When I was a senior in college I moved to Philadelphia for a semester to take part in an internship program. The program has relationships with hundreds of companies in a wide variety of fields all around the City of Brotherly Love so it was a good opportunity to gain some much-needed experience.
To get us ready for the post-school job hunt we had to set up a minimum of 3-4 interviews to take some reps with that process.
There were small college students from across the country taking part, most of whom knew exactly the types of roles and companies they wanted to work for.
I had no clue.
I distinctly remember a student describing to me his goal of working for an investment banking firm and explaining in detail what that role would entail. It was at this point I realized I knew next to nothing about what I wanted to do.
I hadn’t researched a single company, role or industry to prepare myself for the start of my career.
After a minor panic attack, a teacher in the program helped me set up a bunch of interviews to give me a sense of what was out there for an introvert like myself who was marginally interested in finance and numbers.
Somehow I lucked into a role with an investment research firm despite knowing zilch about the markets. On the first day I was handed a book that was basically stocks and bonds for dummies.
Luckily the research analyst I worked for took me under his wing, introduced me to a Bloomberg terminal, taught me how to use Excel and set me on my journey of learning about the markets.
Looking back on it now I can’t believe how naive I was or how little preparation was put into figuring out what I was going to do after college.
I’ve had the opportunity to speak to a number of college classes in recent years and today’s young people are so far ahead of where I was at that age.
A few weeks ago I talked with two students from Michigan State University who set up a podcast to interview people who work in the finance industry to give themselves and their classmates a better understanding of some career options in this space.
I love the idea and wish I would have had similar resources or knowhow when I was in their position.
They asked me for some thoughts on breaking into the financial services industry as a young person so I wanted to expand on those thoughts here:
Become a life-long learner. To make up for my lack of knowledge I spent the first few years of my career asking everyone I met in the industry for their favorite 2-3 investment books. I made a list and checked them off one by one, highlighting and taking notes along the way.
And one of the best parts about non-fiction books is the references which give you other books to explore. Eventually this led me to read outside the world of finance which turned out to be even more helpful than the books on markets.
Understand the table stakes. The students in the MSU wealth management program come out of undergrad ready to take the CFP exam which is a huge leg up when you have no experience.
The CFP for financial planning or CFA for portfolio management aren’t prerequisites for finding work in the world of finance but many companies now expect you to have or be working towards one of them just to get an interview.
This is especially important for those who don’t have good networks or prior experience. It shows you’re willing to put in the work.
Practice Your Elevator Pitch. I’ve never been good at sales because it’s not part of my personality. Small talk has never been my thing so I had to work on telling better stories about myself, my skills and abilities.
This required practice because it wasn’t something that came naturally to me.
It may feel awkward but you should practice your answers out loud ahead of time by reciting them to a friend, spouse or mirror. Videoing yourself can also force you to see things you need to button up.
This extends beyond interviews to sales pitches and presentations when you’re on the job.
You have to work at this stuff.
Don’t expect to find your dream job right away. If I could hop in Doc Brown’s Delorean and give my 21-year-old self a map of my career path the younger version of me probably wouldn’t believe it.
There were so many lucky breaks, job changes and jobs I didn’t get along the way that I never could have planned it out this way.
It’s impossible to map out your career from day one because life is unpredictable. Don’t worry if you don’t have it figured out right away.
I certainly didn’t.
Listen to the entire podcast here for some more thoughts: