With the onset of the fall semester recruiting season for investment banking and finance, students scurried in heels and suits to the Study and the Omni hotels to meet recruiters from top firms like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. Many of these students — perhaps a disproportionate number — were athletes meeting co-workers of their former teammates. When the athletic department held its annual career fair for athletes this October, 15 out of 20 booths were from finance firms.
16.9 percent of the class of 2014 went into the finance industry after graduation, a 2 percent increase from the previous year. While Brian Tompkins, former head coach of men’s soccer from 1996–2014 and current senior associate athletic director, said the athletic department does not keep specific statistics regarding career placements, he admitted that there is a clear trend for varsity athletes in particular to consider jobs in banking and finance.
Still, Tompkins attributed the athlete-finance relationship to forceful recruitment from banks more than initiative from athletes — a curious dynamic, given what many on campus perceive to be a competitive, even cutthroat, atmosphere surrounding the finance recruitment process, when students vie for interviews with top firms.
“The banking community is considerably more aggressive in the recruitment of athletes specifically,” Tompkins said. “Banks muscle their way into the athlete’s consciousness a lot sooner than other companies … and there’s almost a seductive quality that accompanies being pursued by such world-famous companies.”
Are varsity athletes being “seduced,” as Tompkins suggests, into a career sector that is actively seeking them out because of their skill set and discipline? And is investment banking necessarily the best way for athletes to be making use of that skill set?
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This is, in short, what a fall recruitment process might look like for a large investment banking firm: one or more networking sessions starting in September, a resume drop on Symplicity soon after, a call for first-round interviews (hopefully) by the end of the semester, then second-round interviews, “superday,” a daylong series of interviews with a specific division or group within the firm, and, finally, an offer for a summer internship.
If you perform well after your junior summer internship, you often sign a contract committing to working with the firm full-time as an analyst after graduating. According to Business Insider, the average base salary for a financial analyst at Morgan Stanley, one of the nation’s two largest investment banks (along with Goldman Sachs) and one of the most popular financial career destinations for Yale alumni, is $85,120.
According to several athletes interviewed, a student-athlete is an appealing candidate for the rigorous finance industry because of their hard-earned habits in self-discipline, teamwork and strenuous work over long hours.
Shreya Ghei ’15, who was on the women’s golf team and now works as a markets analyst at Deutsche Bank, said that the schedule she kept as an athlete prepared her well for her current job. She also said it was these habits that made her realize, when she was considering future professional paths, that banking could be a good fit.
“I realized that as an athlete, it’s like you’re training for the job everyday,” Ghei said.
Lexi Henkel ’17, who played on the women’s lacrosse team her freshman year, said her varsity athlete status gave her and her teammates an immediate network of friends, and of former players with professional connections — mostly in investment banking and finance. Even though Henkel only played on the team for a year, she said the athletic network continues to play a major role in her job search.
“Being on the team definitely exposes you to the industry … I saw seniors on my team, whom I looked up to, go into investment banking; I was part of email chains, and I went to networking events with my teammates,” Henkel said. “Almost everyone in my year on the lacrosse team is recruiting for finance now.”
Henkel added that her aptitude for math and an internship last summer at Longitude Capital fostered her initial interest in banking and finance. But being on the team gave her a network that encouraged her to pursue that interest further.
Ghei reported a similar networking experience. She said an older teammate who worked in sales and trading started a trend that led to four others on the team recruiting for similar jobs. For Ghei, a pivotal moment occurred when her coach invited her and her teammates to a talk given by a banker entitled “Why Wall Street wants athletes.”
But although the number of athletes she encountered during her college golf career incentivized her, she said it was not the tipping point in her decision to go into investment banking. Rather, she said, it was a result of both increasing genuine interest in finance and exposure to the industry.
After graduating, her network of athletes continues to impact her banking career.
“Even once you’re part of the industry, athletics remains a strong ‘talking point,’ especially for a personal, relationship-oriented business such as banking and for ‘client sports’ such as golf,” said Ghei. “Sometimes when I introduce myself, I skip that I went to Yale and instead just say that I played golf in college.”
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But just how often, and how universally, do athletes experience this sort of linear trajectory?
Jason Brown ’16, captain of the men’s tennis team, has signed to start working as a Goldman Sachs analyst after he graduates in May. He said eight out of his 12 teammates plan to pursue careers in industries other than finance, such as politics, consulting and medicine. He added that this differs from past years, when nearly everyone on the team recruited for banking jobs.
But Photos Photiades ’17, who is also on the tennis team, said this is likely an anomaly. He added that his teammates, with whom he spends roughly 30 hours a week, hugely influence every aspect of his life — particularly his professional inclinations.
“The network generated by the athlete community is strong — in fact, stronger than the networks that other extracurricular communities on campus may have,” he said, adding that the tennis team’s alumni network is especially strong since only 12 players share the connections at a time.
Brown also spoke highly of the athletic alumni network, attributing some of his interest in finance to former teammates — who had been recruited for banking jobs — helping him make connections and move through the arduous process. But, as a recent Phi Beta Kappa inductee and the Yale Students Investment Group investments manager, Brown said his decision to go into banking resulted from a passion for math and economics in addition to the initial push from teammates.
Valerie Shklover ’18 has begun applying for her first internship in banking. A member of the women’s tennis team, she said upperclassmen teammates’ experiences have greatly influenced and aided her own job search.
With so many on her team going into finance, she said, “I don’t feel like I’m going into uncharted territory.”
At the same time, Shklover said she does not think she is neglecting other career opportunities, insisting that she deliberately picked the finance industry after careful consideration of many personal, professional and academic factors.
All but one of the athletes interviewed agreed that being on an athletic team exposes you to the finance industry more than it does other fields, although most maintained that the added exposure only adds to fledgling interests.
Still, it is inevitable that athletes’ choices are influenced by the people they spend the most time with: their teammates.
“Being on a team is conducive to a team mentality, which sometimes makes it difficult to deviate from what others are doing,” Shklover said.
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“I don’t want to sell my soul to investment banking,” Claire Feeley ’17, a women’s volleyball player, said. The pressure to conform is strongest during the initial stages of the recruiting process, she added, and this year saw a spike in “accelerated applications” — special early applications — from banks such as Deutsche Bank and Barclays.
Feeley said many athletes she knows considered turning from other industries and acquiescing to aggressive recruiting from finance firms, although many drop out in the later, more intensive stages.
Top firms and banks take a particularly aggressive interest in recruiting athletes, Tompkins said.
One of the October athlete career fair organizers, he noted that responses from companies are normally “overwhelmingly” from financial firms.
Often, he said, finance companies recruit athletes who then return to Yale to help recruit more athletes, creating a self-perpetuating cycle. Still, many athletes pursue other fields and insist that they have never felt pressured to join the finance sector.
James Barnett ’17, a heavyweight rower, aspires to attend law school and does not want to go into banking, although he did spend last summer interning with an investment bank in Shanghai. He emphasized that he took the job more out of an interest in China than in finance, and that he felt no pressure from the athletic community to join the industry.
The pressure to join the lucrative industry is no more powerful in the athletic community than it is among non-athletes, Barnett insisted.
Swimmer Olivia Jameson ’17 said one member of her 35-person team has secured a job in investment banking and three others are in the midst of recruiting. Although she said it often feels as though many of her friends are pursuing investment banking, she has felt neither pressure nor desire to consider it.
James Ratchford ’17, a men’s tennis player, said he wants a hands-on and cerebral career experience and plans to work at the Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force in the U.S. Marshals Service next summer. After graduation, he hopes to pursue a career in the military or in law enforcement.
While Tompkins acknowledged that finance has been a formidable force in the professional recruitment of athletes, he said he was committed to making more opportunities more visible to the athletic community.
“I do not have anything against investment banking,” Tompkins said. “But we recognize that finance companies are always going to be aggressive during the recruiting process. We want to expose our athletes to other industries that would lean on different areas of their liberal arts education at Yale. I want them to have an array of options.”
Correction, Dec. 13: A previous version of this article misstated the number of hours Photos Photiades spends with his teammates each week. In fact, that number is closer to 30 hours.