Episode 2 - A Cold Dose of Reality, Part 2

The second episode in our weekly series on landing a job on Wall Street and navigating it once you get there

If you have not read Part 1, go back and start with that. If you are pressed for time, here is a two-point summary:

  • To get a job in finance you need to sound like you already work in finance. This will show everyone from recruiters to bosses that you are serious about this vocation. They will give you a pass on knowing the finer points. But if you don’t know where the S&P 500 closed yesterday and other basic information you will just look like an idiot.
  • Regardless of whether you want to be an investment banker, money manager, analyst or CFO, you need to follow business news every day. End of story.

Now, a few more pointers to get you going in the right direction:

#4. Open a brokerage account and buy a stock or ETF. Seriously – minimum balances are low and there is no better way to learn how markets really work than to put your own money in the game.

I always ask young people who want a job on Wall Street if they have done this basic step. Very few have. That’s ridiculous. Open an account with $100, buy a share of a stock you like. The sooner you do that, the quicker you will stand out in an interview by mentioning this fact.

#5. Read a book about business strategy. This can be anything from a profile of a leader you admire to the history of a company or industry.

This can also serve as a useful litmus test for your real interest in a career in finance. If you read 3-4 books about important business leaders and companies and want to keep going with more, you will find a Wall Street career very rewarding. If you don’t, think hard about doing something else with your life.

#6. Write your own business plan and try it. Back in college (pre-Amazon, pre email, pre Internet), there was one fellow we called “Dollar Bill”. Yes, his first name was William but his nickname came from the fact that he was always thinking about his next side hustle. He sold parents on sending their young collegians care packages that he assembled in his dorm room, for example.

In the last 30 years it has become a lot easier to be your own Dollar Bill. The Internet makes it easy to market anything and everything. Try starting your own business, alone or with a few friends. It doesn’t have to be the next Facebook or Dell (both started in dorm rooms, though).

You want the experience of producing something people are willing to buy. Best case, it will be the next Facebook. Worst case, you have a story to tell in an interview. Finance people love real world business cases, and it will show you have drive to succeed.

#7. Watch CEO interviews online. Great corporate leaders must be both brilliant visionaries and effective communicators. They use a very particular language to express their view of the world, and watching them is one easy shortcut to learning that skill for yourself.

Here’s one place to start: go to YouTube and watch Steve Jobs pitch the original iPod back in 2001. It is a master class in business development. Link here

#8. Develop some subject matter expertise in an investment topic. One way to make the challenge of learning finance more approachable is to focus on one industry or other specialization. For many of you, that will be technology since it pervades your life and you understand the business models from using them daily. The downside is many other people feel the same way so there is a lot of competition here. So consider other options as well.

Are you from a foreign country? Leverage that inherent expertise by learning more about your regional economy and investment opportunities there.

Perhaps your parents or family friends work in the medical sciences – ask them what they read to keep up on their vocations. Health care is a growing field, after all. See what developments excite them and research them.

#9. Cast a broad net for inspiration. The next big thing is never on the front page of a news website. Ask your professors (especially those who also work in the private sector) what they think is interesting right now. Go look at crowdfunding sites to see which ideas are well oversubscribed. You get the idea – look where others are not.

#10. Talk with anyone and everyone. The single best thing about a Wall Street career is that it encourages broad intellectual curiosity more than almost any other track you might consider. With that comes a challenge: you have to constantly ferret out new information, most of which resides in other people’s heads.

Your kid sister may have the next big idea in social media because she uses it every day. Your granddad may know more about the health care system than a Ph.D. in public policy. Talk to everyone.

Next week, we’ll have of a monthly series to help you hone everything we’ve talked about in these last 2 notes.  

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Your first Wall Street mentor