Gearing Up For Down Times

 

Pursuing finance jobs requires focus, flexibility

By Gerry Boyle '79
 

Alexandra Clegg ’09 had successfully made it through two rounds of phone interviews this fall with financial consulting companies and was eagerly awaiting the face-to-face finals.

From two of the companies, she received a call she didn’t want.

“They said, ‘Actually, we’re not going to be hiring, so we’re just going to cancel,” said Clegg, who has four internships on her résumé, part of a college career spent zeroing in on a career in finance.

She was disappointed but by no means defeated.

“I was in New York [for an interview] on Friday,” Clegg said in November. “I’ll be in Boston Wednesday.”

It’s that sort of resilience and confidence (Clegg did ultimately land a job with a financial consulting firm) that is required in a down job market, says Colby Career Center Director Roger Woolsey. Rather than panic, students considering careers in financial services should take a hard look at their futures. “Stay focused on what your goals and objectives are, and really take more of an aggressive approach,” Woolsey advised.

Contrary to what some might think, the job market for students looking at finance isn’t bad, he said. “Regardless of the recession, the early indication is that this is still going to be a decent year for grads.”

He reported that investment banks that recruit at Colby are honoring job offers already extended to seniors. And students who had been thinking of going into investment banking are considering consulting, sales, and other financial-sector fields.

Woolsey, who speaks regularly with alumni and Colby parents in the financial services industry, said the word from those in the business is for students to look beyond the obvious. “Look at more of the medium-sized banks in the Midwest and the West Coast instead of always going after the big-brand firms,” Woolsey said.

As they consider career options beyond the East Coast corridor, students will need to be flexible­­­­­­­­—“in geographic location, in job-function within finance,” Woolsey said. “Don’t be as concerned with pigeonholing yourself in the industry.”

A recent alumnus who was laid off from a financial services company recently called Woolsey for help finding another job in Boston. “I said, ‘We’d have a greater opportunity for finding you work if we could open that up to New York, Philadelphia, D.C., because we could use a bigger database of people,’” Woolsey recounted. “Sure enough, he agreed to that.”

Colby students are versatile and balanced and have a lot to offer potential employers. But in an economic downturn they also need to know when to be conservative. “I had a few discussions with students with their parents in this office,” Woolsey said. “In a good year, a student received two or three offers. We would try to advise the student in negotiating and try to come up with a better offer, leveraging one against the other. But there was a parent specifically this year who advised his son not to do that. It was the best advice. Feel lucky you have one offer on the table. Don’t play games, and accept it.”

Still, it’s a daunting time for seniors interested in finance, many of whom have been working toward this goal since they arrived at Colby almost four years ago.

“Nowadays to get a junior-year internship you need a sophomore-year internship,” said Lokesh Todi ’09. “And sometimes to get a sophomore-year [internship] you need freshman year. It’s become a very competitive field.”

Some students are just postponing their job hunt until next semester, while others are signing up for the Graduate Record Exam, said Todi, who is from Nepal.

It is a particularly difficult time for international students hunting finance jobs in the United States because companies must take on those students’ visa obligations, said Soule Sow ’09, of Senegal.

If jobs don’t materialize, grad school beckons. “Last year, I didn’t know anyone applying for a Ph.D. [program],” Sow said. “This year I know four people who are applying.”

 
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