"wallstaddict" posted this in our Student Answers area:
I'm a Freshman at a school that isn't a top school, but am trying my hardest to get good grades and show potential employers that I really am a devoted person who is determined to complete any task I am given, or anything I put my mind to. But, I've heard and read that people who don't go to top schools usually are looked over for internships or jobs pertaining to the financial markets, even if they may have a pretty good gpa and are hard working. So I guess what I'm asking is this: in light of the fact that I am attending a school that is not a top school, what do I need to do in order to stand out among the Ivy Leaguers and impress employers enough to land an internship/job in the financial markets? Thank you.
Several people have responded, but we thought we'd add a bit more.
First, you're a step ahead in knowing what you want while you're a freshman. Wall Street's hiring pipelines are uniformly molded to allow students - even Ivy League students - who delay their career planning little chance of starting out in the more selective areas of finance, such as investment banking. Published comments from many a Wall Street recruiter convey a veiled subtext that knowing early what you want to do with your life may be even more important than being good at it.
Second, the magic word in job applications is "referral." Other things being equal, your odds of getting hired anywhere, at any level, go up dramatically if someone on the inside forwards your resume to the hiring manager. If that insider puts in a sincere good word for you, even just a sentence fragment, your odds improve still more.
Therefore, start planning now to meet and favorably impress the kind of people you'll need as referrals down the line. Let finance professors know of your interest, and befriend alumni and classmates who have Wall Street connections. Choose courses that bring in outside finance pros to supervise student projects or give guest lectures. Try to get your best work in front of them. Ask your career services office if it organizes networking events where you can meet alumni who work in your field, or if it has a list of alumni in finance who are available for informational interviews or to mentor students. Join finance-oriented or economics-oriented student clubs. Volunteer, especially in organizations where you know finance professionals are active. (Notice I wrote this entire paragraph without once using the annoyingly shallow buzzword, "network.")
Third, don't be satisfied with "a pretty good GPA." Strive for a great GPA. Every career expert I speak to says that can erase part of the career disadvantage of attending a low-prestige school.
Fourth, don't limit your search to the biggest, most prestigious Wall Street firms. They're the employers most obsessed with pedigrees. Consider applying to boutique banks, small asset management firms, independent research firms, and the like. Even if you burn with desire to join Goldman Sachs, think of smaller shops as your "safe schools" - just as when you applied to colleges.
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