Everything was coming at me too fast. With Thanksgiving break in four days, I was supposed to relax and bask in the sun-kissed glory of being part of the group that was “done.” On Saturday, the day after I returned from New York with J.P. Morgan offer in hand, I was presented with an officer position in the club I had been involved with since freshman year.
Then on Monday, two days before the break, my phone buzzed with an email:
“We would like to invite you to NY to meet the Millstein & Co. team.” The interview date was the next day.
J.P.’s brand name was among the best, but Millstein was a restructuring firm. A niche space serving companies facing bankruptcy, restructuring was well-known for sending its analysts to the best buy-side firms if they exited investment banking.
Most of my classmates were hesitant to dive into restructuring so early because of its specialized nature — for some, it wasn’t even on their radar. But from my previous interviews and phone calls with Millstein, I was convinced it would be an unparalleled learning experience. Unlike most bulge bracket banks, Millstein interns were staffed on live deals, as there were always companies going bankrupt and work to be done.
I confirmed the interview.
But when would I study for it? I had participation-graded classes, a shift for my job, a recruiting dinner at Continental … and after finally getting home, my boyfriend and I started arguing.
With teary, puffy eyes, I opened my laptop to begin crafting my “three reasons” for why Millstein and restructuring … and woke up hours later, my heart racing and fingers scrabbling through my blankets to find my phone. It was 5 a.m. – two hours before my train departure. I breathed again.
When I arrived at the station, I discovered I had booked myself a First Class Amtrak Acela seat. I hurried aboard – I had one hour to finish writing my “reasons” and memorize them.
The attendant delivered a cup of coffee and bottled Starbucks Frappuccino, and I felt my head’s fuzziness and body’s exhaustion slip away as the train approached New York. I didn’t take my eyes away from laptop the entire trip.
“Why restructuring?” I recited as the train pulled into Penn Station. “It’s technical, team-based, and an incredible learning opportunity…”
I arrived at the Millstein office late, underprepared, and exhausted. It would take a miracle to get this offer.
Interviewing at a boutique felt entirely different from my previous experiences at bulge bracket banks. Rather than following a schedule of three 30-minute interviews, I was led to a conference room where Millstein employees ranging from directors to analysts dropped by.
Somehow, I remembered everything I had memorized on the train and even many anecdotes from phone calls. The technical questions almost all drew from the material I had studied. And after the formalities were over, I managed to connect with each interviewer over a different hobby of mine: badminton, skiing, flute, writing, photography …
By 1:30 pm, I had spoken for nearly four hours nonstop. The four (or six?) cups of coffee I drank made my head spin and stomach churn; yet, it helped me muster the energy to jump up, shake my interviewer’s hand, and laugh and smile for another 30-45 minutes each time I met someone new.
When my last interviewer announced the Super Day was over and I was free to go, I couldn’t believe my ears. I stood on trembling legs and shook my interviewer’s hand, then escaped outside. Almost too dizzy to walk straight, I laughed as my feet navigated the too-familiar streets of Midtown Manhattan: I remembered the hotel I stayed at for my Barclays Super Day, which had a large lobby perfect for sitting down to send thank-you emails.
The next day, I was back in Philly eating lunch at Zavino’s when my phone buzzed with a call from New York. My pizza fell, abandoned, onto my plate as my heart rate shot up. It was Millstein—I got the offer!
Then I was flying home for Thanksgiving, bewildered: in a few days, I went from having nothing to having almost too much.
Over the next few days, advice poured in from my friends and mentors at home.
“Why’d you interview at another place when you already have J.P. Morgan?”
“You can’t beat J.P. Morgan’s brand… it’ll make your resume stand out when you apply for full-time jobs!”
“So you’re choosing between J.P. Morgan and… what’s that other company called? Mackenzie?”
I just smiled and said I was still thinking about it. My inbox was flooded with congratulatory emails from my Millstein interviewers and even some employees I hadn’t met. Some, who had previously worked at J.P. Morgan, also offered to set up phone calls.
I sat on my offers until I returned to Philadelphia, promising nothing. It would feel great to walk past the J.P. Morgan sign everyday, dodging the tourists congregated around. It would be nice to say “I’m going to work at J.P.” and see the expressions on people’s faces.
But certain conversations stood out: an analyst at J.P. Morgan saying he loved the firm culture but had tried a few groups and “ended up” in this one (the group I had been given an offer for). A director saying the same thing. Others saying this group was more a middle-office rather than typical investment banking’s front-office position.
In comparison, I remembered how a Millstein analyst chased after restructuring by taking Harvard Law School classes as an undergrad. A Millstein director who left his former position at another well-known boutique to come here and be part of a firm that was barely three years old. The exit opportunities of former Millstein analysts. The flood of congratulatory emails. Millstein interns always working on live deals.
I was still lightly recruiting for other firms, but didn’t spend too much time on them since most were wrapping up and there was a part of me that already knew what I wanted. When my roommate received an offer from Centerview, a boutique bank located a few blocks down from Millstein, we talked about living together over the summer and joked about grabbing lunch (a joke because investment banking analysts almost always ate at their desks.)
“Our offices will be so close. But wait, you haven’t signed yet, right?” she said.
“Uh, no. I guess I’m still thinking about it.”
She smiled. “I think you’ve already decided. And in that case you should just sign earlier — it’ll look better, make them happy.”
So after confirming with my parents, I opened my J.P. Morgan offer on the web portal and declined it. Then I signed my Millstein offer and emailed it over.
Within minutes, my inbox was bombarded again with welcome emails. I started to laugh. It was 10:30 pm, I had only emailed two people with my decision, yet it felt like a hundred had replied.
“Thank you so much!” I wrote back. “I’m so excited to join you and your team at Millstein and can’t wait for this summer!”
To be continued….
Posted: September 6, 2016