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Don't go into finance

Will Essilfie

Dear First Year,

If you want to go to finance, by all means do it. But make sure you actually want to.

Back when I was a first year, I still didn’t know which classes to take let alone what I wanted to spend my career doing. Looking back on it, that uncertainty combined with falling prey to groupthink led me on a journey of pursuing a role I clearly didn’t want. In the rush of clubs welcoming new members and advertising their first events, I remember seeing a sign about a Goldman Sachs recruiting event for first years and sophomores.

My first reaction to the sign: what’s Goldman Sachs? When I asked a classmate, he burst out laughing, flabbergasted that I couldn’t know about the Goldman Sachs. He then proceeded into a monologue about investment bank firm rankings and how anyone who was anyone needed to work at GS. Clearly, I needed to find out more about them so I committed to the event.

Mistake #1: Showing up in khakis and plain shirt.

Turns out you need a suit if you’re interested in finance — even if you’re a first year. I spent the entire hour of this event watching people stare in shock for this faux pas while they sat in their thousand dollar suits as a couple of Analysts spoke about work at “the firm” and the long hours and stress they went under.

“I’m supposed to… want this?” I couldn’t believe it as people talked about working from dawn to the wee hours of the morning to repeat that six days a week was the job everyone in this room was fighting for. It didn’t make sense to me, but when almost everyone you talk to starts saying how they’re “recruiting” for finance, you start to think you should to.

Mistake #2: Not knowing when something is not for you

Even though the world of finance concerned me more than anything, I continued to pursue it since it felt like that was the thing to do. I called my parents and went downtown and got my first suit and started showing up to recruiting events and scheduling informational chats with Investment Bankers to learn about the field. To be honest, I barely understood most of the titles and roles in the field. It really distilled down in my mind to: Investment Bankers never get to sleep and those in Global Markets do but wake up super early. Needless to say, I started talking about my love of “Global Markets” to recruiters because I knew I needed a job that gave me some semblance of being able to sleep more than a couple hours per night.

The fact I sought after a role I still didn’t fully understand because I heard it meant more sleep should have been a clear red flag — this isn’t the role you want. It wasn’t.

No, the thing that made it hit that this field definitely isn’t for me was when I attended a summer recruiting program hosted by an investment bank. We were two days into an intense finance deepdive and the roles we could pursue within their firm. It was the first time I actually felt I had a grasp on what they did versus the vague, convoluted descriptors I heard on campus (sidenote: what does it mean to be a Securitized Global Capital Market analyst enhancing market liquidity via ….??). As we reached lunch hour for the event, the recruiting host let us know this would be no ordinary lunch: Managing Directors (MDs) were coming and there’d be one of them at each table of us to talk about their role and answer our questions about the firm while we ate from specially catered box lunches. But, before they entered she told us three things:

  1. This is a test — you should be making a memorable impact on the MD by talking as much as possible if you ever want to be considered for a role there.
  2. If you’re eating while an MD’s talking, that’s being disrespectful and throwing away your shot of being recruited by the MD from the cohort of 10+ other students we were sitting with.
  3. See #1 and #2

What proceeded to happen was the following:

  1. Table groups that had been super friendly devolving into subtle attack mode trying to one-up one another to impress an MD we just met
  2. The worst case of food waste I’ve been ever seen — over 100 students throwing out mostly uneaten food that they didn’t eat to minimize ruining their shot to get an interview at a firm

Thankfully, at that point I realized regardless of the benefits and hype around finance, that role was not for me — at least for now. Did I learn a lot about finance up until then? Yes, but in chasing a role because of hype and not out of genuine interest/passion, I unintentionally boxed myself out from considering scores of other options and fields. It’s a good thing I ended up in Computer Science (a story for another day), but as you embark on your college journey, I’d urge you to think deeply about your motivations when it comes to recruiting and the other aspects of your life. Leverage this incredible time to think deeply about who you want to be and don’t let the hype of certain fields engulf you like it did for me my first year.

Best,

Will

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