Photo: Edward Maurer
Most of my friends are going into banking. Not because pitch books and road shows are their thing, of course, but it opens a lot of doors. 100 hour work weeks, camaraderie in the form of all-nighters editing PowerPoint slides and sharing Seamless meals, and having no skin in the game never really sounded appealing to me, but I guess to each his own, right?Needless to say, it turns out I’m not the only one who’s not overly excited about the idea of working on the sell-side, and this includes my friends lucky enough to get return offers or full-time gigs at their respective banks/research houses. But as most of them will tell me, “starting on the sell side is the quickest route to the buy side, and I’ll be a hedge fund rockstar in just two years!”
Wait a second… wouldn’t the quickest route to the buy side be… starting on the buy side? Or was I missing something?
Fortunately, I wasn’t. And if you’re sure you want to be investing for a living, going straight to the buy side is the best career move you can make. With recruiting all but over, I’m happy to be starting my career with the job title “Research Analyst” and doing something I’m actually interested in doing.
Anyone interested in making a career out of investing should be trying to make this jump. The argument that banking or sell-side research makes you a better investment analyst is bullshit. Being an investment analyst makes you a better investment analyst. But if you’re planning on interviewing for the buy-side right away, there’s a few things you need to be prepared for. I’ll try to highlight a few of those below.
1. Have two stocks to pitch. And know everything there is to know about them.
If this sounds hard, you’re not actually as interested in investing as you thought you were. If it sounds fun, keep reading. You should be able to explain exactly what these companies do in very simple terms (if they don’t already know them), be able to paint the picture of why the market is divided on the stock, identify the catalysts in the short and long term that make this a great business that will eventually realise its intrinsic value, and provide some intelligent thoughts on valuation and why the stock is worth investing in today. I’d stress illustrating the long-term growth profile of the company over anything else, and make sure you highlight what the drivers are of that growth. Analysts want to know that you look at all aspects of a company, so mentioning management, industry economics, and company-specific competitive advantages are all essential. On valuation, you don’t have to be an absolute wizard but you should know the typical industry multiples, show where the company is undervalued relative to competitors, and have some insights into how the company manages its cash flows and if there is a shareholder-friendly focus coming from management.
Obviously having one stock to pitch is always important, but I strongly recommend two. In a standard superday you’ll most likely be talking to several analysts individually, and pitching them all on the same thing isn’t a bad thing, but knowing just one business is something anyone can do. If you mix it up, it’s that much better. You’re likely not going to be asked for more than two ideas in any interview, so knowing three or four is probably not as beneficial as the jump from one to two.
2. Have a reasonable (and legitimate) explanation for why you’re passionate about investing.
A lot of the decision-making around who to hire coming straight out of undergrad seems to come simply from who actually wants it the most. Often, the simple “walk me through your resume” question gets substituted in buy-side interviews for a slightly different question, “tell me why you’re here.”, The answer isn’t too different since either way you’re trying to lay out a narrative, but if you can’t point specifically to your experiences in the past (both on and off your resume) that show why you’re a good fit for an investment firm right away, it’s probably not going to work out. This is where having personal investing experience comes in handy, as you can usually point to that (but be ready to talk about your investments, see #1), or being part of some investing group may be just as good if it’s not bullshit. Either way, you need to come across as someone who’s completely OK with sitting at a desk doing directed research and crushing 10-Ks for a year or two, so conveying a strong interest is actually important.
3. Be prepared to take lower compensation at first. Trust me, it’s justified by better hours and over-justified by a much higher ceiling as quickly as a few years out.
Even if you think you’re better than Warren Buffet, you’re in your early 20s and haven’t proven yourself to anyone yet, so don’t expect any more than you’d be getting had you worked on the sell side. In fact, it may suck but you should probably expect less. Some of my offers were pretty bare. Even among respected firms 70k base with 10k signing and 10-15% bonuses for the first year are pretty standard. And for someone just starting out, that’s going to be plenty. Most places will pay less, some places may pay more, but it’s not about your first year’s pay. What’s more important is what your ceiling looks like and how quickly you are going to gain experience and hopefully move up the ladder to a position with more responsibility. Though it’s easier to make 150k in 1-2 years in banking, it’s easier to make 400k (or way, way more) in 4-5 years at an asset manager or hedge fund.
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