For many without firsthand experience or an existing industry network, the world of finance can feel shrouded in mystery. If you find yourself asking questions like: How do I land a finance job as a new grad? How can I get a sense of an employer's culture? Heck, how do I even write my resume so that I stand a chance in the first place? Then this is for you!
We chatted with three recent grads who made their way into finance after college, each in different roles that aligned with their different life priorities. And the good news? There’s no single mold you have to fit into to work in finance, and you’ll find great roles no matter what your educational background, interests, or workplace-culture needs are.
- Greg Usvitsky, Recruiter at BNP Paribas, shared how applicants can make their resumes stand out in the application process
- Yalemwork Teferra, Sales Associate at BNP Paribas Asset Management, gave a firsthand look at the finance industry recruitment process for a first-gen college student
- Alyssa Chanel, Private Equity Associate & Content Creator, shared insights about work/life balance in the industry
For honest answers about these questions and more, watch the full session and read our takeaways below:
First, what do you do at your current company?
Yalemwork: My job as a sales associate at BNP Paribas is to find large organizations with large money pools (think: big pension plans, endowments, hospital funds, etc.) and figure out what strategy will be the best fit for them based on their portfolio and existing investment allocations. We often pitch strategies and have different plans depending on what sectors the organization is interested in investing in.
Alyssa: I graduated as an e-commerce major and started in private equity almost two years ago. If you’ve ever watched Shark Tank, you’ll know that there are people with great ideas who need money, and there are people out there who actually have money. At my company, we’re the people who have the money, and we go out and sponsor people that need it. While Shark Tank is more for seed stage startups, my company invests in mature businesses that have been around for 30-40 years and have proven business models.
Greg: I’m a campus recruiter at BNP Paribas, and I try to be the nexus between opportunity and talent. My job is all about matching people I’m passionate about with opportunities that fit them. Since my company has so many different opportunities that require so many different skill sets, we like to build wide and wonderful early talent pools with platforms like Handshake! In my day-to-day, I host college recruiting events, meet students, and try to understand how we can help each other.
How did you get to the roles you’re in?
Alyssa: My story is a bit unconventional. Before this, I was doing asset management for pensions, endowments, and foundations. Midway through the pandemic, I met a former managing director for my current group, and when I shared my longer-term career goals, he crafted a personal 8-month training program to help me get a job in private equity. Every week on Sundays, I met with him for 3-4 hours, going over financial modeling and basic industry jargon and processes. We ended the program with resume development and live talk review, so once I got an interview, I was totally ready. As you can see, mentorship was super important for me and my career journey.
Yalemwork: In college, I studied international relations and economics—a major I could do a lot with—but I didn’t quite know what would come next. I ended up talking to a school alum who worked at BNP Paribas. They were hosting a finance trip through my college that allowed me to see a bunch of different banks (including Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and others) to get a sense of what the financial sector was really like. I had already applied to a bunch of different places but was lucky enough to get an interview with BNP Paribas during this trip. The fact that I was spending time with BNP Paribas employees was very helpful during my first-round call with the recruiter, who ultimately pointed me toward a financial analyst role. I did a second-round interview with a supervisor, took some online behavioral and technical tests, and ultimately did a 2-hour virtual “superday” of back-to-back interviews. That’s how I landed my first role!
Greg: At university, I majored in philosophy with a minor in international business, which made it easy for me to fall into human resources. In my junior year, after doing nonprofit internships in government and policy, I thought about what I actually wanted to do with my life. My priority was to be financially self-sufficient in the city, and I also liked to interact with people. I cast a wide net in applying and got a call back from the person at BNP Paribas who would eventually become my manager. I ultimately got the job, and what I’ve learned since is that opportunities are virtually endless when you’re a new grad, and recruiters are there to offer you options. Realize that the cards are in your hands! Big organizations really want young and passionate talent, which means you have the power.
What types of roles do finance recruiters look to fill?
Greg: Roles at BNP Paribas vary greatly. We have roles in the front office, human resources, internal consulting, operations, technology, sales, trading, investment banking, and more. Instead of worrying about the title of a role, it’s always best to figure out what you’ll be doing day to day. Keep your options open, and don’t limit yourself. There’s a home in finance for everyone.
What are some qualities that will help people succeed in finance?
Yalemwork: Because of how diverse finance is, all different types of personalities will fit. Investment professionals who are trading every day are very different from the research employees or sales employees, which means it’s never “one size fits all.” If you’re more extroverted and like to talk to clients, you might like sales. If you like the technical elements, trading might be a better route. The most important quality to have is a willingness to learn. What you learned in college most likely won’t apply to your job—you’ll learn all the necessary skills once you start. So be a sponge, and soak in the knowledge! Figure out what type of learner you are (seeing vs. hearing vs. doing), because this will help whenever you have to learn something new.
What characteristics do people need to work in private equity?
Alyssa: First, presentation skills! You’ll use these constantly and will have to know how to pitch a company, tie it to financials, and have pre-thought-out answers for potential challenges that might come up. Second, attention to detail. In private equity, you’re constantly neck deep in numbers, and the expectation is that you’ll mitigate any errors yourself. This means no calculation errors in your spreadsheets! Third—and most important—is to be organized. When you’re working on multiple deals, you’re constantly juggling important emails, multiple schedules, and important deadlines, and there isn’t much room for error.
What about qualities for someone to have in an HR role?
Greg: Good communication is a very big skill to have, whether it’s interpersonal or written. Knowing yourself and understanding how you come across (and how people perceive you) is everything, especially when you’re working with a team of people and various stakeholders. Also, be good with time management so you can have time away from work to pursue your outside passions. Make those desk hours count by organizing tasks and prioritizing immediate vs. long term needs. This skill comes with practice!
How realistic are the media portrayals of working in finance, (i.e. long, intense hours)?
Alyssa: Given my lack of work-life balance, I have many thoughts on this! But really, it’s not always insane. I think my questionable work-life balance is more a byproduct of my own expectations of what I value when it comes to work. Right now, I have no kids, and my career is very important. I absolutely have nights where I’m awake until early a.m. hours, especially when deal flow is really heavy (say, if I’m on 3 or 4 deals instead of 1 or 2). When this happens, it can be tough. Then there are weeks when I’m not on any active deal, and I’m just managing the workflow of my portfolio companies. All that said, it is absolutely expected for associates to work when things need to be done. When a deal is getting ready to close, you’re going to grind.
Yalemwork: It’s definitely not that way for me! I want and need a strict 9-5, because I do a lot outside of work. Balance ultimately depends on where you work, the company culture, and the sector. If you work anywhere in investment banking, you’re going to have 70- to 80-hour weeks, because that’s the nature of the work. My advice is to do your research when you network, and don’t just talk with people who are at a higher level. Talk to analysts, especially ones you can find on Handshake or through school alumni. These people will let you know what it’s really like day to day.
Greg: The question of balance is very valid, because these types of long hours can be part of the culture, as is reflected in the media. I have friends who work long hours and weekends, but when they’re passionate about it and go into it with open eyes, I respect it. When you’re interviewing, realize it’s a two-way conversation. Observe the people you’re talking with. Do they seem stressed and tired? What do people online say about company culture? Do some digging so you can see if the company and role will be a good fit.
Do you have resume guidance for people aiming to work in private equity?
Alyssa: If you’re still in college or just starting out, definitely choose a major in econ, finance, or business. There’s no “right” major, but these definitely help recruiters understand your background quickly. Internships are also critical to get industry exposure. It’s one thing to think you want to be an investment banker, but it’s another thing to actually get in and experience the day-to-day hours, demand, and culture. If you’re just out of college, investment banking or consulting is the best route to get experience for a future private-equity job—they’ll give you the deal experience you’re expected to have. For people wanting to pivot into this space, MBAs are also really important. When it comes to resumes, private equity firms will look at your deal transactional experience, which (again) will come from investment banking or consulting. Also quantify as many resume points as you can so people understand the value you’ve brought to past companies.
How necessary are internships, especially when coursework is your only experience?
Greg: My company’s only expectation is that you have a demonstrated interest in the area, which could just be reading a publication regularly and demonstrating that you’re retaining basic knowledge from it. I also always tell candidates to find organizations that have internships programs that point toward a career track they’re looking for. Finally, tell a story with your resume, regardless of your experience. Why is this role a logical next step for you? What are your transferable skills? What did you learn through coursework or any other types of experience? What will you bring into the field? Get as many eyes as possible on your resume, because everyone will have different specific feedback.
What happens if you don’t have connections or a clear path into finance?
Yalemwork: When I first started out, what intimidated me most was when my career counselor's first question was: “Who do you know? Who do your parents know?” As a first-generation woman of color, I could only answer with “No one.” My parents weren’t in finance, and it was daunting to hear all the kids in econ class saying things like, “Oh, my dad works at Company X, and he’ll be getting me a job at Company Y.” It’s important to cut out that noise, because we’re moving toward a meritocracy. Focus on yourself and your strengths.
How important is college GPA on resumes for finance jobs?
Greg: Absolutely put your GPA on your resume. If you’re not including it early on, people will make assumptions about your grades—and usually not good ones. That said, remember that GPA isn’t binding, and it stops mattering after a year or two.
What technical skills should students prioritize learning in school to get into finance?
Yalemwork: Excel, Excel, Excel—Microsoft Excel, that is! I wish somebody had underlined this for me when I was starting out! Know it like the back of your hand. Also, it can be useful to know the Python programming language in some organizations. Finally, don’t neglect your writing skills! A lot of people don’t talk about this, but it’s incredibly important. Considering how often you’ll be doing presentations, writing emails, and corresponding with people, good writing skills are essential.