Helping students learn from one another is essential to what DFE is all about. On this page, we feature advice from current or recent students to their peers, pointers about exploring finance, recruiting, and getting the most out of your Duke experience.
The seniors listed here have accepted full-time jobs in the financial markets and volunteered to be a resource to other students. Reach out to them with any recruiting questions you have.
If you are a junior or senior who would like to contribute to DFE's Student to Student page, email email@example.com to pitch us your piece.
If there is any common knowledge about going into finance among Duke undergrads, it is that recruiting began yesterday. By sophomore year, students are being recruited by the major investment banks for internships that won’t start until the summer after their junior year. This puts the onus on the youngest Duke students to explore what working in finance actually means. Luckily, among the many resources at their disposal are older peers who have been through the process and want to help.
Michael Legesse, a junior majoring in economics with a finance concentration, is one of those peers. He spoke to the Duke Financial Economics Center (DFE) about the path that brought him to a sophomore investment banking internship at Morgan Stanley last summer. Legesse also received the PIMCO Future Leaders Scholarship last year, which is designed to help Black and Hispanic/Latino/a/x students pursue a career in finance through continuing education. He will return to Morgan Stanley as an intern next summer.
DFE: When and how did your interest in finance start?
Legesse: It definitely goes back a bit. I was born to ethnically Ethiopian parents in the United Kingdom. My family won a green card lottery, and we moved to the United States when I was ten. My parents were always really serious about education. They said I could be one of three things: a doctor, an engineer, or a disappointment. I didn't want to be any of those things, so I had to figure out what else was available!
Junior year of high school when I started applying to colleges—places like Duke—I looked into what students from those schools went on to do after graduation and came across a lot who were going into finance. I had no idea what that meant and had never heard of companies like Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley.
I did some research and became especially interested in investment banking. What I really liked was that at a junior level you get a ton of responsibility, more so than in other careers. It’s an apprentice-based model, where you’re learning from other people. There isn’t the notion that you need to come in knowing everything; if you’re smart and willing to work hard, they will train you. You’re surrounded by bright, driven people. It was an environment I could see myself doing well in.
DFE: Having developed an interest, how did you start pursuing finance as a career?
Legesse: I read a lot online, Wall Street Oasis, Reddit, links on DFE’s site that give you a brief introduction to the career. After exhausting those resources and getting familiar with what I could be getting into, I jumped to talking to upperclassmen. I asked them about their internship experiences, what exactly they did. They boiled it down in a way that was easily digestible. Sometimes there’s the worry when you talk to people working full-time at a firm that you might ask the wrong questions or don’t come across as polished enough, so talking to current students was a great starting point.
Once I was comfortable, I started reaching out to alumni. You have to network really broadly, so even when I didn’t have alumni to contact at a particular firm, I cold emailed people I had some type of connection with and learned about job roles that way.
DFE: Was it easy for you to reach out to alumni or did it take some confidence building?
Legesse: It definitely took confidence building. I remember my first few calls—they weren’t necessarily bad looking back now, but they seemed that way at the time. I remember sitting in my room before my first call, writing a massive list of questions and being like, “Am I going to ask this? What are they going to say?” Fortunately, the person, who was from my hometown, was super nice, which made my anxiety go down. It allowed me to build confidence for subsequent calls, and at some point, as I’m sure a lot of students who have gone through this process will say, you become a lot more comfortable just reaching out to people.
DFE: What tools did you find especially helpful in connecting with alumni?
Legesse: The Alumni Directory was really helpful. You can filter by industry, degree, program, or organizations alumni were involved with on campus. LinkedIn was a big resource for me too, for finding the names of people in current positions.
DFE: The process of getting an internship in the summer after sophomore year is less formalized than recruiting for junior summer internships. How did you navigate finding a sophomore summer internship?
Legesse: Yeah, absolutely, the sophomore process is mostly targeted toward diversity. Coming into Duke, I knew that those programs existed from what I had found out about finance in high school. I wanted to make sure I was ready, so I made a spreadsheet of every opportunity I knew existed. I didn’t have clarity on application deadlines until the spring, but for me it was big to have that list and position myself well for those opportunities. When applications opened, I applied on the first day. As we talked about earlier, I had already networked with some people, so I was on their radar.
Just like with junior internships, the recruiting for sophomore internships is super early. I applied for the Morgan Stanley internship in April of my freshman year and had my final-round interview that June.
DFE: What do you recommend to first-years who are just starting to learn about finance as a career path?
Legesse: I was more an outlier than the norm, so they should know that there is absolutely no expectation that you need a sophomore internship. No one should beat themselves up if they don’t get one.
What I would say is be open to everything. At Duke there are a ton of opportunities available. You can start with the student organizations on campus, like Consulting Club and Investment Club. Another thing is to sign up for Career Center events, firm events posted on Handshake. Firms appreciate that as a freshman you are taking the initiative to explore your options. My freshman year, I knew the dates of all the different events, and I attended not just the investment banking ones but sales and trading and consulting ones too, to get a bigger picture. They go over a day in the life of different roles and the internship application process, so it’s super helpful for someone starting out.
My final suggestion is to talk to people, starting with students who just went through the process. We’re all from the same school and want to help one another.
DFE: Talk about your experience at your Morgan Stanley internship last summer.
Legesse: The first two weeks were training, 40 hours a week. The third week I hit the desk and was told what deal I’d be working on. My deal team was a range of people, some junior people, some senior people—an analyst, an associate, a VP, and a managing director. I was working on the mergers and acquisitions team. We handled the execution processes of deals, so that’s building the financial model, doing the valuation analysis, managing a virtual data room, and managing the question lists for potential buyers of a particular company.
That was the high level, but as an intern it’s good to keep in mind that the amount that you can contribute might not be what you think because it takes a lot of time for the team to train you. Your tangible impact on a particular transaction might be that you refresh the output on some analysis that your team has run or you change some formatting on a slide. That was half of my time. The other half I did a modeling project, a simulation of what investment bankers on the M&A team do. I got to build a merger model between two companies of my choice. It was a really rewarding experience because I got to build it from scratch and have check-ins with my team. I learned to be a lot more efficient on Excel.
DFE: What types of relationships did you form through the internship?
Legesse: Everyone in my internship class got really close. Each day started at nine and ended at 11 or 12 p.m., so we spent so much time together, ate lunch and dinner together. I also got close with the analyst and associate on my deal team. They made a junior chat for us on the messaging platform, and I got comfortable asking my analyst questions. The junior people were there to comfort us if we got stressed out and make sure we understood what was going on.
DFE: How did you handle the feedback you received from your team? What would you suggest to incoming interns about receiving feedback?
Legesse: My team communicated with a staffer, a person who assigns interns to deals, who would provide me with general feedback. After hearing from the staffer, I would schedule time with my analyst to talk about how I could improve. The remainder of the summer, I tried to take initiative in the areas related to the feedback.
Your deal team is busy, so you don’t want to bother them for a lot of feedback, but take opportunities, like when you’ve delivered a project and it’s been finalized. Ask what you could have improved on. Put yourself out there and ask if there is extra work you can take on.
DFE: What did you find most challenging about the internship?
Legesse: I think it was finding the balance between getting to know the full-time people and not being too intrusive. When you’re walking by someone’s desk, you don’t want to try to strike up a conversation at the wrong time, like when they’re on the phone or working on something super important. I’d set up time to get coffee with people and have 15- to 30-minute conversations.
DFE: Do you have any other advice for students applying for internships?
Legesse: Don’t be super fixated on a particular investment bank with a certain level of deal flow. Don’t beat yourself up about not getting an internship at the top one or two banks. The work will be similar and you’ll get tremendous experience anywhere you go. Also, opportunities to move around will present themselves in the future.
DFE: Can you talk about your experience receiving the PIMCO Future Leaders Scholarship?
Legesse: It was a big scholarship cohort, 50 people, and so a big potential network with not just undergrads but PhD students and MBA students too. It was a unique mix of people from different backgrounds but also a really cohesive group.
We were invited to PIMCO’s offices in Newport Beach California for a few days. They put us in a nice hotel by the beach, and there were a lot of opportunities to mingle with the other students. The first day we could do stuff like surfing lessons or electric bike tours of the area. The second day we went to the PIMCO offices and heard the CEO of the company and others speak. We had more opportunities to mingle and learn about the company at dinner.
At some financial institutions that have scholarships like this, you have to commit to being an intern at the firm [as a scholarship recipient], but that’s not the case with PIMCO. I think it shows their initiative to help the cause [of diversity and inclusion] more broadly.
I took away a ton from the experience, and it makes we look forward to giving back one day.
DFE: Do you have any advice for minority students thinking about going into finance?
Legesse: Organizations are really starting to realize the importance of diversity and inclusion. They’re spearheading a lot of opportunities for underrepresented students to break into the industry so that in 20 years the top brass of financial institutions will more closely map the demographics of the U.S. Most banks have sophomore programs for underrepresented students. Alternative investment firms have sophomore internships too. They might not lead into a junior summer internship, but you meet a lot of people who have connections to the banks and can help you get that junior internship.
Also, avoid a fixed mindset about what you can do and be open to different opportunities. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people and ask questions, formally or informally. Talk to faculty in the DFE, other students, and student organizations.
Don’t let the notion that other students are more familiar with the industry deter you. When you get to a place like Duke, it’s an open playing field, and you have lots of opportunities to learn.
by Abby Sparrow '20
You put so much work into recruiting. When you weren’t attending info sessions every other night, you were practicing technical questions and perfecting your elevator pitch. After what felt like dozens of interviews, finally all that hard work paid off—you got the internship of your dreams, and you can finally breathe! It feels like now you can just sit back and relax, let the summer cruise by, and let the full-time offer easily slip itself into your hands.
Unfortunately, after your first day on the job, you realize that getting the full-time offer won’t be as easy as you thought. You’re surrounded by other ambitious, hard-working interns who want that full-time job just as bad as you do. It seems like they never miss a beat or get tired. Your supervisor keeps throwing projects at you—suddenly you have three presentations next week. Oh, and your team is going out for appetizers after work, and you thought it would be a great idea to book that 5am workout class the next day because, yes, you really can do it all.
Phew. Are you tired from reading that? I sure am.
I hate to break it to you, but your internship won’t always be a breeze. My supervisors described my summer to me as a “10-week interview,” and they weren’t kidding. It can be stressful at times. But, not to fear, I am here with a few helpful tips on how to manage this stress, do your best, and stay sane through your summer internship.
- Take everything your fellow interns say with a grain of salt. I remember some interns saying they worked all weekend to finish their stock presentations. Others would tell me about the five coffees they had planned that day for networking purposes. Listening to the other interns had a way of making me feel like I was never doing enough. But when I aced my presentation and got good internship feedback, all without going to extremes like the other interns seemed to be doing, I realized all I needed to do was trust myself. Just like you know how much you need to study for a test to do well, use that same intuition throughout your internship. If it feels like you’re doing way too much, then you probably are. Trust your gut, work hard, and block out the voices that make you feel like you’re not enough.
- Find time for exercise. During the internship, use working out as a time to destress and get your mind off work. However, DO NOT let workout time become stressful. If you get home from a long day and feel like a nice walk or run would clear your mind, do it! If you get home from a long day and want to sleep but feel like you “should” workout, take a pass and get some rest. Use movement to your benefit to keep you feeling energized and relaxed, but don’t let the pressure of hitting the gym every day, whether at 4:30am or 11:00pm, add to your already-elevated stress levels.
- Find alone time on the weekends. As an introvert, the finance world isn’t always the healthiest environment for me. Especially since I was working on a trading floor, where being social 12 hours a day is expected and encouraged, I often found myself exhausted and in need of some quiet time. On the weekends, I would try to reserve at least a few hours each day for time to myself. I would walk around the city window shopping, go explore a new museum on my own, find a new restaurant, or read a book on a bench in the park. Doing these things would help me feel recharged when it was time for my 5:00am alarm come Monday morning.
- Find something you LOVE about your summer internship. Focusing on the parts of the internship that fire you up rather than stress you out is a great way to create energy and momentum that make going to work every day exciting! For me, this looked like taking an hour out of every day to talk with a trader who had studied math in college like I had. He would challenge me with new proofs, and we would spend time going over them together. Chatting with him was something I did for fun; it was not required for my current project, and he did not have a direct say on whether or not I would get a return offer. I focused on the things I loved about sales and trading, and this truly helped me perform better overall. I was more excited, more engaged, and more authentic, something that your employers are definitely looking for.
Hopefully these tips will help put you at ease for the coming summer. Remember that the other interns are probably feeling overwhelmed too. Take the internship one day at a time, do your best, and BREATHE.
by Gianna Affi '22
For most of my life, I’ve struggled to pick up a book and get lost in it. Sure, I loved reading Harry Potter and a few other bestsellers, but admittedly there have only been a handful of books that truly captivated me. It’s not that I’m not interested in what the author has to say; on the contrary, I’m genuinely excited to undertake each new reading endeavor, but I can never get myself to progress past the first few pages. The second I start reading, I start thinking about doing other things, and I find myself doing the all-to-familiar “wait, I didn’t comprehend anything on that page.” Plus, choosing a book is a commitment: unless a friend has a copy, you probably have to pay for it, and if you don’t end up reading it, it’s hard not to see that money as a waste.
Enter the world of podcasts. They can be as short as two minutes or as long as two hours. You can listen while brushing your teeth, cleaning your bedroom, or lifting weights. Best of all, they are available on whatever streaming service you use, and the monthly subscription cost of something like Spotify or Apple Music is probably less than the cost of any individual book.
Podcasts solved a huge dilemma for me: I wanted to learn about the world, but I did not want to read. In general, it’s good practice to be informed about world events, geopolitical happenings, financial markets, and the like, but it’s especially important for anyone looking to build a career in finance or economics. Every bit of news, even if not directly related to money, makes a splash in the world of finance and economics. That’s why it’s so important to stay updated, however you choose to—and I choose podcasts!
If you’re new to the world of podcasts, welcome! I’d like to suggest my favorite five to get you started. They all cover slightly different topics and industries, so by rotating through them (and others), I feel that I receive a well-balanced set of information and commentary. In no particular order:
Hosted by Carol Masser and Tim Stenovec, this podcast does a little bit of everything. It brings together the latest news from the world of business and finance, covering industries such as global technology, politics, and economics. The hosts have discussed topics ranging from taxes on multinational corporations to the Fed’s zero-rate outlook. Listen to this podcast for a mix of reporting, interviews, and commentary, all with a sense of humor, too!
This podcast is produced by S&P Global, a company that prides itself on offering company ratings, benchmarks, analytics, data, research, commentary, and ESG solutions. Host Nathan Hunt looks at the most pressing issues in global financial markets, such as macro trends, the credit cycle, and climate risk. To explore these topics, he conducts interviews with professionals respective to each industry. Episodes have covered topics ranging from cyber risk to the market impact of extinction.
3. The Daily
This iconic podcast by The New York Times is hosted by journalist Michael Barbaro and published five days a week by 6 a.m. Its 20-30-minute episodes are based on The Times’ reporting; Barbaro interviews journalists about the work they are doing on the ground. Barbaro covers a wide set of issues, ranging from pandemic parenting to voter restriction to wind farms. Listening to this podcast guarantees you’ll always have something interesting to talk about!
This one has a special place in my heart, considering that the book Freakonomics is one of the few that I have read cover-to-cover and loved (and not just for homework). Host Stephen J. Dubner, a co-author of the book, takes you on a journey each week with the hopes of “discovering the hidden side of everything.” He speaks with Nobel laureates, provocateurs, university professors, and many others about what isn’t immediately visible to the eye; past topics have included fixing the “hot mess” of U.S. healthcare (his words, not mine), the abolition of traffic lights, and the costs and benefits of marijuana legalization.
Finally, this one goes out to all the future entrepreneurs in the audience. Guy Raz of NPR takes you on a deep dive into some of the world’s most famous companies. All conducted with the entrepreneurs themselves, Raz’s interviews are a first-hand look at successful entrepreneurs and the companies they have built. Whether you want to know about Ben & Jerry’s, Khan Academy, or the Impossible Burger, Guy Raz has a story you’ll be sure to enjoy. If you have even the slightest desire to start a company, or if you just like giving your friends the unwarranted backstories of companies they like, give this one a shot.
by George Sanchez '22
Few qualities of making a good impression are as integral as active listening and active question-asking. Duke students take this as a given, especially in the context of networking. However, after participating in countless firm info sessions and panels on both sides of the table, I think it’s worthwhile to unpack why active listening and question-asking in the recruiting process are important.
Given the little individual exposure you can receive from recruiters through a webcam—particularly among a sea of other candidates’ Zoom tiles—those few opportunities for you to stand out are that much more pivotal.
For this reason, I plant my flag in saying that it should be your imperative to generate and get an answer for at least one question during a firm info session. Particularly in a meeting where the energy seems low and the engagement fleeting, being the person that’s willing to step up and ask a question is the simplest way to differentiate yourself to recruiters. Straightforward as it is, it simply shows that the cogs are turning in your head, that you’re doing your homework, and that you care to understand something at a deeper level than the information merely being spoon-fed to you from a PowerPoint slide.
With this in mind, it is always a shock whenever I participate in an info session—virtual or in-person, as an audience member or panelist—and have to sit through an eternal silence after a banker asks if there are any questions. Surely, a (virtual) room full of candidates with enough interest in this career that they self-registered to participate in this meeting must be brimming with curiosity and burning questions. And yet the silence lingers. To top it all off, there are people with their cameras off, practically ensuring that their presence in the meeting will be shrugged off and their names forgotten.
I still recall being a sophomore sitting in on an info session hosted by a director and associate with at least 40 other students in attendance. An hour-long panel managed to generate no more than 10 questions/responses from all these students, a number that very few of us contributed to. Shortly after the meeting, I approached the director to speak with her, and she surprisingly thanked me for speaking up and being active: these actions matter to recruiters. Even with little relevant experience and a non-competitive GPA, I left that info session with a business card, a coffee chat, and a meaningful chain of correspondence with their recruiting team. Asking questions puts you in the position to build these connections.
A personal rule of thumb is to do research on the firm and/or the people if that information is available and come prepared with two or three questions I’d like to ask. However, I usually only keep these as a contingency and at typically only ask one of them. Really, I make it an outright goal to come up with two or three questions throughout the course of the meeting. The reason why is to hold me accountable to listening intently. It forces me to truly process what I hear; cross-reference it with what I know, what I don’t, and what I may care to know more about; and fill in that gap. It certainly helps to restate what was said that inspired your question to show that you’re thinking in the moment, and it offers a great thread of conversation to pick back up if you get the chance to follow-up with this person after the main event or in a subsequent conversation. Making yourself visible with a good question also gives you the advantage of memorability when it comes time to send your thank you email, where you also refresh the person on who you are. If you never spoke during the meeting, you would have nothing to be remembered by and have no track record.
At the same time, ask questions with purpose and intent. This is not an invitation to scramble for a question and settle for “walk me through a day in the life of a …” just to get something out. This is a challenge to be fully present and fully prepared.
Listen, not for the words, but for the ideas; speak, not to fill the silence, but to fill the conversation.
by Gianna Affi '22
I think you’ll agree with me when I say that you definitely need to be an economics, computer science, or stats major in order to pursue a career in business and finance. It’s essentially impossible to get that dream internship unless you’ve perfected the discounted cash flow, mastered Python, and can flawlessly use pivot tables in Excel.
Here’s the thing, though—you’d be dead wrong to agree with me. I don’t blame you. I practically worshipped those words a year ago, convincing myself that choosing to study political science and Arabic were the surest way to make sure I never make it to Wall Street. Since you’re here, though, I want to let you in on a little-known secret: if you want to go into business or finance, your major doesn’t matter. Again, if you don’t believe me, I don’t blame you. But I’m here to tell you that econometrics and multivariable calculus don’t have to be part of your journey (unless you want them to be, of course!).
First, a little about me. My name is Gianna, and I’m a junior from Milwaukee, WI. Brought up by two doctors, I was always certain of one thing: that I didn’t want to be a doctor. Actually, I was certain about two things: that I didn’t want to be a doctor and that I hated math. Starting at Duke, I didn’t know what to do with those pieces of information, so I explored. My first year of college did include ECON 101 but it also included a class on the First Amendment and another called “Musical Shakespeare.” By the end of the year, I knew that I wanted to study political science and Arabic, but I thought that doing so would be to end my career in business and finance before it even started.
In a panic, I set up a meeting with John Caccavale, the Executive Director of the Duke Financial Economics Center. He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Gianna, if there is one thing you ever learn from me, it’s that your major doesn’t matter. I promise.”
I decided to take his word for it. Over the summer, I hesitantly applied to be a sophomore analyst in Global Capital Markets at Morgan Stanley. With virtually no prior experience and no quantitative skills, I was certain that my application would be the first to get tossed. To my pleasant surprise, the opposite happened. The recurring sentiment throughout my recruitment process was that firms are searching for a diverse set of candidates.
If you still don’t believe me, I want you to hear it from some of the wonderful Duke alumni I’ve met along the way. Here were a few of their best answers:
“We spend 12+ hours a day with the people next to us, so a diverse group of people creates more interesting and valuable conversation. At the end of the day, this business is about connecting with the people around you and a humanities major gives you a great foundation to be able to hold conversation in a wide range of topics.” - Ekim Buyuk, Trinity ‘19, first-year analyst at Morgan Stanley
“STEM-oriented individuals tend to look at the data first and foremost. However, in any field—even in areas like investment banking—you must ultimately be able to tell a good story. Just because your financial model gives you certain numbers, that doesn't mean someone should believe in your pitch. WHY does this data matter? What larger idea does all the analysis uncover? That is where understanding your audience and shaping the story in a way that aligns incentives matters.” - Dana Sun, Pratt ‘14, University of Chicago Booth School of Business
“At Duke, I majored in public policy, but I also took several classes in art history and psychology. In addition to that, I took some finance courses, but I wouldn’t say I took them in a major way. But what I’d say is this: in whatever career path you ultimately decide to pursue, if you’re going to be engaged and involved in that business, you want to have a broad spectrum of experience. My background in public policy and psychology helped develop my management style and informed the process by which I make decisions. And as for art history—art allows you to relate to people on a broad spectrum because it's so diverse. And it’s a reflection of our society, so it helps you to better understand the world around you and better relate to people.” - Stevan Pardo, Trinity ‘81, JD ‘84, Founder/Managing Partner, Pardo Jackson Gainsburg PL
“During my 37 year career in banking, I have discovered two of the most important components of business success are the ability to reason effectively and communicate clearly, both verbally and in writing. A liberal arts education emphasizes development of both of these skills and provides an excellent foundation for almost any career, including business. Technical knowledge (such as accounting and finance), while also important, can mostly be acquired on the job.” - Mark Short, Trinity ‘83, Executive Director, Credit Risk Director at JPMorgan Chase
So there you have it! Four Duke graduates, all with different educational backgrounds and career paths, share a common sentiment: there is no “right” major. Study what you genuinely enjoy, learn as much as you possibly can, and continue to connect with others. That is how you will make the best of your time at Duke and beyond.
by Victoria Bevard '21
A big part of being ready for financial services interviews and eventually working in the industry is regularly following the news. While day-to-day news on market movements will be more important to those working in a markets seat, staying abreast of the news is ultimately a valuable habit for anyone working in financial services. If you’re not already in the habit of reading the news, here are some tips to help you get started:
- There are a number of great aggregators out there that send overviews of the daily news to your inbox, making it easy to get into the habit of checking the news for a few minutes every morning. Check out the Wall Street Journal's What’s News, Morning Brew, and Bloomberg's Five Things newsletter.
- In addition to reading about the major events of the day, also keep an eye on the changes in the market and value of a few securities. The values of the S&P index, 10-year yield, and barrel of oil are a good place to start. If you intend to pursue a career in markets, keeping a formal markets journal of an expanded list securities, (such as currency exchange rates, individual equities, or commodities) is a great way to get into the habit of following markets.
- If you see something of interest in the news, consider reading more about it by checking out a full-length article in the Wall Street Journal or news site of your choice. Knowing a little bit more about a few topics gives you something to discuss and helps inform your interests. All Duke students enjoy a free subscription to the Wall Street Journal and NYTimes.com.
- If you find it hard to make time to read a daily newsletter, try subscribing to a podcast that provides daily news reports. The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, NPR, and others provide daily news summaries under 10 minutes long.
Above all, staying current with news and markets isn’t only about doing well in interviews, or developing a habit, but rather the activity helps you gauge your own interest in working in financial services. If you thought you wanted to work in sales and trading, but find that you have no interest in following markets, you can use that information to explore careers that do align with your genuine interests.
by Karam Katariya '20
Networking is tough. It’s hard to put yourself out there, to try and subtly show your strengths without coming off as arrogant, and to talk to senior people at investment banks when you’re a first-year or sophomore who may not even know what you're going to major in yet!
I get it. And I promise you that the investment bankers on the other side get it too. After all, they’ve all been in your shoes. They know how intimidating it can be to push through the ten students circling around them asking lists of questions to try and introduce yourself at the over-crowded information sessions firms hold on campus.
The truth of the matter is, though, that you absolutely need to network in order to secure interviews at the investment banks recruiting on campus. While those recruiting you understand the pressures surrounding the process, they won’t know who you are, and therefore won’t be able to give you a first-round interview at their firms over the hundreds of other qualified applicants if the first time they’re hearing your name is when they see it on your official application.
With this said, I’ve put together a list of Dos and Don'ts surrounding the networking process that can ideally be used as a one-stop shop to guide your networking endeavors.
- DO attend firmwide info sessions! Firmwide information sessions are usually attended by the Duke-specific campus recruiter, along with a handful of Duke alums at various levels of seniority across divisions (investment banking and sales and trading are usually where Duke alums end up, so those divisions are best represented). The information sessions usually start with a presentation on the firm at large, which tends to be given by the campus recruiter, after which there are usually breakout sessions for attendees to speak to and hear the insights of the firm employees. While these are crowded, and while the chances of you having a meaningful, one-on-one conversation with firm representatives at such events are low, information sessions are important for three key reasons:
- The firm has a record of you being there! Almost all information sessions have sign-in sheets, where you put your name and email address. HR departments at investment banks use these sign-in sheets to gauge interest. Even before the applications open, signing into these information sessions will put you on firms‘ listservs and general radars. These listservs are what the companies use to email students to let them know that they’re coming back to campus for events like coffee chats, and it’s these emails that have the links to sign up for such smaller networking events, so it’s critical that the firm has your email address!
- You can get business cards, and reach out to firm representatives to continue the conversation. While it may be tough to have in-depth conversations with members of the recruiting teams at the information sessions themselves, they’ll still be providing valuable insights. When small-group conversations at information sessions have come to a natural stopping point, thank the firm representatives for their time and request business cards. Having their contact information means you can reach out to them to get on a one-on-one phone call at a later time.
- You learn about what the firm cares about. During the presentations given by the campus recruiters about the firm, you learn not only about their recruiting process and timeline, but also about the programs and initiatives that each firm is working on, their culture, and more about what makes the firm unique.
- DO get on the phone with people! You want to have meaningful conversations with a handful of people at each firm you’re interested in applying to before you apply. If you’re a first-year, reaching out to people is a great way to gain a better understanding of firms without the pressure of their applications being due soon. It’ll also indicate to the Duke recruiting team that you have a genuine interest in the business. When the Duke team all sits down to review applications, there should be enough people on the team who’ve spoken to you and can vouch for you. However, do not overdo this! When I say a handful, I mean just that. It’s far more important to have meaningful conversations with four or five people than it is to have superficial or repetitive conversations with 20 people because if the 20 conversations are meaningless, chances are that the people you spoke to won’t vouch for you when it comes time to deliberate on who gets an interview. There are plenty of ways to find Duke alums at investment banks with whom you can get on the phone:
- Use your networks! If you’re in a business society or a Greek organization, you likely have access to your organization’s alumni database and many of these alums likely work at big banks. Reach out to them via email and establish that you’re in the society that they were once in, asking to get on a phone call.
- Use the Duke Alumni Directory. The Duke Alumni Directory is a very underrated tool to be able to tell which alumni are at which investment banks. You can reach out to alums you find via the directory itself, and ask to get on the phone!
- Use your new information session contacts. As stated above, information sessions are a great way to meet the representatives involved in the current recruiting process. After meeting them at the information session, email them saying something along the lines of “It was great to meet you at the information session and talk about [insert topic of discussion here]. If you have a few minutes in the next couple of weeks, I would love to hop on a quick phone call! It would be great to hear more of your insights on [insert topic here].”
- DO write brief emails. Whenever you cold-email a Duke alum, or anyone else at the firm you’re interested in speaking to, do not write wordy emails, but do attach your resume. And ask to get on a phone call when applicable! See the following examples.
- An introductory email:
I hope you’re doing well and that you had a good week! I’m a sophomore at Duke, looking to pursue a career in sales and trading. I recently applied to the XYZ Summer
2021 Early Action Internship at Firm A, and am very interested in emerging markets. Given that Firm A is one of my top choices, I'd love to hop on a quick call with you sometime in the next couple of weeks, at your convenience, to discuss your experience in EM sales and life as a Duke alum at Firm A. I’ve attached my resume to this email. Please let me know if you have any questions. I hope to hear from you soon.
- A thank-you email (great to send after an interview, coffee chat, or other interaction):
I hope you’ve had a good afternoon. I wanted to reach out to say a huge thank you for taking out time for our coffee chat yesterday. I gained a lot of insights on Firm X and on the product side of investment banking in general. I hope to stay in touch going forward!
- A follow-up email:
I hope your weekend was good. I wanted to let you know that I officially sent in my application for the 2021 Markets Summer Analyst Position. Thank you so much for all the help and advice you gave me when we met on campus, as well as last week on the phone, and I look forward to keeping in touch as this process continues.
- An introductory email:
- DON’T be the person asking 20 questions in a row to a representative at an information session, especially when other students are clearly trying to talk to the same person. At almost every information session I’ve attended, whenever a big group of people circles around one representative during the “networking” portion of the event, there’s usually one person asking questions in rapid-fire mode, refusing to let anyone else talk. This is not a good look, because it shows that you’re not only trying too hard but also that you have a low emotional quotient (EQ), since you’re being completely oblivious to the fact that people around you are trying to get a word in too.
- DON’T over-network. In other words, don’t try and follow up with people too frequently. While Duke alums at investment banks are usually more than happy to hop on a call with you and like to see that you have a genuine interest in the industry, they’re incredibly busy. Don’t irritate them by emailing them asking to chat every week. Similarly, don’t try and connect with people for the sake of connecting with them. For each person you reach out to, you should look to have a meaningful conversation, rather than having the same conversation about the same topics with multiple people. Each conversation should be genuine and informative to both you and the firm representative.
- DON’T be under-prepared. For every networking call you do, you must have talking points ready. Don’t ask someone to take out 30 minutes from their busy day to get on a call and have nothing to ask them. Know what business they’re in before the call, and
note down questions related to their specific line of work before you get on the phone, so that you can sound educated and informed, and so that the discussion isn’t superficial.
- DON’T ask easily Google-able questions on phone calls or during coffee chats! If you ask questions that would take two minutes to look up on Investopedia, firm employees may think you’re wasting their time. Do your research on the group/desk they’re part of beforehand, and ask questions that would warrant a more meaningful response than just a quick, objective answer.
- DON’T talk about things you don’t know enough about! If you’re talking to a credit trader, and you try and flex your knowledge on credit products, you must not make the mistake of talking about concepts more tricky than those you know extremely well. If you start getting asked technical questions by those trying to see how much you actually know, and if you’re unable to answer them, it would be a really bad look. The people you’ll be speaking to expect you to know very little about the industry. As I’ve said, they were in your shoes once, and as first-years and sophomores, you’re not at all expected to be a master of markets or investment banking. It’s okay to get on these phone calls and be honest about how much you know or don’t know.
- DON’T sound rehearsed. Every networking call and conversation you have should be natural. While you should be prepared with questions, see where the conversation goes; you don’t want to force in your questions or talking points if the person you’re speaking to is more interested in hearing certain things from you.
- DON’T bother people who don’t respond to an email you send. Again, these people are busy; if they don’t respond to your email, wait at least 10 days before following up.
On top of all, be yourself. Know that this part of the process is all about firms getting to know you for who you are!
by Veronica Hineman '22
When exploring the finance industry, it is important to not only reach out to alumni but also take advantage of mentoring on campus. Making connections with both fellow students who have been through the finance recruiting process and faculty with Wall Street experience will give you answers to questions you don’t even know to ask and build your confidence.
Most juniors and seniors who have gone through the recruiting process are eager to help younger classmates, wanting to pass on the favor they received from their older peers. DFE compiles a list of seniors each fall who have agreed to be a resource about the firms at which they interned or for general questions about their recruiting and internship experiences. You can find a link to it on DFE's Student Resources page throughout the academic year.
It may be intimidating to reach out to a senior, but seeking out resources and asking questions are essential skills to hone for a finance career. Send a quick email to introduce yourself and ask if he or she has availability to chat for a half hour. It might help you get over the awkwardness to imagine your reaction if a fellow student reached out to you; you would probably welcome the chance to help.
Establishing mentoring relationships with faculty will give you greater insight into the variety of roles within finance industry. A number of the DFE faculty, including the center’s teaching director, Emma Rasiel, and executive director, John Caccavale, spent many years in finance jobs and can speak directly to the skill sets needed for different roles. They can also dispel myths that might be floating around among students. In general, relationships with professors can be some of the most impactful ones you make while at Duke. Start by researching the classes they offer and going to their office hours with questions planned.
Seeking out mentors within the Duke community is a great first step for those interested in a career in finance no matter your course of study. It provides you the opportunity to talk about future opportunities in a non-professional, more casual setting. Always remember that your mentors were once in your position, so try not to feel intimidated approaching them. They are eager to help you learn if finance is a fitting career path for you.