Sunday, August 23, 2009

How Mentors Can Help

How can mentors best help Consortium students?

The Consortium Finance Network kicked off its new mentor program last week, involving more than 50 Consortium finance students and over 25 mentors (most of whom are Consortium alumni at various stages in their careers).

Mentors, whether participating in the CFN program or acting informally, can enhance relationships with students and help in many ways. It may not matter whether the mentor is a recent b-school graduate or is at the peak of a long career. Mentors share experiences, provide moral support, and introduce students to other mentors and helpful contacts.

A new mentor fresh out of school might be the best at helping students understand the arduous, time-consuming recruiting process and understand what's behind the corporate presentations on campus or how networking at prospective firm helps. That mentor will know the process, will advise best on how to prepare for second- and third-round interviews, will undertand the tough school-vs.-recruiting juggling effort, and may know exactly what recruiters are looking for at entry-level positions.

Experienced mentors may understand better the cycles of business and finance, the long-term opportunities and growth sectors, the "big picture" on what banks and corporations need in entry positions, and the paths from the first year to senior management.

All mentors should first understand thoroughly what students' objectives and even dreams are. They should nurture comfortable, sustaining relationships. And if they can't provide solutions or guidance, they should introduce students to their own contacts--peers, colleagues, other mentors--who can help. The mentor acts as a door-opener.

What might Consortium students in finance these days seek from mentors?

Many are transitioning from other careers and exploring opportunities in finance for the first time. Many, therefore, are seeking clues on how best to handle the transition or how they can embark on a new path without being disadvantaged.

The best examples are the many Consortium students with outstanding backgrounds in a wide variety of fields, but who are now contemplating investment banking. How can they promote their past experiences as advantages in investment banking, or how can they convince the well-known banks they are qualified to be associates in corporate finance, private equity, mergers and acquisition, or public finance?

In the wake of the financial crisis, all Consortium students are asking lots of questions: Is investment banking for me? Will there be opportunities in sales and trading? Are hedge funds still hiring, and is that a realistic career path for me? How can I get access to the world of private equity or venture capital? Will there be sufficient deal flow or investing opportunities over the next few years? Is quantitative finance still a respectable pursuit? What can I do with my MBA skills in consumer banking? What is risk management? What would be my role in corporate treasury? What are the career paths in private-wealth management? And can I change my mind and transition from one specialty to another--from trading to banking or from brokerage to private-wealth management?

Not surprisingly, Consortium students want to understand better what they've heard often--the lifestyle and compensation. Are the hours as long and is the workpace as difficult as I heard? Will there be some flexibility? Can I handle it? How can I best manage or endure the hours and pace? What will the compensation be (post-crisis)? Is it all worth the time, effort, and persistence?

Mentors who are involved in these finance sectors and have endured some of the same occasional hardships (and career successes) will be able to provide some insight or introduce students to others who can supplement the guidance.

Consortium students also want to understand the diversity picture: What firms appreciate and value diversity? What firms value the backgrounds of Consortium graduates? Will the recruiting process be fair? Is there subjectivity in how they choose? Once I join a firm, will the appraisal process be objective? And how can I, too, create a buzz about myself, my work, and my commitment?

Whether the topic is diversity or the technical aspects of a specific topic, mentors owe it to students to be candid and open. The better relationships are indeed based on sincere dialogue. The best relationships, however, are those that last for years and help inspire students to become mentors themselves one day.

Tracy Williams

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