Keep reading if this sounds familiar: You went to college for finance, and you did very well in your program, but for whatever reason, a prestigious university just wasn’t in the cards and now you’re concerned about your job prospects in the ultra-competitive investment banking world. If this story resembles yours, take comfort – there are many people in the same situation. The good news is that your hard work has put you in a position to be hired, regardless of where you attended school.
Overcoming the lack of a top-tier, Ivy League education isn’t easy, but there are proven strategies for what to do – and just as importantly, what not to do – to impress banks’ hiring managers and earn a great banking job. Here are a few of them.
What not to do
“If you’re trying to get your foot in the door, look for jobs at smaller banks.”
1. Don’t set your eye exclusively on the top banks. There are stories out there of black horse candidates leveraging their way into the upper echelons of the finance industry based on sheer moxie, but they shouldn’t be your model for success. The top banks primarily target the top schools, and their competition for talent is intense, so if you’re trying to get your foot in the door, look for investment banking jobs at smaller banks. They are great for gaining experience, and present you with the chance to move up after strengthening your resume.
2. Don’t push too hard while you network. There are a number of careers in which success weighs heavily on how well you network. Finance is one of them. The pressure to win the attention of superiors can occasionally go too far. You want to network aggressively, but not be aggressive while you network. The line between subtle persistence and several phone calls every night of the week is one you want to be careful about crossing, since it can seriously damage your reputation within the industry.
3. Don’t lie. This one should be obvious, but the temptation to stretch the truth – even just a little – about your finance experience, especially if you didn’t attend a top college, is one that captures plenty of new job applicants. Experienced hiring managers know when a candidate is lying, so don’t try to fabricate a story about how you’re an expert in international trade tariffs. It’s the hiring manager’s job to decide if your past is promising enough for their company’s future, and there’s no quicker way to derail that than lying. So just be honest about who you are and what you’ve done.
What to do
1. Even if you didn’t go to a great school, you need a great degree. Just because you can’t tell a hiring manager that you’ve got a 4.0 from Yale doesn’t mean that you can’t tell them you’ve got a stellar GPA from somewhere else. If you’re magna cum laude or better, you’re on the right track. It’s essential that you back up a strong academic record with additional projects, such as a thesis on an issue trending in the industry. You might also consider pursuing coursework at the graduate level. Whatever you do, make sure you highlight any and all relevant work on your resume.
2. Ensure your resume is a masterpiece. No pressure, right? Presenting yourself in the right way to corporate employers is all about professionalism and presentation. Information needs to be slick and office ready. That means your resume is organized from its margins to its font size, the language is lean and precise, and you’ve spell-checked everything multiple times. The incorporation of key words related to the company’s business – the kind that appear in its mission statement and website – is a great way of earning employer’s attention.
3. Great networking takes practice. Networking is key to a long, successful career. However, for new graduates, networking with your coworkers may not be an option – but networking with your classmates and professors is. You should stay in contact with your school’s alumni as well as its teachers. You never know who may be a valuable alley in your search for a quality job. Success comes from being yourself in the right place at the right time, and that only happens if you put yourself out there and embrace opportunities. Great networking skills, as with everything else, come from practice.