If I could define one trait that helps women succeed in recruiting for finance positions, it would be tenacity.
Finance recruiting season, the lesser-known fifth season of the Earth, runs for nearly eight months, from March of your sophomore year through October of your junior year (for a traditional four-year degree). At its best? Exhilarating. At its worst? Stressful and discouraging.
Throughout this period, students run a rat race of keeping up with emails, meeting professionals from all over the industry, and in general casually ponder questions like “why am I here?”, “what drives me?”, and the all-encompassing “where do I want to be in five years and why?”.
My Recruitment Experience
An important distinction to make is that recruitment may not look the same for everyone. Universities can largely be broken down into target, semi-target, and non-target schools. These labels are mostly based in firms’ interactions with the school: how many alumni from that school are present within banks, whether the school hosts on-campus visits and interviews, and the general standing of the school’s business and liberal arts programs.
For the University of Michigan, banks began to come to campus in February. I, as a Political Science major, was not well-versed in finance. I applied for a diversity program and was accepted, and there I received mentorship and banking training. I did two rounds of interviews, which included a superday (a day full of final round interviews back-to-back) at the company’s headquarters. Three months later, I excitedly accepted a capital markets offer, having gained some experience with interviewing and networking along the way. Let me show you how I did it.
The first thing I learned was that it can be difficult to distinguish between the various branches of a bank if there has been no prior experience or interaction with the world of finance. I know that I felt overwhelmed walking into that first company event and seeing posters designating areas for investment banking, sales and trading (securities), capital markets, corporate banking, and other divisions.
Having gone through that confusion, my general advice is to:
1. Talk to an older student in the industry to help you understand the basic setup of a bank, and
2. Read up on it online- Mergers and Inquisitions is a favorite blog of mine for learning the basics.
You can also ask people at the recruiting events, but you don’t want to waste time learning fundamentals: rather, you should aim to learn what their motivations for working in their division are. Never miss a networking opportunity!
This leads me into my second piece of advice: optimize time spent networking.
Networking and Building Relationships
What is networking? Networking is, simply put, the process of establishing mutually beneficial relationships with people in your field of interest. The key to good networking is (paradoxically) to avoid making it seem like networking.
There are two parts to establishing this kind of relationship, and those are professional and personal.
Professionally, during networking events you need to have an “elevator pitch” for who you are and what you care about. At this stage of the process, the why of your interest doesn’t matter nearly as much, since you’re there to learn. You want to demonstrate your excitement to learn and your work ethic.
In my opinion, the personal part of this equation matters more than anything else. Being a good cultural fit for your dream bank will put you above and beyond the rest of the applications, and establishing a personal connection with a professional will ensure you get boosted through the process.
Demonstrate your confidence in yourself and be outgoing when you speak to everyone. Many people will subconsciously be running you through the airplane test (“if I was stuck with them for 5 hours in an airport, would I still be alive at the end of it?”).
The crucial final step to networking is to always follow up with your contact! Sending a quick thank you note and perhaps referencing something memorable you spoke about goes a long way to cementing a professional relationship with the people you met.
You can also include a quick “ask”, which can be asking for a brief coffee chat, scheduling a phone call, or even just asking to be connected to other people in more specific positions within the same company. Remember to always be cognizant of their time- they get emails like we get texts, so it’s easy for yours to fall through the cracks if it’s not short and sweet!
Next Steps- What Now?
So, you’ve read up on different divisions of finance, networked with some professionals to get a feel for the day-to-day environment, and understood where you think you might begin to fit. What do you do now?
One unique opportunity that we as women have is diversity pipelines aiming to bring top performing women into the banking spotlight. These processes require a typical application (see: Forté essays), resume drop, and sometimes rounds of interviews. They usually offer accelerated interviews and/or direct offers at the end of the program; I’ve experienced both.
These pipelines are extremely robust and not only are they a way to secure an offer, but they connect you to top female talent within your divisions of interest. They will most likely become your mentors and friends, so it’s extremely important to take advantage of the situation.
The best places to begin to look for these opportunities would be on bank and consulting firm websites, by contacting campus recruiters and attending career fairs to ask about such opportunities, and through older women in business who may have attended them in the past.
Networking is a crucial component of this process, because it puts a face on your resume and shows them firsthand what your passions are and why you’re applying before they even read your cover letter.
Congrats on finishing your survival course! You’re ready to go out there and kick some butt.
This is a great place to start for most freshmen and sophomores who are interested in getting ahead. For upperclassmen, networking is more important than ever! You’ll hear about valuable information first if you take the time to make personal and professional connections within your field of interest, as you may not necessarily have advantages like diversity programs.
Throughout this period, remember to take plenty of personal breaks and enjoy your life and hobbies. Your confidence and health will shine through and make a bigger difference than anything, so go ahead and be that fascinating and talented woman you’ve always been meant to be.
Finally, although this period may seem overwhelming, remember that it’s an exciting beginning to what will be a shining career. These days will pass sooner than you would believe- trust me. I’ve been there.
Anagha Mulpur is a junior studying Political Science at the University of Michigan with a Sustainability scholarship, intending to enter finance full-time. Her dream job would be antique book collector and seller: there’s no feeling like holding a hundred-year old book’s pages in your fingers, and no sight like a well-kept personal library.