Career

How I went from musician to investment banker with no experience

I went from being an ex-musician and charity worker to an investment banker in mergers & acquisitions, with no experience, and without directly asking for it. Here’s how

I’m pretty sure I can confidently say that I’m one of the rare ones.

But not because I believe I’m exceptional, but because I believe most everyone else isn’t.

Not an easy, or common route – but I can tell you exactly how I did it.

DISCLAIMER: extreme drive and patience required.

The background: I chose the arts over finance in the early years

High school ended with a fork in the road.

I had a choice between NYU Stern business school on scholarship, or NYU Tisch for film school. I had aptitude in numbers, was top of my class, and was also artistic. I chose Tisch to follow my passions – youth prevailed.

My college years ended with me having a degree in Music (I switched from film). I played piano and guitar most of my adolescent life and I found it more satisfying than filmmaking.

Musician, producer, composer, etc. in New York City. Young, and hungry, and surrounded by virtuoso.

Whilst at school and thereafter when I graduated, I worked at various NGO / charities. I wasn’t making huge sums, but in a year after graduation, I secured a $60k role.

This was it. I could see the fork in the road in front of me.

If I continued on, I’d be in charity for the rest of my career, and I might be comfortable, but certainly not making huge sums. And I could continue to struggle as a musician on my free time.

But I didn’t just want comfortable. And music wasn’t happening quick enough. I took a good hard look at myself. I wanted much more.

So I went and moved from NYC to London, got my Master’s in Finance, and went on to secure a career in investment banking, in mergers & acquisitions.

Easy, right?

Jobless and trying to change careers

Not at all.

During my Master’s I realised I wanted to work in M&A. It sounded exciting, challenging, and fit my competitive personality at the time. I wanted to prove that I could successfully pivot into this career – that anything is possible, if you just work hard enough.

As my Master’s courses were finishing, I was applying like crazy to all the grad program intakes at the global banks for investment banking, and M&A. I must have applied to all of them.

The year is 2010, and I didn’t get a single response.

I kept applying to other firms, with zero next stage invites.

Over 400 applications (410 to be exact, now memorialised away in a gmail archive folder) in total that year – none of which got me a single ounce of return on my time and effort.

Think about that for a minute. The amount of effort put in on filing out online portals, filling in applications, writing cover letters, with ZERO return.

It was devastating, and time started to run away from me. Mind you, in 2010, finance was still recovering from the 2008 financial crisis, and jobs, especially in the most competitive fields, were almost non-existent.

After a few months, I took a hard look at what I was doing.

I just didn’t have the resume or experience. My CV had almost nothing related to M&A on it, despite my best efforts to pad it out, and fluff it. My CV was NGO, and music. Of course this wasn’t going to work. I knew my strengths, and that my best asset was me: my personality, my ability to interview, my well-spokenness – all of which was useless when applying through job portals or through CV submissions.

On paper, blind to the other side of the process, I was a horrible candidate.

But nevertheless, I was going to do this, no matter what.

Quit trying to fool yourself: get good at being your own worst (therefore best) critic

Does any of this sound familiar to you?

Are you at a stage in your life where your trying hard to achieve something, with no results? Are you still trying to pivot into something, trying again and again, with no luck? No call backs? No interviews? No advancements?

Constant doubt and building fear? Are you facing growing financial difficulty? Are you being asked to confront the possibility that you need to settle? To take a career that just doesn’t interest you?

Stop dashing yourself against the rocks. Stop. Take a moment, breath, and repeat. When you can, then take a step back, from you, from your process. Try to think big picture – see your current strategy from a top-down POV – from bird’s eye, try to visualise the recruiter, the HR person, the team member, the director, your competition, all related to your applications.

Can you see why maybe you aren’t as successful as you wish in the process?

Confronting yourself and getting real about what is achievable with what you’ve got now is the very first step to getting you the career that you want, because you now can see your own faults, and what is lacking to make you a great candidate. You can see the competition, and how their CVs look compared to yours.

Do you have a shot at competing on the same playing field?

If you are like I was, the answer after getting real is a resounding NO. I had no experience. I was going up against younger candidates with far more experience – on the job experience. Those summer internships they did while at university. They had racked up way more hours, weeks, months, years of experience, and I was foolishly trying to get in the same pile with them.

How to pivot into any career without the experience

Make no mistake: it takes A LOT of effort. A LOT. But if you want it, you can do it – I’m the proof of this.

I can tell you, what I’ve done works – you can see it on my CV. I’m currently a Vice President in mergers & acquisitions, and I pivoted from a music degree, being an ex-musician, and charity worker, with no prior experience.

I’ve outlined 3 strategies one must employ to make this happen below in the premium contents section because there’s a lot of detailed and sensitive information there, and it may be too much for a blog post for our readers who want the quick read.

I’ve listed the 3 strategies I employed – in order of importance (and number 3 is a point that most everyone I’ve seen usually gets wrong).

And to top it off, which I promise will really add value for you, you should note that I secured my first M&A role when I met with a firm’s Global Head of M&A – and without ever speaking to him directly, without ever asking to speak about any available roles, I had a meeting with him – at his request.

This led to my first role as analyst in M&A.

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Help us fund our running costs only, and get a detailed outline of how I went about my first successful career pivot, with no experience… and how I got the Global Head to ask me to meet with him.

The road to success can be a long, and uncertain, one – but when it happens, you will be proud for the REST of your life

It’s June 2014, after a series of interviews with the M&A team, with endorsement of the Global Head of M&A… and I start my role as an associate in the career I’d wanted for so long.

It didn’t come easy, and it still took me proving myself in interviews to the direct team I’d be working with – but I had the endorsement from their Global Head (which was good as gold).

Where I’ve been ever since. I’ve changed firms, been promoted several times, gone through another financial crisis, have pivoted again, and am a currently Vice President in M&A.

I can tell you that my advice above works.

But you have to be the kind of person who strives to be exceptional (even where you are not); who is able to build authentic, genuine connections where you can give and take; and above all, who is really patient.

It was a long, hard journey, and one that really not many do. But I’m certain you can apply this to any situation – after all, if I can do it into one of the most competitive career fields out there, so can anyone!

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