In the Fall of 2003, I was interning at Sun Microsystems. Every year, Sun Microsystems would recruit the top four students at Indiana University’s Computer Information Systems major and offer them a semester-long internship in California’s Silicon Valley (the southern portion of the San Francisco bay area). Being a college student at the time, Sun Microsystems paid extremely well and even offered free housing. For me, I jumped on the opportunity, and it was especially amazing for my resume and an honor to be selected.
Sun Microsystems had beautiful campuses all across Silicon Valley, and I did my internship with three other awesome business honors classmates: Matt Kobe, Ran Li, and Vicky Dhir. Our awesome internship supervisors at Sun Microsystems were Nadeem Sheikh and Randy Moog.
When I was originally selected for the business honors program at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, I declared my major was Computer Information Systems, a business major with a focus on business and technology. I always loved computers, coding, and technology. But after a few classes in computer information systems and during my internship, I discovered I wanted to get a broader business background, as I always wanted to eventually do something entrepreneurial. I felt like my major in computer information systems was too limiting in this respect.
So, I called my cousin Yair Harari, who at the time was an investment banking analyst at Credit Suisse in New York City (Yair was also part of the University of Texas basketball team, which went to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in his junior year!). Yair, like his twin brother Ron, also graduated from the McCombs School of Business honors program. Knowing that I had a very high GPA from a top business honors program as well, Yair encouraged me to go into investment banking, as it would pay significantly more, be better for my resume, and, most importantly, would be the best possible experience for my future entrepreneurial ambitions.
So, after speaking with him, I felt that getting a finance degree and getting a job in investment banking was best suited for me. I was excited to understand how different types of businesses work, as all companies can be understood through their financial statements. I also decided then that I would go into finance, and the perfect internship to have on my resume would be an investment banking summer analyst, which would be the top position out of school with a degree in finance.
But, how could I get a job in investment banking when no investment banks recruited from Indiana University?
Even though Indiana University was a top rated business school, most investment banks would just recruit out of ivy league schools (Indiana University’s Investment Banking Workshop later changed that, and I actually was part of Professor David Haeberle‘s inaugural Investment Banking Workshop class).
I was also thousands of miles away from Indiana University and I knew I didn’t have much time to find an internship in investment banking, as I was on a semester-long internship at Sun Microsystems. It was also the Fall semester, and I knew employers were recruiting now for summer internships. I had to make the right moves quickly.
Thinking creatively and exploring all options, I discovered that Stanford University, only a 20 minute drive from my office at Sun Microsystems, was having their annual career fair in a couple weeks, and eight of the top investment banks were scheduled to be there: Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, and UBS. So, I decided I would take a chance and go to the Stanford career fair.
A couple weeks later, on the day of the career fair, I put a suit and tie in my car, and drove to work (I actually officially made the change of my major from Computer Information Systems to Finance they day before the career fair, to delay the change as much as possible, as I was concerned it may disqualify me from my current internship at Sun Microsystems).
Since no one at Sun Microsystems wore a suit or tie, so I couldn’t really wear it to work that day. Frankly, no one in the entire San Francisco bay area wears a suit and tie to work. The culture is tech focused and climate is much warmer and brighter, so most people literally go to work in a t-shirt and jeans and some would even wear shorts. The maximum you could go would be a tucked-in collared shirt and khakis, and when you did that you appeared to be very dressed up.
During my lunch break that day, I sneaked out of work and drove to Stanford University.
When I got to the Stanford University parking lot, I put on my suit and tie and I was determined to get inside. I came armed with just 8 copies of my resume on card stock paper (eight is a lucky number, and just had one copy to hand to each investment bank).
This is what I actually looked like.
I didn’t know how I would get inside Stanford University, I just knew I had to get in.
So, with full confidence, I just walked right in. No one checked me for a student ID, and it was much easier than I expected.
I was excited to be inside, but was anxious. I had to move quickly as to not be detected or let someone tell me that I am not allowed to be there. I quickly asked someone where the auditorium was where the career fair was taking place, and walked there as fast as I could. I was on a mission.
Once inside the career fair, I quickly located where all the investment banks were. They were all right next to each other. Each investment bank had a booth and together they made a horse shoe formation. Getting a quick lay of the land, I decided to walk up to every booth and introduced myself to every person from every bank. As I was going to be upfront that I was not a student at Stanford University, I would have to work quickly as I felt I had a limited amount of time before someone would find out I infiltrated the career fair and kick me out.
As I was looking around, I also notice I was the only person wearing a proper suit and tie.
Even though the climate and culture of the San Francisco bay area was against wearing a suit and tie, I couldn’t believe they still didn’t wear them to the career fair (a couple actually did but they didn’t fit or look right).
One of the first things they taught us at Indiana University was that you had to be dressed up whenever you would meet with a potential employer. Further, some of the Stanford University students were completely unprepared to be meeting with the world’s top investment banks. Some of them to me seemed lame and weird, as they looked like they were dressed to attend a Grateful Dead concert wearing tiedie t-shirts, jeans, and flip-flops, and others seemed entitled and annoying, wearing a bow-ties and having resumes that were literally 5 pages long that listed in detail single accomplishment they’ve ever had. It was a hodge-podge of students, and it was at this time, and even though they all went to a school that had better name recognition and branding than I did, I knew I had a unique, competitive advantage over all these unprepared Stanford University students.
So, I walked up to each bank, introduced myself, and handed them my resume. I only had a few seconds to catch their attention and to impress them enough to distinguish that I was someone worthy of interviewing. Each resume would either go into a bin to follow-up to schedule an interview, or the trash bin. A majority of resumes would end up in the trash.
Since I had to communicate myself effectively and efficiently, and since I thought these Stanford University kids weren’t as impressive as I was expecting, I quickly crafted my 30-second sales pitch. I would highlight three key areas:
- I wanted to get an summer analyst internship at their bank.
- I’m currently interning at Sun Microsystems, and
- I’m a finance major at Indiana University’s business honors program with one of the highest GPA’s in my class.
I thought this tactic would serve me well. I would immediately differentiate myself from the other students at Stanford University, as well as giving an impression that I was a candidate worthy to interview even though I’m someone they might not have been expecting.
But, as I went from bank to bank, the members of the recruiting teams didn’t seem to quite understand why I was there, as they were confused that I wasn’t a student at Stanford University. They also didn’t seem to value my high GPA from Indiana University’s business honors program or my experience having an internship at Sun Microsystems.
Even though no one seemed to be interested in my sales pitch, I still thought my tactic was solid, and frankly, if they didn’t want me then I didn’t want them. Even though I felt like I wasn’t connecting with these recruiters, I still had other banks to go. I would just need to score one out of eight to win.
Then, I made my way to Lehman Brothers.
The greatness of the Lehman Brothers booth was that it was not comprised of members of the recruiting team like all the other banks. The Lehman Brothers booth was attended by actual investment banking analysts looking to hire directly their next batch of interns. It was the only bank out of the eight that did not have their recruiting team there, but rather the actual employees making the decision for who they wanted to work with and interview directly.
As I approached the Lehman Brothers booth, I walk up to a guy who looked to be just slightly over my age, and his name was Collin “CJ” Karthauser. I felt comfortable meeting him and as I hand him my resume I started giving him my sales pitch, highlighting all three key areas (I want to intern at Lehman Brothers, I was interning at Sun Microsystems, and I was a top student at Indiana University’s business honors program).
I executed it perfectly, here’s what he basically said…
“Great resume, it’s also on nice thick paper. I can’t tell you how many of these students put their entire life story in multiple-page resumes when all they need to be is concise 1 pagers. You, unlike many of the other student here, know what you’re doing.”
“Hey, you’re working at Sun Microsystems but you’re still in school, that’s cool!”
“Wait, you go to Indiana University, but you’re here, did you sneak into the Stanford career fair?”
When he asked me if I sneaked in, I told him that I did so because Lehman Brothers was my #1 choice, but didn’t recruit at Indiana University (making that instant connection with him truly made Lehman Brothers my #1 choice). If you make someone feel special, they will make you feel special.
He gave me his cell phone number and told me to call him, he still had hundreds of other students to meet with but wanted to make sure I followed up directly with him.
I was super excited, but still felt unsure. Was he doing this just to be nice? I also felt a little awkward calling someone I just met (at this point in my life I felt this way, today I certainly don’t). But you know what, he told me to do it, and there was nothing to lose.
So, the next day I call him on his cell phone around 7pm, knowing I would reach him just after work. He remembered me and thanked him that I called.
He told me that he didn’t graduate from or attend Stanford University, but still had to recruit from there. He also said that Lehman Brothers’ investment banking group in Menlo Park, CA was only going to hire five interns, and they were planning to have all five of them be from Stanford University, like they do every year. He told me he loves my background and wanted to make sure I would do as best as I could for the interviews, and offered to coach me.
I would still need to make a strong, positive impression on all the people I would be interviewing with and I would still need to successfully compete with all other candidates, but he said he would help me along the way.
For the next couple weeks, I would call him and he would mock interview me, in preparation for my interview. He was very insightful in how to best craft my messaging. Getting ahead in everything in life is all about how you communicate. It was amazing to get coaching from someone who is directly in the organization, as they can really help with understanding how people communicate within the company.
A couple weeks after that, I got called into my first interview. Over the course of a couple weeks I went through eleven rounds of interviews, including some awesome people I would eventually work with: Matt Young, Phieu Phun, Quan Vu, Tran Nguyen, Geoffrey Doempke, and more. I also made some great friends that would last for many, many years: Johnny Chen, Chris Lau, Andrew Solomon, and more.
Just before leaving my internship at Sun Microsystems in Santa Clara, CA, I had successfully secured an investment banking summer analyst internship at Lehman Brothers the following summer in Menlo Park, CA. I was the only intern that summer to not have been a student at Stanford University.
Here’s what the Lehman Brothers office in Menlo Park, CA looked like.
I did very well in my internship at Lehman Brothers that summer, and got offered a full-time position as an investment banking analyst. I transferred my full-time offer to their headquarters in NYC, which is where I ultimately wanted to be (thank you Lauren Golden). Here’s my original Lehman Brothers offer letter from 2004.
It was also at Lehman Brothers in New York City where we smuggled beer inside duffel bags to bring people together, and met Mike Niemtzow, President & Co-Founder at WindowsWear. In my analyst class was also an amazing group of people, including an analyst that has a very similar name to me, Sean Ferrari. I also left Lehman Brothers three months before it went bankrupt, but that will be for another story.
I learned through this experience that if I wasn’t prepared with my resume, my sales pitch, my suit and tie, while taking a chance to sneak into another school’s career fair, I would have never inspired someone to help get me where I wanted to be.
It just takes one person and one connection to make everything fall into place, and open an entire new world to you. I realized I always have to make big sacrifices and seek big challenges – the bigger the sacrifice and the bigger the challenge the more others will be inspired to help get you where you want to be.
On January 17, 2017, legendary Indiana University entrepreneur, billionaire, and all-around awesome guy Mark Cuban Liked this article. That one Like by a person who has almost 2 million followers caused this article to go viral, generating over 20,000+ views within 24 hours on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/i-sneaked-stanford-university-scored-job-lehman-brothers-jon-harari.
This completely underscores the point of this article, how one small thing can completely transform your life. You have to put yourself out there, take a risk, write an article about an interesting personal story about something you did fourteen years ago that helped change your life, do it in the right way and give credit to those that helped make it happen, then all it takes is one small Like by a well-know awesome celebrity businessman that can help make everything else fall into place.
I see there are many comments praising this article, and even some people who chose to focus on the negative. My parents immigrated from Israel to the U.S., and since they didn’t have the best English growing up, I didn’t either. I might have some grammatical mistakes, but I was never trained as a journalist. I started my blog about a year ago to express the truth in my life on the Internet. Most of what I see on the Internet is content that is unrelated to me that I have no control over. I teach marketing, business communications, and public relations as an Adjunct Professor at Baruch College, and I find that sharing true stories like this is the best way to learn about what is possible in life. Many people don’t succeed just because of their test scores or their GPA, but they succeed because they know how to make things work for them. So, my blog is my personal textbook.
And if all of us took upon ourselves to share our personal stories online, we would be much more connected to each other and more close as a community. The only difference between someone you know and someone who is a stranger is how much do you know about them. So the more you share about yourself, the more you allow for less strangers to exist in our society. Also, it only takes a couple key moments and a couple people in life like CJ Karthauser and Mark Cuban in this story to change everything, but that can only happen if you put yourself out there.