A few weeks ago, I was sitting with a friend at a local café when the subject of post-grad plans came up. “So have you decided what you’ll be doing next year?” I asked. Turns out, she’ll be making a bee line to Wall Street, or as she wryly phrased it as she leaned over with half a croissant in hand, “Yeah, I’ve signed my life away for the next two years.”
This was all too typical of a conversation for me. By now, countless 22-year-olds have already signed a two-year contract to work at an investment bank. Thousands more stand among the ranks of students curious about the world of number crunching and seeking an internship in finance. And if you’re one of them, it just so happens that you’re in good company. The financial industry often attracts the largest chunk of many universities’ graduating classes. According to a survey taken of Dartmouth College graduates, 16.4% of the Class of 2008 opted to join the world of financial services with diploma in hand. But here lies the million-dollar question – what exactly can you do once you’ve spent a handful of hundred-hour work weeks building a pocket vocabulary filled with words like “leveraged buyout” and “EBITDA?" More than your first year bonus can buy.
Financial services gigs aren’t just about the hours bent over a computer figuring out how to correctly format a PowerPoint presentation. As a first-year analyst or intern, you’ll become a part of a franchise that helps Fortune 500 companies raise the capital they need to stay in business and grow. You’ll get the chance to understand how a firm’s balance sheet works and why different stocks and bonds trade at different rates on any given day of the year. And you’ll come out of the experience with some fantastic options for future career forays. Here’s a list of three common routes finance analyst often choose upon their exit from Wall Street.
After you've put in the hours musing over Google’s cash flow statement, invested quite a bit of your Friday nights teasing out the relevant bits of Xerox’s quarterly report, and met the COO of Campbell’s over some medium rare steaks and a glass of Chandon, why not actually apply for a job at Google? You're good with numbers, you know how to evaluate a company based on its income statements, and you’ve gotten to be an Excel whiz kid. You'll bring to the table a fresh perspective on which franchises Google competes with in the technology industry and you’ll be able to analytically think your way through how to manage the firm’s costs and revenues. Instead of just reading about how Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and other CEOs wield their capital and human resources, wouldn't you actually like to sit in the executive hot seat someday?
After working in banking, you will have lived life as the institutional type for two years. You'll have gotten a salary, a boss who'll hand you work, and a team that'll drill through it with you. But after logging in the time to gain the technical skills you'll need to succeed in the business world—as well as the networking and mentorship perks—why not strike out on your own? By now, you understand how to raise the seed capital you’ll need to fund your venture. You’ll have gotten a pocketful of client business cards burning a hole in the lining of your khakis. And you’ll have gotten the credibility of a suit and tie job behind you. If you've got an idea for launching the next media powerhouse or opening a vegan restaurant chain and you've got the smarts, the will, and the charisma to push it through, why not take the helm and set sail?
Go for it. You've already got the capital and the connections in the bag.
If you've got an itching to jump into something completely different, whether it be corporate law or travel writing, you'll need to realize that perhaps your time in finance doesn't grease the transition wheels quite as much as you might like. You might decide that after two years, you aren’t cut out for finance and instead aspire to be a litigations lawyer. That’s fine and dandy – and you’ll have two years’ worth of banker bonuses to help pay your way into a legal education. You might decide that while you enjoyed your days working inside the Wall Street bubble, what you really want to do is report on this bubble with a journalist’s pen. If so, you might want to consider studying for an M.A. in journalism before applying to be a correspondent at The Wall Street Journal. Or you might decide that you still want to stay in the business world but need a bit of an occupational break to figure out your next steps. If you’re planning to walk into biz school, what's certain is that after two years of taking a bevy of core and elective courses designed to give you a broad and in-depth background in the business niche of your choosing, you’ll come out with the double-whammy of professional experience and a professional degree.
Dartmouth Career Services site: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~csrc/life.html
Careers-In-Finance site: http://www.careers-in-finance.com/