From the monthly archives:

April 2010

The myth is that top Ivy League grads turn to investment banking jobs because of the vast sums of money they offer. But an interview posted by the Washington Post online paints another picture.

In it, a former (and anonymous) Harvard graduate who spent time with Goldman Sachs in New York says it’s the well-oiled recruitment machinery that sucks in top grads with the prospects of job security after graduation and skills they can take anywhere.

Surprisingly, this grad didn’t even have a finance degree. He studied history, government and political philosophy. So why did Goldman think he’d be a whiz at investment banking?

“There are a lot of Harvard people at Goldman and they’ve put a lot of effort into recruiting from the school. They really try to attract liberal arts backgrounds. They say this stuff isn’t so complicated, that you’ll pick it up as you go along, that it’s all about teamwork, that they have training programs,” says Mr. X.

He never thought he’d wind up in investment banking. But in the middle of his junior year, the recruiters begin their onslaught, first for interns. The internship is really a summer-long job interview, he says. If you pass that test, you have a job offer in your pocket by September of your senior year. Something that makes your last year at university much more relaxed. “You can focus on your thesis, you can drink more. You just don’t have to worry about getting a job.”

Many grads initially think they can do this for two years, gain transportable skills and have a great name on their resume. But it’s a slippery slope that lures many bright young people into careers in banking, consulting, even law, when they didn’t intend to go that route. Pretty soon, having invested so much time and hard work to learn the business, and pulling down six-figure salaries, they are too encumbered by the golden handcuffs to change directions.

What about you? Did you intend to go into investment banking all along? Or did you find yourself in your current position more by chance than by planning? Add your comments below.

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Back in 2001, Laetitia Veleba fought her way into the high-pressure world of the credit trading division of a major investment bank in London. Like many young, ambitious professionals, she decided an MBA could help her take the next step up the investment banking job ladder.

Obviously bright and driven, she was fortunate enough to be accepted by five schools, and chose Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business. There she found the beautiful campus, high caliber of professors and students and location a welcome break from urban London.

Veleba rejoined the workforce in 2007 as an associate at a major investment bank in London, where she worked with a leveraged finance team. But the clouds were already gathering. Britain’s infamous Northern Rock was already imploding. More and more people in London’s financial industry were being let go. Veleba herself survived six waves of cutbacks (or “redundancies” as they’re called in England).

Finally, the pink slip arrived for her. But unlike so many other out-of-work bankers, Veleba landed on her feet in about a year, with a new position at a credit fund. When jobs were scarce, her MBA came through.

“I had a support system that helped me get through the crisis: my Tuck network,” Veleba writes in a blog posting for US News. “This is what an M.B.A. program is really about. I picked up the phone and cold-called alums – recent graduates and senior bankers. They shared their experiences and advice and even recommended me to other alums and colleagues. They offered to do whatever they could. I was one of the family.”

“While my M.B.A. provided the skill set to be successful, it also provided a network to help nurture the confidence necessary to survive the past year.”

How about you? Has your B-school or undergrad network opened doors or led to hidden opportunities for you? Let us know in the comment box below.

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Admittedly, it’s a good problem to have. But Mergers & Inquisitions recently examined whether it’s okay to renege on an investment banking job offer, either at the intern level or higher, without being blacklisted for life.

After spending arduous days and weeks interviewing with several firms, you finally get an offer. With nothing else in hand, you accept it, right? Then a week later, another offer appears, this time from your number one choice. What to do?

There’s no consensus, but the responses tend to fall into two camps, according to the folks at M&I. First, as they put it, there’s the “Bankers are Vengeful and Want to Kill You” camp, who suggest that the downside for reneging on an offer will come back to haunt you. The industry is small, everyone knows each other, and they’ll hold a grudge and may even stand in your way in the future.

The second camp says it’s every man (or woman) for himself. Nobody is going to look out for your best interests. So go for the best opportunity possible. And, after all, investment banks have a history of rescinding or downgrading offers without notice, as well.

The M&I article goes into more detail about the potential upside benefits and downside risks. There’s less risk, for instance, if you’re reneging on an offer in a different industry, or moving from a back office offer to a front office position. 

What do you think? Have you ever turned down an offer after you’ve accepted it, when something better came along? We’d like to know your thoughts, below.

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Tips for Interviewing at Goldman Sachs

April 5, 2010

Nicolas Sarkis is a former star trader at Goldman Sachs and now a founding partner at the asset management firm AlphaOne. He recently shared his experiences getting his first job at Goldman in an interview with Spears Wealth Management Survey online. According to Sarkis, he knew little about finance when he graduated from university, but […]

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