Fords on Fridays with Charles Robinson’s advice to jumpstart your job or internship search

Charles Robinson

Alumni Guest Perspective with Charles Robinson (’89), Partner and Head of Investor Relations at Vision Capital in London

As the son of an HC banker and a BMC lawyer, I was convinced I would be neither as English major in the ‘80s.  I got it half right in the end but never imagined working for firms like Goldman Sachs.  As a native New Yorker, I never anticipated working in Hong Kong or London for that matter.  Reflecting on the many lessons I’ve learned the hard way, I wanted to share some practical suggestions to help jump start your job hunting.

Take this as seriously as your major

There is always an important paper due or exam approaching to distract you.  Invest time in planning ahead and start very early.  Financial firms for instance make most of their permanent hiring decisions during the Junior Year internship cycle.  Working backwards from a job on graduation, the goal is to secure an internship slot the year before.

What can you you do for me?

Remember that recruiters really don’t care what you hope to get from working at firm XYZ; they care about what you can do for their business.  Selling yourself is a critical life skill and probably the only thing I never learned at Haverford.  This seemingly un-Haverfordian skill is not at all at odds with Quaker values.  In order to achieve consensus on any decision, one needs to be articulate and persuasive – skills mastered on campus.  Leverage that foundation and emphasize the benefits you bring to a company.

Flash forward and imagine your CV in five years

Recruiters spend nanoseconds glancing over CVs, looking for two things: brands and signs of leadership.  As a grad student at Columbia Business School, I remember being frustrated by the feeding frenzy over classmates who had already worked as Associates for the big firms.  My unconventional auction house experience at that point was a tougher sell so I had a greater challenge persuading JP Morgan to take a punt on me.

Brands vs experience

Think about the pros and cons of working for established firms vs. joining smaller ones.  There is no right or wrong – only differences to bear in mind.  “No one ever was fired for hiring IBM” is an old adage that is equally true of McKinsey for consulting, Goldman for banking, and I suppose Google for tech today.  You can always be proud of the line item on your CV.  You will benefit from formal training.  Your network will be unparalleled.  You may also find it all frightfully dull being a small cog in a very big machine.  By contrast, working for a smaller firm where you have direct access to the founder can be exhilarating.  In my private equity firm for example (40 people split between London and NYC), we have young Associates sitting in on board meetings of our portfolio companies.  That would never happen at KKR.

The road not taken

Frost’s poem has always resonated with me.  Whenever possible, I too have opted for the path “less travelled by” and confirm “that has made all the difference.”  At the height of the tech bubble (the original one), Goldman Sachs asked me to uproot my family and move to Hong Kong to build up their Asian franchise.  The region was still reeling from the Asian financial crisis while US tech stocks continued to roar.  I certainly wasn’t smart enough to predict the carnage that followed but I have never regretted going against the tide.

Do your homework

Sounds obvious but I never cease to be amazed by ill-informed candidates in interviews.  Know what it is your applying for and know the person you are speaking to well in advance.  Technology has made this remarkably easy.  Download Bloomberg’s free app to stay current and use other tools like LinkIn to find the best way to approach an individual.  There are more than a handful of ‘Fords in finance.  Find us!

There is a world of opportunity out there.  Seize it.

London is the 6th largest French city.  You read that right.  London now has nearly as many French citizens as Lyon.  An EU passport of course makes this migration easy but here is another migration statistic.  200 French families emigrate to Hong Kong every week.  The reason: opportunity.  For the Class of 2014, your world will be even smaller than the one I’ve grown up in.  Two roads diverged in a wood.  Try the one that leads beyond the Main Line to another country.  Your career will never suffer for it.