Morgan Stanley
  • Students and Graduates
  • Sep 19, 2018

Early Insights Program: Vivian Zhang

Participation in the Early Insights Program, as well as exposure to a different corporate culture, inspired Vivian Zhang to make Morgan Stanley her firm of choice to start a career in global finance.

Months before her college commencement, Global Capital Markets (GCM) Analyst Vivian Zhang had good reason to celebrate. She was on track to graduate with honors from Duke University and had successfully grabbed the post-graduate brass ring: a full-time Analyst position with a global investment bank.

But for Zhang, her trajectory from undergraduate to Morgan Stanley employee was anything but straightforward. As a sophomore Public Policy major, Zhang, by her own admission, was "looking at everything" when thinking about post-graduation career options. Law was an initial consideration, as were marketing and sales. But with her quantitative prowess, love of challenges, and penchant for fast-paced work environments, Zhang thought that financial services might be the best place for more in-depth exploration.

That exploration began in earnest when she was accepted to Morgan Stanley's  Duke Early Insights for Women program, along with roughly 60 other Duke underclasswomen, to spend two days with Morgan Stanley representatives and Duke alumnae who would travel to the Durham, NC campus for networking sessions, sector presentations, and interviews for summer internships. For Zhang, the two days would later prove invaluable—helping her establish a relationship with members of Morgan Stanley's GCM division, whose financial intricacies and interconnections with a host of other banking disciplines had piqued her interest.  

Early Insights, Early Challenges

Much like a college or university's "Early Decision" program, which allows candidates to express an early interest in the school of their choice, Morgan Stanley's Early Insights program appeals to well-qualified freshman and sophomore candidates interested in financial careers. The program also seeks to recruit women, black, Hispanic, and Native American candidates, as well as veterans and members of the LGBTQ community, all typically underrepresented groups in finance.

Due to Duke's robust Morgan Stanley recruiting pipeline, the university hosted an Early Insights session for women in the spring of Zhang's sophomore year. (The program is now only held at the firm's New York City headquarters.)  For her, the accessibility and collegiality of the Morgan Stanley representatives left a lasting impression.

"In other information sessions, I couldn't even approach the speaker at the end because he was typically surrounded by so many male students asking questions, and would often leave before I could speak with him," says Zhang. "In the Morgan Stanley sessions, not only did the presenters stay to answer every last question, but they also encouraged us to reach out to them for additional information, as well as assistance with internship applications." 

Zhang, who was already slated to interview with firm representatives for a potential internship, was hard at work preparing. "I had the opportunity to interview with some Duke graduates, who were currently working in GCM, for an internship that following summer," says Zhang. "I did the requisite research by asking lots of questions, reading annual reports, and even rehearsing my answers to potential questions by recording them and playing them back on my laptop." 

A Learning Experience

But despite her painstaking efforts, Zhang didn't make the cut. A combination of nerves and inexperience eroded her confidence and prevented her from thinking on her feet when asked more impromptu questions, she later realized. Disappointed, but armed with valuable interview experience, she subsequently secured an internship at another financial services firm, where she worked for 10 weeks in its asset management division.

Looking back, Zhang recognizes how instrumental that experience was in her decision to reconsider Morgan Stanley—and reapply for an internship in GCM. "My time in asset management gave me an in-depth perspective on how it fit into the world of finance. But my heart was really set on working in GCM—I really enjoyed its pace and rhythm, and was fascinated by its interconnections with so many other parts of the business."

Another thing that had made a big impression on her: “I loved how both formal and informal mentorship was embedded in Morgan Stanley’s culture. It really set the tone during my Early Insights experience, so I started thinking about how I could get back in touch with them and prove that I was worth a second look.”

A Risk Worth Taking

At the end of the summer, with the Asset Management internship under her belt, Zhang summoned her courage and reached back out to the GCM team.

'I remembered her from our Early Insights interactions on Duke's campus, as well as our successive conversations," says Second-Year GCM Associate Katie Bodack. "I admired her initiative and her obvious interest in GCM; it really made her stand out and in my estimation, put her at the top of the list for potential interns for the following summer."

Since she had already been in the firm's recruiting pipeline, and was now a more seasoned and polished candidate, Zhang was scheduled for a "Super Day"—a day of multiple interviews at Morgan Stanley's New York headquarters. This time around, it was smooth sailing. "I had six interviews with GCM team members. The questions were definitely harder and more technical than the previous year's, but I had the benefit of experience, and I was a known quantity," Zhang says.

The firm immediately offered Zhang the internship, and she returned to New York the following summer to immerse herself in GCM, where the environment was anything but slow. "My team was putting in 12-hour days, working on IPOs, block trades, and follow-on offerings, raising capital for firm clients involved in complex deals. The stakes were also much higher, since I was in a more client-facing role. Overall, I was juggling a lot of work, not to mention the summer project presentation that was required of all interns. But I knew what I was getting myself into, and with hard work and the guidance of my team, it all fell into place," Zhang says.

That "place" was a full-time role in GCM, which Zhang was offered by the summer's end, to start July of 2017.

Now an Analyst with a year's experience behind her, Zhang herself is active in Morgan Stanley's recruiting efforts, meeting with students at the firm's headquarters and sharing what she's learned since she was first introduced to Morgan Stanley those two years ago.

"I know that my path to the firm was a bit indirect, but I'm proof how how the Early Insights program can really influence undergraduates when they're beginning to seriously consider career choices," she says. "My own experience demonstrates how Morgan Stanley's genuine collaboration, close mentorship, and wealth of opportunities can both attract and inspire the next generation of firm professionals." 

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