Today’s guest is Patrick Curtis, CEO & Co-founder of Wall Street Oasis. Patrick graduated from Williams College in 2002 and worked as an Investment Banking Analyst for Rothschild & Co for two years. He then joined Tailwind Capital as a Private Equity Associate in 2005 around the same time that he founded Wall Street Oasis, which he has led as CEO ever since. He also earned his MBA with a concentration in entrepreneurial management from Wharton in 2010. Welcome, Patrick!
What is Wall Street Oasis? [1:20]
It’s an online community for finance professionals and students trying to break into finance careers – investment banking, private equity, etc. We have 500K registered members and 1.5 million visits per month.
The community is similar to any forum-based site. And we offer paid services in addition: interview courses, resume review, etc.
What’s the backstory? [2:55]
I landed on my feet at Tailwind after being fired from my first PE job. I was talking to a friend who had technical skills, and we were thinking about starting a site. There was no good place online for people trying to break in, or for bankers to commiserate about their long hours. We tried to make the tone fun – the theme of the site was monkeys (it still is).
It grew steadily – it took on a life of its own. I didn’t work on it full time until after my MBA.
How did you choose the name and the monkey theme? [4:50]
Have you heard of the book Monkey Business? It resonated with me at the time.
How did you handle the layoff? [6:00]
I was pretty devastated. I realized the transition from IB to PE was more difficult than I’d anticipated. I had all the technical skills, but the project management skills didn’t translate right away. In the end, I think it was more an issue of culture and fit – but it was a hit to my confidence and I had to work hard to get my next job. It can be tough to keep a long-term perspective.
What’s your favorite resource on Wall Street Oasis? [10:10]
It’s really the community itself. I still read a lot of the threads and participate. It’s really the lifeblood of the business. We have interview courses, resume review, etc. But the forums and the community itself is really great.
You recently started a podcast! Can you tell us about that? [11:15]
I partnered with Alex Grodnik, a UCLA MBA. The goal is to bring to life interesting stories. We’re featuring AMAs, people’s stories. We have three episodes so far, and we’re planning to do one a week. It’s called the Wall Street Oasis Podcast.
What are the skills and qualities that investment banks look for? [12:40]
There’s often a misperception that technical acumen is the most important thing. Banks tend to look for polished communication skills, especially for client-facing roles.
Their ideal is someone who can work well with teams, has great communication skills, and also has great financial modeling skills.
Finding and retaining those candidates is challenging for banks – they’re trying to improve work-life balance. But it’s still one of the most attractive careers for undergrads right out of college, because you learn so many transferable skills.
Wall St. is famous for insane hours and the banks have seemed to be trying to change that. Do you think the banks’ attempts at encouraging a little more work/life balance are real, or are some of the “limits” banks have put in place over the last several years mere window dressing? [15:50]
I was skeptical – but from what I’ve heard, I’ve been surprised. There has been improvement. Having predictability and knowing you’ll have some out-of-office time is an improvement in people’s quality of life.
There’s a host of ways that banks could make the job more attractive. One would simply be to hire more analysts and reduce the work hours.
Say I’m two to three years out of college and want to switch to IB. Any advice? [21:10]
It’s not easy. I can’t sugarcoat it. Traditionally, there’s a defined path for banking analysts.
Make sure your resume screams “banking.” Maybe you need to take a financial modeling course. If you have some experience with accounting or work with financial statements, then highlight that.
Reach out to alums – be aggressive in your networking. And realize that you might have to start at a small boutique bank.
It’s a difficult task to transition because the competition is so tight.
Is an MBA or a masters in finance a good route to making the switch? [24:25]
Absolutely. An MBA – especially at a top school – gives you another shot at on-campus recruiters. But you need to focus fast because recruiting starts right away.
MFin is even faster than the MBA.
Who should go for the MFin vs an MBA? [26:10]
I’m not that familiar with MFin programs vs MBA programs. I sense that the MFin can be less competitive than top MBAs. It’s a more technical degree, and may also attract more international students. But if you can get into a top MBA, it may be a stronger route for recruiting.
What is distinctive about IB interviews? [27:30]
It depends on your background. If you’re from a liberal arts background, they may not expect you to know as much. If you’re from a finance background, they may grill you to test your technical chops.
There’s a wide set of behavioral questions, as well as technical questions. They’re looking for a balance.
What’s an example of a behavioral question? [28:30]
“Tell me about a time you disagreed with your boss and what you did.” “Why should we hire you and not someone else?”
You should have a set of experiences you can talk about – have a story with a conflict and resolution you can relate. Show, don’t tell. Point to actual experiences and projects.
A lot of candidates underestimate this, and they have cookie-cutter answers that sound canned and insincere.
What did you like about the world of financial services? [30:40]
In investment banking, I really enjoyed the challenge. In private equity, I enjoyed the breadth of businesses I got to analyze.
And running my own business now – the freedom is priceless, even though I work a lot of hours. Before I got married, I was even able to travel and work from abroad for about a year.
It’s now about 7 years since you earned your MBA at Wharton and 12 years since you started WSO. Looking back, what’s your perspective on the value of your MBA and your Wharton experience? [32:45]
I saw a lot of potential in Wall Street Oasis, and growing the business was my goal going in.
My Wharton experience has been extremely valuable. People in my cohort gave me great feedback.
A lot of the mentors on my team are from my Wharton network. It’s been great for my business.
Do you recall any courses that were particularly valuable? [35:00]
Negotiations. Also, pricing.
I’ve learned a lot about digital marketing just from running the business.
The MBA solidified my knowledge in finance and opened me up to new areas.
Any last bits of wisdom or advice for those who want to go to Wall St.? [36:55]
Don’t get enamored with perceptions of prestige in a certain bank or industry – look at the day to day aspects of the job/function.
Realize it’s incredibly competitive.
Your goal right out of school should be to develop skills.
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