Below are the stories of some other clients we recently helped

Haoming Zhang. Morgan Stanley Asset Management's Risk Management Division
Haoming Zhang's story
I first came across Haoming back in August 2010. Like so many of our clients, Haoming already had a lot going for him – he had studied Physics at Cambridge, had AAA at A-Level, and was just completing an MSc in Risk Management from Cass. Haoming is Chinese, and I would say that he definitely had a lower level of communication skills than most native-English speakers. He had interned with Deloitte back in China in Audit, and had even had some work experience with one of the large Chinese commercial banks in China. He was active in the Cambridge Chinese Association, so probably had access to other Chinese students who had successfully landed jobs in the City.

He had been offered a number of interviews but had not converted any of them, and felt that there was a real risk he would end up with nothing and have to go back to China. He had heard about me and about Harrison Careers from one of his friends at Cambridge, and figured that if the extra investment in our fees would genuinely get him a Front Office job in a bank, then it would be worthwhile.

Given that Haoming had studied Risk Management at Cass, our primary target was Risk Management, but preferably Credit Risk or Market Risk in Front Office rather than Operational Risk in Middle Office.

In September Haoming joined our programme, and then focused his efforts on applications to the banks for full time recruiting. I know that he used to get a Risk Management cover letter and his resume rewritten. At that time we also agreed to target Trading.

In October we sent Haoming around 25 critical handouts to educate him about the practical aspects of Risk Management, and particularly Market Risk Management for his first interview with Standard Bank's Risk Management business. A few days later we also got an interview for Deutsche Bank Risk Management.

Unfortunately Haoming's interview skills were pretty weak to average. He received comments like "Prepare for unexpected questions", "Cope with my constant interruptions!", "Be more prepared!", "Practice brainteasers more!", "Show you did your homework", "Haoming is lacking in confidence".

His interview coaching grades were pretty decent, usually between 6 out of 10 and 7 out of 10, but this sometimes is not good enough during the full time recruiting season when other candidates are so well-informed and prepared, and the competition is intense.

Haoming failed Standard Bank and Deutsche Bank round one, and then sadly also failed BarCap Risk Management round one a couple of weeks later. I could tell that his confidence had taken a hit.

He made it to the final round of Barclays Credit Card Division (a job that we did not really think was good enough for him) but he also got rejected.

At the end of October we also got Credit Suisse Credit Risk round one, but also got rejected for this. Other rejections followed – Deutsche Bank Fixed Income Trading round one in November, a round one interview for Catastrophe Risk Management at Royal Sun Alliance, and a rejection from Tullett Risk Management. Haoming's confidence continued to decline, and his interview coaching grades also declined.

His team of coaches got together and we discussed the common weaknesses – Haoming was not able to sell himself and also was not able to project his personality. We figured that employers thought he came across as dull and boring, and not a guy who they really wanted to have on their team – despite his obvious qualifications and intellect.

I spoke to Haoming and explained that some candidates take longer than others to get up to the required standard. Sometimes you have some luck, and sometimes you are unlucky. There was no question in my mind that Haoming was going to get hired. He was simply too good on paper, and I knew the interviews would keep coming.

Eventually in December 2010 the Risk Management business of Morgan Stanley Asset Management offered Haoming an interview, and this time we really, really focused on technical information and on the quantitative aspect of the interview which was Haoming's strong point. I know he worked incredibly hard to ensure that there was nothing they could ask that would get him rejected on a technical basis. However, we also worked on the interpersonal skills because we figured this was his weakest aspect. Things slowed down for the Christmas holidays, and then in early February, Haoming was offered a temporary job with Sumitomo Finance working on Fixed Income Research. The job did not pay well, but I figured it would be a great steppingstone into Fixed Income. 8 days after starting at Sumitomo, Haoming got the news from Morgan Stanley that they wanted to extend a full time offer to him to start in July 2011 on £43,000.

It was a great day, and marked the end of a very stressful few months, which with much heartache over constant rejections.

Haoming commented to me that he felt he could never have done this on his own without help, and yet sometimes it seemed truly desperate when the rejections kept on coming.

I guess we agreed that the fabulous resume and cover letter were what had got him all these interviews in the first place, and that there was nothing else for it but to practice, practice and practice some more.

Haoming's experience is quite typical of that of other of our Chinese clients. Generally there is a language disadvantage, and probably also a cultural disadvantage because it is hard for Chinese students to empathise with interviewers the way a British person would.

I am sure Haoming will view our 5 months together as the toughest, most frustrating time in his life so far. I will be interested to watch Haoming flourishing career at Morgan Stanley over the years ahead.

Charles Zhou. Barclays Capital Investment Banking Division.
Charles Zhou's story
Like nearly all of our clients, Charles heard about us from another friend who we had helped get into investment banking. Unfortunately Charles had a 2.2 degree from LSE but had landed a couple of decent internships (not Front Office) at HSBC and Citi. I think he felt that with a 2.2, getting into a major investment bank was impossible. Charles's A-Levels were AAC, so nothing special. His temporary solution was to spend £20k on an MSc, but we both agreed that this was not going to solve the problem of the 2.2 degree nor the A-Levels.

Charles and I first met up in November 2009, and I came up with a plan. I insisted on a resume rewrite from, the best people there are out there. Our targets were corporate finance boutiques, any other bank that would consider him with a 2.2, hedge funds, private equity or even the finance division of a bank.

Charles applied to IBD at all the banks, and got mostly rejections. Commerzbank offered him an interview. Charles was unprepared – he was scoring grades of 5/10 and below during our interview coaching. We need clients to get to a 7/10 level to have confidence that they will make it through. The consistent message was that Charles's technical knowledge was weak, but his interview technique was also weak as well.

Charles also had a problem with the raw content for the answers to his competency questions. He wrote a set of achievements which were in the bottom quartile of all the achievements that I have reviewed. I knew this was going to stop us making it through round one interviews, so we spent a lot of time improving them.

A few days after Commerzbank, Charles scored an interview for Morgan Stanley Asia Investment Banking Division for an internship. By this point Charles was scoring grades of between 6/10 and 7/10, but that is not enough to get Morgan Stanley, and we ended up with a rejection. It was highly frustrating.

Charles went back to China for a while, and we changed the plan to target corporate finance boutiques which did not have stringent HR procedures and requirements for a 2.1. We figured we should target a boutique, work there for 6 months to a year, then trade up to a big bank.

In February 2010, Charles started our Networking programme. He agreed to target up to 100 of the right people in the right firms in order to persuade them to refer him for interview. Charles did not actually start calling anyone until May 2010 – I think he was intimidated by the whole process, although he agreed it was necessary. In June he landed an interview for Deutsche Bank Equity Derivatives Sales Trading, so we had a few days to hustle to prepare for this interview. Sadly he did not make it, so we were back to square one. Charles decided to start an MSc at LSE in Actuarial Science, which would finish in summer 2011. Charles was starting to lose confidence. We did not speak much for the 3 months until September 2010.

In September Charles started the application process again, but this time with a truly outstanding cover letter. He got into the habit of customising all his cover letters to set himself apart from other candidates. I reviewed one such cover letter for BarCap, and was amazed at how much work he was putting into this.

He started coaching again, but his grades had dropped to below 6/10, a signal that he had perhaps lost confidence and needed further practice.

I pressurised him repeatedly to improve his technical knowledge of Corporate Finance. We had a November 2010 interview for Greenhill IBD in Hong Kong, but did not make it. Once again, we pressurised Charles to improve his technical knowledge. We focused on the 2.2, which we thought was repeatedly getting him rejected when it came up. The sales pitch was to acknowledge the 2.2, but to aggressively talk about all the other achievements before and after. They sounded very compelling. We worked on some bad answers about teamwork, about prior work experience, and we turned the networking into a compelling achievement.

BarCap called Charles for a summer 2011 internship in IBD in early January. By this point Charles was scoring more than 7/10 in each interview coaching session, and his confidence had returned. He was offered the summer internship, and starts in June 2011. The plan now is to put in an outstanding performance during the summer, and convert this immediately into a full time position which will start after the internship finishes.

It has been a struggle to get Charles hired. The 2.2 was a major disadvantage, but some networking, the right cover letter and a brilliant resume overcame this hurdle. Someone at BarCap was willing to have faith that a 2.2 is not the end of the world and does not make you a failure.

Clive Robertson. Deutsche bank Fixed income – Interest Rate Product Sales
Clive Robertson's story
Clive is quite different from many of our other clients because he has few weaknesses on paper. We started working together in 2007 – even though Clive was not scheduled to graduate from Cambridge until 2010 with a Physics degree. I think he simply figured that he did not want to leave anything to chance, despite AAA at A-Level. He acknowledged that it was likely he would get a great job, but he wanted the best, and figured that spending some money on our service was a bit like an insurance policy, and the investment would hopefully be minimal when compared to his earnings over the next 10 or 20 years.

The first problem was sending the message that he knew something about finance, so we got him to do the Advanced Certificate of Financial and Valuation Modelling from Wall Street Prep. Hopefully this would make him stand out from the other Cambridge grads with non-finance degrees. The main target was to get into the Investment Banking Division of a large investment bank.

Shortly after we started working, we insisted that Clive get his resume professionally rewritten to give it the wow factor.

The next step was to get some work experience during 2008, preferably a summer 2008 internship. However, Clive was not at that point a penultimate year candidate therefore was not eligible for the official summer intern programmes. Clive did not get an internship in 2008, but he did change his mind about IBD, and decided to target Sales and Trading instead. We spent some time in 2008 getting Clive up to speed on technical knowledge for Trading. We decided to target Equity Derivatives, Convertible Bonds, Carbon, Precious Metals, FX and Inflation Linked Bonds. It sounds a lot, but I did not want us to run out of target professionals to network with.

Clive started our Networking Programme in July 2008 and started making calls in August. He made a number of initial mistakes, and we guided him towards making improvements. Often we wrote the emails that Clive would send, to continually build the relationships. I think that Clive started enjoying all these phone calls after a while because he saw the positive effect that it had.

Clive's first interview was at the end of 2008 with HSBC for a Trading internship for summer 2009. In his first interview coaching session he scored 2.7/10. We knew we had a lot of work ahead of us. He improved quickly, quickly moving to 4/10 then 6/10, then a couple of 7.5/10 scores. He scored another interview with Citi for a summer 2009 Trading internship, and then another with Credit Suisse. Despite a rejection from HSBC, Clive was offered internships by both Citi and Credit Suisse for Global Markets Trading. He turned down Citi and accepted Credit Suisse.

Throughout summer 2009, we coached Clive on how to best behave and network in order to maximise the chances of converting his summer internship into a full time offer. Sadly the full time offer did not happen, so Clive was back to square one by September 2009.

We immediately went back to the networking that September, and had to handle a tricky situation of explaining why he did not receive a full time offer from Credit Suisse after spending the summer there. Through networking, Clive landed an interview with Deutsche Bank for a full time position – but this time it was for Sales rather than Trading. They bought his story about why he did not convert the internship. We did further intensive interview coaching, and focused on having Clive learn technical information. All of his interview coaching scores were above 7/10. One coach awarded one of the highest grades ever of 9/10, but he also got 8/10, 7.5/10 and 8/10 – so I knew it was likely he would get the offer.

In late October 2009 Clive called me to say that Deutsche Bank Fixed Income Sales had offered him £52,000 to join them in the summer of 2010. Clive started in July 2010, and has ended up in Interest Rate Product Sales to asset management clients.

Our job search took the best part of 3 years, with literally hundreds of emails between Clive and our team. I am guessing he had something like 40 hours of 40 separate 1-hour interview coaching sessions.

Clive felt that the most value part of our service was the interview coaching and the standard of the coaches, most of whom actually work in the investment banks. He interviewed with a total of 5 companies, contacted 30 senior professionals during his networking process, and actually spoke to 15 of them. 7 of those he spoke to were quite nice and reasonably helpful, 3 were just horrible, and 5 were neither helpful nor horrible – just too busy. He says "I cannot stress enough how much a simple phone call to an MD makes a difference. Also, letting HR know you are willing to help out at your campus events makes a difference." As for, he says "I used them for everything. Their service is fabulous, however it is very expensive."

Jason Stephenson. Hawkpoint Corporate Finance
Jason Stephenson's story
Jason studied Computer Science at Bath University and graduated with a 2:1 in 2010. He has AAA at A-Level, but did not stand out from all the other candidates, many of whom went to better universities, studied something more relevant than Computer Science, and also had AAA at A-level, or sometimes better.

He did have some work experience with IBM Consulting, based on his Computer Science degree, but that was not going to help much with an Investment Bank. They suggested he target the Technology Division and do programming.

I think Jason saw himself as a decent candidate, but perhaps not special compared to all the other people who apply to investment banks.

We started talking a couple of months before he graduated, and he joined the HCS Programme a few days after an initial phone call with me. The catalyst was a Corporate Finance interview with KPMG. We only had a couple of days to train him, and his initial interview score with us was 4/10, which definitely is not enough to get through round one interviews. Inevitably Jason did not make it to Round 2.

His next interview coaching score was 5.5/10, and then the score quickly increased to 7/10, which means that we are very confident indeed that the candidate is going to progress to the next round.

A couple of weeks later, Jason interviewed for Ernst & Young Assurance. We trained him intensively on how an audit works and what to say to show that he had technical knowledge – and he collected a job offer from Ernst & Young starting in September 2010.

The initial plan had been to target Corporate Finance, so we continued working towards that.

Jason secured some temporary work experience at Gartmore in Structured Credit Asset Management. We spent some time trying to convert this into a full-time offer, but it was clear that they did not have the headcount authorisation, so we had to move onto something else.

A week later, Jason secured an interview with a pretty unknown (to students) Corporate Finance boutique, CF Partners. I think he impressed them with his technical knowledge, and they decided to give him a chance with an internship lasting a few weeks. They worked him like a dog, and he performed – and landed a full-time offer from them on £35k, which was decent for a Corporate Finance boutique and for a Computer Science student. Our plan was then to target a larger investment bank.

Jason found the lifestyle of Corporate Finance punishing and after much soul-searching, he told CF Partners that he did not want to accept their full-time job, and he was going to join Ernst & Young in Assurance in September. Jason and I had long discussions about the wisdom of his choice – I felt this was the wrong decision, but I respected Jason's desire for a lifestyle.

Four weeks before Jason started at Ernst & Young, he decided he had made a mistake and that the Investment Banking Division was the right business area after all, despite the gruelling hours.

We hit the panic button, tried to resurrect the full-time job offer from CF Partners with a smart, persuasive email. They said no, so we moved on to networking with senior professionals at other Corporate Finance boutiques and investment banks.

Jason got rejected by Blackwood Capital, but we collected offers from Citigroup Investment Banking Division, Hawkpoint and Cenkos.

The big decision was now between Citigroup and Hawkpoint. Jason's feeling was that he knew the guys at Hawkpoint better, that Citigroup IBD was perhaps more impersonal, and that maybe the work/life balance would be better at a boutique. The temptation to accept a brand name like Citigroup was strong, but the Hawkpoint offer, on a basic salary of £50k and a sign-on bonus of £7k was also compelling. Bottom line was that he liked the Hawkpoint people better, and that was the deciding factor.

Jason starts his job shortly. Jason and I swapped a couple of hundred emails during our one year together. Jason received around 30 hours of interview coaching, and a small mountain of technical information to help him prepare for interviews in Corporate Finance, Asset Management, Structured Credit and Assurance. During our ordeals, we became close friends and I like to think that 20 years from now we will still be talking to each other every few months.