The Wharton Way to Wall Street

The school's reputation and its extensive alumni network are key assets for undegrads looking for that first job out of school

Working for a large investment bank or consulting firm is no longer the automatic path undergraduates take after they graduate from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. While power players recruit heavily on campus and their alumni are extremely active, an increasing number of students are heading toward smaller firms, like hedge funds and private equity shops.

Jobs at those types of companies are much easier to come by than they were a few years ago, says Barbara Hewitt, associate director of Career Services. Hewitt says smaller firms are a good fit for students who have a more entrepreneurial nature and want the opportunity to see the company's "big picture." "Students believe that they will be able to make a bigger impact on the organization since the work load is spread out over fewer employees," she says.

Hewitt works specifically with Wharton undergraduates, though she started her career at Penn helping liberal arts majors with job and internship planning. For the past 15 years, Hewitt has been in the career services field, first at the College of Wooster and then at Dickinson College -- where she studied psychology and Spanish as an undergraduate -- before going to Penn in 1998. She earned her doctorate degree at Penn in higher education management.

Hewitt recently spoke with BusinessWeek Online project assistant Julie Gordon. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

How much does the reputation and name recognition of Wharton help students get a foot in the door?

I think it helps, but it also helps that they're really great candidates. The students have a strong business and liberal arts background, which really helps with their writing and analytical skills. I hear often from employers that Wharton students can really hit the ground running and are a real asset immediately.

How involved are Wharton alumni in career services?

Often many of the recruiters who come back are alums. People who post jobs are alums. We have an externship program where alumni can invite a sophomore to come shadow them for a day.

How helpful is that alumni connection when students are trying to land jobs?

Certainly it doesn't hurt that we have -- for Wall Street particularly -- a ton of alumni out there. Alumni are pretty loyal and they often will turn back to their alma mater to find new candidates. However, the consulting firms will look broadly. They are just as likely to take students in engineering or at the College from Penn because they have a less specific skill set that they're looking for in many cases.

Do the majority of people who work on Wall Street come from Wharton, as opposed to the other parts of the college?

Not just Wharton. If you look at Goldman Sachs (GS), they take all kinds of students. They take people who are passionate about what they're studying. As long as they can be quantitative and do the work, Goldman can train them on the specifics.

How do most Wharton students get their jobs?

Many employers are really going after interns and then making offers for permanent employment. Almost one-third of our students who graduated from the Class of 2005 had an internship with their employer previously. I just had a conversation with a representative from a bank last week, who said the bank was increasing the number of interns this year. The bank is actually doubling the number of interns so that its recruiters -- they hope -- will have to do less recruiting next year for full-time positions.

For 2005, 64% of students seeking a job received an offer through on-campus recruiting as a senior, including internship recruiting. Applying directly to the organization accounted for 7%, 5% through contacts, and 4% through other leads in our office.

What do you suggest for students who interned in one area of business but want to go into a different field after graduation?

I don't necessarily think that's a failed internship at all. You don't always know until you actually try something. I think taking a risk and trying an internship, if you like it, is great. If you don't, then maybe you can focus on your likes and dislikes, so you can do something a little bit different in the future.

I hope they're not too pigeonholed by the time they're 21. Usually, there are transferable skills that you learn in one job that you can apply to others. Don't put the experience down, but say something like, "I realize that I don't want to spend the entire day in front of a computer doing modeling. I really want more interaction, and that's why I'm looking at investment management instead of banking."

Which Career Center workshops should Wharton students attend?

We offer résum&eacute and cover letter writing workshops, and all that kind of stuff, but a lot of the time I find that students go to our Web site and get that information and then come in and talk with us about it. More useful are the programs where alumni come in and talk about what a typical day on the job is like because students can can get it right from the horse's mouth.

How can students make sure their résumés are reviewed by recruiters?

It's hard because you don't want to stand out too much. I've had experiences where people try to be a little too creative and it's really backfired on them. Make it easy to get through, easy to read, with enough spacing. Use bold, so you make the things you want to stand out actually stand out. Also, make it relevant. Think about what the employer is going to care about, not necessarily what's most important to you.

I had a meeting with an alum a week or so ago, and he kept insisting on putting all this stuff from high school on his résumé. "But I took 11 AP courses!" I said, "Yes, but you're now 25. You've been working for three years. They don't care that you took 11 AP courses in high school." He was wedded to it, and I don't think an employer would care one iota what he took in high school.

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