International Career Stories: Christian Wolf

by Olivia Sleet, Career Centre Researcher

Christian Wolf moved to London in 2014 to complete a full-time Masters in Finance at LBS. After graduating the following year, he returned to his home country of Brazil and now lives and works in Sao Paulo as a Financial Planning Analyst for Itaú Unibanco. He spoke to us about his international career search and how he tackled job hunting in Brazil.

Where are you from originally?
I’m from Brazil originally, a city called Porto Alegre in the south of Brazil, where I lived for most of my life until the MiF at LBS. I studied Economics there and then started working in asset management at a small firm with local clients, and then I moved to London to study the MiF. After the course, I moved to Sao Paulo and started working at Itaú Unibanco, where I am now. Apart from my time in the UK, I’ve lived all my life in Brazil.

Did you always have a plan to return to Brazil?
Actually at the start of the MiF, my plan was to stay in the UK, for two main reasons. The first was that I really like the UK, I think it’s an amazing country and I really enjoyed my time in London. The second was that Brazil was in a big political and economic crisis at the time so I thought it’d be tough to find jobs and there wouldn’t be as many opportunities. Brazil is my home and I always wanted to go back eventually – so for me there were always two options, to stay in the UK or to go back to Brazil.

When did you start searching for roles in Brazil? Did you look in the UK at the same time?
Mostly I searched in the UK and in Brazil simultaneously; at the beginning of the course I was more focused on the UK because there were more positions available, we had contacts through LBS and the Career Centre was geared towards UK opportunities because of where it’s based. But I was always looking for interesting positions in Brazil and I changed my focus more definitely towards the end of the course.

What was different about job searching in Brazil in comparison with the UK?
Some things were similar; most of the companies have careers sections on their website the same as the UK, especially the international companies. But the process is definitely different – it’s less structured in Brazil. The large banks and asset management firms don’t have as many large structured hiring programmes for internships. Itaú Unibanco, where I work now, had a summer internship programme for MBAs but otherwise I didn’t see many other similar programmes in Brazil. I think networking is essential everywhere but it’s really important in an environment without much structured hiring taking place; networking is the way to get in contact with institutions that are hiring.

What methods or resources worked or gained the most traction?
My situation was a bit different because I was recruited into a very specific position through a contact from my undergraduate university. This person (who was a few years ahead of me) was hiring and we had a common friend, and that’s really how the position came to my attention. That I think is a bit of an exception, but even so I think what gained the most traction was finding people at the places where I wanted to work and talking to them directly. I had some classmates on the MiF course who either were working at a company I was interested in or had worked there in the past so I could talk to them too. The Career Centre helps a lot, and talking to alumni – any person you can find in the company in your network – also helps.

The method that didn’t work so well was just applying to positions that I found on websites. So many people apply without personal contacts and without a way to stand out. For me, just applying like that was the method that gained least traction – whereas trying to reach out and contact people via some other way was better. The Career Centre at LBS always told us that, but when you’re studying you have so much to do it’s hard to manage it all. There are so many interesting things to do – but it’s so important to take time out to do more than just apply.

How did you leverage the value of having an overseas degree from LBS?
Having a degree from LBS was so beneficial; just the degree alone helps you stand out. I started to apply in the capital planning area and one thing that really helped in the interview process was that I had examples of large banks coming to LBS and speaking about how capital efficiency was one of their main goals at the time. So hearing from the banks speaking at LBS events, I knew more and I developed an interest in that area. It meant I could show I had the knowledge to perform.

Once I got the job, the experience of working with people from different cultures and different financial markets was really helpful. Even now when working in local markets I always try to consider the international position, so having an overseas education and an international context continues to help me throughout my career.

What challenges did you face in job searching in Brazil?
The economic conditions in Brazil at the time were a challenge, there just weren’t as many positions available as there would be in a healthier economy. Otherwise my Brazilian job search went quite well, it wasn’t a problem to interview abroad through Skype or conference call. The only other thing was timing; sometimes I’d find interesting positions in Brazil but they wanted someone to start straight away and I was in the middle of my course.

What do you wish you had done earlier?
I wish I had explored more of the Career Centre earlier, particularly the one-to-one coaching sessions, they gave me very good advice. The only other thing was to do more networking; in the UK the main reason for not doing more networking was the amount of interesting things to do for the course. Taking a week or two off to go to Brazil to network would have been useful. For people that are focused on going back to their local markets, it’s absolutely a good idea.

What can fellow students expect from working in Brazil?
The main difference if you compare it to a market like the UK is that Brazil is much more locally-focused. We have a few big local banks, such as Itaú Unibanco – and the only international bank with a large Brazilian presence in the retail market is Santander. The other international banks only have a presence in wholesale banking. You have to adapt to these kinds of particularities, but other than that I think it’s a great place to build a career and I think if you have good financial skills you’ll fare really well here.

A piece of advice for those looking to emulate your international career journey:
For me it would be not to just look in the obvious places that you think you want. Finance gives you a broad range of options; I was looking mainly at asset management, and then I had an opportunity in capital planning, which ended up as my first position at Itaú. I think it’s good to have an open mind to other things; I loved that job, it was so interesting but it wasn’t what I’d picked first of all, so explore your options and be open-minded.


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