How to Get a Job on Wall Street

“Wall Street firms know they can train on the business — they want exciting, interesting, and motivated people,” says Matt Bodnar. In 2009, he landed a job with one of the most prestigious investment firms, Goldman Sachs, right out of college. Surprisingly, he wasn’t even a finance guy.

If you’re pursuing top finance jobs, odds are working on Wall Street is on your bucket list. Often thought of as the brass ring of the industry, a job on Wall Street can seem so elusive it is almost mythical. However, it doesn’t have to be. We spoke with some industry professionals to get their opinions and advice on how to secure a position on New York’s most famous street.

Differentiate yourself

“The single most important factor in getting my job at Goldman Sachs was being DIFFERENT and standing out from the crowd of finance majors with 3.5+ GPAs,” recalls Bodnar. “At the end of the day, those résumés just blend together. I was a political science major and studied abroad in China. I leveraged an internship in China to make my résumé stand out from the crowd by being memorable and unique.”

He points out that while it is crucial to stand out from the pack, you still need the right credentials if you want to get hired straight out of college.

“I still studied my butt off to get the fundamentals down for my interviews,” he explains. “I read about 14 books on everything from economics to accounting. I also poured deeply over the ‘Vault [Career] Guide to Investment Banking,’ which is a great tool to learn the industry lingo.

“Another more playful tip — read the book Liar’s Poker. This is considered mandatory reading for anyone wanting a job on the street,” says Bodnar. Today, he is a serial entrepreneur and angel investor with the Bodnar Investment Group.

Get your foot in the door

Elle Kaplan did not follow the same path that many seeking finance jobs follow. Her college majors were English and chemistry. “Headhunters I contacted said I would never get a job on Wall Street,” she remembers. Yet she was persistent and believed in her dream.

“My entrance into the finance industry was not automatic. I was rejected initially from every bank I applied to,” says Kaplan. “Finally, I accepted an interview for a receptionist position at a private equity firm.”

Once she got her foot in the door, she told her interviewer that she was interested in a more substantial role in the company, particularly that of analyst. “They changed my interview track, and four rounds of intense interviews later, I had the job.”

Kaplan went on to work years on Wall Street, earning her Executive MBA in finance from Columbia University in the process. She attributes her success to persistence, tenacity, and drive. Today she is the CEO and founding partner of one of the only woman-owned asset management firms in the U.S., Lexion Capital Management.

Be an expert in something

The most straightforward path to getting one of the top finance jobs on Wall Street or elsewhere begins, of course, with graduating at the top of your class at an Ivy League school with impressive internships under your belt. However, as GovernmentAuctions.org president and co-founder Ian Aronovich points out, “not everyone is capable of doing that.”

So what can you do? Aronovich says another way is through expertise in a given field. High-growth fields, like healthcare, are attractive, but many others are as well.

“[I]f you are a top-notch securities or corporate finance attorney … you can always go in-house for a Wall Street investment bank, or even [segue] into investment banking, compliance or just about anything else you want to. … [I]f you are computer or math whiz, you can get hired to help out with proprietary [algorithms] and frequency trading.”

Don’t be selfish

When it comes to finance jobs or any jobs, certain universal truths apply. Employment attorney Lori B. Rassas says the key to getting hired is “to make the entire networking process … about the employer and meeting the employer’s needs — not the needs of the applicant.”

Rassas, author of “Employment Law: A Guide to Hiring, Managing and Firing for Employers and Employees” (Wolters Kluwer 2011), reminds jobseekers to keep their focus on the goals of the company for whom they are trying to work. “It is about the employer’s need to bring in clients, maintain clients, and earn revenue,” she shares.“Anything and everything a jobseeker communicates to a prospective employer should be directly linked to those goals.”