Tuesday, September 15, 2009

CFN On Campus: Gearing up for Recruiting

It's back to the books for almost all Consortium students. Classes have started, and the crunch of case studies, problem sets, and group meetings is under way. At b-schools, students have to manage a back-breaking work load and then gear up for a long, sometimes tortuous recruiting season.

CFN School Champions have sent updates from campus. Not all schools are the same, so experiences and impressions differ. The curriculum and core requirements at Yale differ from those at Indiana or Tuck. There are more "finance types" at NYU than there might be at USC. But some themes are common:

1. Few worry, as they did last year, about the collapse of the financial system. However, b-schools are warning students to be cautious and prepare for a tough recruiting season. There will be opportunities, but we haven't returned to the happy days of pre-2008. Some students have observed erratic scheduling of presentations by a handful of firms. They had planned to come, but changed their minds suddenly. Or many companies are hesitant to specify hiring numbers right now; there is still some uncertainty about summer, 2010.

2. Despite the financial crisis, students continue to be interested in corporate finance and investment banking--perhaps not in the same overwhelming numbers. Yet there is still a solid core of students who want to pursue such careers.

3. Sales & trading opportunities are fleeting. Many top banks and firms are not hiring MBA's into formal trading programs, although they are interested in MBA's on a case-by-case basis (based on the specific needs of a particular "trading desk.") Private-equity and hedge funds, if they recruit formally and strategically, like MBA talent and will consider hiring them because of their experiences and specific academic training in capital markets (foreign currencies, options trading, equity markets, derivatives trading, etc.). Nonetheless, hiring tends to be ad hoc.

4. Banks (JPMorgan, Citi, Barclays, Deutsche, BoA, Goldman Sachs, etc.) are making presentations on campuses coast to coast, but are promoting other sectors with similar vigor as investment banking--private banking, asset management, risk management, and commercial banking. Many banks, students notice, have reduced their core MBA schools substantially--by half, in some cases.

5. Corporations, knowing that some students may be reluctant to go the banking route, are taking advantage of such ambivalence and continue to recruit eagerly on campus (although they, too, plan to be cautious to avoid over-hiring).

6. In past years, many schools (Dartmouth and Michigan, e.g.) planned a "Wall Street Week" in New York for finance students. That tradition will likely continue this fall, and the numbers who flood New York for a week of presentations and networking with firms and actual traders and deal-doers will not have declined much.

At Carnegie Mellon, it's not surprising Heinz--headquartered nearby--has a major presence on campus, where it will recruit for corporate-finance slots. Union Pacific and BNP Paribas have also made presentations on campus. Finance students there try to stay ahead by joining the Graduate Finance Association.

At Michigan, finance students join the Finance Club, which helps guide students in the recruiting process. About 80-plus students are involved. The number is reportedly down from years ago, but is still significant. Students in the club are those pursuing careers in investment banking, sales & trading, private banking, and corporate finance.

Yale students spent part of orientation in New York. That permitted many of them to meet directly with major banks and firms and establish important contacts, even before classes started.

Indiana's directors of its investment-management academy advised students to get ready for a tough recruiting season, but encouraged them to gear up to get ahead by traveling to key cities (Chicago, New York, e.g.) to network, meet contacts and plan information interviews. BoA/Merrill has already made enthusiastic presentations on campus.

At UNC, CFN students convened early on to discuss strategies, opportunities, and upcoming course obligations.

All is not hopeless. Just a measure of caution from deans, recruiting directors and professors. Firms, companies, banks, and funds don't want to be caught off guard by over-hiring.

CFN will track progress among Consortium schools throughout the recruiting season with hopes that good planning, wise strategizing and discrete sharing of information will yield offer letters for all.

Tracy Williams

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