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by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson
Setting sights on Wall Street, but not sure how to get started? A Dickinson College liberal-arts degree helped set Lazard’s Holcombe Green III ’92 and Zoe Kaminski ’18 apart from the crowd. During a recent Zoom call with students at their alma mater, Green, a managing director, and Kaminski, an investment banking analyst, shared a few tips on how to launch a high-flying Wall Street career.
Investment bankers spend a lot of time on the phone. If you are much more comfortable texting than talking, this may take a little getting used to. (Age-old tip: Even though the person on the other end of the line can’t see you, they’ll be able to hear a difference in your voice when you smile. Smiling may even brighten your mood.)
It isn’t enough to know about finance. To be a successful investment banker, you also need to be able to listen well, explain financial matters clearly to clients with different areas of expertise and converse comfortably across a wide range of topics and to top-level executives. If that sounds good, you might be a good fit.
“In-person interaction with clients is by far the most rewarding part of what we do, and I suspect that would be a universal feeling on the 16th floor of 30 Rock,” Green said of his colleagues at Lazard.
An international management & business liberal-arts degree provided a solid foundation for Kaminski’s Wall Street career. It’s the way most Wall Street pros get their start.
But Green majored in philosophy and discovered an interest in Wall Street after working for five years in D.C. He said his debate-intensive philosophy courses “were the best training I had in college for what it’s like for me to be today in conference rooms where I speak 80 percent of the time in the meeting.”
In fact, Green said that if he could do college over again, he’d make only one change—he’d take an accounting class or two.
Investment bankers work long hours—yes, that means evenings and weekends! They’re well compensated, but if you’re going to put in a lot of extra time, both Green and Kaminski say, it’s important to like what you do.
“I’m answering emails most of the day, so the evenings are when I can catch up with reports,” Kaminski said. “And it’s OK. When you love the work, it’s energizing.”
How do you know if you’ll like it? See below.
Do you know what a Wall Street career is really like? Take advantage of classes, internships, connections and career-development events and resources that can help you gather clues (more on this below). But don’t overlook the not-so-obvious places, like clubs and organizations, that can help you connect with students and professionals interested in the field. (And if no such club exists at your school, consider forming one.)
Kaminski envisioned a different career before she discovered a love of investment banking halfway through college. Her inspiration? Dickinson’s student-led investment club. That experience led her to research the banking and investment industry and chart a new course.
Even in socially distant times, you can stay safe while gaining important experiences and contacts through virtual and hybrid internships.
Even if you’re in your first year of college, start exploring and applying. Your school’s career/advising/internships center and alumni network can help. That said: If you are later in your college career, there’s no need to despair. Kaminski’s New York City semester put her on track during her second half of junior year. Green served a Wall Street internship in grad school, five years after his college graduation.
Ask professors, friends and family and your school’s career center or alumni office if they can connect you with banking and finance pros for possible informational interviews, internships, externships and shadowing opportunities. If your school has virtual career programs, like the one Green and Kaminski presented at Dickinson, take advantage of them.
“One of the most important things I learned at Dickinson was the importance of networking,” said Kaminski, who connected with alumni in her desired field throughout her New York City internship program, attending multiple group lunches, coffee breaks and dinners, and also contacted alumni for informational interviews. “It was about getting to know as many people as I possibly could. One person would introduce me to someone else. And they’d recommend I get in touch with someone else.” Eventually, someone recommended that she reach out to Green—her current boss.
A personal or email introduction is best, but what if you get a referral for a potential contact but no introduction? A short, polite email, asking to schedule a brief informational phone interview, is fine.
If you don’t hear back after a few weeks, it’s OK to send a very polite reminder. Don’t take it personally if they do not respond, however. Maybe they’re in the middle of a big client meeting. Maybe they just don’t have the bandwidth for this kind of thing now.
Kaminski cold-emailed Green when she was in her junior year of college, and he responded fairly soon. “Now that I know how many emails you get in a day, I’m surprised you got back to me,” she said to Green with a laugh. “Your email must have come in at exactly the right moment,” Green said. “A lot of it is luck.”
“Once you get an interview in place, it’s all about preparing,” said Kaminski. “Be really prepared to articulate your value and your interests.”
Make sure you research the company and the position. Then make sure that you can tell a good story about why you want to do investment banking and why you’d be a good fit for this particular role (see below!). Practice with several people until you have your story down pat.
“A lot of people who work [at Lazard] today started off as something else—attorneys, consultants, working in companies,” Green said. “Know that every experience you have, if this is something that interests you, can lead you closer to your goal.”
So wherever you are in your path-to-Wall-Street journey, take stock of your unique skills and experiences. Then think about why they will help you succeed on Wall Street. And then practice explaining it.
For Green, that meant thinking about the ways that his liberal-arts background gave him an edge, because understanding subjects other than business—science, technology, international cultures, written communication and so on—can help you better grasp the needs of, and connect with, clients across a spectrum of fields.
“We can teach you how to model, how to read a financial statement, what the private equity industry is,” Green explained. What’s harder: teaching you to think critically, to brush up on new-to-them subjects and to “be comfortable in a conference room setting, speaking to other folks who will be super influential in your yearly revenue, your promotion. That’s where my philosophy classes came in handy.”
Published March 2, 2021