Will My Banking Experience in Africa Help Me Land a Job in the U.S.? Ask the Expert

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The Expert Panel
Deborah Rivera, president of New York-based Succession Group, says that while the market for energy analysts is hot, your chances of landing one of those positions will depend on the depth of your research abilities and industry knowledge, the international reach of your relationships and your ability to present yourself both in writing and in person.

"If you've read the research of bulge-bracket firms, you know whether your experience and capabilities are comparable," she says. "If your relationships are limited to Nigeria, that is not the same as being an analyst with 'Pan-African relationships' or 'global OPEC' relationships." Rivera isn't certain how many bulge-bracket firms focus on Nigeria from an oil and gas perspective, but adds: "There is a great need for energy analysts these days. You can start by sending me your CV."

David N. Schwartz, founder of D N Schwartz & Co. in New York, has good news and bad news: The good news is that indeed the demand for energy bankers and analysts is strong, and your experience in the oil and gas sector should be attractive to both the investment banking and merger and acquisitions division of U.S. investment banks, as well as their investment management and research units.

"Your particular angle - Nigeria and African oil and gas - is not a common expertise," he says. "That should make you even more attractive, depending, of course, on the profile of a specific bank's existing team."

The bad news is that while your MBA and experience in Nigeria count for something, the deal flow and transactions you've been exposed to will not be viewed as comprehensive preparation for a U.S. institution. The volume of transactions in the U.S. is quite high, meaning even junior bankers have a lot of experience under their belt. Moreover, U.S. hiring managers - justifiably or not - will assume your level of financial technical expertise isn't as high as someone who's worked in a U.S. bank their entire career.

However, Schwartz says, both issues can be addressed.

To start, demonstrate your technical expertise during the interview process, or show a willingness to take on a role that is more junior than you'd accept at your current bank. In U.S. investment banking, performance is king: Perform well, and you'll find yourself moving ahead faster than you could in any other business sector, Schwartz says.

If it's a mistaken assumption that the volume of deals in your current work environment is low, correct it. If you've had significant deal experience, clarify that during your interviews. Bring a list of your transactions.

"If I were in your shoes, my first stop would be the recruiting departments of the major investment and commercial banks," Schwartz says. "Get in touch with them directly, and make sure someone takes a look at your resume. I would be surprised if you do not get some initial interest on the basis of the paperwork."

You could also try the career-counseling department of your Illinois business school to help make the initial contacts, he says.

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