Last week, I received a very nice email from an M.B.A. student looking for advice on how to break into Wall Street.
But when it came to tackling today's shrinking job market, I was stumped. Then I came across a gem of an article in WSJ Careers about how 'job seekers play down their credentials to avoid looking overqualified.'
I thought, well, that is just such idiocy. If there are recruiters out there telling job seekers to underplay their ambitions and qualifications, then certainly I could do better.
And that got me thinking back to an interview that clinched my first Wall Street job out of college, back in 1986. It was a second-round interview with a vice president at Goldman Sachs.
At the time, I knew little of Wall Street. My major was Russian and Soviet studies. And I remember at the time thinking, this interview is very important to my life-my first prospective 'real' job.
After the regular chit-chat and an engaging discussion - most folks loved the fact that I had lived and studied in the Soviet Union - the banker asked me, 'What will you do if Goldman Sachs or another Wall Street firm doesn't offer you a job?'
In other words, 'What will you do, if you can't do what you want to do?' It was a great question - not one that I, in my youthful arrogance, had considered.
And it is, of course, the very same question confronting many of you today.
Some of you may have been lucky enough to find a great full-time position on Wall Street or the perfect summer associate program. But many of you are still trying to find something, anything to scratch out a living or build a resume.
There is no 'right' answer to the question. But luckily, my response at the interview was probably as right as it could be. I said something along the lines of: 'I think I will get a job, but if I don't, I'll do whatever I can to work on Wall Street - I'll get a job on the floor of the exchange, do that for a couple of years. You name it and I'll do it.'
The interviewer was of the serious, taciturn type, but I could tell the answer registered. My answer showed that I had the drive and grit to serve Goldman Sachs faithfully - at least for the length of the two-year dogsbody analyst program.
Looking back, did I believe what I actually said? I'm not sure. But at the time, I certainly had plenty of moxie.
So here are my takeaways from the story:
#1:Do what you want to do - even if it isn't exactly what you want to do. Can't get a job trading distressed securities at a hedge fund or Goldman Sachs? Go to a smaller Wall Street broker. Can't find a job there? Go to a regional broker. Can't find a job there? Go to a fund that is buying up foreclosed homes in Las Vegas. You will probably end up learning more about distressed securities off Wall Street than on it.
#2:Always be selling yourself. I'm sure there may be a place where it makes sense to downplay your credentials. But I doubt that place is on Wall Street, especially when jobs are scarce. Wall Street still wants people who are hungry and pushy. It just doesn't want those who are also greedy and reckless.
#3:Know your stuff. When I started on Wall Street, there was no Internet, no CNBC and Lotus spreadsheets. Today, there is no excuse for not knowing what is going on in the markets. Read The Wall Street Journal and the FT daily. Take your registered rep exams. Be able to build Excel spreadsheets in your sleep. Be prepared or you will lose out.
#4:Make your own luck. Yes, I know - lame advice. But I have found there is truth to the cliche, that the harder you work, the luckier you get. I started studying Russian in 1982. I spent my days in Russian classes, language labs and 'intensive' summer programs. I practiced Russian pronunciation for hours, filled notebooks with countless vocabulary words and read Russian books, dictionary in hand. In the end, I was one of only a few dozen American undergraduates who got to study in Moscow in 1984. I didn't do all this thinking it would make a great resume builder for a Wall Street job. But it did. And that is how I made my own luck.
So, fellow M.B.A.s, hang in there as you go to Wall Street. Good luck in making your own luck.