SG Cowen Wants to See Hustle

Impress its investment-banking recruiters by leaving your stock answers at home and making it clear 14-hour days don't scare you

Chip Rae is director of recruiting at SG Cowen & Co., an investment banking firm with offices in New York City, Boston, and San Francisco. Before joining Cowen in New York in 1998, Rae spent five years in charge of investment-banking recruiting and training as senior vice-president at Salomon Smith Barney. Prior to that, he spent five years as director of recruiting and training for the institutional businesses at Merrill Lynch (MER ). He began his career as a banker at Morgan Guaranty Trust after graduating with an MBA from Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business) in 1982.

Rae says MBA candidates should prepare to convince him of their ability to hustle and sell. He recently spoke with BusinessWeek Online reporter Jeffrey Gangemi. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

Q: How many MBAs do you recruit in a given year, and where do you mostly recruit?


We recruit usually between 5 and 10. And we usually hire about eight for summer associate jobs just in investment banking. This year, we hired folks from the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business, NYU Stern School of Business, and Emory Goizueta School of Business. We also go to Columbia University Business School, Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business, University of Pennsylvania's the Wharton School, University of Southern California Marshall School of Business, and University of California at Los Angeles Anderson School of Management.

Q: Please describe the recruiting process.


We go to about nine campuses in the fall and do presentations. Then we do an interview workshop, which seems to resonate more than the presentations. I would advise those interested in interviewing with us not to miss that. It gives us the chance to sell ourselves in a different way than everybody else.

Then we pick a group and conduct round one of interviews on campus. We do callbacks, making offers shortly thereafter. We try to streamline this process as much as possible, because all firms are trying to make their offers quickly. We usually make our offers between the beginning of November and the middle of December.

Q: What is the interview like?


I'm interested in finding out if students ever had a job where they had to hustle -- a house-painting business, a lawn-mowing business, or anything like that. If they say they never worked in high school and they just coasted through, then that's not what I'm looking for. I also want to know the hard numbers -- GPA, SAT scores from high school, along with the GMAT and other measures of success, so I can see the pattern of their hard work over a longer time span.

We cover a lot, so their answers need to be short. In the second interview, sometimes we'll go through more of a quantitative scenario.

Q: What are you looking for in a successful candidate?


We're looking for someone who is passionate about finance. We want someone who gets along well with others, who has a good work ethic and a sense of humor. And we look for someone who has an interest in the types of clients we serve. Bankers make money by being able to sell products. In the end, you need to be able to go out and talk to clients and be able to sell things, and it's no different from selling anything else.

Q: How similar is the career track to that of other investment banks?


Exactly the same. [MBAs] join us at the associate level for three-and-a-half years, at which point they'll be promoted to vice-president. They remain a vice-president for several years, and ultimately they'll be a managing director. We have a five-week training program that includes intermediate accounting, corporate finance topics, researching companies, putting together spreadsheets, and working with managers on deals. They're graded on the training program. Their supervisors then know what skills they need to improve in the early stages of their employment.

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