A brief history
For the purpose of shedding light on the history of investment banking and why one might want to consider it as a career option coming out of uni, I’m gonna leave it up to “Rich Uncle Moneybags” to explain since I can do no better:
“Let’s begin with a brief history of the investment banking analyst program. Many years ago, Goldman Sachs realized that the vast majority of college grads actually have no fucking clue what they want to do after college. They realized they could create a two-year program that took really smart but insecure kids, throw a shit ton of money at them, promise them an “education” in finance, and work them until they wanted to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge. Then, at the end of the two years, those kids were free to leave and pursue other career opportunities. Well, this took off faster than a girl at the bar when her psychotic ex-boyfriend walks in, and every other bank on Wall Street had soon copied the program.”
As much as I’d like to tell you otherwise, I was pretty much that kid coming out of uni, perhaps minus the “smart” bit since I didn’t even graduate on a distinction average (which by the way, is what many people told me that I absolutely needed to even be considered by an investment bank and if I’d listened, this blog wouldn’t exist).
From the beginning, how I got my foot in the door
Four years into my five year commerce and law degree, I had no idea what I wanted to do other than knowing that I didn’t want to be a lawyer (story for another day perhaps). So with my commerce degree done and dusted after three years and a lack of law electives tickling my fancy, uni became a real dull.
Then came one particularly uneventful day, when it suddenly dawned on me that based on my mediocre grades and a lack of real job experience, I was not going to land a half-decent job if a job at all. I’d like to think that I had a moment of clarity then but in fact it was closer to a moment of panic. There was nothing special about that particular day, nor did anything happen to trigger such an epiphany. Regardless, I am convinced to this day that that was the single most important day leading up to me ultimately landing a job in banking.
With application deadlines fast approaching, many of my peers had far superior grades with even better extra-currriculars to match. It became obvious pretty early that my only edge was a burning sense of urgency and sheer desperation. So over a two-month stretch leading up to application close, I neglected my uni work completely (this was a conscious decision) and studied the job application process like it was the only thing that mattered. To say that it was a stressful time in my life would be an understatement. I recall studying interview questions for days on end before heading to the campus to seek more advice from friends, career counsellors and lecturers (or pretty much anyone who would listen). How I managed to maintain that level of focus and persevere through the boring bits on top of managing the string of rejections is beyond me but I’m just glad that I survived the process.
Ironically, I never even thought I’d get into investment banking to begin with. It certainly didn’t help that people kept reminding you that you had no chance with a credit average. I was only hoping to land an institutional banking role at one of the big four banks but the investment banking rounds came early, so I applied given it meant more interview practice opportunities.
Amidst the flood of rejection emails, I managed to get myself invited to two networking events which translated to two interviews. One of the networking events was with Company X. I am certain I was only invited to this event because an applicant or perhaps a few applicants decided to pull out last minute. I know this because I was asked to attend an event at 5pm and had only got the call at 3pm while in class at uni. I remember bolting home to grab my suit and arriving at the event late. Ultimately, I was invited to interview with Company X but the interview was such a disaster it left me feeling demoralised for an entire week. Here’s how it went down:
Nice reception lady escorting me to the interview room: “Make yourself at home and Bob will be right with you :)”
Me: “Thank you :)” *Feeling nervous but manageable at this point
*About 5 minutes later, Bob rushes into the room with a pile of CVs in one hand and a blackberry in the other.
Me: “Hi..” *Anxiety rising
*Bob says nothing, he looks at me, dumps the pile of CVs on the table in front of me and pours himself a glass of water, looks at me again but says nothing still, then proceeds to down the entire glass of water. *gulp gulp. I continue to look at Bob, avoiding eye contact will be a sign of low self esteem, can’t have that, but breaking eye contact ever so often to alleviate the awkwardness
Bob finally speaks: “Kevin, yes? Do you know why you’re here?”
It was more of a rhetorical question, Bob continues: “You’re here because I picked your file out of this pile here” *Bob points to the pile, which could’ve easily had a few hundred CVs in it. “I looked through your CV and I’ve got high expectations, kid. You’re not gonna let me down now, are ya?”
Me: “Of course not Bob. Thank you for…”
Bob interrupts: “Tell me, what’s seventy-nine squared?”
*I continue to make eye contact with Bob, but panic sets in, mind blank, unable to speak. Game over. Interview with Bob then proceeded for another 20 minutes and needless to say Bob left extremely disappointed, just unsure whether he was more disappointed in his own judgement or my performance. To make matters worse, I then went into the room next door and sat through another 30-minute grilling and then another before Company X was absolutely convinced that I was NOT the right candidate for the position.
After somewhat picking myself back up, I was then invited to my second and final interview, this time with Company Y. The interview went OK but it was far from spectacular. Without getting my hopes up and while waiting for a response from Company Y, I continued to apply and continued to get rejected by other non-IB companies and this went on for about another week. I then got a call from Company Y telling me that they’ll have an answer for me by Friday COB. Friday 5pm came and went and nothing, game over. All of this preparation had been for nothing. 5:30pm, nothing. 5:45pm, nothing. 6:xxpm, the phone rings, I pick up:
“Hi Kevin, we really like you and you performed strongly and we believe that you’re well positioned in securing a role with Company Y. However, the calibre of students applying this year has been particularly strong so we will not be able to give you an definitive answer until Monday latest. Would that be OK?”
Great. What this really meant was that Company Y had in fact picked their top six students for the year and just wanted to buy some time in case any one of them pulled out to go to another company. Still, better than being rejected. What it also meant was that for the duration of that weekend, my life consisted of checking my phone every 5 minutes for missed calls.
As it turned out, one or more of the top six did decide to go to another company and so sometime after 6pm the following Monday, I got the call.