Future I-bankers face grueling interview cycle

While most students cannot see the invasion, some are certainly feeling its effects. One student slips into his afternoon seminar each week and furiously undoes his tie before opening his backpack. Another senior returns from New York, weighed down by a briefcase and garment bags from his whirlwind of interviews, while one more dressed in a suit and heels carries her dry cleaning into her residential college.

It is fall recruiting season, and many seniors are beginning to think about the transition from the Elm City’s Wall Street to its more famous counterpart 80 miles away in New York. The corporate world has entered the collegiate bubble in the form of recruiters who flock to Yale to interview students for investment banks and consulting firms. For many seniors, the flurry of activity is just an additional task to juggle along with writing theses and attending society meetings.

In the midst of career-search season, students wait at University Career Services for a recruiting session.
Amy Ly
In the midst of career-search season, students wait at University Career Services for a recruiting session.

Alex Yergin ’07, who is currently interviewing for finance jobs, said the recruiting process can be extremely stressful.

“The problem isn’t how much time it takes as how disabling it is,” he said. “It’s disabling in the sense that you’re preparing for interviews and at the same time when you go to these interviews you have to make sure you’re sleeping and also spending some time relaxing.”

Exact data is not available on the number of seniors currently going through the interview process, but business and finance continue to attract large numbers of graduates. According to a survey by the Yale Office of Institutional Research, 18 percent of the Class of 2004 was employed in these fields one year after graduation. This number is up from 2002, when 13 percent of the graduating class was employed in finance and consulting, but down from 2000, when 22 percent of the class entered the fields. James Grant, a senior vice president at J.P. Morgan, said the number of students employed in finance is often influenced by market cycles.

Investment banks and consulting firms send senior executives, who are often Yale alumni, to New Haven at the start of the school year to make presentations and hold receptions before interviews start. After the informational meetings, students are able to submit their resumes and cover letters through the eRecruiting feature on the Undergraduate Career Services Web site, in addition to filling out the companies’ specific applications.

At the beginning of October, groups of recruiters known as “school teams” begin to conduct on-campus interviews at UCS. Interviewers for investment banks may ask students questions that relate quantitative ability with common sense, while consulting firms typically require students to do a one hour case study and come up with a solution to a problem.

Corey Lomas ’07 said he thinks the current interview format often does not allow a recruiter to accurately judge a candidate’s aptitude for a job.

“What I don’t like about these interviews is that they’re very impersonal,” he said. “You walk into a room and talk to someone for 30 minutes and they make a decision about you. In my opinion, that’s certainly not enough time to size up a person and determine whether or not they’ll be a good fit for a job.”

After first rounds, seniors may be called back for a second round of all-day interviews at the firm’s main offices, which are taking place now. The interviews are more extensive, and students may be required to repeat their answers to the same questions to up to six different groups. Candidates are notified by phone within a few days if they have received offers, and students who have applied through UCS then have two weeks to accept or decline, typically by the end of November.

Students said the recruiting process can take from 5 to 20 hours a week depending on how many firms someone is interviewing for, and it is often challenging to balance with academic and extracurricular obligations.

Elizabeth Debevoise ’07, who is double majoring in Economics and International Studies, worked for Lehman Brothers Investment Management last summer in New York and said she will probably accept the offer she received at the end of her internship. She said she is grateful to be done with the process, which she called exhausting, particularly the demands of traveling back and forth between New Haven and New York for second rounds.

“It takes over your life,” she said. “The people who are doing this right now aren’t going to class.”

While some seniors are going through the fall cycle right now, others already have jobs lined up for next year after interviewing in the spring and working internships over the summer. The spring interviews are identical to those held in the fall, but the internship serves as an extended try-out that is beneficial to banks because they can track analysts’ performances over a two-month period. Many seniors will return to the firms where they worked last summer, while others are going through the process again in hopes of being hired at a different company.

UCS Director Philip Jones said early in the year, UCS focuses on industries that have predictable hiring cycles. In fields like journalism, less hiring takes place, he said, and for other opportunities such as the Peace Corps, which also hires large numbers of graduates each year, recruiting tends to occur second semester.

“It’s a question of understanding the cycles of employment and timing,” he said.

But some students not interested in the financial world said they feel limited by the offerings at UCS. Although the center offers programs such as Metrolink, which brings seniors to sites in Washington, D.C. and New York to interview in fields such as politics and education, it remains more difficult for those not interested in business to get assistance.

“I don’t think they have enough resources for students,” Nic Grant ’06 said. “If you’re looking for something atypical they are not very helpful.”

Lomas said he thinks students are overly concerned with getting job offers from big-name banks — like Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley — and do not think enough about what their job will actually be like.

“People get too focused on highly publicized jobs,” he said. “If you think about it you’re really signing your life away for two years to be electronically tethered to a Blackberry. I feel like coming out of Yale there are so many other interesting things to do.”

While many students who participate in the finance and consulting interview cycle are economics majors like Yergin and Debevoise, students from other majors and some with no finance background at all are also going through the process. Students who do not have strong preparation in the subject said they must do research on their own to answer recruiters’ questions about what is happening in the markets.

History of Science, History of Medicine major Blair Golden ’07 went through the spring interview process last year and said while many of the investment banks she interviewed with appreciated the value of a liberal arts education, others seemed more inclined to hire those with a strong interest in economics.

“Because Yale is a liberal arts school, it’s not as though students have taken 10 classes in finance or accounting,” she said. “Even the Yale candidates who were very qualified economics majors still had a liberal arts bias, so I felt more on par with them than I would have at another school like UPenn.”

Golden said she received an offer from her internship at Dresdner Kleinwort in New York, but said she is unsure whether she will pursue a career in finance. She is currently interviewing for Teach for America, jobs in the health care industry and research fellowships, but said there is still a high possibility that she will return to Dresdner next fall.

James Grant said his company employs many recent college graduates without a background in economics or finance, but that these new hires must have an aptitude for numbers.

“We feel they’re going to have a training program and work experience that teaches them all they need to know in terms of fundamentals and the analytical side of business,” he said.

The firm looks for students with drive, ability to take on a leadership role, and something unusual in their extracurriculars or coursework, James Grant said.

A senior partner at a boutique investment firm who asked not to be named said his company rarely hires students without financial experience. The company hires four analysts per year instead of 100 as large banks do, so they must ensure that candidates will succeed at the company. While large banks such as JP Morgan can afford to take chances by hiring students who did not major in economics, smaller firms are less willing to take those risks, he said.

“As much as we love someone who was a history or a political science major with a 4.0 and great SAT scores, at the end of the day, one of your jobs is to sit around and make models,” he said. “Someone would have to have an incredible hook for a boutique to say, ‘Sure, come on in,’ without linear algebra or calculus or any quantitative background.”

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