Jobs for juniors

The Record article last week on future employment options neglected to cover another important group of students also searching for jobs: juniors. There are research opportunities on campus and there are alumni-sponsored internships, but for students interested in pursuing careers in competitive fields like finance or consulting, the junior year internship search is arguably more critical than trying to find a job senior year. I have had friends and even alumni tell me that landing a full-time job in finance is nearly impossible without prior internship experience. For many juniors, as recruiting season nears an end, the search has become ever more desperate.

I recall fondly the beginning of this school year, when job opportunities were numerous. More than once I deluded myself into thinking that I might have the luxury of choosing between two or even three offers. At least one investment bank or consulting firm seemed to come to Williams every week for presentations, encouraging everyone to apply. I ended up applying to nearly every on-campus recruiting position listed on Route 2 and then even more random ones through the University Career Action Network – roughly 30 places in total – all by the end of January. Before I continue, let me say that I’m really just an average student at Williams: My GPA meets the minimum requirements set by all firms and I am majoring in the ever popular math and econ combo. By no means was I expecting to be working at Goldman this summer, but certainly I had hoped for more than the five interviews I was ultimately offered.

However, given the poor economic climate and the number of students who are looking for jobs in these fields, it really shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise. All of the firms I applied to doubtlessly received dozens of applications – all for one, maybe two, spots. To give an idea of how competitive the environment is, I’ll give a few personal examples. Through the help of an alumni connection I forged during my Winter Study course, I managed to land interviews with two hedge funds. One mentioned in its recruiting information that it made offers to less than 1 percent of applicants. The other notified me before the second interview that they had interviewed a Ph.D. candidate in computer science – and this was a company that encouraged applications from motivated freshmen and sophomores. The former may have always been highly selective, but the latter seemed to have received some overqualified applicants as a result of the recession.

Those examples are slightly extreme, but in the few on-campus recruiting positions I’ve interviewed for I would say that roughly 10 students are interviewed for one position, and probably two or three times that apply for that position, and that’s just from Williams – these companies also recruit at other schools as well. The harsh reality of the on-campus job search process is that possibly our greatest advantage – having a top liberal arts education – does not distinguish us from other applicants. In a way, neither does our academic coursework, since the economics major really doesn’t know any more about business or finance than the art history major. So what does, and what can, make a difference?

Perhaps the most important is extracurricular activities. One of my great weaknesses is that my main extracurricular activities are playing the piano and participating in the Williams Christian Fellowship (WCF), which aren’t really appropriate for a resume. In retrospect, I really would have benefitted from doing a sport or participating in organizations where I could have gained leadership experience. Thus, my first piece of advice is to participate in these types of activities. The second is to apply to jobs that aren’t on UCAN or Route 2, or anywhere else. Try e-mailing your resume to every company in your hometown that is in your target industry. Try using the alumni network. The Office of Career Counseling Web site has an alumni directory that allows students to easily search for alumni in any number of career fields, and even provides a sample e-mail template for contacting alumni. This probably won’t directly lead to a job, but at the same time it’s not entirely inconceivable that you will hit it off with an alum, who may in turn refer you to an opening. If nothing else, you’ll learn more about the industry and maybe some insight into how to better present yourself at an interview. Finally, my last piece of advice is the simplest: Don’t give up.