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How My Master's Helped Me Crack The Financial Industry

Fabian Piira had set a goal to join the financial industry and Fuqua's Master of Management Studies program was his entry ticket.

Mon May 12 2014

Earning a Master of Management Studies from Duke University has given Fabian Piira’s career a kick. “All the skills, maybe not always technical, but those soft skills, were very helpful throughout the subsequent job application process,” says Fabian, who joined Morgan Stanley in July 2013. “They helped me craft my presentation and resume.”

Fabian finished his studies at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business last year, eager to break into investment banking. He has been very keen on joining a bank ever since his internship with FiveT Capital AG in Germany four years ago.

“What I find interesting about financial markets is how fast-paced the environment is,” he says. “It’s very challenging, and in order to work in a financial services company you have to react very quickly.”

When Fabian left FiveT Capital AG after two months, he was hooked: “I realized that investment banking is where I could see myself in, in the long run. It’s a field where I can progress and learn.”

In 2011, he took up a summer analyst position at Citibank in Frankfurt. He started out in mergers and acquisitions advisory and it is a career path he has followed ever since. “I feel I’m really at the heart of the financial market,” says Fabian. “We’re issuing stocks and bonds, and working with big companies through mergers. This was always appealing.”

After those three months, he decided to pursue a Master’s degree. The Fuqua School of Business has a range of programs but Fabian chose their Master of Management Studies. The 10-month course aims to equip graduates with a foundation in business. There are about 100 students in a typical class. The average age is 23.

He started the program in 2012 and received a merit-based scholarship from Fuqua. “I didn’t really have the background that I needed to work in an international business setting,” says Fabian, who was born and raised in Germany. “I wanted to position myself for a career in America.”

He wanted a practical experience. “My undergraduate studies were focused on theory and I didn’t feel that I had gotten a very practical skillset,” he says. “I thought using a case-based approach would give me an edge prior to starting my career.”

Fabian feels the Master’s program gave him all of that – and more. “We were working through real-world business problems in the lectures as well as in small groups,” he says. “I feel that I can now capitalize on that every day at work.”

Aged 23 at the time, Fabian considered an MBA program but felt it was geared to a different audience. People on MBAs are usually older. “The Master of Management Studies was a really good program for somebody like me coming out of college with no significant work experience,” he says.

At the start of the program, Fabian was elected president of the MMS Finance Club. He organized weekly meetings and invited speakers to attend. “I certainly did benefit,” he says. “It gives you a platform to share information with people with similar interests. We shared our resumes.”

Some business schools have said that fewer of their students are pursuing finance careers these days. Fabian agrees that banks have faced reputational challenges: “I think that the financial crisis has had a major impact on the way people think about financial institutions. Compensation has gone down and this is something that might make those jobs less attractive.”

But he was undeterred. He spent hours in the business school’s library scanning cover letters, which served as a benchmark for his own. He adds that the career coaches proved helpful. “It was much easier for me to get the job with a Master’s, it was easier to start the job with this degree and it was easier to be good at the job with the additional knowledge and experience I had gathered.”

His advice to aspiring financiers is to first test the water with an internship. It is important to understand what the day-to-day work is like.

“Investment banking is not what a lot of people think it is,” adds Fabian. “People should certainly think about whether they are willing to put in the hours necessarily to do a good job here. It is more challenging than people think.”