Leveraging Language Skills to Get Ahead

Know a second language? Want to utilize that to get your dream job besides putting it at the bottom of your resume? This week, we interviewed a person who was able to not only do just that but also use it to skip investment banking and go straight into corporate development with only a finance / corporate planning background. 

1. How did you get into/transition into corporate development?

I wanted to get into M&A or management consulting straight out of college. But as luck would have it, it was 2008 - Bear Sterns collapsed two months before graduation and Lehman Brothers wasn’t in too good of a shape either. All in all, the job market was chaotic (and not in a good way). Instead of continuing to search for the super-competitive, prestigious-type jobs, I decided to take a job at a Japanese bank in their corporate planning department. Since I grew up in the U.S., I was barely able to read and write proper Japanese, so I figured I could differentiate myself by learning Japanese while still working in finance. 

After my third year of working at the bank, I began to feel confident in my Japanese abilities and I decided to explore other opportunities. At first, I was clueless as to what I wanted to do next. As I was looking online for job postings, my colleague and close friend convinced me to take the CFA exam with him so I figured, why not add something new to my resume. I took the CFA level 1 exam, and passed it after countless late nights of studying at the library. Confident that I could now find a job, I applied everywhere from Bloomberg to Blackrock. I landed several interviews, but still received no offers. So, I decided to do the one thing I could not get myself to do before – reach out to my immediate network for job opportunities. I was amazed to see that I happened to have second-degree or third-degree connections with many people in the industry. Through these connections and thanks to my Japanese background, I landed a few interviews with small hedge funds and banks. [Funny story, after an initial interview at a hedge fund, the interviewer told me to send him a sample DCF model to prove my financial modeling skills. As a complete newbie to modeling, I literally studied how to create a valuation model from scratch and created a DCF model for Facebook overnight. I produced a 12-month forecast that was very close to Goldman Sachs’ prediction but the cash flow statement didn’t even balance. Not surprisingly, I didn’t even get a confirmation e-mail back from the hedge fund after I submitted it.]

Luckily, a family friend informed me of an M&A-related position at his company which I decided to apply to. Thanks to 5 years of self-studying and developing my language skills, I became an M&A Analyst at one of Japan’s largest conglomerates in their New York office.

2. How did you prepare for the interview (if any)? What resources did you use (specifically)? What was the interview process like?

Before the interview, I read through the 10-K of the company and researched areas that the company was invested in. Since the company was heavily invested in LNG (liquified natural gas) and the general energy market, I collected equity research reports on some companies in the field and dug up whatever I could find on the industries online. I also heavily practiced my story and why I wanted to be in M&A.

At the interview, the questions were mostly centered around my background and my ability to speak Japanese. After the interview, I realized that my story was the most important part of the interview because they wanted to make sure I was the right fit for a small 3-member team within a larger Japanese organization. I was also given a few technical questions such as the definition of enterprise value and how interest rates affect M&A activity. Overall, the process consisted of only three interviews – 2 with HR, and 1 with the hiring manager and the general manager of the business unit I would be assigned to.

3. What were some of the lessons you have for our readers in terms of either the journey getting into corporate development or the genuine lessons on the job?

If you are planning to enter corporate development (or any investment-related role) from a non-traditional background, make sure to NETWORK and have a good story ready. In addition, it will be helpful to figure out how your current skills make you a unique candidate. Unless you are applying to major companies like PepsiCo or Starbucks, more often than not, corporate development teams do tend to be small so team fit will be an important part of the application process.  Be patient in your job-hunting, and don’t give up!

*This article was written without any collaboration or affiliation with third-party universities / corporations.



If you have any specific questions for this person, feel free to email us at Jason@brainceek.com (and we'll pass along the question).

Like posts like this? Want to see different questions or posts? Have a story you want to share? Let us know all about it below! 

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