small difference," Loganchuk said. "But it's not as huge as people might think. Especially at smaller firms. Larger firms, from what I've seen, can be much more stubborn, much more elitist."
Good luck out there.
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