Regional Boutique to Bulge Bracket in NYC

Submitted from a Street of Walls Contributor:

When I graduated in 2009 I wasn’t quite sure where I would be three years later, but there were a number of times I did not think I would be working for a bulge bracket bank in New York with buy-side opportunities at some of the largest firms in the world. There was an enormous amount of hard work and determination that led me to this point though my story should illustrate that it is absolutely possible to get a job at a bulge bracket bank regardless of the roadblocks.

A little background before getting into the fascinating world of lateral hiring – I worked at a real estate investment firm for a year as the economy was turned upside down and some areas of the country saw as much as a 40% drop in real estate values. There was a complete freeze of credit that was imperative to financing bargain acquisitions. I quickly realized that I was dealing with an asset class and business that would take some time to recover and I decided to make a move to banking, hardly a safe haven industry at the time. Looking for a job during the middle/end of 2010 in the banking industry was excruciating. Half of the analyst classes had been fired and new classes were being cut in half. There was so much inventory of legit kids looking for a new job or simply trying to find a firm willing to hire a few more analysts. At the time, I was convinced I just needed to get into the industry and was able to land a job with a solid regional boutique based in a Southern city.

One dirty little secret few people will tell you is that kids at boutiques/middle market firms do the exact same work with less resources for smaller compensation packages and fewer exit opportunities. That said, it is still a fantastic opportunity and I have a number of friends who have made the move to very respectable middle market firms who primarily hire bulge bracket candidates. Many kids do not want to work in New York and do not lay in bed at night dreaming of a White Party in the Hamptons with Henry Kravis, Leon Black and David Rubenstein. Having worked at both, the two opportunities have substantial pros and cons, so just make sure you know what you want to do long-term before you make a decision either way.

At last, the incredibly sexy world of the lateral hiring and the path to gold and riches straight through meatpacking club parties until 6 am.  I worked at the regional bank for about a year and started to feel the tug of New York day by day. While it would have been amazing to find a heavy-hitting hedge fund willing to hire someone from a boutique bank after his first year, this rarely happens and I had to look at bulge bracket banks. Having attended a large prestigious boarding school and a college with a large amount of alums in New York, part of it was the social aspect, but most of it was the uncompromising desire to work for a big firm and ultimately follow the path to a top-tier hedge fund.  I was in a tough position – the bank I worked at was not the Little Shop Around the Corner in midtown Manhattan where I could walk next door and have a chat with Jamie Dimon. I would have to lie about a sprained ankle or severed finger to get out of the office, fly to New York under the cover of night and make my way back to the office before the end of the following day.  As I leave out the name of my former employer, I checked job websites every day – sometimes constantly, positive I had missed that TMT position at Goldman that only I would find and be able to nail the job (this situation does not exist; the few positions big banks post on job websites are gone in a matter of days and by the time you apply, your competitor usually has his bags packed).

I was sitting in my office one Monday night at 3 am working on the most important document in the world (applies to everything in banking, be it a working group list or the logo placement inside a header on an internal memo) talking to a friend of mine at a bulge bracket bank in New York as we complained about our lives. All of a sudden, I saw something come across my screen about a 1st/2nd year analyst opening at a bulge bracket bank in a very good group.  I mentioned it to my friend who happened to know a Vice President in the group and within 24 hours, my resume and cover letter had been sent (printing resumes on the office printer at the job you are trying to leave is not the best idea so please walk to the FedEx Kinko’s around the corner). After three days, there had still been no contact and I was beginning to think someone else had locked it down. Finally, I was contacted by the Vice President who asked if I could be in New York in 3 days.

You will read similar examples throughout other banking/PE/HF websites, but usually they pertain to kids in NY trying to find a way out of the office for a PE or HF interview 20 blocks away. Whatever you choose to use, just make sure it’s defensible and get back as soon as you can. I took a Monday off and flew up to New York Sunday night, diligently studying my CapIQ deal descriptions for everything the group had done in recent years and brushing up on my trusted Banking Interview Guide (one more note – make sure your cab driver knows where big neighborhoods in the city like Midtown East or SoHo are, otherwise you will take a joyous 2 hour cab ride from LaGuardia to Midtown). I finally got to my hotel around 11 pm, read for a couple more hours, slept for a few hours and got ready to go. If you have never been to Manhattan and come in on Monday morning in the winter for an interview, it can be somewhat intimidating, especially if you are already nervous. Pound some coffee, study up and press ahead.

The day of interviews itself was incredibly difficult; definitely not the same as a first year analyst interview and more akin to a private equity interview. I was asked about a number of recent deals their group had done, what were the deal considerations/drivers, what the valuation was, who else was on the deal, etc. Several Associates and VPs tried to push me on technicals, a couple pulling out a paper case study on an acquisition and simple accretion/dilution math or quick LBO calculations. Make sure you are prepared to talk about the group – if you have been doing banking for over 6 months, you should be able to answer the technical questions or you shouldn’t get the job. All in all, I was interviewing for over 7 hours and raced to the airport. I was back at my desk before 6 pm. I got the call from the VP who had been my contact all along and they informed me I had been offered the position and they wanted me to start in 3 weeks. Sizable raise, signing bonus and relocation package forthcoming – I was ready to take on New York. I packed up everything I could and left within 2 weeks (this will vary depending on how bad the group is getting slaughtered).

You will notice I spent so much time in the build up to the actual interview and work required and very little time on the actual interview/mechanics of getting an offer. If you are trying to make a move from a boutique/middle market firm to a bulge bracket bank, you will exert 10x the energy looking for jobs, speaking with contacts and trying to travel to an interview than you will actually interviewing and getting the offer.  My advice is this: make sure you want to work at a bulge bracket bank, do your research on what bank/group would be your ideal spot and stay on your toes. Every opportunity in this business is fleeting and to capitalize, you need to be the most prepared. It can sound onerous and painstakingly slow, but when it happens, it happens quickly. Godspeed.

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