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A Liberal Take on Hiring

Villanova graduate Dominique DuMouchel will never forget her first day of training at JPMorgan Chase (JPM). In the summer of 2001, as the only new recruit from a nonbusiness background, DuMouchel could not help but wonder, "Who is this person they keep talking about...Alan Greenspan?" An English major, she had no idea who the then-chairman of the Federal Reserve was. Among her business savvy peers, she raised her hand -- and asked. "It was unbelievable to see how many people could turn around and stare at you all at once," says DuMouchel.

Despite a lengthy adjustment period, DuMouchel outlasted most of her colleagues and stayed with the investment bank for more than three years. Now, as a recruiter herself, she offers advice and weeds out students on behalf of Wilmington Finance, a subsidiary of the major insurance corporation, AIG (AIG).

Like many liberal arts students, DuMouchel thought that her lack of business knowledge would keep her from entering investment banking. To the contrary, recruiters seek the depth and diversity that liberal arts grads bring to the heavily team-oriented business world. They are trained to read critically and extract detail, which is key to being good analysts. Business concepts can be taught. The ability to manipulate them cannot. Students with good grades, networking skills, and strong alumni representation at big companies, can outshine -- and outlast -- even the best business students. That's why they're a hot hire in the corporate world these days.

DIVERSE BACKGROUNDS. A key thing is that they can communicate, say employers. "Interpersonal and communications skills, as well as a hunger for knowledge, are enormously important" says Jonathan Jones, co-head of U.S. Campus Recruiting at the global investment bank, Goldman Sachs, (GS). "None of these things necessarily have to do with a course that the student is studying."

A significant proportion of Goldman Sachs hires come from schools that don't offer any formal business, finance, or general management curriculum. Likewise, about 50% to 60% of the new class at Citigroup (C), the world's largest financial services company, also enters the industry with no business background. (see BW Online, 10/10/05, "Star Search").

With this kind of interest, it's no wonder that liberal arts students want in on the business world. At Yale, 26% of the graduating class of 2004 went into business or finance, that's almost 10% more than education, the second-most sought after sector. And the school doesn't even offer an undergraduate business program.

THE CASH FACTOR. Sometimes students who aren't sure about what career is right for them look to current trends for guidance. Recent reports show public accounting and consulting services firms are offering the brightest outlook for new grads. (see BW Online, 3/21/06, "The Jobs Come Looking For Grads").

Money is certainly a factor. With hefty loans and high costs of living, recent graduates find the higher salaries of finance jobs appealing. Recent reports show financial services employers offer an average starting salary of $43,974, with $52,318 from investment banks. At Citigroup, the average starting salary for bachelor's degrees -- from any major -- is $60,000. These figures squash the average salary, $30,828, of liberal arts majors.

Still, most experts agree that basing your choice of career on what jobs will be in demand is not wise. Rather, students should study what they are truly passionate about because most recruiters say good grades and schools are the key screening factors when deciding who to hire.

BASIC TRAINING NEEDED. But how successful can an English major be in business? Jones says that while new hires with pre-knowledge clearly have an early advantage, differences disappear within a few months after an effective training program. Over his 10 years in recruiting, he's found that the ability to acquire knowledge is a better indicator of long-term success. A wealth of senior executives at Goldman Sachs hold liberal arts degrees, including English major Hank Paulson -- the company's CEO.

Recruiters across the board say that companies will teach the fundamentals. Patti Harley, who oversees training for analysts and associates at Citigroup, says, "The way we train people takes everybody's skillsets and gets them to an even playing field." Citigroup's five-week training program consists of all basic accounting and finance concepts, along with corporate finance and mergers and acquisitions modeling.

Psychology major Rachel Holt, took her 2005 degree from the top-ranked liberal arts school, Amherst College, and became an associate at Bain & Company in New York City. Holt says she enjoys her team-oriented, analytical work for clients ranging from large Fortune 500 companies to tiny equity firms -- even if it wasn't always so simple. "I'm sure it took me longer to do stuff in the first two weeks than it took other people," says Holt. "All these terms take a bit of getting used to." Roughly half of Holt's training group at Bain did not have a business background when starting. But six months into the job, the differences were hardly noticeable, she says.

LOYAL LIBERALS. What intimidates liberal arts majors is their lack of detailed knowledge about the challenges in the business world. Nick Corcodolios at, says those wanting to break the barrier need to study their areas in excruciating detail, and focus on transferable skills such as problem solving and finishing tasks. They need to learn enough to map their skills and market themselves as the best candidate for any position. It's the same approach to writing an effective term paper or conducting an experiment. (see BW Online, 3/30/06, "Job Seekers, Take Heart -- and Control").

Regardless of their penchant for reading Jane Austen novels or their desire to debate Nietzsche philosophy, liberal arts students are as loyal to business employers as those with undergraduate business degrees, employers say. Barry Salzberg, Managing Partner of Deloitte & Touche, also finds no meaningful difference in turnover rates having come from any one background.

An employee's understanding of the demands of the industry may be a better indicator of success, he adds. Salzberg should know; his chief of staff was a psychology major. With the business world evolving into the primary cultural force in our society, it will likely become even more important to understand dollars and cents as well as Sense and Sensibility in the future.

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