Hi Everyone, After a long search through the forum archives I decided to post my question here. It falls in the “career switch” category but there are some specifics that I would really appreciate comments on (and that I think are somewhat different from previous questions). The gist: I’m in my late 20s and finishing a Ph.D. in social sciences (not econ. but I have coursework in fairly advanced stats) at an Ivy league school. I had an opportunity to get a Ph.D. immediately out of college and I took it – but I’ve always wanted to work in equity research. So I’ve spent the past five years learning about finance on my own and getting ready to seek a full-time job in ER. I took the CFA exam mostly b/c I find it interesting (passed L1, working on L2). I’ve also had two jobs in equity research over the years but the problem is that due to my studies (only part-time work would fit me) they’ve all been with very small firms no one has ever heard of (one of which has since closed). In terms of skills, I have financial modeling experience, particularly with valuation. I’ve been applying for jobs the past six months but no luck. I’m posting here asking for advice b/c I’ve gotten some conflicting suggestions on what to do. I’ve had people look over my cover letters and there are no glaring problems there. The resume is also, from what I’ve been told, about as good as it can be given my experience. - One recruiter has said that I should go into IB first, be an analyst for two years, and then try to go straight to a hedge fund. - Someone else suggested I write to directors of equity research at various sell-side firms – I tried that but not much of a response. - Some have told me that I would be treated as if I had an MBA by recruiters; others have said I’ll be on the same level as someone who just got his undergrad degree and should look for entry-level jobs. I have no problem doing this if that’s what it takes but I’m trying to ascertain if that’s really what it takes. - Some have said that large firms are better b/c they would be better suited for taking someone who has an atypical resume. Others have said the exact opposite. I have a fair amount of contacts and my resume has gotten passed around but no serious interviews yet. As far as I can gather, the problem so far has been that for specific jobs (like, say, ER associate in Gaming/Leisure) employers are looking for people with specific industry exposure but for jobs where they’re looking to hire a generalist they’re looking for IB experience. I know it’s a tough market so it’s hard to know why I’m not having a lot of success and what I can do better. Any advice would be appreciated. I’m especially looking for bchadwick’s thoughts, as he seems to have had a similar experience. thanks in advance.
At my company, people have been hired out of a science Ph.D. program and out of med school (both at the research associate level in an ER capacity). I can’t speak for other employers, but unless you have an MBA, you wouldn’t be hired here at the analyst level. People in equity are eligible to be promoted to analyst without an MBA, though. And I don’t know whether these incoming RAs from grad school would be on a faster track to analyst level than someone coming out of undergrad. Probably not much.
Hi Markd. It’s true that my experience has some similarities, though I’m in my late 30s, which is an additional burden, AND I don’t have any ER experience with a firm at all, whereas, you have that, so I think you’re on the right track. My first reaction is not to give up after only 6 months. It can take a while. And networking is likely to be very important to you. It takes a while to dig through a network to develop a useful set of contacts. I’m still waiting for that big full-time bite, after nearly 2 years, although I have managed to do some consulting work that is relevant in an area that I have some knowledge about (Carbon trading and climate change stuff), and that helps. I’m also finding that there is more demand for what I can do in strategy role, because I was a university professor at one point in my life, and a consultant with a company at another stage, and those really helped me learn to try to explain things to smart-but-perhaps-not-exposed people. Oftentimes, that’s on the quant level, where my quant skills aren’t as good as the Math and Physics Ph.D.s , but many of those guys have never taught seriously (Joey has, which is why his explanations are really helpful), so they can only talk to each other, and not to the clients that actually invest in their products; and in addition, I have a lot of emerging markets and political analysis experience that they don’t have. If you did teaching at all during your Ph.D., you should try to play some of that up, because as products get more complicated, the value of people who can talk about them clearly and truthfully is increasing. For me, I’m concerned that strategy jobs won’t ever get me to managing money as a PM, but it is otherwise a very appealing role. My challenge is that people look at my CV and feel I’m way overqualified for entry level stuff, but the senior roles that I actually do get called to interview for fall through, because I don’t have enough experience. A catch 22 that can only be resolved by networking and putting in the effort to reproduce some of the experience yourself (doing your own writeup, trying to manage your own portfolio, with analytics, etc.). When I’m not consulting, I’m doing a *LOT* of extra reading, which is one of the reasons I am often suggesting specific books. For you, I think the key might be to do a few ER write-ups in an industry that you like and send them out with your resume. You should try to manage a portfolio of your own investments, if not with real money, then at least on paper. Also realize that there is seasonality to the job market (and January is a good time, as well as September), and that you just keep hammering to make your network deeper. Join your local CFA chapter (as a candidate, you usually can). Identify funds that you think fit your style of investing, and write to them. Do google searches for asset managers that have a Ph.D. in your field (there probably are some), and write to them and try to get an informational interview. Try your undergraduate alumni network: it takes a long time to get a Ph.D. (esp in social sciences) and your undergraduate classmates have probably been advancing in the meantime. The MBA route is not closed to you, but I think after all those years in school, you’re probably not into getting another degree. The IB advice from the headhunter isn’t bad, if you can get in, and don’t need sleep. A big key is to look for an edge, where your Ph.D. work can potentially add value. That may take time. For me, a lot of my environmental work and Kyoto protocol stuff turns out to be relevant to the growing carbon market, and then write some financially related analysis that brings in that expertise. All of a sudden, your Ph.D. doesn’t look like wasted time, it’s what gave you an edge. Also, you may need to apply for more senior roles than you think. Ph.D. economists, mathematicians, and physicists seem to be targets for senior quantitative analyst roles, even if they’ve never touched markets. In this case, “senior” has to do with your analytical ability, rather than your market experience, it seems. A career advisor pointed out to me that you are much more likely to get a chance from someone who thinks you might not have enough experience than from someone who thinks you’re overqualified, and if you can reassure them that you will come up to speed quickly, or already know more than your job history would suggest, that’s better. Hedge Funds appear to be more favorable to ex-academics than other parts of the industry, which tend to prefer MBAs. Keep chugging away at that CFA too. I just had an interview today where the guy completely missed that I’m a Level 3 candidate, and that turned around the interview 180 degrees (and I’m quite hopeful, actually!). Big firms vs. small firms… hmm… big firms tend to have bureaucratic hiring processes that will screen out pretty much anyone that doesn’t fit a particular checklist or cookie cutter, which is ironic, because they are better diversified and able to handle an unusual candidate. Smaller firms take a bigger risk with you, but tend to be more approachable. So if you can convince a small firm with your sample work that you’re good, they may be better (and allow you to use a wider array of skills). Or you can try to write directly to SVPs at larger firms, to bypass Human Resources. Human Resources is not your friend… avoid them like the plague. So, this has droned on a bit, but it’s what I wish I had known when I was starting out on this path, and I hope it helps. If you want to talk more offline, my email is brucebiz_wi at yahoo dot com, but be sure to put something noticeable in the subject line because I get a lot of junk mail at that address, and there’s a chance I could miss it otherwise.
Thanks a lot bchadwick! I’ll definitely contact you and keep you updated. I’ve certainly gotten the “catch 22” you speak of w/ being overqualified and underqualified at the same time.
Thanks for the nice post bchadwick. Your post is really insightful and also ‘encouraging’ for people in somewhat similiar situation sitting almost in the opposite side of the globe.
So here is the other side of the coin: If you are hiring people you get hundreds of resumes. A large class of resumes are from people like you - “Hi, I’m a smart guy as evidenced by my educational achievements and I know a lot about finance from reading the following books: (list that includes Graham, Hull, others)”. So then there are a few issues: 1) Smart guy doesn’t mean that much. If smart guy meant much, LTCM would be up and running, the National Academy could have a hedge fund that creamed everyone, academic departments would have wildly successful investment clubs, etc… I’ve been in the hedge fund world and academia each for about 10 years and there is no comparison about which group is smarter (academia wins hands down, not close except for a few ex-academics in hedge funds). 2) What you learned from those books (or frankly CFA studies) is hard to evaluate and even harder to value. For example, if you passed all your CFA exams I am sure that I could have a conversation about bond ratings and credit risk and you would understand what I was talking about. I’m also sure that if I presented you with a portfolio of bonds and said “Give me a risk summary”, it would be bland and uninsightful. That means I would have to teach you (which by the way, I did with one Ph.D. with no finance experience that worked out very well). 3) You have made an unusual choice in life. All I know about you from your resume is that you decided to devote 4-10 years of your life on something that you are willing to abandon for a career that makes more money. 4) Your resume probably looks odd. For example, that business about taking “fairly advanced stats classes” means that you took graduate psych stats classes which are just not worth anything in finance unless you build a ton of stuff around them. The last thing on earth I want to do is to try to convince you that you can’t make money by fitting ARIMA models to stocks or develop a different taxonomy from Bloomberg based on your factor analysis skills. Everyone in finance deals with this nonsense over and over again from newly minted academics. It’s very tiring. 5) Listening to job recruiters is useless. Those guys don’t know anything about anything except partial stories of why someone got hired somewhere. Having them give you a plan or review your resume or whatever is just useless. For the most part, they don’t want to talk to because what they do best is shuffle people from a job at one place to the same job at another place and pick up their commission. The advice they give you is more like excuse or blow-off than advice. So how do you deal with all of that… (bchadwick’s advice above is good and helpful so this is adding to it in a less nuts and bolts kinda way) 1) Why do you want to go into finance? The only thing good about working in finance is the money. The hours suck. The work has less intellectual content than the academic work you could do. Academic politics suck but don’t mean much. Finance politics suck more and mean everything. You need a credible answer to this question which is not “I appreciate the challenge of competitive capital markets” or “I’ve always been fascinated by capital markets”. Everyone has heard those hundreds of times and even if they were true, they are stomach-turning. 2) What have you done in capital markets? This sentence " I’ve also had two jobs in equity research over the years but the problem is that due to my studies (only part-time work would fit me) they’ve all been with very small firms no one has ever heard of (one of which has since closed)." is the most encouraging but baffling of your sentences. Nobody has ever heard of most finance shops and it doesn’t matter at all. I have worked for two multi-billion dollar hedge funds and I will bet huge that you have never heard of either of them. Someone just posted something on AF like “I have a job offer at AQR, has anyone ever heard of them?” (it’s a very well-respected fund). If I get a resume that says “Equity Research Associate at Blue Tomahawk, LLC” I don’t think “I’ve never heard of Blue Tomahawk”; I just assume it is one of thousands of reputable shops I have never encountered (obviously it would be better if you could write Renaissance instead of Blue Tomahawk). That the fund is closed has no bearing on anything - funds come and go. I was at a fund that went from 2.5B (that’s a B) to 0 in 8 months. It was still a reputable place to work. Your work experience at these places is more important than anything else you have done and on par with your Ph.D. and yet you are apologizing for it. Bad plan. 3) What is the credible story of how you can get from where you are now to successful analyst? You have to weave this story in your resume and everything you do and the story above isn’t close. For instance, I went from academia to hedge funds by writing some stuff on genetic algorithms and coming up with some cool portfolio management stuff based on it. Then I responded to an ad in the WSJ and got the owner interested in it. We never did anything with it, but we did plenty of other good things. The point is that I had a story that wasn’t “I’m a smart guy who likes the idea of working at a hedge fund”. Your work at Blue Tomahawk needs to be part of that story. That the fund closed down even works in the story “I was developing this really cool stuff but I was also doing a dissertation and the fund closed down so we barely used my stuff and I didn’t have a chance to work out the kinks. Since then I have thought about those kinks and think I have them solved”. This is a story I want to listen to. 4) What is the evidence? You’re an academic so do what academics do - write something. Except at upper end, it doesn’t matter where you publish it. I wouldn’t try for a top journal right away or ever unless you want to be academic. If you don’t have enough thoughts to be able to write something about them, you don’t have enough thoughts. Anyway, I think that you are thinking that if you write the right letter to the right person, you’re in. It might be true, but it’s not the right game to play. The cool thing is that there are gajillions of people out there playing the same game you are and just as, um, ineptly. You can separate yourself from them pretty easily by getting a theme, a story, a plan, and some perspective on the industry so you stand out from them.
That was very insightful JoeyD and I very much appreciate the candidness. Obviously the constructive advice was useful but your impressions of the resume summary/presentation were even better and I’ll certainly implement your ideas. I think you just saved me months of work down the wrong path. The one specific question for you is how to communicate the “story” that you are talking about to a potential employer. On the one hand your advice is that there is much more to it than “the right letter” but it strikes me that the only way to communicate some of the things you talk about are indeed via a cover letter. Weaving some of this into a resume is possible (especially with a published piece) but my guess is that most of it would have to go into a short, concise cover letter. The part I find puzzling about your comments is the difference in what you write versus some of the stories I hear from people who go straight into finance from undergrad – where the story is, literally, “I went to three interviews, got my offer, and then began the long journey of working more and harder than I think is healthy for me.” I’m not complaining here but I do wonder why the path for someone who’s in essence switching a career has to be so different. The pathway you suggest seems to require an original piece of research that shows promise for generating alpha in the markets which, in turn, suggests that the jobs I should be focusing on should be well above entry-level. Is that correct?
markd10027 Wrote: ------------------------------------------------------- > > The one specific question for you is how to > communicate the “story” that you are talking about > to a potential employer. On the one hand your > advice is that there is much more to it than “the > right letter” but it strikes me that the only way > to communicate some of the things you talk about > are indeed via a cover letter. Weaving some of > this into a resume is possible (especially with a > published piece) but my guess is that most of it > would have to go into a short, concise cover > letter. > You need to think even broader than that. Your work, resume, cover letter, publications, initial inquiries need to communicate the same theme (also this theme can be pretty specific - you will take 25 “No chance”'s + 1 job offer over 26 “maybes” and no job offer). > The part I find puzzling about your comments is > the difference in what you write versus some of > the stories I hear from people who go straight > into finance from undergrad – where the story is, > literally, “I went to three interviews, got my > offer, and then began the long journey of working > more and harder than I think is healthy for me.” > > I’m not complaining here but I do wonder why the > path for someone who’s in essence switching a > career has to be so different. The pathway you > suggest seems to require an original piece of > research that shows promise for generating alpha > in the markets which, in turn, suggests that the > jobs I should be focusing on should be well above > entry-level. Is that correct? I feel your pain and it may well be that as a social scientist you are more equipped to answer your own question that I am. But I know that you are in this odd situation where your students are getting jobs that you would be happy to take and you are certain that anything they can do, you can do better. I’ve felt it. It might even be true but there are a few things to think about: 1) Investment companies recruit from undergrad and business schools. They know how to do it, where the person fits in, what the person knows, how to train them, etc… That means they can efficiently work them into the enterprise. However, suppose that you went to a GM assembly plant with an offer to hand them a load of titanium wheel nuts with teflon coated threads that were uniformly superior to the steel wheel nuts they are using now. Everyone might agree that they are superior but nobody knows how they fit into the process so they will reject your offer. 2) You are 5 years older than those undergrads. When I was 22, I could drink until 3 AM and show up for math class at 8 AM. Now if I drink until 3 AM, I need a month to recover (I guess, I haven’t even made it that far in years). I was still pretty good at 29, but some of this unhealthy work stuff is harder to get 30 year-olds to do because you can’t and you don’t want to. 3) You tried to join the social scientist tribe, something happened, and now you want to join the finance tribe. Tribal rules don’t allow that kind of thing very easily. The jobs you should be focusing on are the ones which aren’t in the easy heirarchy of entry-level, assistant, associate, senior, etc… If there is an easy heirarchy, you won’t fit in. As bchadwick points out, hedge funds are much better adapted to this than big banks (a note on that is that you shouldn’t worry about pay or even ask about it - you are there to take risk and you are happy to take whatever salary they feel happy with and then get a bonus. I’ve actually had people in your shoes turn down job offers because some job recruiter who wants a bigger commission has told them the need [blah] as base salary. I tell them “Look my comp is closer to seven figures than five and this job recruiter won’t let you take the job unless your base comp is higher than mine?!” and it doesn’t move them. That’s really dumb.)
joey, this is the best thread i have read on this forum so far. thank you for sharing these insights. a must read for career switchers.
^I agree. Thanks to the posters above for helping to separate the wheat from the chaff. Ive read so many BS resume writing, getting hired, and career path articles, it is refreshing to finally hear some honest, practical advice.