Kevin Flaherty graduated from Assumption College in May 2016 with a B.A. in Economics and Political Science. He is currently working as a Private Equity Analyst at Search Fund Accelerated, a Boston-based company that works to improve the odds of success for those buying businesses and for the businesses acquired. Below, Kevin shares his story and advice about finding work in banking and finance with a degree from Assumption.
So you want to start a career in finance? Let me guess, if you were like me you do not know where to begin. That is okay. I recently graduated from Assumption College in May of 2016. I was a double major in Economics and Political Science, with a minor in Philosophy. Up until junior year I was torn between going into finance or going to law school. I was able to do an internship at an investment firm in my hometown of Providence, Rhode Island the summer going into my junior year and realized I really enjoyed it. I returned the summer going into my senior year and had another positive experience. Going into senior year, I decided to start applying to investment banks, because I had thoroughly enjoyed my internships. I started my job search process at the end of September of my senior year.
What I did not realize was how unprepared I would be when applying to investment banks and what sorts of interviews would take place. The first thing I realized is that investment banks, large or small usually recruit from what they call “target schools” these schools are generally the top 15-20 universities in the country. At first I found this intimidating, because as much as I love Assumption and even though you gain an excellent educational experience at the school, the fact of the matter is it does not have as much name recognition as other larger universities. Do not let this deter you. If you are interested in getting into banking or finance you just need to be more creative. These next few steps are simple, but I found them helpful. They can be boiled down into three parts: being PROACTIVE, PERSISTENT and PREPARED.
The first thing I found helpful was looking up alumni that were in the field via LinkedIn. Being honest, there was not a lot, but that just meant that most of the guys were very willing to help. I would have quick informational phone conversations with these alumni to get a feel for the business and what the best ways to break in were. I was able to build a couple of meaningful relationships just by reaching out to alumni.
The next thing I found helpful was reaching out to people who were working in the roles I wanted. In my case, I would cold email everyone from a junior analyst to a managing director at investment banks across the country. I would send out 10 – 20 emails a day quickly introducing myself and asking to have a quick 10 minute phone call, while attaching my resume and cover letter. This works out to be a numbers game in the sense that if you email 100 people, only 10 agree to talk to you, but you only need one to hire you. Reach out as much as you can.
In conjunction with cold emailing, I began cold calling banks. I set aside time every Monday and Tuesday to cold call 180 banks. I would call 90 on Monday and another 90 on Tuesday. I did this for months, and the results were mixed. In the off chance you get an actual person on the phone instead of voicemail, be prepared to explain why you are calling in 20 seconds or less. With this tactic, I would advise you to be persistent and have tough skin. Persistence shows true interest in the firm, and tough skin is necessary because occasionally you will get a cranky banker who yells at you to not call back. It all comes with the territory.
The last piece of the puzzle is being prepared for finance/banking interviews. There are three separate parts which make them different from regular interviews. The first is the behavioral piece which is similar to most other interviews, for example a “tell me about a time when….” question. The next piece is the current events piece. This means you need to be up to date on current events, especially in the financial markets, and be able to speak intelligently and thoughtfully about what you infer will happen based on these events. The last piece is called the technical piece, which involves questions about specific finance related topics. For example, a common question is, “Walk me through a discounted cash flow analysis.” These questions need to be studied and prepared for, like you would a test in school. A great resource is wallstreetoasis.com.
After 8 months I was able to land another internship with a private equity firm in Boston, called Search Fund Accelerator. This firm is excellent for those in their junior/senior year, or those who have just graduated. The managers are all top 10 business school graduates with in-depth experience in investment banking or consulting. These managers help their interns with resumes, cover letters, and interviews; in addition they give them meaningful and valuable work that will be pertinent to helping them further their careers at other firms. I highly recommend this internship as it has opened the door to many more career prospects through networking and by gaining valuable experience. I have found that it has helped me land many more serious interviews than I had last year and I feel much better prepared to gain meaningful employment in the coming weeks or months. Going into banking or finance from Assumption will mean that you an untraditional candidate, but if you can spin this perspective to be an advantage instead of a disadvantage, and with a lot of persistence, a lot of hard work, some creativity, and a little luck you can break in.