When I graduated from college in 2005 or so it took me a while to find a job.
This was mostly my own fault because I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and didn’t put in the time to actually figure out the type of role or company I was interested in.
I had a basic business management degree from a liberal arts college with some minors in economics and accounting sprinkled in, so I knew I wanted to do something with numbers.
And I had a semester-long internship with an investment research firm so the markets were intriguing to me. I wasn’t smitten with the investment business right off the bat, though, because I witnessed so many conflicts in how this firm conducted their research.
So I interviewed with a handful of banks, hoping to find an entry-level analyst role. I quickly learned in these interviews I was a horrible fit for these jobs. The roles had “analyst” in the title but every single interviewer wanted to know how I felt about sales. Selling was completely out of my wheelhouse1 so I got denied by 3-4 different big name or regional banks. Then there was a real estate role in Chicago didn’t work out.
I was getting desperate.
After a few months of sending my resumes around unsuccessfully, I was introduced to a small institutional consulting firm in Detroit that had an opening for the type of entry-level analyst work I was looking for. The job paid very little but was worth it because it offered the opportunity to learn the institutional asset management business inside and out.
I went in knowing next to nothing about the markets, asset allocation, the different investment strategies, or really anything to do with the world of investing. My wife went back to school after undergrad and we lived in different cities during before getting married so I basically used this time to play catch up for all the stuff I didn’t learn in school.
I read every book on investing I could get my hands on and started studying for the CFA to make up for lost time.
When my wife and I got married we decided to relocate so I began the interview process all over again. I learned a few things from my mistakes the first time playing this game but was still unsuccessful. I landed interviews with other consulting firms, a handful of endowment funds, banks, and even a couple advisory firms.
None of them panned out. Either my experience wasn’t right for the roles or they were looking for something else.
I now had some experience under my belt but I was still having a hard time finding a new role. As our wedding date approached I was becoming increasingly stressed out.
Then a friend of a friend passed my resume around to a few investment firms they knew to see if anyone was hiring. None of the firms were in the market for new talent but it just so happened that a local nonprofit was beginning a search for someone to help run their endowment fund. And my resume landed on the desk of someone at a local investment shop the very same day my future boss at the endowment asked if they knew anyone well-suited for this new role.
I was basically the only one in West Michigan who had any experience in the institutional space so it turned out to be such a perfect fit they never even bothered posting it on the job boards or their website. My first day in the investment office for the endowment fund was the day after we got back from our honeymoon.
I spent 10+ years learning (and un-learning) everything there was to know about the nonprofit investment space, got my CFA designation, knocked out my MBA, started a blog, got a book deal, and eventually landed my dream job where I currently reside with Ritholtz Wealth Management.
Here are some takeaways as I wax nostalgic on my career path:
Things happen for a reason. I don’t believe everything happens for a reason but most things do. At the time, I was miserable getting denied job after job as a young buck. But looking back on it now, I would have been miserable if I would have gotten any of those roles because they weren’t the right fit for me or my personality.
It’s easy to come up with excuses when things aren’t working out, but I also wasn’t prepared for most of the roles I was looking for, nor did I have any connections to make things easier on myself. It’s not always that the deck is stacked against you or the system is unfair when things don’t work out.
Sometimes the reason things aren’t happening is that you’re not making them happen.
Don’t worry about how much money you make when just starting out. Most of my friends from college were making way more money than me in their first jobs. But I knew it was worth it because I was learning so much. My lack of pay was almost an investment of time in myself. I knew it would pay off down the road.
More money can make your life easier but when you’re young you have to remember you’re playing the long game. Sometimes the job that pays less can be more beneficial for your career and your happiness.
The learning process is just beginning when you get your first job. The first 2-3 meetings at my first job showed how little I really knew about portfolio management and the markets because it was like everyone else was speaking a different language.
I was never a big reader in college but quickly understood I would have to become one if I ever hoped to do anything with my career. Reading widely is one of the best things you can do to further your career.
You don’t have to have it all figured out right away. Colonel Sanders franchised KFC at age 62. Rodney Dangerfield didn’t become a well-known comedian until age 46. Ray Kroc was a milkshake salesman until buying out McDonald’s at age 52. Julia Child’s first cookbook came at age 50.
Everyone wants instant gratification these days so there’s this assumption you need to know exactly what you want to do with the rest of your life straight out of the gate. It’s rare to find the perfect role or career path when you’re young.
Find a way to take control. The reason I started writing in the first place is that I wasn’t satisfied with the career trajectory I was on. I needed a place to vent. My thought process at the time was this is how I could take control, even in a minor way. And even though I never thought in a million years a blog would completely change my career path, that’s exactly what happened.
I know others who relentlessly built up their network to find new opportunities.
If you want to improve your career path then don’t wait for something to magically happen or someone to help you out of the blue.
Make it happen for yourself.
1It was only later on in my career that I realized everyone is in sales in some form or another.