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#012 Fireside Fridays - Interview Preparation Guide For Turning Your Weaknesses Into Strengths

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How To Turn Your Weaknesses Into Strengths And Excel At Your Next Interview

When I was 24 years old I’ve quit my safe and secure job as a master chimney sweep to hit it big in the finance industry. A few months before finishing my bachelor’s degree I landed a 4-months internship in corporate and investment banking at a European mid-tier bank, this was my stepping stone into the banking world.

My plan was simple but insane. Gaining some initial banking experience to secure a full-time role as a (M&A) Mergers & Acquisitions Analyst, while finishing my CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) designation. This should take me three years. Then I would get an MBA from Harvard Business School which will open the doors to the global top-tier banking world. I wanted to become a master of the universe at one of the big players (Morgen Stanley, JP Morgan, UBS, Goldman Sachs etc.).

Guess what happened?

I made it into a full-time M&A analyst role and burned out within a year.

Working 70-80h+ a week, studying for my CFA designation (one of the hardest finance exams on the planet) while training for my upcoming IRONMAN 70.3 race was just too much. I burned the candle form both sides way too long.

I quit my job to regain my health while thinking I was done forever with the banking industry. My dream of making it into Harvard and working at one of the top global banks was dead. I even thought about getting back into chimney sweeping - what a failure.

However, after a few weeks I earned back my mental clarity and somehow I sensed the feeling that I wasn’t done yet with the banking world.

I still had the urge to become part of the 1%.

But how in the world should I manage to break into Wall Street with my limited industry experience form mid-tier banks and without a target university degree?

Let’s look at the facts:

#1 Dropped out of school

#2 8 years of professional experience in chimney sweeping

#3 Bachelor’s degree from a distance learning institute, Grade B+ (US 3.3 | DE 1.8)

#4 4 months internship from a European mid-tier bank

#5 1 Year 2 months experience as M&A Analyst from a mid-market M&A boutique

#6 Failed my CFA exam

#7 Burned out and quit my job

Well, things were looking really bad at first glance. With this background, what are the chances of securing a role at a global top-tier bank? Next to zero when you buy into the elite business school narrative.

However, here is a sneak peak into The Ultimate Banking Interview Blueprint and how to turn your weaknesses into strengths:

#1 Dropped out of school When I was 16 years old, I dropped out of school because I just knew early on that I prefer solving real-life problems over studying theory only.

#2 8 years of professional experience in chimney sweeping My unique background equipped me with almost 10 years of professional experience. 8 years I spend in chimney sweeping becoming one of the youngest chimney sweep masters in the country. Many demands of a chimney sweep master are relatable to the banking world.

For example:

→ building long-term client relationships & understanding the clients needs

→ managing different stakeholders on (construction) projects e.g. architects, construction managers, government authorities etc.

→ Coordination of daily business operations e.g., staffing, annual heating system inspection, report drafting & preparation)

#3 Bachelor’s degree from a distance learning institute Studying at a distance learning university prepared me to cope with a high pressure environment like banking by getting used to work full-time while managing my academic obligations. Furthermore, it helped me to build the required skills to work on remote projects and multi-cultural teams over different time-zones. Additionally I’m used to frequent traveling too.

#4 4 months internship from a European mid-tier bank → My internship at a European mid-tier bank within the multinational corporates department helped me to get a solid understanding of a variety of corporate investment banking departments. As a relationship manager to companies with USD 500 million + in annual revenues our team has been the first point of contact for c-level executives on subjects like, trade & export finance, treasury, structured finance and mergers & acquisitions.

#5 1 Year 2 months experience as M&A Analyst from a mid-market M&A boutique → Working at a mid-market M&A boutique allowed me to get in front of clients almost immediately. The kick-off meeting for my first sell-side project was two-weeks into my role, I didn’t even had business cards back then. We worked a lot with private equity firms where I had the opportunity to get exposure to buy and build projects too.

#6 Failed my CFA exam → I failed my CFA exam. So what? Treat failures like another stepping stone on your way to success. The company you’re applying to doesn’t know that you have failed your exam and there is no obligation to tell them, neither a legal one nor an ethical one. Just tell them that you’re enrolled into the CFA program pursuing your designation and combine it with a reason why this will help your in your desired role.

Important: If the questions comes up e.g. “Is this the first try on your CFA exam?” Do not lie. Just be honest. You’ve failed but this has shown you, your areas of improvement and you’re confident that you will make it on the next try. Never ever lie in an interview. It will get back to you sooner or later.

#7 Burned out and quit my job → Similar situation here. The company you’re applying for doesn’t know that you burned out. Just focus on the positive aspects:

  • Which projects did you work on?

  • What tasks were you responsible for?

  • What skills could you acquire?

  • Why do you want to change role / area?

Also here, if for whatever reason they should know and the question comes up e.g. “What lead to your burnout?” Be honest. Just tell them the truth. For example: I’m a very ambitious and competitive person therefore, I had a steep learning curve at my last role. However, I also learned that it’s crucial to set boundaries and ask for support, in particular in a high-pressure environment like M&A. It also gave me a better understanding of what I’m looking for when it comes to company culture and job requirements.

Don't let your failures derail you. They are a stepping stone on your path to success. Think about it, if you never fail you never left your comfort zone and never tested your limits. Failures help you to discover your full potential - embrace them!


PS: I'm launching my NEW online program soon giving it all away for FREE (First 10 candidates only:

The Ultimate Banking Interview Blueprint For Career Changers With A Non-Traditional Background: The Secret Sauce for Breaking into Wall Street with Limited Industry Experience and Without a Target University Degree.

JOIN the waitlist NOW and be the FIRST to get access as soon as it's available: JOIN THE WAITLIST

Kevin Schwarzinger

Founder, ChimneyCapital

Author, World Explorer & Solopreneur

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