Monday, November 2, 2009

CFN On Campus: Never Enough Time

With a blink of an eye, the school year at most Consortium b-schools is already one-third old. And what a difference a year makes. For Consortium students in finance, moods are less dismal than they were a year ago. Few have second thoughts about pursuing finance.

News stories about the collapse of both big-name institutions or market segments have receded. Students are approaching next summer (for internships and full-time positions) with more hope; some even with optimism.

General observations?

1. Students in similar numbers are interested in corporate finance and investment banking. We surmised many would be discouraged by the events of last year and would explore other careers (marketing, consulting, etc.). Finance continues to attract those who had years of experience in finance before b-school, those interested in global capital markets and transactions with clients, and those with extensive quantitative backgrounds (engineering, math, e.g.).

Finance attracts those still eager to tackle the demands of financial modelling, trading interesting financial instruments, investing in new ventures or doing headline-grabbing deals.

2. Predictably, students from larger, known finance-oriented b-schools (NYU, Dartmouth, Michigan, e.g.) are the ones with large numbers of student interested in finance and banking. These same schools, however, benefit from strong recruiting relationships with top banks and extensive alumni networks at the same banks.

3. Some schools without the same large Wall Street networks still have significant numbers of students (including Consortium students) interested in finance--primarily because of the schools' special efforts to encourage careers in financial services or prepare students for the process of pursuing something in finance (Indiana, Carnegie Mellon, e.g.).

4. Many Consortium students interested in finance are transitioning from other careers (government, marketing, publishing, engineering, consulting, etc.) and know they must catch up in understanding what top firms, funds and banks are looking for in MBA students. They, however, are learning they bring something unique from their prior experiences (teamwork in consulting roles, quantitative expertise in engineering roles, client management in sales positions, etc.).

5. All students acknowledge the challenges of adjusting to a rigorous schedule and admit coursework is far more demanding than they thought. But most are motivated by knowing they are doing the right thing, learning massive amounts of finance material in a short time, and seeing the marketplace more attractive than it was nine months ago.

Michigan's finance club came to New York for its annual Wall Street visit last week. Students, including a few Consortium members, visited JPMorgan, UBS, RBC and Morgan Stanley. Michigan has organized this trip for years. Typically 30-40 attend annually, and the numbers didn't appear to have dwindled this year.

Dartmouth's finance club likewise visited New York in mid-October. A few Consortium students, too, accompanied the club, as it visited large banks and met with alumni at many of these institutions.

Indiana's "academies" in investments and banking made short trips to New York, too, with a similar agenda of visiting firms and establishing contacts.

NYU has the advantage of being in New York, so students meet with Wall Street firms often. New York-area companies and banks, on the other hand, frequent the campus. As with many schools, Stern's Office of Career Development meets with each student to help him/her map out a plan for recruiting.

Yale students, also in New York, got a chance to visit representatives from Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley. Yale CFN students planned to meet as a group to discuss recruiting, companies and course challenges. Students are adjusting to Yale's novel approach to b-school education, where team-taught courses in the "Consumer," "Investor," "Employee," et. al. replace traditional courses in finance, marketing and accounting.

New York is not the be-all and end-all for finance. Chicago, London and San Francisco would contend, too. But students and their finance clubs go to New York to meet contacts, see a concentrated group of alumni and figure out their next steps in the recruiting game.

At many schools, the CFN mentorship program is thriving. Students have commented favorably about how mentors have helped them with recruiting strategies and in meeting contacts at particular firms. Moreover, mentors have provided good, old-fashioned moral support.

Tracy Williams

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