Aitken: A job on Wall St.: Are you crazy?

You’ve heard it all before.

The Wall Street crisis. The financial meltdown. The economic apocalypse. The markets are crashing and, with it, your hopes of a cushy post-grad I-banking career.

But if this crisis proves anything, it’s that the conventional wisdom isn’t always wise (especially when it tells you that housing prices will never, ever fall). So before you chuck those recruiting brochures from the career fair, reconsider some widely circulated myths around the current financial job market.

MYTH: “This is the worst time to go into finance.”

Given the plunging Dow and doom-and-gloom stories throughout the media, students fortunate enough to find opportunities in the financial industry right now could easily be convinced that heading to Wall Street is career suicide. Who knows what the markets will do? Who knows whether you’ll have a job when you graduate?

Who cares?

If job security is your primary concern, work for the post office. Then again, chances are if you were keen on going into finance before the current crisis, you’re not that fussy about job security anyway. Wall Street has always tended to draw “risk-loving” individuals, as my intro econ professor might say. People who are willing to bet their careers on the stock market or the price of oil may be intimidated by the current financial climate, but not many would-be traders and hedge fund analysts will be scared off. Risk is the name of the game, and those who choose to enter the industry — whether in good times or bad — should know it comes with the territory.

MYTH: “Analysts are dispensable — especially summers.”

The word from many employers is that analysts — while highly compensated compared to other industries — are relatively inexpensive to keep, especially given their productivity and willingness to do smaller, more detail-oriented tasks. Plus, hiring summer analysts is an easy and cost-efficient way of recruiting for full-time employees. Think of it as a 10-week interview.

For full-time analysts, the opportunity to cut your teeth in a bad market can be a real learning experience. Most firms have factored the current environment into their recruiting efforts. With fewer analysts, many firms will rely on first-year employees to tackle bigger projects and spend more time in the office (unfortunately, the all-nighters are not a myth).

MYTH: “You should really go to grad school.”

Wall Street aside, no other subject seems to divide Yale students (or professors, for that matter) more than graduate school. For some, it’s the mark of an intellectual or the path to an academic career; for others, it’s a deferral of real-world responsibility.

Chances are, you already considered grad school at some point, and it either tickled your fancy or made you gag. If you fall in the second camp, a soft job market is probably not going to make you hate the idea of grad school any less once you’re there. Writing a thesis and spending the next several years in the library isn’t for everyone. Face it — if you weren’t that hot on grad school to begin with, there was probably a reason.

Fortunately, the choice isn’t just between Wall Street and grad school. If you can’t make it to a bulge-bracket firm straight out of college, try looking at financial jobs in other sectors. Work for a think tank doing development and fundraising work, or for a firm specializing in bankruptcy consulting. Smaller consulting firms can also give you good exposure to understanding markets and corporate strategy — experience that will come in handy when the financial job market is back on the upswing.

MYTH: “If you want to go into finance, you have to get a head start.”

If you’re an underclassman, don’t worry over getting a summer internship in finance — especially not this year. Take a summer to do something completely different, and in a couple of years, that experience will stand out on your resume. Spend two months learning German in Berlin, go to Officer Candidates School, work at an NGO in Brazil — be a Yalie. As long as you can give evidence of an interest and commitment to finance, your career aspirations should not prevent you from enjoying other experiences in the meantime that will ultimately make you a more interesting, well-rounded person.

That’s good career advice for any job market.

Kate Aitken, a senior in Silliman College and a former Arts & Living editor for the News, interned on Wall Street this past summer.


  • banker

    true. If you can get in. Now is the best time to work on wall street. Fewer seniors so more responsibility, fewer peers so less competition over the next few years. Plus, your 1st year bonus is a pittance anyway. The market should be back by the time you'll make real money and their will be fewer firms and fewer people to share those fat fees with.

  • FactsFactsFacts

    A 5-second Google search on Mace and Chain would inform you that they've had their tomb since 2001. That's middle-school-level research.

    This piece is more gossip than journalism. And it's not even interesting gossip.

  • lehwrkr

    The work is still interesting here, but don't expect to get vaulted to the 99th percentile of US income just by virtue of showing up. Your compensation expectations should go WAY down

  • Grammar baller

    "Officer Candidates School"

    Officer Candidate* School

  • wendi

    an important thing to remember is that banks rarely hire outside of their summer analyst class - and this year, outside hires will be practically nonexistent. if you want a job on wall street, a summer analyst program is the only way to get in. expect 14-20 hour work days, 7-15 lb weight gain, and memorization of every microsoft excel shortcut. on the upside, you'll get a lot of free drinks.

  • not impressed

    right…choosing getting a job straight out of college that will one day pay for your bmw and child's prep school. yes this is very "risky" behavior.

  • JE '93

    Honestly, I don't know why you would listen to the advice of someone who worked for a single summer on Wall St.

    As a veteran, I can tell you that the industry is going to look very, very different when this all shakes out. It will still be there, but it will be different. Doesn't mean you shouldn't do it, but forget all the things that attracted you, except, maybe, pounding away at excel for the first x number of years. That probably won't change.

    What I find absolutely astounding is that Ms. Summer Intern is telling you that being an analyst is a good move. Very bad move. Analysts are overhead and don't bring in revenue. They used to be sales tools, but then the laws got stricter, so they don't serve the function they used to. Even before the meltdown, their ranks were slowly thinning out.

    Earnings calls season is coming up. Look at the list of analysts that covered any company last quarter, and then look to see who's covering this quarter. Repeat for 3-4 companies. That should be all you need to know.

    I just never cease to be amazed by the confidence with which my fellow alums expound on things that they really don't know a whole lot about. That's also a wide-held perception out here in finance, so It's a good thing to remember as you head into the workforce. Good luck to you all.

  • anon

    this is nonsense. forget consulting or i-banking. it's time to start encouraging Yalies to enter public service careers again. CIA, State, the Obama administration. that's where the really meaningful work is.

  • please

    Ok…I get it. Instead of wasting my time having a contentious philosophical debate over what, to thinking people, are intensely important issues, I should "get a life". Presumably you mean exchange the hour or so of free time I spent writing and thinking about these issues with an entire evening of getting wasted, or shopping, or…many of the other activities students engage in (under the pretext of the normal college experience) without in the least being criticized for wasting their time.

    I see absolutely no argument against the proposition that many of you are here simply to further your ultimate goal of bourgeois respectability, and have no real interest in anything else. Why are you in college? A "trade/finishing school for the wealthy" would have served your purposes.

    Let you in on a hint: that is what Yale IS.

    Can anyone understand my desperateness? Since when are contentious discussions like this out of place in an academic environment? When they are out of place, the environment is not…well I think you get it.