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) Associate 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 Associate 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 business might be the best place for more in-depth exploration.
That exploration began in earnest when she was accepted to Morgan Stanley's Early Insights 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.
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 LGBT commuity, all typically underrepresented groups in finance.
Due to Duke's robut Morgan Stanley recruiting pipeline, each spring, the university hosts and Early Insights session for women, which is one of the most widely attended campus recruiting programs for undergraduate women interested in finance. For Zhang, 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 was already slated to interview with firm representatives for a potential internship and 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."
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. Sorely disappointed, but armed with valuable interview experience, she subsequently secured an internship at another investment bank, where she would work in Asset Management for 10 weeks.
Looking back on that time, Zhang recognizes how instrumental they were in making her reconsider Morgan Stanley -- and reapply for an internship in GCM. "Working in Asset Management was a completely different experience from what I'd heard about working in GCM," says Zhang. "In Asset Management, we weren't raising capital for time-sensitive deals; the pace was slower and, although easier, didn't suit me. We were trying to sell mutual funds to third-party platforms, and this was more of a passive experience, since we weren't developing funds or constructing any product. We were just trying to sell them."
But Zhang also felt the absence of perhaps the most important element of any internship: mentors. "At the other organization, I didn't get the sense that mentorship was the priority," Zhang says. "For any intern, the willingness of firm employees to impart their industry knowledge really sets the tone. I remembered from my Early Insights experience that this was a given at Morgan Stanley, so I started to think about how I could get back in touch with them and prove that I was worth a second look."
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, 20-minute 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 Associate 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 circuitous, 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."