Have you ever thought to yourself: “I would love to go that school, but they wouldn’t accept me”; or “I would love to apply to that position, but, I don’t fit their requirements”; or “I would love to start a company, but I don’t know if I have the skills necessary to do it”?
At one point or another, we’ve probably questioned ourselves as to whether or not we were the ideal candidate for whatever it is that we’re pursuing. I know I have. In several instances throughout my life, I have been slated as the least ideal candidate.
My challenges were:
1. I didn’t have a 4.0 GPA in college to get into investment banking, which is one of the initial pre-requisites.
2. I wanted to work in the US, but US i-banks didn’t interview for US positions at the University of Toronto where I went to school.
3. I wanted to gain international experience, but my group didn’t have a presence internationally.
4. When I transferred from M&A to European Debt Capital Markets (DCM), I didn’t know anything about Debt Capital Markets, nevermind, Debt Capital Markets in Europe.
5. I’ve never started a company before, so, what makes me qualified to do it now?
6. I am not a programmer by trade and therefore probably not the ideal person to start an internet company.
7. I don’t have any money to pay anyone, so why would someone work with me?
8. I’ve never personally raised any money before, so how could I do it now?
9. I aspired to be in Silicon Valley where the heart of internet startups operate, but who do I know and how will I live there?
10. Tough to gain credibility in Silicon Valley regardless of who you are, never mind, as a former investment banker.
But, really, if you’re the least bit ambitious, you’re inherently aiming for something that is usually out of reach, and something that you’re not a perceived ideal candidate for anyways. So, how do we become the ideal candidate? Personally, I think it’s about positioning yourself. That’s what I had to do. To illustrate, let’s take my personal challenges from above.
My positioning for:
1. Less than stellar GPA for i-banking — Took 3 prior years of laser-focused preparation, including working for 1 year as a unpaid intern during college.
2. Getting to the US — Involved cold calling, networking, receiving introductions, and traveling to the US to convince prospective employers of my abilities 1 year in advance of interviews.
3. Gaining international experience — Worked on the a sell side deal of a UK-based company that the bank had successfully completed, and leveraged it to seek international opportunities.
4. Transferring internally with my company — Gained solid reviews and recommendations from top people who could vouch for my skills and work ethic.
5. Starting a company — Developed specific traits through my prior experiences such as resiliency, perspiration, willingness to accept risk, attention to detail, and competitiveness. (Refer to a great article by Mark Suster, entrepreneur turned VC at GRP Partners, regarding “What Makes An Entrepreneur”).
6. Not a programmer — Attracted co-founding developers with technology backgrounds through friends-of-friends.
7. No money to attract team — Focused on the vision of the company, not the money. The company solves a pain point that the each team member has personally experienced.
8. Raising money — Again, the vision is what attracted capital, at least at the beginning from family and friends who believe in me.
9. Moving to Silicon Valley — Facilitated by prior visits to the area and built a network in advance.
10. Discounted due to i-banking job — If I execute and build a successful startup now, I won’t have to worry about that anymore 🙂
So, there you have it. Not being the ideal candidate has never stopped me and it still won’t. And, it shouldn’t stop you either!
I shared this story because often times, people mention that they got lucky, or that they were in the right place at the right time. However, I believe if you dig further, you’ll find that it wasn’t about luck. It was about putting themselves in a position to get lucky. To quote the old adage, “luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” So, we should stop with the excuses and start positioning ourselves to become the ideal candidate.
What do you think? What’s your story? Have you experienced not being the ideal candidate? If so, how did you position yourself towards your aspirations? And more importantly, how are you positioning yourself right now towards achieving your goals?
Edward - Entry Level Dilemma says
Positioning yourself is absolutely essential. It’s important even if you are an “ideal” candidate, but make-or-break for those of us who aren’t as fortunate.
I had a real tough time of college until I found my focus. Now my GPA is below the admission standards of any of the grad schools in the area. So instead of giving up, I’m volunteering for non-profits, especially in my field, I’m studying extra hard for the GRE, and when I contact a professor for the first time to talk about their research, I always find a homework problem they’ve posted online for one of their classes and answer it as a work sample.
Andre Charoo says
Edward — it sounds like you’re doing the right thing. What exactly do you want to do in grad school? I would add that extracurricular things you can do would be helpful. Also, showing leadership in some way by starting something is always a plus. However, it should tailored a bit to the area you plan on focusing on.
Edward - Entry Level Dilemma says
My interest is in watershed management and hydrological modeling.
Along that vein, I’ve started volunteering for an organization that is fighting the construction of a dam on the local river. When things start to thaw out, I will see what else is happening on the river to see what else I can do. This afternoon, I was at a planning meeting for the World Water Day (March 22) event that the local university will be holding.
I’m currently volunteering at the local Habitat for Humanity thrift store, testing donated electronics before they are put out for sale.
I had a computer sales & service business for seven years. Between discovering my passion rather late in my education, and being relatively new to the area, I haven’t yet identified areas relating to water issues where I could start a business relevant to my interest.
Financial Samurai says
Hi Andre – Thanks for your post. Just to clarify, are you no longer in finance, and are focusing solely on entrepreneurship?
If so, what was your #1 reason for moving on? A lot of people try to stick with finance because by the time they are 30, and have worked for 8 years at so and so investment bank, most all are making $300-600,000 a year, depending on the year. Hence, I would be fascinated in understanding your thoughts on moving on. I think others would too.
Andre Charoo says
Hey Sam — Yes, I’m solely focused on entrepreneurship now. I’ve always wanted to start a company and I felt that during my 20s was the best time to do it. I personally believe that creating something from scratch that people find value in is more much gratifying than making $300-600K a year slaving away and not seeing the light of day. I’m not sure if you were in i-banking, but it’s not as gratifying as you may think it is re: compensation. For me, my turning point was when the head of my group mentioned that he wished that he was on the other side of the table when advising companies on a M&A transaction. And, so I asked myself very early on, “why would I aspire to be in his position if I would regret it?”
I was highly influenced by a mentor of mine who advised me to do i-banking for a couple of years, and then leverage it into something else, like entrepreneurship. He did something similar — i-banking, private equity, biz school, startup, sold it, started another startup, sold it, and has continued to start various businesses. I choose this route.
Sam – My experiences also echos Andre’s – just with big law rather than i-banking. The big firm salary was not as gratifying as it might seem, and most partners are unhappy with their lives. Most of them even admitted they’d rather be doing what their clients were doing, “if they could only get out of this.” Looking down the road at dealing with the same crap for years and years, was a depressing prospect. My clients were always much more satisfied with their work and happy. So, I choose to be a client and create something, as Andre said, from scratch that I can share with people.
Monique Johnson says
Thanks for sharing you story! I definitely have not been the ideal candidate what seems like throughout my life lol. Just like you, I wanted to pursue a career path in i-banking and was able to gain a summer internship but did not receive a full-time offer. I did not let that deter me and was able to receive several call backs for 2nd and 3rd round interviews, but unfortunately I was not able to gain offers as well. However, I still wanted to be in the financial services environment so I was able to get an offer from a major firm in their CFO department doing mostly accounting. I have been working in this position for 2.5 years and even though I have learned a lot, I know this is not where I want to be.
Now, I want to transition to creating a start up and learn about web and graphic design. Currently, I have reached out to several people who I have already created start ups and I have landed two positions where I will gain experience. In addition, I have recently started a blog that will document the process of my transition. So now, I have shared with you my story and hopefully a new chapter will be added very soon!
John R. Sedivy says
Similar to the spirit of your article I’m a firm believer that individuals make their own luck. If you want something bad enough and are wiling to work hard there really isn’t a reason why you can’t achieve it. Passion and persistence pay off in the long run. If a roadblock occurs just persist through it – there is seldom “one reason” why an individual is denied an opportunity.
Andre Charoo says
I completely agree. Half the battle is just pushing through, which some just don’t do.
Nomadic Chick says
What an honest article, Andre. I can certainly relate since I’m undergoing a lack of qualifications right now, hoping to push in with gumption and raw talent. If I have any, that is. My dream was always to travel/write, then mash it up into some nomadic hybrid.
Sounds dreamy, but I lack a BA/Masters/PhD in English, haven’t been carried in a major anthology, nor is youth on my side.
How am I going to do it? I’d like to say good vibes, but that’s not sufficient. Guess you’ll have to read my blog to find out! Honestly, it’s still unfolding.
I’m starting to believe there are always options, so don’t lose faith when you read a laundry list of qualifications. Do your thing, you might get noticed! Thanks for the thoughtful piece again.
Andre Charoo says
Not a problem. Glad you liked it. Took a glance at your blog. I will follow your travels. When there is a will, there is a way. Sounds like you’ll make a way!
Lack of qualification my ass. No one needs a BA, much less a masters or PhD to write well. You just need to do it and then do some more. And, you definitely don’t need a degree to travel. You’re doing a great job, and building qualifications as you go.
I think people over value college – too many get out with crippling debt and no skills they can readily turn into a job without some creative selling. And then they turn to graduate degrees because they don’t know what else to do. We fail as a society to give people other options from the traditional paths.
You’ve got the right idea, just do what you want to do, constantly look for the options, and to hell with the things you were supposed to have done.
Nomadic Chick says
Thanks so much for the pump up. Nice to know I’m advancing and doing a decent job of writing. While I agree with you on the degrees, there does have to be an element of talent. I’ve been told I’ve got something, what that is seems to evolve daily. 🙂
I think college can be useful to someone, but at an older age after experiencing the world a little. 18 is a bit young to know what you want or who you are. The current system in place doesn’t work, which is what your keying into.
What I suffered from is exactly what you said about “things you were supposed to have done.” For many years I thought a linear approach was the ONLY path. I’m discovering that was bollocks, and am glad for it.
I just took a gander at your site, and am quite impressed. You just found a new reader. 🙂
This is a terrific post. I have seen so many people stopped in their tracks by succumbing to the kinds of challenges in your first list. I think the act of positioning oneself to achieving ones goals begins with the clarity of the goal itself. Without the clarity of the result one is trying to achieve it is difficult if not impossible to take the steps to get there – or even talk about with others what those steps may be.
Andre Charoo says
Very true. The common denominator in all of my experiences is that I have had laser focus on the goal at hand.
Thanks for adding this.
Great inspiration in there! All too often I find myself wishing there’s something I could do, then wondering how I would ever convince the right people to let me do it. I guess sometimes it’s about how well you can sell yourself and not about what skills you possess at the present time. You can always learn as you go, as long as you show how you’ll handle the snags that come up.
Or, at least that’s what I’m getting from reading this. 🙂
Andre Charoo says
I think you touched on something very important — “selling yourself”. In almost all aspects of life actually, it’s quite important to do this. We should always be selling ourselves. Not in a salesy manner, but as you mentioned, by leveraging the skill set you currently have and learning as you go.
I’m glad the post was helpful. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to share so much information about myself and my struggles. A little shy I guess :S
I think the selling yourself, or figuring out how to sell your experiences to fit the needed qualification, is key. Usually, you can sell any experience. I think a lot of employers are willing to look at applicants even if they are not exactly what is specified because they know, no matter what, the new hire will need to be trained internally.
Andre, you are right, luck is more about making it. Connecting with the right people, doing research, and, really, putting yourself out there. Great post.
I totally get the shyness, it took me a long time to be able to write about what I wanted to and attach my name to it. But I’m realizing that going by my name gives me a bit more credibility than blogging behind a nickname. So far, I like it. :3
Anda, the point you make about the extra training was what I was thinking of. I know in just the places that I’ve worked that attitude can trump experience when it’s the right candidate.
Likewise, I can pretty much learn any skill I’d want to, if I’m willing to put in the effort. (Within reason, I suppose.)
As an extra aside, I totally love this site because of the comments. 😉