Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Real Deal

Well it's 4:23am on a Tuesday morning and it's been at least 65 days since I had a day off. I guess this is banking. Since I last wrote I moved to New York, went through training, and started real work, did some deals, got a job in private equity, and am just starting into my second year.

I have to say that these are really interesting times to be doing investment banking. It seems like the M&A markets are starting to come back, and there's a lot of talk about IPOs making a comeback as well. It's by no means time to say that we're free and clear of all the mess we've been in (just look at the commercial mortgage markets!), but finally it seems like deals are starting to get done again.

I haven't written in so long simply because I've been too busy for it, but writing about my experiences is actually pretty enjoyable for me, and it's a good way to keep a record of what it's like in banking. It's pretty strange to think of all that's happened in the last few years since I started really getting serious about getting into the world of corporate finance.

Just today I was reflecting on everything I went through over the past three years to get here. It's amazing to think that I actually pulled it off, and it's clear that a lot of it wasn't at all because of my own abilities but just a factor of putting myself out there and being in the right place at the right time. I have noticed, though, that the harder you work, the more "luck" you seem to have.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Sorry for the long break in posting. It's been a busy semester, but lots of good stuff has been going on. A team of my friends and I won the school's Private Equity Case Competition. Teams had to pick a company, propose an LBO of the company, then create a presentation and present to judges about the deal.

Of course there might be mistakes and errors - feel free to point them out if/when you find any. It's the first time any of us had built a three-statement LBO model, as well as a dividend recap, so it was a great learning experience. Check out our presentation and model below!

Coach Final Coach Final The Analyst

COH_Model_v.7 COH_Model_v.7 The Analyst

Saturday, March 21, 2009

My Story

Hey all - it's been a while again since my last post. This is a crazy year, and I seriously can't believe what is happening in Washington and on Wall Street. I'll be posting more about this stuff soon.

I thought it might be helpful to post "my story" to give you all some background into how I got to where I am today. Here it is:

I go to a non-target school and decided that I wanted to do banking near the end of my sophomore year. During the following summer, I began reaching out to the few alumni from my school that work at banks both in New York and San Francisco. I sent out many, many emails and called tons of people all under the premise of simply wanting to learn more about the world of investment banking.

While making all of these calls, I got a subscription to the Wall Street Journal and started reading that every day. As per the suggestion of a returning summer intern at my school, I read the Vault Guide to Investment Banking and Vault Guide to Finance Interviews. I also read as many books about investment banking as I could, reading everything from the entertaining stuff (Liar’s Poker / Monkey Business / Barbarians at the Gate) to recruiting stuff (Never Eat Alone / Running of the Bulls) to more technical stuff (Accounting & Valuation books).

I flew myself out to New York four times and to San Francisco once, meeting with everybody from analyst to MD over the course of the next six months. Some of those trips were in groups but most were on my own. In preparation for my trips I took every single summer analyst from my school that had done an internship on Wall Street out to lunch. These one-on-one meetings were really helpful to me because I would just ask them how they got their internships, what they did to be successful, and what types of things I could ask in informational interviews.

I called people working on the Street that I had contacted over the summer to let them know I was coming out, then set up 10-15 visits over the course of a few days. Those visits were informational in nature, but usually led to more introductions and an expansion of my network. I usually started by meeting with analysts, making a good impression, then having them introduce me to more senior people or the rest of their group.

The first time I ever went to New York, I had a layover in Minneapolis. While waiting at my gate to go to New York, I saw a guy standing there holding a Credit Suisse bag. At this point I was just barely starting to grasp what investment banking even was, but I knew that I had to take every opportunity I could to meet investment bankers. I started talking to him and, although it was only five minutes, managed to learn that he was an SVP working in the Consumer group at CS.

We got on the plane (he sat in first class, I sat in the back), and I failed to get his card. I knew that if I was coming out to New York, I needed to meet people, so when we got to JFK, I literally ran through the airport to catch up to him. I finally caught him while he was waiting to be picked up in a black car, and I asked him for his card. He must have thought I was crazy, but I told him my story and that I was just doing everything I can to get a job. It impressed him enough to meet with me later in the week, and I ended up getting interviews at Credit Suisse in New York because of that guy.

In many of the informational interviews I had, I was asked typical questions like, “Why do you want to do banking?” and “What do you know about this bank?” Some people asked me about what groups / industries I was interested in. A few of the interviews actually got into technical issues, such as one Goldman VP who had me tell him all the factors affecting IRR on an LBO.

Especially as time got closer to interviewing season, the informational interviews became more and more like real interviews. Around November people really started asking me tougher questions about leadership / experience / technical stuff. This turned out to be great preparation for actual interviews.

By December I had managed to meet people at every major bank on the Street. I felt like I could really speak freely about why I wanted to do I-banking, what an analyst does, and why one bank differs from another. I was taking finance classes in school, reading the WSJ every day, and reading blogs online like Mergers & Inquisitions (though I didn’t find it until I already started interviews), LSO, Wall Street Oasis, and others. These sites gave me a better feel for what it’s really like in banking, as opposed to the more academic look at finance I had been getting from other books.

When it came time for SA interviews, I called up all of my various contacts at different banks and had them submit my resume. By this time, many of the analysts I had met with and really trusted had already seen multiple iterations of my resume, so I was confident that more senior people would be comfortable passing it on to HR since my analyst friends had given their blessing.

The interviews started coming. My first interviews were in early January, and they went on through February and even into March for some firms. I had done numerous mock interviews with analysts and even some associates and a VP at different banks in preparation for interviews, so I felt very confident going into the interviews. At every bank that I interviewed at, I received an offer to come on as an intern.

While a handful of firms actually do recruit at my school (almost exclusively for the West-coast offices), I only interviewed on-campus for Credit Suisse LA (and got an offer), but really wanted to start in New York. I accepted an offer with a BB bank in New York and had a great time there this summer.

I started this blog over the summer because I wanted a source for people looking to understand banking on a day-to-day basis. There are a lot of “Week in the life” posts around the internet and in the Vault Guide, but I wanted to give people a look at my entire internship. It's been fun to write it all down and hear from people all over the world who are reading the blog. I plan on continuing as I go full-time to let people know what it's like now with so many things changing.

I did very well in my internship, was rated highly, and received an offer to return full-time. Although I had a great experience, I decided to interview around. At this point for the first time I looked at boutique banks instead of only focusing on the bulge brackets. The problem was that there wasn’t a single alumnus from my school at any boutique on the Street, so all the contact I had with these banks was cold calling.

Because I had spent significant time on my resume (I'm still doing resume reviews if you're interested!), I felt confident in sending my resume out to other banks. I put together my cover letters and resume, then just sent my resume out to various boutiques. I was specifically interested in restructuring.

Similarly, I used LinkedIn and other online databases to get names of people at firms, and I found a way to make a connection enough that I could call them or send them my resume. It was awkward at first, but I had the attitude of, “I already have a good offer, so what do I have to lose? If they turn me down, it’s no problem.” I think having confidence really made a difference for me.

From some of the boutiques, I got an email back saying they would be reviewing my resume. Others directly called me back and invited me to come in and meet some people. At one boutique in particular, I went in the day after I got a call and met with their head of recruiting, head of M&A, and the analyst/associate staffer. Because I was able to do well in those interviews, they invited me back for final rounds “whenever I could make it back to New York.” I just let them know when I could come, and they set up six more interviews for me.

Because I was out early talking to firms, it seemed like all of my interviews were very unorthodox. Literally all of my first-round interviews with boutiques were kind of on-the-fly and not official in any way. People would just email a colleague, ask if they could talk with me for 15 minutes, and away we would go. Final rounds were more structured, but I was still interviewing in August before all of the official on-campus recruiting started.

I’ve come to see now that it was vital for me to get out there early. Many of the firms now are only looking at people from target schools. I know this because a lot of my friends who are just as qualified couldn’t get interviews with the same firms I met with in August.

Through efforts like these, I was able to get interviews and some offers from many top boutiques (Lazard, HLHZ, Greenhill, Miller Buckfire, Audax Group). I reached out to contacts that I had made over the past year at many other BB firms, and was able to get offers at two different BBs as well. I feel extremely blessed to have options in a year like this, and I directly attribute it to the work I put in over the past year to not only build a network, but also to study my brains out so that when I meet new people I can speak to things that they are interested in.

One interesting side note – about a year ago now I met a guy working at Morgan Stanley. Right after I met him, he was asked to come down to Treasury to work on mortgages and housing markets. Well it turned out that he needed an intern for the fall semester. I had stayed in touch with him, and heard about the internship spot. I applied and got the internship.

So because I met this guy at Morgan Stanley, I worked at Treasury for four months. He is running part of this $700B bailout and I worked directly for him on the team. It was an amazing experience and just another testament to the power of networking and doing your homework.

So that's my story. I'll be heading back to NYC in June to start it all over again full-time.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Accepting the Offer

One of you asked, "In one of my interviews I was asked:"If I give you an offer now, will you take it?" How would you answer this question?"

The answer, like pretty much everything else in the world, is that it depends. When I was interviewing, even though I sold myself to every bank as if they were my top choice, I clearly had my top choice in mind. In fact, I ranked all the banks based on my own measures of "culture", "prestige", "exit opportunities", "analyst experience", "group / industry opportunities", etc.

I'm sure everybody has their top choice, so if you are interviewing with this bank, and they ask you the question, it's not a lie to go ahead and say that you would accept. BUT, you want to be cautious in how you answer. If you say that you would accept, take it as another chance to show that you've done your homework and understand exactly what you would be accepting.

I would say something like, "You know, I would be glad to accept that offer for a few reasons. First of all, I've taken time to meet with people at pretty much every bank on the street, and I feel like the people here not only care about the analyst experience, but they are very intelligent and will challenge me to be better. Second, it's important to me to be able to contribute a lot, and your bank is known for giving analysts lots of responsibility. I know this is a great challenge, but it's one I would gladly take on. Third, I feel like your bank is the best positioned to take advantage of the current market situation, due in large part to [XYZ]."

But, because you might get offers from banks other than your top choice, you want to be very careful not to pin yourself in a corner. Don't commit to accepting an offer just so you can get the offer. If you say you'll accept, get the offer, and then reject it, that not only reflects poorly on you, but also reflects poorly on your school, and could lead to big problems you don't want to face. In short, it would be unethical to lie, so don't do it!

If I'm not sure I'm going to accept, I would answer by saying something like this:
"You know, if I were lucky enough to receive an offer from you, I would treat it like I do any important decision [or you could say, any investment I've made or whatever] in my life. I would take some time to think about what is important to me, what the costs/benefits will be of either choice, and then I'll sleep on it. As it stands right now, I don't see any reason why I wouldn't accept, and surely interviewing with many people here today has helped me get a much better understanding for the "feel" of the firm."

If they give you the offer and press you to accept it or lose it (another variation is when they say that there are three spots and five candidates, and the first three to accept get a spot), I might reply like this:
"Frankly I would like to work for a bank that hires me because I fit the qualifications of the job and am the best person for the position, not because of my willingness to accept on the spot. Like I said, I think your bank is great and am honored to have an offer. I'd just like to think it through before I make a decision that will have a potentially huge impact on my life and career going forward."

Take this all with a grain of salt - it's all just my opinion. I think it is very unwise to accept anything on the spot unless you have already thought through the implications of taking the offer. If it's a take-it-or-leave-it deal, then I'll leave it 99% of the time unless I can think it through first. I hope this helps!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Phone Interviews

One of you asked about phone interviews, so here are a few quick thoughts.

Phone interviews are usually a candidates first official interviews with a bank, and are usually conducted by people in HR. Occasionally they will be conducted by analysts or associates who are usually alumni of the school. Interview questions are just about the same on the phone as they are in person for a first round interview, so make sure you can answer the big three:

(1) Walk me through your resume / tell me your story.
(2) Why banking?
(3) Why [insert name of bank conducting interview]?

You might get a few technical questions, but especially if it's somebody from HR, you probably won't get anything too deep, so just know the basic Vault Guide stuff and you'll be fine. The big focus will be fit.

Phone interviews present unique challenges and benefits to you as the person being interviewed. For one thing, it's a lot harder to get your personality across over the phone. You have to try extra hard to be animated without sounding like a cartoon. On the phone, though, it is easy to sound like a robot so be conscious of your tone and vary it as you describe different things.

Another challenge is that you can't see your interviewer, so you don't know how they are responding to what you're saying other than how they inflect their voice. It's still a good idea to use humor and be easy going, but pay more attention than normal to how they are responding to you.

One of the benefits of a phone interview is that you can have all of your information right there in front of you. You should never be stumped by a question on a phone interview. Usually before an interview, I'll get out my phone interview resume. This is my normal resume, but with examples of different stories or qualities that are related to every bullet. It's actually about three pages long, but I never have to scramble to come up with a story to tell about X experience because I have it right there in front of me.

I'll also have all of the information about the company, including awards they've won, their stock price, recent deal information, and my reasons for wanting to work at that bank. I have a calculator there, a blank page with a pen, and the name of my interviewer all right in front of me (side note - if you use the calculator, make sure to do it quietly - you don't want them thinking you're not paying attention. Same goes with using a computer - don't type while you're on the phone because it's distracting and they can hear it.

Normal principles of good interviewing still apply. I even will wear my suit for the phone interview because it helps me to remember to be professional and not too casual. Make sure you have a reliable number for them to call, and don't have a stupid voice mail message, just in case you miss their call.

Good luck with the interviews!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"The Best We've Ever Seen"

Hey all - I'm back. The two months have been crazy for sure, but it's been fun. I've been mostly focused on helping students at my own school, doing homework for my classes, and practicing building LBO models, but I figure that a two-month sabbatical is enough.

This time last year I was just getting into final rounds with most of the banks I was interviewing with. I thought it was a rough year last year, and now I think it's even harder to get a job. With that in mind, I wanted to write a few thoughts on interviewing - specifically final rounds.

As a disclaimer, I'm not by any means an expert on interviewing. All I have is my own experience and the experiences of my friends. I can say, though, that I feel confident in my own abilities to interview, and I hope to share some of the things that work for me. Over the last year I've interviewed with many firms, and every single place that I've interviewed at has given me an offer (except for the firms that I cut off the process with after accepting my internship or full-time offer, but even with those firms I had made it to final rounds and am confident that I could have received an offer if I would have kept interviewing). I don't share that to be boastful, but just to point out that there are some tangible things you can do to be ready for interviews, many of which will come off as impressive.

A lot of my success in interviewing is due to good old preparation. My end goal was to go in, totally destroy every answer, and leave having the interviewer thinking, "That was the best candidate I've ever interviewed. We have to get this guy to come back." You don't want to leave any doubt in their mind that you are the right person for the job.

Analyzing the Competition
When I am preparing for an interview, I'll do a few things to get ready. First of all, I think about who else will be interviewing that day. Often for final rounds, the firm will fly you out the day before interviews, and many times you'll get to meet other people you're interviewing for. If you don't meet them the day before, you'll meet them in some sort of pre-interview meeting for all the people attending the Super Day.

I come from a non-target school, so I needed to know how to tell my story to come across in the best way. If the other people interviewing were from target schools (usually the case), I would really focus in my interviews on how hard I worked to get the interview and the fact that absolutely no one they could hire would out-work me over the summer. I would usually not dwell on my school too much - I let my GPA and test scores speak for my academic background. Instead I would focus on my work experiences and show that I already was a great analyst.

If the people I was interviewing with were either from my school or from other non-target schools, then I would focus a bit more on my school work and what I had accomplished. Because I would assume that everyone had worked hard to get there from a non-target school, I would focus on my experiences that made me unique, whether it was talking about interning at Treasury during TARP, living in Eastern Europe, or working with regional private equity firms to manage their portfolio companies.

Technical Powerhouse
In addition to tailoring your interview based on who you are interviewing against, it goes without saying that you need to know your finance. I really believe that the technical stuff is nothing more than a hurdle you have to get over (fit is way more important than if you really know accretion/dilution because they expect you don't know anything anyway). If you can absolutely crush the technical stuff, they'll not only check the box, but they'll remember that you knew more than the average interviewee. There are plenty of places around the internet that will prepare you for technical questions (I've covered a few, and is my favorite site for quick refreshers on corp fin). Just be ready for anything and show them that you can think on your feet.

Make 'em Laugh
One of the best things I did in interviews was to incorporate my personality in the interview. I would often try to make funny (but appropriate - not childish or vulgar) comments during the interview, and the feedback I got was usually that the interviewers thought I was a funny, nice guy.

One example comes from my final round interviews with Lehman Brothers (Barclays) last year. When I got off the elevator on the 24th floor, I noticed a big sign saying that they were having fire drills throughout the day, and they listed the various times that each floor would need to be evacuated. In many of my interviews, when the interviewer would ask me how things were going, I would usually say something like, "Oh fine. You probably noticed this morning when I pulled the fire alarm though..." It was a little thing, but the interviewer usually laughed a little and then we carried on. Using humor to endear yourself to the interviewer is one of the best ways I can think of to come across as "somebody they'd want to spend 8 hours in the airport with."

Final Thoughts
Before you go into the interview, you should quickly check the stock price of the company (assuming they're a public company), read the WSJ one time quickly, and go to the company website to see a few reasons why they are great. I usually knew of 4-5 awards the company had recently won for being a good employer, being kind to working mothers, or whatever it was they wanted to brag about on their website.

When they ask, "Why do you want to work here?" You tell them personal reasons you like their bank, then you say, "And plus you guys were named one of the 50 best places to launch a career, Forbe's said you were the M&A house of the year last year, you are one of Working Mother's top 25 firms, and your CEO was just named CEO of the month in Investment Banking Weekly." They're not expecting you to know all that, but listing off random facts shows that you took a little more time than the average candidate to prepare for the interivew.

I could go on for a long time about all the ways I prepared for interviews, but it basically came down to preparation. Knowing the company and what they stand for, knowing the qualities they were looking for and telling stories specifically to show I had those qualities, and using some humor or good manners to impress them enough to remember me.

Good luck to all of you who are out there interviewing. I'll be back in a more normal schedule of writing, so you'll hear more from me about interviewing in the coming days/weeks.