Cali Owings, Published February 11 2014
Dragon on Wall Street: MSUM senior lands dream job as financial analyst on Wall StreetMOORHEAD - Dang Pham flew to New York City last fall as one of 14 finalists for a position at a global investment bank.
For the Minnesota State University Moorhead senior, it was the closest he’d been to his dream of working in the high finance world after an intense months-long job search. He landed his only interview at UBS Investment Bank, a Switzerland-based financial firm.
“Here, not so many people talk about investment banking,” Pham said. “When I got there, I sat with all other candidates who have done or have interest in investment banking. It sounds really dorky or nerdy, but I was so happy.”
When he returned to Moorhead, Pham anxiously waited to hear from UBS.
“I didn’t leave my phone for the next 24 hours,” he said.
When he didn’t receive a phone call by 5 p.m. Eastern time, he assumed he didn’t make the cut.
He was on the bus when he received a phone call from one of the directors who interviewed him in New York.
“I knew right away that I got the job,” he said.
“That moment was like … 11 months of hard working and putting myself out there, doing everything I could, finally paid off.”
Against the odds
Mark Anderson, an adjunct professor at MSUM and president of BlackRidge Finance, said Pham is a “rare find.”
In the minutes after Anderson’s “Principles of Investment” class last spring, Anderson said Pham would listen in whenever students came to him with questions.
“It was pretty clear that he was committed to learning,” he said.
Pham credits Anderson, his mentor, for opening doors for him in the investment banking industry.
Breaking into investment banking was a “lofty goal” for an undergraduate, but Anderson said he was happy to help such a unique student.
Pham faced many challenges because most banks have a well-established tradition of hiring interns from the previous summer, Anderson said.
Unlike many of his competitors, Pham didn’t have an internship at a Wall Street bank under his belt.
Pham said he missed the recruitment period for Wall Street internships the year before.
He needed something to do, so he started calling banks in his home country of Vietnam – more than 40 calls in 11 days, he said.
It was a tough sell because summer internships aren’t very common in Vietnam.
“I had to call them and convince them that I work for free and already have training in investment banking … and I’m willing to work hard,” he said.
He turned down internship offers at big-name accounting firms for more relevant experience at a small investment bank in his hometown of Hanoi.
When he returned, he was still “desperately looking for a full-time job.”
He emailed every person he could, arranged phone calls with alumni and even sent LinkedIn messages. In total, he said he sent close to 2,000 emails.
“A lot of them rejected me right away. A lot of them didn’t even bother to reply,” he said.
He was up against students from top-tier schools. During the final round of interviews in New York City for UBS, Pham said he waited alongside students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Columbia University and the University of California-Berkeley.
“The probability of an undergraduate from MSUM … It’s about as astronomical as you can get,” Anderson said.
Finance professor Olgun Sahin said Pham joins a small but growing network of MSUM alumni on Wall Street. Sahin, who’s been at the school since 2002, said he knows two other students there.
“These students have not shied away from the challenge that they face,” Sahin said. “Some of these jobs on Wall Street are in a way biased toward those schools that have more nationally known reputations.”
If the school can get students in certain places within the finance world, Sahin said the network should grow.
“The alumni and faculty network is a very important factor to overcome that bias,” he said.
He encourages alumni to stay connected to help future students interested in following their path.
Ready for Wall Street
Pham brims with excitement when he describes the grueling 9 a.m. until 2 a.m. schedule for Wall Street analysts and the high-pressure world of high finance.
He said his nearly year-long process to break into the financial world helped prepare him for that environment.
“Running for investment banking kind of really changed me. It really made me more mature and made me want to be better,” he said.
“It’s a hard process that kind of molded me into a workaholic.”
Unlike most college seniors with a full-time job on the horizon, Pham still has a lot on his plate.
While he said he planned to slide through this semester, he’s working at the Advocate, MSUM’s student newspaper, as its business manager, tutoring, he’s involved in the student senate and he’s part of a team from the business school competing in finance challenge.
But Pham likes to keep things well-rounded. He’s taking a guitar class for fun.
After graduating on May 17, Pham said he’ll have a little break before he starts as an investment banking analyst at UBS in July.
When he met analysts during his interview in New York, Pham said they were very sleep deprived.
But they talked about a major deal they had just worked on and Pham was hooked.
“It’s just a fun atmosphere to be around,” he said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599