Good news for business folk

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By Things are looking better for students on the lookout for banking jobs, says Robbie Brown NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE
  • Published 16.03.10

For two years in a row, Kwame Yankson, a business school student at the University of Virginia, has sent a flurry of résumés to investment banks. He has cold-called Wall Street recruiters. And he has landed coveted interview slots.

But the difference in the outcome was stark. Last year, Yankson was turned down for summer internships by about 15 recession-plagued banks and ended up working for an education non profit organisation. This year, as he sought a full-time job, Wells Fargo quickly gave him the response he wanted: When can you start?

“The banks this year kept saying, ‘It’s a good year,’ ‘We just approved a lot of hiring,’ ‘The market is clearing up,’” Yankson said. “It was a completely different experience.”

With banks climbing out of the recession, more business students across the country are finding banking jobs and internships, enrolling in finance clubs and going on class trips to Wall Street, universities say.

Unemployment is plaguing millions of families, and the public may still be seething about bank bailouts and eight-figure bonuses. But business students and career advisers see a job market that is quickly stabilising.

Aspiring bankers know their career choice comes at an awkward time. Ben Phelps, an MBA student at Duke who is going to work for Bank of America Merrill Lynch after graduation, was shouted at by a stranger on Wall Street during a summer internship. “A lot of people lost their savings, and I can understand those people being angry,” Phelps said. “But I wish sometimes that their anger wasn’t directed just at bankers.”

Still, he said, the public perception of banking was not a factor when he accepted the job that he calls “the reason I came to business school,” in the bank’s mergers and acquisitions division. He expects the work to be fast-paced, intellectually challenging, financially rewarding and helpful in building a career — the same reasons given by many aspiring bankers.

On a recent interview day at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, students in pinstriped suits and polished shoes waited anxiously for meetings with representatives from J.P. Morgan and BB&T Capital Markets.

The competition would be steep — with dozens of students applying for each internship — but less selective than in 2009. The number of banks interviewing at Darden this year increased 20 per cent and the number of job offers so far has risen 33 per cent, the school said.

“There’s reason for students to be optimistic,” said Tracy Handler, a spokeswoman for the MBA Career Services Council, an association of business school career advisers. “Any signs of recovery are modest. But business schools are looking ahead and seeing a light at the end of what is now a pretty short tunnel.”

A survey by the career council in December found that 39 per cent of business schools expected internship opportunities to increase this summer, while 26 per cent expected them to decrease.

At Duke University, for instance, the business school career office reported last month that the number of students with investment banking internships had doubled compared with last year. Four new banks went to Duke this year to interview, and the number of Duke students submitting résumés to banks increased 37 per cent. The number of students participating in the school’s Week on Wall Street trip also rose, to 90 from 60 last year.

“Ironically, this can be a superb time to enter banking,” said Jeff Fischer, the director of career management at the business school at the University of North Carolina, where the number of investment bankers visiting campus has risen 67 per cent since last year. “The MBA population is like the end of a whip. When cycles swing up and down, students are the ones who swing up and down the most in terms of employment.”

Though some banks are still cautious, business school counsellors are telling students to be persistent. Banks under-hired during the market collapse, the counsellors say, and will soon be creating more full-time positions than former interns can fill.

Top banks declined to release hiring statistics for this article, and many business schools said it was too early to predict hiring results because job offers can continue through the spring. But in interviews with two dozen students and administrators at several business schools across the country, there was growing optimism about banking jobs.

But many students admitted a twinge of guilt about landing jobs and internships while so many classmates —and much of the country — remain unemployed.

“I feel lucky,” said Phelps, from Duke. “My timing ended up being perfect, and it could easily have not been. Lots of friends are struggling and not finding jobs.”

The speed of the turnaround in banking has not surprised Ben Bloomfield, a first-year MBA student at Darden. Business students, he said, expect cyclical markets, but know that banking will remain prestigious.

“I don’t think any business school student was disillusioned enough to think, ‘Oh, Goldman Sachs on my résumé is not going to be valuable’,” Bloomfield said. “It was more, ‘Goldman Sachs is going to come to campus, and I’m not even sure they’re going to hire anybody’.”