Q&A: Mary O'Gorman, Managing Director, Snelling Search

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"Networking should be a big part of your life. The opposite of networking is isolating yourself. That's not a good thing to do."

What's the most important advice you would give someone embarking on a career in finance?

Work in a revenue-generating area that is profitable and growing; leverages your background, skills and interests; and has breadth and depth.

You should be asking yourself, "What segments of finance are making the most money right now, and which ones will be driving the bottom line in three years, five years, 10 years?" The closer you are to the revenue-generating areas of the firm, the better off you're going to be.

What else should people do to take control of their early career?

Start defining your goals as early as you possibly can. For the better jobs on Wall Street, you have to get into a track early on, or else you're never going to get into it. If you're outside that track, it's extremely unlikely that you'll ever get in.

The top firms take in summer interns from the top undergraduate schools, then hire graduates from those internship pools to be analysts. Last year there were very, very few people selected for the analyst programs who were not part of the internship pool. And both Wall Street and private equity hire junior associates from the ranks of people coming out of two-year or three-year analyst programs at investment banks.

Getting on the track early is equally important for a career on the buy side. Once you become an associate at an investment bank, it gets tough to move to the buy side. Employers feel that if a candidate was truly interested in working on the buy side, that interest would have shown up before they finished their analyst program.

It's widely said that most jobs are found through networking. Is there a right way and a wrong way to network?

It's not something you should first start when you're looking for a job. It should be a big part of your life. The opposite of networking is isolating yourself. That's not a good thing to do. It's important for both personal development and business development to be out and about and engaging with people. Then, when you have to reach out during a job search, it won't be a big shift. It comes naturally out of your experience.

Industry conferences provide great opportunities to network. Use your school to find networking opportunities. And, cultivate relationships with people you meet in the course of doing business. This accounts for much of the historical success of country clubs, and even churches. They are avenues for networking.

How can people get the most benefit from recruiters?

If they don't know about you, they can't hire you. And if they forgot about you, they can't hire you. So make yourself visible in the industry. Get listed in directories. Go to networking events, whether through your school or through your company.

Bear in mind that recruiters work to fill specific slots. So if a recruiter doesn't pursue your candidacy, it doesn't mean you're worthless, it doesn't mean you're unemployable. All it means is you're not a fit for that particular slot.

How should you go about finding a mentor?

The bulge bracket firms have organized efforts to mentor people. But I would suggest trying to pick your own mentors. It doesn't have to be a formal process.

Besides finding a mentor - and maybe more importantly - you should try to get yourself a "rabbi." Mentors provide advice. Rabbis provide sponsorship. Sponsors can help you make a move.

So how do you find a sponsor or "rabbi"?

This kind of relationship arises over time, based on recognition of mutual need. It's an alliance, like in the TV series, "Survivor." It's also an opportunity for an experienced person to help someone else and many people enjoy helping others.

No matter what your job, you must strive to add value and have people be aware of the value you add. It isn't essential to have a mentor or a sponsor for that to happen, but it does help. Making a contribution that gets noticed - that's the whole point.

What qualities does Wall Street most want from entry-level hires?

First, top academic background - top schools, top grades, top SAT scores. Even though the SAT is taken while in high school, it's useful for comparing people from different colleges on a single scale, and also because it's believed to measure aptitude rather than acquired knowledge.

Second, a general sense of purpose and a record of accomplishment combined with an ability to provide crisp and compelling answers to these questions:

- What do you want to do?

- Why do you want to do it?

- What can you share with me about your prior accomplishments that would convince me that you're going to be good at it?

A demonstrated early and avid interest in finance can sometimes be a help. For example, hedge funds hiring an entry level trader prefer candidates who've been exposed to and have shown an interest in trading. In all cases, having done your homework about the company and position is critical in demonstrating purpose and capability.

Third, good communications, confidence and a pleasant personal manner. Employers want people who are articulate, can easily engage other people and put them at their ease. These traits are important in developing good working relationships with clients, co-workers, management and all the other constituencies that are important in having a successful career.

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