And if you land a Wall Street internship or a full-time role, you'll have to learn how to navigate complex products, markets and organizations in double-quick time. We spoke with Wall Street recruiters, execs, and recent hires all the time, and we've asked them all for careers advice.
Morgan Stanley's Carla Harris: Be ready to hustle.
Carla Harris was a star dealmaker for Morgan Stanley before being named vice chairman of the firm's prized global wealth-management division. Harris had to work hard to make it all happen. And it's that kind of diligence that she now looks for when hiring young people.
"I like to call it the 'Hustle Gene,'" Harris told.
To gauge whether candidates have that "gene," Harris wants to know:
• How far will they go above and beyond the job description?
• Do they have initiative?
• Do they follow through?
• Do they understand the importance of relationships? Do they deal with people in a way that people want to deal with them?"
JPMorgan's Michelle Bucaria: Frame the experiences you've had, and don't worry about the ones you haven't had.
JPMorgan's head of firmwide campus recruiting, Michelle Bucaria, told Business Insider that having previous finance experience is not necessarily the most important thing on your résumé — it's all about how you frame the experiences you have had. So maybe you haven't interned in finance before, but you have a part-time job. That shows you have the ability to multitask.
"When I look at a résumé and I say, 'Gosh, they were working, frankly, in the dining hall while they were getting a 3.5 GPA' — that's pretty impressive," Bucaria said.
She also likes to see involvement in campus clubs and activities.
"The ones that are in officer type roles are going to stand out versus someone who's a member of a club," Bucaria said.
"But if you can come across and say, 'I wasn't the president, I wasn't the secretary, however, here was the project that I led, ran, and created this amazing community service activity that had 100 students involved' — that's pretty darn impressive."
Goldman Sachs' Taylor MacKenzie: Don't panic in an interview if you don't know the answer to a question.
If you're asked a question you don't know the answer to in an interview, don't panic!
According to Taylor MacKenzie, head of university relations at Goldman Sachs, the best strategy is to be honest and promise to go and find out the answer.
"I recommend saying something like “I don’t know the answer to that specific question, but I am familiar with…” Then provide some information on a similar topic you are knowledgeable about," she said. "Another way to handle the question is to simply say, “I don’t know, but I can follow up with you after the interview on that”. It’s very important to note that if you say you will follow up that you do so within 24 hours of the interview."
Goldman Sachs' Gregg Lemkau: Embrace opportunity and have fun.
Gregg Lemkau has spent over two decades at Goldman Sachs, and now coheads its powerhouse mergers and acquisitions business.
He has moved around in his time at the firm, working in New York, London, LA and San Francisco, and headed multiple different businesses. Each change of role pushed him out of his comfort zone, helping accelerate his professional development. With that in mind, when asked what advice he'd give to his younger self, he said:
I would encourage him to embrace career opportunity when it presents itself; work hard, but don’t forget to have fun along the way; never take yourself too seriously; and definitely go talk to that girl at the bar – she just might become the mother of your four kids!
Morgan Stanley's Jessica Alsford: Network with people outside of your usual circle.
Jessica Alsford, head of sustainable+responsible investment in equity research at Morgan Stanley, highlighted the importance of networking beyond your usual crowd. "It's incredibly beneficial to your career to broaden your network outside your immediate team," she said. "If you build relationships with colleagues in other teams or divisions, it'll give you a support network you can turn to for career advice. I think that having a good network can also help you do your job better, because you are better connected to the wider business."
KKR's Michelle Domanico: Love what you do.
For young people working hard on Wall Street, it's easy to get caught up in the daily grind and lose sight of what's important.
Michelle Domanico, a principal in credit at investment giant KKR, has seen financiers young and old get caught up in the Wall Street lifestyle and become overly dependent on their jobs — only to lose it all.
"I always wanted to be coming into my job because I wanted to be there," she said. "Not because I was dependent on the bonus, which may or may not come at the end of the year."
LearnVest CEO Alexa von Tobel: Get mentors.
Alexa von Tobel is a startup founder, a New York Times best-selling author, and a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship.
And her advice to those starting out in their career is simple: "Get mentors."
Von Tobel, who remains CEO of LearnVest, the financial-planning company she sold last year for more than $250 million, told Business Insider she identified the people she clicked with, and then made it really easy for them to agree to meeting again.
"My best mentors have now become like second parents to me in many ways," she said. "They are passionate about helping us win."
But don't expect your relationships with your mentors to be all sunshine and roses. Mentors are the ones who will tell you when there's room for improvement.
"I think what you have to find is one or two or three people that are going to give it to you straight and push you harder," von Tobel said. "You have to be comfortable with people telling you that you're not doing well."
Morgan Stanley's Carla Harris: Learn to take risks.
Morgan Stanley vice chairman Carla Harris says she wishes she had understood the power of taking risks when she first started out in her career.
"Every time you are stepping into a new role or trying to do something different, whether it's getting more responsibility, actually taking on a management challenge, being a leader — you are taking some risk," she told.
"And that is quite powerful and a necessity."
When Harris was first starting out on Wall Street, everyone told her not to go into M&A because of the long work weeks and because it was "tough for women," she said in a Makers interview. But she chose to go into M&A banking anyway — and excelled.
JPMorgan's Michelle Bucaria: Prepare the right kind of questions for your interview.
"You can't just come in and ask, 'Tell me about investment banking,'" JPMorgan's Michelle Bucaria told. "You have to demonstrate that you've done a decent amount of your own research and have thoughtful questions that you want to get answers to."
Some examples might be:
• "I was reading in the news about JPMorgan's Investor Day, and I saw that Daniel Pinto talked about X. I didn't understand all of the nuances of it, what are the implications for the division I'm applying to?"
• "I understand that this is a rotational program. I read the description but it wasn’t clear to me if I would actually have the opportunity to rotate through the consumer side of the bank too?"
• "What are the opportunities for mobility? I know JPMorgan is great for mobility — they’ve got opportunities all over the world — how does that actually play out within the corporate-analyst-development program that I’m looking at?"
Point72's Mike Butler: Don't be embarrassed by failure.
A lot of candidates aren't completely honest on their resume, according to Mike Butler, head of human resources at Point72 Asset Management — formerly SAC Capital — the $11.4 billion family-office hedge fund led by billionaire Steve Cohen.
"One thing that — and this ties back to ethics and integrity — one of the things I observe more often than you might expect are candidates who are in one way or another, whether it's on their résumé, the application process, the initial interviews, are less than completely forthright," he told Business Insider's Julia La Roche.
"There's a gap in their résumé, there's a stumble academically, there's something in their background that they've tried to get cute with or finesse or cover over or be less than direct about."
Butler said this is the quickest way to get screened out of the job-selection process at Point72.
"Life is complicated. People stumble. There are lapses. Fine," he said. "Be straight with us about it."
Ex-PIMCO star Hao Zou: Differentiate yourself.
Hao Zou is not your typical young finance star. He stumbled into a job at bond giant PIMCO, becoming one the youngest portfolio managers the firm had ever hired. He left the firm in early 2016 to launch his own fintech startup.
While Zou's career path would be tough career to replicate, he does think there are a few important lessons that aspiring financiers can take away from it.
"You have to find opportunity to differentiate yourself and try to promote yourself a little bit," he said. "Even though I did everything wrong, my core values get highlighted."
He was able to show that he was hardworking and that he could excel given the opportunity.
He was also able to demonstrate his own expertise — quantitative analysis and mathematical skills — and how it could complement the rest of his team.
"You should have your own unique skill sets that are valuable to the firm," Zou said.
BlackRock's Bryan Cameron: You need to be good with technology to make it as a trader.
The ideal skill set for traders has changed a lot in recent years, especially in asset classes where more trading is done electronically. Bryan Cameron, a vice president in equities trading at BlackRock, understands that.
"What's changed is the dependency on technology — the technology to support the scale of the business," Cameron told.
That technical know-how has to be married with the qualities good traders have always required: a cool head under pressure. "Certain aspects of what historically has made a great trader will continue to make a great trader," Cameron said. "The ability to deal with and process vast amounts of information, filter it down into what's important, and make informed decisions based on that in a live-time environment is a real skill."
KKR's Michelle Domanico: Find a sponsor within the firm as soon as possible.
Navigating through your first Wall Street job is not going to be easy.
Junior bankers work long hours under high pressure in extremely competitive environments.
But there's one thing you can do to help you stay afloat: Find a sponsor within the firm as soon as possible.
Michelle Domanico, a principal in credit at investment giant KKR who previously worked at investment bank UBS, told that it's extremely important to find a senior person in the firm who is not your boss — someone who will go to bat for you when it comes time to decide promotions and pay.
"That person can change over time, and it probably needs to change over time," Domanico said.