Sunday, December 12, 2010

Yearend 2010: Time to Make That Move?

We head toward yearend. For almost everybody, that means a welcome break and the upcoming holidays. For many in finance, it means something else: yearend reviews, budgets, evaluations, appraisals, last-moment client meetings, deal closings, balance-sheet and P&L assessments, forecasts for next year, and, yes, speculation about bonus payouts.

For many, yearend is hectic, busy, frantic, and exhausting. Approach most people in finance in December, and they will hint (a) they need a break and will get it in January and (b) they don't want to add anything more to an already suffocating schedule.

Yearend is also a time for finance professionals, MBA students, and MBA alumni (including those affiliated with the Consortium) to reflect and ponder what's next. Where do they want to go from here? What does next year bring? Is it time to make a move? Is it the right moment to approach managers about how they feel about career paths, expected promotions and compensation? Is it time to devise personal strategies to follow through in the upcoming year?

Consortium students, alumni and others in finance are contemplating a lot these days. They sort through opportunities and options, and they struggle to figure out whether we are really over the hump headed toward an economic and markets recovery.

What's on the minds of many this yearend?

Consortium Students

1. Some continue to assess whether investment-banking, trading or investment management is still what they want. A few have even decided to take a different path or turn down lucrative offers to accept similar positions in finance in industrial companies or in business strategy, where there are opportunities to get promoted fairly, work-life balance, and hands-on experience in operations. They have learned and decided they can do corporate finance or M&A at places like GE, Pepsi, or Eli Lily.

They are making the tough decisions to bypass what they may have gone to business school to attain, yet they are comfortable and excited about veering off the original track.

2. On the other hand, some are deciding go head-strong into investment banking, private banking, and investment research or management. That was a primary reason for going to business school, and they are hopeful and confident that the opportunities, deal flow, and rewarding experiences will continue.

Consortium students will be joining firms like Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Citigroup, Deutsche and Barclays in the year to come. They know, too, they will benefit from spending the next few years in a grueling, in-depth apprenticeship in corporate finance or investment analysis.

Many prefer to pursue private equity or venture capital and have tried. To get there, however, has been hard and puzzling, because those firms recruit erratically or informally. Students realize it takes contacts to get inside for the few spots that open up. Not surprisingly, some haven't given up.

3. Some Consortium students went to business school with one objective in mind, but discovered another more interesting path once they got there. Hence, they've decided to try something new and different. For example, a few have decided to pursue opportunities in energy, community banking or microfinance. One wants to return to his hometown one day and help boost the family business. And they are enlivened by decisions.

4. Many Consortium students have an exceptional opportunity to study abroad or work as interns in another country during the spring. They cherish the experience and discover when they graduate they want to start out or eventually work in a foreign country. Consortium students last year worked or studied in Peru, South Africa, Tanzania, China and many other countries. One recent graduate decided to accept a banking position, where he is in training in Singapore and will work full-time in Ghana.

5. A few students returned to their second year with meaningful summer internships, but now know they won't return or are no longer interested. Internships served a different purpose. It helped them decide what they don't want to do.

Those second-year students are now back at the starting point drafting a new, better post-grad strategy. Time is of the essence, as they try to find a good offer before they graduate, before they no longer have access to their school's career-advisory resources. And they are trying to avoid a panic situation. But improvements in markets and the economy, they aren't panicking yet.

6. Today's Consortium students lived and worked through the crisis and gladly returned to school. While times are slightly better and opportunities slowly open up, memories of the crisis, the collapse of markets and the aura of a debilitating downturn still linger. Thus, many students are making decisions that would insulate them from another big collapse or downturn, even if the likelihood is low.

They may choose to avoid certain banking jobs, knowing that hints of a downturn will spur managers to lay off new associates. They consider areas where they can focus on learning a new role and gaining maximum experience without having to worry who's the next to go.

Consortium Alumni and Others

1. Consortium alumni today, more than ever, know the value of being ready--being ready for the next opportunity, the next door that opens. Alumni today keep their resumes' up to date, join networking groups, update their skills and are watchful of ugly trends or signs of things not going their way. Long gone are the days when alumni joined a major financial institution two weeks after business school and settled into what might be a 25-year career.

2. Many MBA alumni have wrestled with the difficult decision of whether to add another credential, degree, or certification. To add it requires time and money. They are asking themselves whether they need it to set themselves apart, to add something notable to the resume' or to amass more knowledge in a certain field.

One Consortium alumnus added an MS in quantitative finance this year, and it likely made a difference as a explored roles in start-up finance and private equity. Many others are considering the CFA, and it's not unusual for many Consortium students and alumni to have studied for and passed Level 1. Yet others say an MBA is sufficient and more learning or credentialing should occur in actual experience.

3. Like some students, some alumni have decided to leave traditional banking or positions in finance. They are re-examining their careers and exploring less-conventional fields or less-confining career paths. They still want to use their finance skills. Many say they want one more chance to pursue something that they can be passionate about, regardless of compensation--something about which they would enjoy waking up and doing.

They appreciate the exposure, the experience and the live transactions and client contact in a current role, but they are ready for something more interesting, more dynamic.

4. Alumni, no matter where they are on a finance career path, make tough decisions about family, priorities, values and reality. Alumni in recent years have endured crises, industry upheavals, dot-com crashes, and market turmoil. They have reason to remind themselves of what comes first or what might interfere with their values or priorities.

5. Consortium alumni appreciate and are happy with the contacts, knowledge, skills and confidence that comes with the MBA and are always inclined to put it to work.

7. Alumni are constantly assessing what it takes to move to the next level, get promoted, get noticed and make meaningful contributions. Having come from top-notch schools with rigorous preparation, they tend to set high standards for themselves and push themselves to the next step.

Or they see the success stories of alumni a few years ahead of them and decide they want to follow behind. Hence, they often ask mentors and each other questions about what does it take to advance, how much preparation is necessary, whom to know, or what learning or experience is required.

It's 2010, about to be 2011; students and alumni are asking these questions and reassessing where they are, where they want to be, where they deserve to be, and whether it's time to make a move in some way.

Tracy Williams

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