Swatties Land Finance Jobs Despite Downturn

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Will there be any investment bankers in the class of 2009? Director of Career Services Nancy Burkett told the Gazette that “last year it was 4 of our graduates who went into investment banking… [this year] 3 of our seniors that we know of have secured positions so far.” She continued, “all three received offers from summer internships… more and more banks are using that as a primary recruiting tool.”

Two of those students are Cris Nuñez and Nachiketa Rao, both seniors. Nuñez received an offer to work in the Credit Risk Management group of JPMorgan Chase, monitoring the bank’s exposure to internal risk and structuring debt for clients.

“I was also admitted into Teach for America and JPMorgan would allow me to defer their offer so that I may join Teach for America for two years before joining JPMorgan … I don’t quite know exactly where I’ll be next year yet, but I know I’ll either be teaching at a bilingual elementary school in Philadelphia or I’ll be looking at financial statements for JPMorgan in New York.”

Nuñez was an intern at Bear Stearns before it was sold to JPMorgan. “When Bear Stearns was sold, JPMorgan fired all the Bear Stearns summer interns, but promised us that we would get first dibs on any full-time openings at JPMorgan. They were true to their promise and contacted me in August asking if I would be interested in applying for a position within Credit Risk. I agreed and after a phone screening and a full day of on-site interviews, they extended me the offer.”

Nuñez said that he was not too worried, “because finance is a very cyclical business and I knew that going in … if you can’t stomach a career where your job security is never stable, then finance isn’t really for you.”

Asked about advice for other students interested in the industry, he said that “firms are always looking to hire college kids because they are cheaper than experienced hires. So I’d tell juniors not to worry – all of the internship programs are still recruiting on their typical schedule – but you have to have someone at the firm actually read your resume to get hired. The only way to do that is to network with alumni through the online alumni database. For every 10 alums I contacted, more or less, 2 or 3 would be willing to hand my resume to someone in HR and put in a good word. It is a very time intensive process, but the process is no different when that market is up from when the market is down.”

Rao landed a job as a mergers and acquisitions analyst at Bank of America after interning in the industry since his freshman year.

Asked whether he was worried about the effects of the downturn, Rao responded, “Absolutely! Lots of people are being fired at all levels … I think everyone is hedging their bets at this moment.” That said, “I have noticed much more concrete interest among juniors to work in finance now than in the past… very few jobs will allow you to make $60,000+ right out of undergraduate … [and] the work can be very interesting at times. Many deals that I worked on were featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.”

Rao did caution interested students that “in a down market, my experience is that many top banks will not take Swarthmore students over business students at Wharton or NYU Stern … they’re safer employing grads who have already have some experience with accounting, financial modeling, etc … [and] when was the last time Morgan Stanley had a drinks reception in the Scheuer room?”

Shannon Knee, a senior at Wharton with a concentration in Finance and Management, agreed that banks had become noticeably more competitive in their recruitment and hiring practices this year. However, she said the students at Wharton had less painful experiences finding employment due to the “OCR”, or ‘On Campus Recruitment’ session organized by the university.

“On Campus Recruitment is a competitive process students participate in during their junior year. You submit your resume, go through an interview process, and then a few different companies try to encourage you come to their company for an internship in the summer after your junior year. I took a 10 week internship with a company and now this year they offered me a job, so overall, I wouldn’t say it was a difficult process.”

Knee will be working in the New York office for Credit Suisse, a global financial services company.

These students all secured jobs through internships, but what are the options for others? Burkett explained that Career Services hosts a career fair in New York every fall. “Typically in years past we would have two, maybe three banks, but this year no banks participated in that event… they plan to limit their hiring to their pool of intern applicants … [and] they weren’t doing large-scale events.” However, “we did not see an overall decline in numbers of recruiters … those slots were filled by consulting firms, and some students were able to pick up opportunities there.”

Burkett added that “specialized consulting firms are still hiring, [but] some of the larger management consulting firms whose clients are primarily in the financial industry have limited their hiring this year.”

Alison Flamm ’09 is one student who will be going into consulting at Novantas, “a small strategy and management consulting firm in New York that specializes in financial services consulting.” She found the job through eRecruiting, and said that “I was certainly concerned that firms in the financial and consulting fields would be hiring less … I lucked out and found a firm that is optimistic about its future,” partially since it consults for retail and commercial banks rather than investment banks. “I’m hopeful that Novantas is correct in thinking that its future is still bright.”

Some financial service firms also decided to recruit later in the year. For example, consulting firm McKinsey and Company has usually had a campus recruitment day, but Assistant Director Erin Massey reported tht this year, “they indiciated that they would not actually be coming to campus.” Furthermore, the company “used to have a September application deadline for their 30 core schools, [but] this year they decided that for some of those schools, they are going to be moved to a January recruiting date … employers frankly just don’t know what their hiring needs are going to be, so right now they’re hesitant to commit to hiring at a great volume.”

Burkett added that two of the companies—one consulting firm and one bank—that have already held first-round interviews with Swarthmore students have postponed their second round of interviews.

At the Wharton School of Business the situation is slightly different—students there said that financial services companies have ulterior motives compelling them to continue recruiting and hiring.

“Firms are still coming to Wharton it seem, to recruit here. Maybe the firms will cut back on recruitment in other places, but these firms need to protect their images and need to show that they will be in business beyond the next two years. So it is about image too,” Evan Seinberg said, a Wharton senior who has secured a job with a private equity firm.

Overall, however, Burkett confirmed that “we haven’t seen too much of a drop in recruitment activity… the employers that recruit at Swarthmore consistently like to come here because they’re happy with the candidates they get here … we don’t have a large pool, so the employers know they won’t get 25 hires, but they will get one or two of very high quality.”

How many students use Career Services overall? Burkett said that over half of the student body visits each year. Seniors use the office the most of any class, with 70% of seniors in the Class of 2008 visiting during their senior year and 78% of the Class of 2007.

Asked about job opportunities beyond the financial sector, Burkett said that “students have broadened their interests … they are looking at commercial banking in addition to investment banking and economic consulting in addition to management consulting.”

Another indication of a healthy job market is that companies are still advertising for positions on the eRecruiting database. Burkett said that at the moment, “we have exactly the same number [of job postings] this year as we did last year, 267.”

The number of students applying to graduate school has also held steady from this year to last year. “Many job search and apply to graduate school concurrently,” said Burkett. “We haven’t seen a spike in numbers applying but we may see a spike in who actually goes.”

Career Services held an event last week with Jenny Hourihan Bailin ’80, who had worked in investment banking for over twenty years before her division at Bank of America was closed in February.

Bailin is currently searching for a new job in the public or non-profit sector, and Burkett said, “we thought she might have a different perspective on the current crisis… [and] we wanted her to think creatively to brainstorm job strategies with students who are interested in the financial sector.”

Bailin started her talk by reassuring students that when she went to New York City, “unemployment was at 12 percent and the Dow was at 700,” but she still managed to succeed, moving from doing public financing for the state of New York to the capital markets desk at Salomon Smith Barney. That’s where she got into the forest products industry, a field which she continued to pursue at Merrill Lynch and the Bank of America.

Asked about her transition from Swarthmore to the working world, she said that “you have a lot of stamina … an ability to stay up working all night. The pace of work will help you … [but] it will seem narrow intellectually.” She urged students to “do more than you’re asked … you would not believe how few people invest that amount of energy to see if there’s an original contribution they can make.”

Reflecting on her career, she urged students to look for jobs that involve doing a “broad range of things … markets continue to evolve and change and if you only do one thing it’s very hard to see how it’s going to change … intellectual insularity is dangerous.” She called finance “a very cyclical business, but a growth business… we’re having a deep downturn, but I feel it will return to being a growth business.”

In Bailin’s opinion, this could actually be a good thing for students entering the market now, since when the economy turns up again, there will be a few years when fewer people were being hired and a consequent dearth of talent. Pointing to her past experience, she remembered that “the street stopped hiring from 2001 to 2003 and then we really needed people in 2004 and 2005.”

She encouraged students looking for jobs now “to look outside the largest ten firms … you have to think expansively at this point, [but] you do need to look at the type of activity they are doing and ask a lot of questions. Look carefully at the quality of the person you work for, which will govern your experience more than anything else.” Bailin did caution that normally, “the street is very prejudiced about career movement … it’s hard to get to the top after working for a lower-tier firm unless you take the business school step.”

One student taking the business school route is Anne-Marie Frassica ’09, who was recently accepted into Harvard Business School 2+2, which she described as “essentially an early admissions program for undergraduate students who know they would like to complete an MBA. The program requires its participants to complete two years of work experience … and then to spend two years in the regular MBA program at Harvard. I am joining the first class of HBS 2+2, so there aren’t many rules on what you can and cannot do yet – the first class gets to have a hand in shaping the program.”

Frassica spent the past summer as an intern with Citigroup Investment Banking. She wrote, “I did not accept an offer from them, but many of my fellow interns did and are now sweating it. With the talks of tens of thousands more in layoffs, even my friends in the Hong Kong branch (supposedly impervious to the US meltdown) are feeling the pressure. Whole teams have been cut, and new hires are anxious.”

Frassica continued, “I’m currently looking for jobs in the tech industry and consulting, but offers are fewer in number this year. A few of the firms I’ve interviewed with or applied to have told me they aren’t hiring outside of their main draw schools this year, or that hiring has been moved back a few months, or that they are simply not looking for anyone… I am lucky that I have grad school two years down the line, so getting a job for next year is a bit less stressful.”

Overall, Burkett seemed confident that Swarthmore students would be able to land the right job despite the economy. “On some campuses there’s a level of discouragement, but we haven’t seen that happen here and we’re really happy about that. Students don’t just look at what we give them… they’re very creative with their job searching.”

Additional reporting on Wharton by Todd Friedman.

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