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I’ve been in the industry for several years and I’ve come across every type of situation. I’ve met guys from top schools who work in bulge bracket firms, but I’ve also met people from those same schools who can’t seem to land a great job. Conversely, I’ve met guys from non-target schools who managed to get into a top firm.Simply stated, I do recommend you attend the best school you can get into. Being the underdog is no fun and even if you “break in” it will take longer to get where you want to go. As well, there are many employers you’ll meet along the way that are very rigid about the “rules”. So even if you get in, it may still be harder to get promoted or find a better job later on. Therefore, the best solution is to attend the best school. This leads me to the first rule:
Rule #1: Remember the Michael Jordan Rule: Jordan was the best basketball player of his era. Charles Barkley was arguably #2. On any given night, Barkley might outscore Jordan. However, NO ONE would ever remember Charles Barkley as the best player of his era. The same rule applies for b-schools. There are many schools that rank “top 20” and claim they are almost as good as the top b-schools in the country. However, they are the Charles Barkley of b-schools. Even if they are that good… they’ll never get you the same amount of respect in the job market.
The next set of rules are suitable for people who don’t end up going to target schools:
Rule #2: Start small and work your way up: If you can’t land a job as an FX trader out of school (and it’s your ideal job), try to get a job as a commercial FX trader. Commercial traders are people who sell FX to mid-size companies under $100 million in size. You might not be able to leverage that towards an IB associate position, but if a bulge bracket firm is looking for an institutional FX sales or trader, they will look at someone with mid-market FX sales experience. I was told this is the case by an MD on an institutional FX desk who was looking to hire a junior trader!
In similar fashion, if your goal is to do M&A in a bulge bracket firm, you should get a job doing M&A at a boutique or an accounting firm. The same rule applies for lending: a commercial banker will eventually be able to land a corporate lending job. It takes 2-3 years of experience and a bit of patients but you will eventually get in. Also, remember that your time spent doing mid-market IB/FX/lending will not necessarily count as work experience in the big leagues.
Rule #3: Continue obtaining designations: Unlike b-schools which can vary in terms of credibility, nobody questions the value of an accounting designation or a CFA. All these things help! Keep trying to obtain additional letters after your name and your ability to land interviews will surely improve.
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