From Non-Target to a career in global finance?

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Nikolay Zvezdin's picture

My story might be a little different from other students’ who dream of becoming an investment banker. I come from a country that has many disadvantages, some of which are: it is not developed enough to have an IB market, nor is it subject to programmes for developing countries (like African or Latin American countries). Adding the fact that I am a minority in my home-country (as I am ethnically Russian) that can't benefit from any tailor-made international support programs makes life even harder.

To begin with – I am a graduate of a high school in Tajikistan. I knew that I want to be a finance professional from the high school, and knew my disadvantages, which forced me to explore all the opportunities I saw. In 10th grade I became a finalist of  FLEX (Future Leaders Exchange) Programme sponsored by the U.S. State Department, and got a chance to study in a high school in USA. Being impressed by a new country, I applied to the top universities of USA and got admitted to the University of Chicago with a partial scholarship, however, due to the financial issues was not able to sponsor the rest of the fees. Based on my test results, Richmond University in London found me and offered to study there with a discount in tuitions, which still was unaffordable. After exploring other options, I found my current university – Ozyegin University, which is among the top universities in Turkey. Observing that the university had such strengths as education in English language, strong faculty members, programme that I wanted, affordable fees, and as a bonus – a founder of university that has strong connections with the finance industry, I decided to peruse this option.

Later on I realized that I will be able to utilize full advantages of such education in Turkey only (while I targeted western career), which forced me to seek for opportunities to develop a strong competitive advantage. I started participating in different competitions, and was trying to make a smooth career progress into IB (rather than jumping in the industry with a university degree only).  As a result, my team won the CFA Research Challenge in Turkey, I was among the finalists of TEB Innovation Challenge, got recognition for one of the Credit Suisse HOLT Community Competitions, and recently won the latest Credit Suisse HOLT Community Competition. I entered the IB industry from very far – from commercial banking in Tajikistan, that later helped me to get an assurance/advisory internship in big5 audit company, and all that combined helped to get a Private Equity internship in Hong Kong. Someone might wonder how a person without IB experience got a PE internship, and the answer is “hard work, and ability to see and use opportunities”. As the founder of our university has connections with the finance industry – I researched his affiliated companies, and discovered that he is on the advisory board in that fund. I applied there knowing that the university will not be considered as non-target, and I will have equal chances with students from Ivy League, and Oxbridge (that also interned there with me), and got it.

Now I am happy with my experience and background, as that provided me with “whatever it takes” attitude, and the ability to make use of all opportunities – some of which Project Firefly and HOLT Community provide. All my experiences contributed to that, and I am not sure whether I would be the same person if I would study from the beginning in a top school. Therefore, as somebody wise said, “whatever happens is for the best”, and even if you are at the worst position in the beginning – you can make use of it, and turn that into a strong competitive advantage that others will never have – like Project Firefly’s competitions give you an opportunity to get great incentives in short-turn, but also provide you with an experience and knowledge that you acquire while participating that serves you in the long-term.