Seniors interested in Wall Street urged to broaden job search

While many Ephs feel the national economic downturn primarily when bus tickets, winter coats and Tunnel City cinnamon-vanilla chai iced lattes tug at their purse strings a bit more, job-seeking seniors – particularly those interested in finance – are worried that their prospects for employment are dwindling.

On Wall Street, the financial crisis has led to not only the collapse of Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, but Bank of America’s acquisition of Merrill Lynch and the transformation of Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley into commercial banks. As a result of this shake up, these institutions which traditionally hired many college seniors have very limited opportunities for undergraduate employment. And most have filled their analyst classes from their already limited summer intern hires. “The application process [for internships] was much more competitive than usual compared to previous years,” said Brandon Holloway ’09, who worked at Lehman Brothers this summer.

Kaitlin Dirrig ’09 also spent the summer working for Lehman Brothers in Sales and Trading and received an offer to return full-time. However, after Lehman filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy, her offer was null. Luckily, Barclays, which acquired part of Lehman’s viable business practices, renewed her offer – one she plans to accept. “I’m very excited because Barclays has a stable commercial banking side and this is going to be the key to success in today’s financial markets,” she said. “And, the market goes in cycles so I have no doubt that it will get better.”

Dirrig’s experience, representative of the tumultuous financial conditions facing the big players on Wall Street and their recent hires, has led the Office of Career Counseling (OCC) to urge seniors interested in finance to broaden their horizons. “It is important to remember that the definition of finance, as an industry, is incredibly broad,” said Robin Meyer, associate director of the OCC. “While full-time positions at an investment bank are going to be difficult to land, there are many great finance opportunities that are available to students if they are willing to have an open mind or be creative.”

Holloway agrees that students should look for jobs in less conventional areas. “Opportunities are still out there, just maybe not at the bulge bracket firms that students would like to end up at,” he said.

The credit crisis has not played as large an impact on small investment banks, which are still hiring. “Smaller investment banks are trying to position themselves to grow, so it’s worth looking at them,” said Jerry Caprio, professor of economics. However, with fewer openings at bulge bracket firms, competition for these positions will be fierce.

Students initially interested in finance have also started to set their hopes on jobs in management consulting. Over 50 seniors were on hand at the information session held by the Parthenon Group, a consulting Firm that traditionally hires three to five Williams graduates per year.
Caprio also urged students to look into firms that specialize in bankruptcy and communication, because “financial reconstruction is going to be in hot demand.” He noted that government agencies may prove productive as well. He recommended institutions like the Federal Reserve Board, which offers great training, later creating options for employees and a unique view on the financial services sector.

January’s White House transition will cause a staff turnover, offering a multitude of new government positions. “It’s a great opportunity for our graduates to try to get into the government now, because once you’re in, you’re in; and you can move back and forth [between jobs] relatively easily once you’ve put in a few years,” said John Noble, director of the OCC.

Because obtaining a government job is a long process, Noble advised students who want a job at graduation to start the application process early and look to alumni for help. “The best way [to look for a government job] is to connect with people on Capitol Hill,” he said. “We have a group [of alumni in Washington, D.C.] poised and ready to bring on new staff.”

The OCC is working to utilize the power of alumni by strengthening their relationship with current students and expanding students’ networking possibilities. A developing campaign honors the 25th reunion of the Class of 1984 by challenging those alumni to raise jobs and internships for students. “I think our alumni body is our greatest resource, and they have a strong interest in making sure Williams students are well employed,” Noble said.

In light of financial turmoil, some students are investigating work opportunities abroad. However, many large foreign firms are closely tied with domestic banks, and therefore are cutting back on hiring. According to Meyer, teaching programs are the easiest way to go abroad, because they offer accessibility to foreign work permits.

The College encourages students to spend time after graduation teaching and volunteering. “I think a bright side of the turbulent situation on Wall Street is that students now have the opportunity to explore companies that they may not have considered in years past or to look at opportunities such as the Peace Corps or Teach for America,” Meyer said.

Additional reporting by Jake Gorelov, Managing Editor