I am giving a talk at Williams today on “How To Get a Cool Job in Finance” at 4:00 PM in the Rogers Room on the 4th floor of Hopkins Hall. All are welcome! Details below. (Bumped to top.)

Now, Saturday afternoon on the week-end of Fall Break is not the best time to give a talk, so I don’t expect many students to attend. But the handful that do will certainly learn something. (I would also be curious on thoughts from the EphBlog community.) Besides course advice and reminders on the importance of networking, I’ll be offering some specifics on how students can prepare for finance interviews by learning about the field and having something concrete to talk about.

First, it has never been easier to get a clue about finance via the internet. Back in the day, we were told to read the Wall Street Journal each day, especially the front page of the C-section. That’s not bad advice, but even easier is to read finance blogs. I recommend Abnormal Returns, a pitch perfect daily collection of all the most interesting stories in finance. Read 5 or so of the linked articles from that site each day and, after a year or so, you’ll have a fairly good overview of the financial world. You can then use these as starting points to find good blogs on whatever aspect of finance (equity analysis, investment banking, venture capital and so on) you find most interesting (or whichever sub-field you are interviewing for this week).

Second, you want to have very specific things to discuss in your interviews. Almost every finance professional likes to talk about specific investments. So, you should make some and then become an expert in them. The size of the investment is irrelevant but, ideally, it should involve actual dollars. No one is likely to ask you for a brokerage statement, but you never know. So, take the $1,000 that you saved last summer, create a personal IRA, and start an account at a brokerage like Fidelity. Even if you only have $100, the important thing is that you are practicing, with real money, the sort of skills that finance people use (or respect) even before you start work.

Invest some of that money in something, anything. The safest place (and what I recommend) is stocks. Buy two stocks long and sell two stocks short. (Don’t know what short-selling is? Time to learn!) Make yourself the world expert in those 4 stocks. The stocks should be smaller companies, somewhere in the $100 million to $1 billion market cap range. Read everything there is to know about those companies: news stories, financial statements, press releases, message boards. Much of that material will make no sense but, over time, you will start to understand what is going on, start to see how market professionals think.

It would be great if you made money with these stocks, if the ones you bought went up and the ones you shorted went down. But that’s not really necessary. What matters is that you have something to talk about with the people who are interviewing you, something that sets you apart from all the other smart college kids that you are competing with. Detailed knowledge of specific investments will set you apart. You need to learn how to talk the talk.

Although US stocks are the recommended choice, there is nothing wrong with being more daring, with looking at options or warrants, with looking outside the US. But only make those choices if you are certain that you have the time and energy and brains to become an expert on those topics. Options are hard work.

Anyway, that will be the gist of my talk. Aren’t you lucky to read EphBlog? Now, you can find something more fun to do on Saturday afternoon . . .

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