Do Financial Firms Look Beyond Ivy League Schools? Ask The Expert

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Q. I am graduating next year with a bachelor degree. I am considering a career at an investment bank. I realize that most I-banks don't hire college graduates from non-Ivy League schools. Should I still take a chance and apply?

A: Unfair as it is - and not surprisingly - pedigree matters on Wall Street, according to our experts.

"Although one should never say never on Wall Street, the odds of breaking into investment banking without a degree from a particular institution or a contact are very slim," says Deborah Rivera, founder of The Succession Group, a recruiting firm based in New York.

But that doesn't mean one should throw in the towel. Not everyone working on Wall Street hails from an Ivy League school, an indication that there are obviously ways around it. Rivera suggests applying for jobs in an area where there's been a recent growth spurt and usually high demand. It helps if they are the less "glamorous" areas of the business. Compliance, risk management, operations, prime brokerage and commodities, for instance, have all experienced growth within investment banks, yet pedigree has been less of an issue in hiring there.

"If you have any background that could be considered transferable into any of these areas -- and if you are willing to take any job at all for starters-- you have a chance of working your way forward," Rivera said.

Is a non-Ivy-League graduate likely to be recruited into a Wall Street firm's analyst training program? "Highly unlikely, but that doesn't mean you can't sneak in the side door through any of these other areas," Rivera said.

Rod Williams, a job market consultant with New York-based Lee Hecht Harrison, agrees it would be hard, but he, too, says there are ways around it.

"While it's true that an Ivy League pedigree can certainly give a career a significant boost in opening doors, there are certainly enough scattered stories of those who have entered and succeeded from other schools," Williams said.

He suggests checking to see if your school has any alumni currently working at any of the investment banks. Alternatively, perhaps someone connected with an investment bank sits on or is connected to your college's board of directors.

"And of course it goes without saying that you should also check your professors for networking connections," Williams said. "That old adage is still as true today in banking as it ever was..."

"...it's who you know."

If you would like to submit a question to our panel of experts, ASK THE EXPERT.

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