There never seems to be a shortage of people who want to work on Wall Street. Because of the above-average compensation, the finance industry has little trouble attracting talented professionals who want to become analysts, traders or managers. Like any industry, there are no set rules for getting a foot in the door. That said, there are a few tried and true paths to a career on the Street.
Aim for Schools Targeted by Investment Banks
High school students with dreams of a Wall Street career should aim for universities where investment banks recruit undergraduates. This list includes Ivy League schools such as Harvard University, Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania, as well as top schools such as the University of Chicago, Duke University and Georgetown University.
While investment banks claim they recruit from a range of majors, the reality is students who focus on business, economics, mathematics and other related fields have a leg up on history and English majors. Keep in mind that an undergraduate degree generally limits your job options, though it's not impossible to land a finance job with a bachelor's degree.
A finance internship can provide a foot in the door. Not only does an internship give you the chance to build relationships, once you get a well-known company on your resume other companies are more likely to give you a shot. (For related reading, see 7 Tips to Help Land That Internship.)
How To Get A Job On Wall Street
Approach From a Different Angle
Investment banks often cast a wide net when filling research analyst positions and other roles. Doctors are popular candidates to cover sectors such as medical devices and pharmaceuticals. A bank might tap engineers to cover technology niches such as semiconductors.
Many banks make a conscious effort to build research teams that include at least one person with industry experience. These candidates bring with them a deep knowledge of their sector, along with industry contacts that are vital for staying abreast of the latest developments.
MBA is the Real Stepping Stone
Of all the ways to get into Wall Street, earning a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from a highly respected university may be the most straightforward. While many banks will not even consider an undergraduate for research or sales, they actively and aggressively recruit promising MBA candidates.
Nevertheless, an MBA alone does not guarantee a coveted job on Wall Street. Success at the undergrad level helps, as does a successful pre-MBA work history. Potential employers want to see a record of hard work and upward progression. (For more, see Traditional MBA or Business Graduate Degree?)
Be Realistic, But Optimistic
Even if you lack an MBA or industry experience, there is still hope. Banks do not always demand rigorous qualifications for traders, and there are other avenues in, such as through the IT or Human Resources department. Get in, impress management, and maybe you'll land an opportunity elsewhere in the firm.
What's more, living outside of New York City doesn't preclude you from opportunities. Most major cities are home to a sell-side or buy-side firm, and a combination of persistence and luck could result in an interview and an offer.
A Rough but Rewarding Place
Qualifications may get someone through the door, but hard work keeps them there and allows them to rise. It's possible to start off as an administrative assistant or in the back offices and land a better position through hard work and a positive attitude.
If someone really wants to work on Wall Street, and they are truly willing to work hard, the goal is achievable. Don't go in with any illusions. Wall Street does not hand out generous pay for no reason: the hours are long, the work is difficult, the stress is high and it's not a forgiving environment for non-conformists, underperformers or slow starters.
However, many people find the work rewarding and the compensation more than ample for the effort it takes to get there. (For related reading, see How to Become an Investment Banker and 12 Hot Careers and How Much They Pay.)