AN EXPERIENCED M&A BANKER ANSWERS YOUR QUESTIONS: I am British but have switched into a non-target school in the US and banks won't take any notice of me
In my first year (2009/10) of undergraduate study of BSc (Hons) Accounting and Finance at Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, United Kingdom, I secured an upper second class honors distinction.
I was extremely proactive about pursuing an Investment Banking career at one of the bulge bracket banks and was invited to be a part of Spring Insight programs at Bank of America Merrill Lynch and PricewaterhouseCoopers. I also represented the Warwick University in Morgan Stanley's Portfolio in Peril competition at their London Headquarters and Bank of America's eFinancialCareers Investment Challenge. My team outperformed most other teams in both these competitions.
During the summer break, I had to decide between continuing my education at Warwick University and immigrating to the United States. I chose the latter and subsequently enrolled at the University of Georgia. Despite the university's nationally acclaimed business school, recruiting in the south has not really kicked off meaning the university does not have as much exposure. Investment Banks primarily recruit from Ivy Leagues and other universities in the North / North East.
In the UK, internships can still be secured on the basis of merit, however in the US its all about networking. Since I am new to the US, I am still running around and trying to meet as many bankers as possible. You always need to convince an analyst or associate in the bank to vouch for you and get HR to retrieve your application from the resume waste basket otherwise there is no point in applying. Realizing that I am new to the US environment, in a school with a bad location and close to non-existent alumni network on Wall Street, how can I skip layers of HR, get noticed and be given a chance to prove myself like I had been given in the UK? Since I am in my senior year, I am in desperate need of guidance.
Thanks for your question. This is a tricky situation which I’ll try my best to help you with based on my experience in the City – I’ve made it through a major investment bank’s recruitment process and have sat “on the other side of the table” carrying out graduate interviews.
You’ve correctly observed that University of Georgia is not a target school for investment banking recruiters, especially in the current environment. You are right to note that networking is key to getting hired, and that what this means in practice is that “You always need to convince an analyst or associate in the bank to vouch for you”.
Bearing that in mind, I would suggest the following:
1. Emphasise your positives. You seem to have done really well whilst still in the UK, being part of several Spring Weeks and being successful in a stock-picking competition with BofA, a decent-sized bank. Explain all of this well on your CV and put BofA in bold. Ensure that you make the best of both the experience gained and contacts made during this time.
2. Work with the negatives. Yes, Georgia will be perceived as a backwater by New Yorkers. But go with it – make a joke about good ol’ Southern boys or talk about some of the state’s sports teams, and then talk about Coca-Cola as a huge brand name from Atlanta. Why not parlay that into some thoughts on Coca Cola as a stock pick?
3. Make a networking plan of attack.
4. Follow up with the bankers you met during your first year. If you’ve done well it is likely that they will remember you. It doesn’t matter that they are London-based; email them concisely explaining your problem and asking for referrals to NYC-based colleagues. I’m pretty sure they will know who their US counterparts are.
5. Explore unconventional avenues, since leads can come from unexpected places. Send a short email out to family friends (even if they don’t work in finance) as almost everybody knows someone who works in banking. To maximise chances of a quick response, if it’s a personal email address, send it out at the weekend, and if a work one, Monday early afternoon.
6. You will probably have to spend some time in NYC at some point in order to successfully network. Plan a trip there and use every single contact developed by your networking strategy to maximise your opportunities to meet bankers. Often a quick chat with someone in a bar popular with traders or analysts is all it takes to get the referral you need to skip the layers of bureaucracy and HR. You might even try the sandwich board option:
7. “Act as if”. There is a famous scene in the film Boiler Room in which Ben Affleck’s character explains that in order to succeed you need to act the part of a successful banker. The reason recruiting is limited to Ivy Leagues is because it’s a screen to remove applicants who not only aren’t up to the part intellectually (there are clearly plenty of academically rigorous state colleges in the US) but also to cross-reference for a cultural fit. So if you want to reassure your prospective team that they are making the right decision by taking a risk on a candidate from outside of their target group, you will have to fit in. You certainly seem to have the right attitude already.
8. Lastly, don’t drop the ball academically. Your grades will need to be excellent since you are already at an academic disadvantage, in branding terms if not in actual quality of teaching, which I’m sure as you have noted is very good.
I hope these points will help you solve your problem. Good luck.