Breaking into Banking Without an Ivy League Advantage

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'No,' say Wall Street's recruiters. Attending a university off the beaten hiring track may make it harder to gain a traineeship. It won't make it impossible.

"It's my strong belief that we need to make sure we're leaving the door open to talent, no matter where it comes from," says Caitlin Mclaughlin, head of campus recruiting at Citigroup. "The biggest mistake I can make is deny someone with a strong resume the opportunity to interview here just because they're not at a target institution."

It's a view echoed across the Street. "The list of schools we hire from is far greater than the list of schools we visit," says Janet Raiffa, co-head of campus recruiting Americas at Goldman Sachs.

"We hire mostly from our target schools, however, we do consider many

top notch candidates from non-target schools" says Connie Thanasoulis,

Chief Operating Officer for U.S. Campus recruiting at Merrill Lynch.

In this case, however, actions speak louder than words. For all their claims to inclusivity, most banks hire between 70% and 88% of analyst (graduate hires) from target schools, and 85% or more of MBA hires from a select list of top business schools. Few banks are willing to publicly identify the universities they target, but they typically include the Ivy League and around 20 second tier institutions. Favored business schools include Harvard, Columbia, Wharton, Chicago and NYU Stern.

The rationale for focussing hiring efforts at top tier institutions is unashamedly commercial: this is where the marketing buck is best spent. "We strategically focus our recruiting resources on our target schools," says Thanasoulis at Merrill Lynch, "We know the schools which tend to be successful for each particular business, and the performance history associated with the alums hired from those schools is solid."

Push Harder

Where does this leave students at untested institutions? Needing to prove themselves, is the answer.

Recruiters across Wall Street are in agreement that if you attend a school that's off their radar screen, you'll need to work twice as hard to get onto it.

"If you're at a non-targeted school, you'll have to work much harder to get noticed," says Citigroup's Mclaughlin. "There's also a difference in information flow," she adds, "MBA students attending Columbia, Wharton and Chicago have so much access to Wall Street, they are naturally better prepared for interviews."

"If you go to a non-targeted school, you'll need to be a little more entrepreneurial about making contact with the firm," says Raiffa at Goldman Sachs. "Go to regional careers fairs, and diversity fairs, contact people who have interned here before, or look to school alumni already at Goldman Sachs to build your network."

Raiffa says Goldman Sachs sometimes allows groups of students from non-targeted schools to visit the firm. Most banks will also make a special effort for dogged individuals. "Identify the recruiting contact at the firm you're interested in interviewing with. Establish a relationship, and find opportunities to visit two or three times prior to interview," advises one recruiter, "If a student from a non-targeted school says I'm very interested in working for you and I'm going to be in New York, it's hard to turn them down."

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