News, Wall Street Journal

How to Get a Finance Job Through On-Campus Recruiting

The Wall Street Journal

By Julie Steinberg

September 21, 2011

On-campus recruiting for investment banks is in full swing at many colleges around the world. Here are some tips to make sure you get one of the coveted full-time offers.

Show Up

Go to the info sessions that banks hold on campus. They can be boring and full of dozens of cutthroat students swarming one recruiter, but hey, that’s the life of an analyst anyway. So put on a suit and attend. If your name isn’t on the sign-in sheet at the event, your candidacy will hardly be taken seriously.

Representatives from the bank will be there to discuss the particular area they work in or cover.

“The best way to make use of these sessions is to talk to the representatives about how they determined that area was right for them,” said Keisha Smith, global head of campus and lateral recruitment at Morgan Stanley. “The benefit of going to them is you have the opportunity to get contact information and see someone face-to-face early in the season.”

This is your first chance to impress a human face from the bank. You’re already bypassing the empty void of applying to jobs in cyberspace. Be your charming, witty self and make that person remember you, enough so that when they’re reviewing resumes with the team they can say, “Oh, yeah, that kid had a great point about solving the European debt crisis.” (You should probably go read up on how to solve the European debt crisis if attempting this particular gambit.)

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

Be ready for multiple rounds of interviews. In total you may have three rounds of interviews on campus, followed by yet more interviews once you’re flown out to the firm’s offices after you pass the campus portion.

To do well, you’ll need to know how to answer behavioral, technical and “fit” questions, the last of which seek to examine how compatible you are with the firm you’re interviewing for. Interview questions will range from “Why do you want to work at this firm?” to “What is more risky — a coupon-bearing bond or a zero-coupon bond?” to “How many tennis balls can fit in a school bus?”

“Firms want to test you on your critical thinking,” said Chirag Saraiya, an instructor with Training the Street, a Manhattan-based firm that trains incoming Wall Street workers. “They don’t expect you to know every piece of technical knowledge before you walk in, but they want you to be technically sharp.”

It’s worth brushing up by going over problem sets and concepts from your finance and economics classes, and it’s also helpful to use an app like the Ultimate Finance Interview Guide, an Android and iPhone tool that allows you to browse 160 real-life questions. Especially useful is a set of 25 questions you can scroll through that are meant to approximate a real interview, starting with fit questions, then technical, current events and some brain teasers.

If You’re a Liberal Arts Student

If you don’t have a business background, make sure your resume can stand up to one of your business school friend’s CV’s. It’s fine to major in political science or semiotics with a minor in dance interpretation, but you need to have quantitative coursework that demonstrates you know how to work with numbers. Credit Suisse, for example, is interested in seeing students with problem-solving skills and overall analytic ability, according to Andrea Tolchinsky, head of global campus recruiting. The onus is on you to prove you can do the math.

At New York University, most liberal arts student who enter financial services after graduation have taken economics and a course designed to hone analytical and quantitative skills, said Trudy Steinfeld, assistant vice president at NYU’s Wasserman Career Development Center.

You should also make sure to have at least one financial internship under your belt, if not at a firm, then at a Fortune 500 company doing financial analysis, said Carl Martellino, executive director of the University of Southern California’s career center. Even then, though, it may still be tough to impress the banks, as “they want to hire from their intern pool or another bank’s intern pool,” Martellino said.

Know the Bank, Know the Job

Whether you’re a finance or liberal arts undergraduate, you want to convey your interest in the bank in a way that’s not robotic or rote.

“You need to communicate what the role entails and explain why you want it,” said Saraiya of Training the Street. “Know the bank you’re interviewing with.”

To do that, Saraiya recommends reading financial papers and blogs, researching the bank’s division that you’re interested in and having a keen understanding of the markets.

Know Somebody

It also doesn’t hurt to have a few contacts up your sleeve. “In order to get a job, you need to start contacting all the people you know at a firm so they can help you,” said Neil Schreiber, a senior at the University of Southern California who’s currently undergoing recruitment.

Even if you have a 4.0 grade point average and flawless technical skills, banks are still more likely to look favorably on you if someone’s spoken out on your behalf.

“It’s still all about connections,” said Schreiber, who recommends tapping your alumni network as a way to meet people and solicit their help.