Online forums can be a good source of information, but it depends on the forum and the topic being discussed.
In banking, there is generally very little information available online. Of that information, I would say 95% is absolutely useless, generic information that leaves you hardly better off than you would be before your inquiry. The other 5%, however, is gold, but it takes time and effort to validate your sources and so there is both reward and risk inherent in leveraging the information available on online forums.
The first major reason I see validity in online forums is because they offer a discourse-like format. Given the nature of online forums, anyone is allowed to post, but this more or less means that people can post misleading or untrue information. However, in a forum, people are able to actively share their own contrasting viewpoints in a singular thread, which helps you gain perspective and a relative sense of the landscape, even if the information isn’t 100% correct.
This leads me to my second positive about forums. Forums are really, really good at providing context. When you know very little about a space or an industry, forums can quickly let you see how other people are thinking about the industry, what personalities are like, and whether or not you generally agree with any sentiment being expressed. I more so see forums as guiding tools and less as places where you go for facts.
Forums are really excellent when it comes to getting a notion of what an industry can be like in real time. This could be particularly important for things like on-cycle private equity recruiting, since these events happen quickly and are highly subject to change. This is particularly good during a general research pull from the internet because you can see when the posts were originally made, which can help point you generally to the most up-to- date and relevant information regarding the space you have interest in.
I would also argue that forums are excellent places to validate and verify the track record of someone’s opinion. You can go through and see which of their other posts have been well-received in the space and make your own judgment as to the validity of their claims based on who else has agreed with them previously. You can hardly do this with websites and newspaper articles, and as such, you are well-equipped on your quest to learn more about a potential career in finance.
One thing to be aware of when using online forums to get a sense of the space is that there is a massive element of groupthink at play, typically when it comes to financial forums. The typical employee in a finance position likely thinks very similarly to another finance professional. As such, you might get many of the same opinions from people of very similar backgrounds; this is generally fine, but again, it is context and should not be taken as fact. When considering your career, you need to be aware that what people on an online forum say and view as fact is not going to be reflected in the same way to you. That is an inherently ok thing, but you need to know that online forums could literally be giving you the worst information ever, but you wouldn’t know. That is why it is better to utilize reputable sources that you know have information shown from people who are in the space, verified in the space, and can actually speak to the realities of the job in more detail from an objective perspective.
During the entire finance recruitment process, the last thing you ever get is an honest opinion. From recruiting to interviewing, people will only tell you what you want to hear because it is in their best interest. This likely may not even change when you get to the job so informing yourself critically is of paramount importance, but it doesn’t mean you go and blindly trust a forum. You should be using these tools as an extra data point, to help supplement everything else you have learnt throughout your recruiting process.
I would actually caution folks and say that it is never fine to trust an online forum, but it is always fine to contextualize forums and juxtapose them against your own experiences and thoughts. Forums are also the best places to go when you need to discuss or ask questions about sensitive topics – especially compensation. Compensation conversations are typically the best ones I have seen on anonymous forums, this is because you get a really wide sense of what others are getting paid and can potentially leverage that range as a heuristic to better understand if your offer is competitive, fair, or bad. This is a small thing, but it can result in thousands of dollars in pay differential and so is not to be ignored.
Another huge data point you can learn from online firms is about firm culture. Let’s face it, you are highly unlikely to get an accurate painting of culture at any point throughout recruiting. You will not get an objective sense through any coffee chats, you won’t get an objective sense from any interviews, and you certainly will not get a sense from recruiters. Why? The incentives are not aligned in the right way for you and all these parties. Banks want to get new candidates to do the work. Current candidates want replacements to lessen their eventual workload, and recruiters literally just want to place you wherever they can so they can earn their commission. Think about it, do any of these seem like parties or situations where you would get an honest, fair answer about what culture is like? No. I am not saying it is impossible, but in my experience, I would consider it highly unlikely. Regarding culture, people generally don’t lie too much about this on forums, and I think it is because you would only really post on a forum if you had an overwhelmingly good or bad experience, and I think most people are accurate in this regard. Besides, you won’t get that datapoint anywhere else so anything a forum has to offer is going to be helpful in some sense.
The biggest takeaway from me is that forums are a double-edged sword – they can offer both rare, quality perspectives, while also offering unvetted, misleading perspectives. They serve as a great place to gather data points and incorporate these data points alongside your own gut feeling or curated perspective. However, don’t believe them as fact, just consider them context.
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