Wednesday, January 6, 2010

CFN Mentors: Second Semester

First-year MBA students in finance got a well-deserved chance to rest and reflect over the holiday break. They return soon, however, to the rigorous, near-back-breaking pace they've become accustomed to. In January, they won't have much time to jump eagerly into those courses beyond the core (those courses they coveted and topics they craved to learn, when they applied to business school). January and February bring rounds and rounds of interviews and one mad sprint for the prized internship.

Mentors--who often ask how they can assist those who follow their corporate trails--can help in this effort. Not just CFN mentors, formally assigned by the CFN program, but any informal mentor, senior professional, or Consortium alumnus who has contact with a Consortium MBA student.

With students now indoctrinated into b-school pressures, routines, and workloads, how can mentors help in stage two of the summer-job search?

1. Interviews. Students are looking for help in polishing interviewing skills. They know the basics of preparation, but want to know how to stand out among the crowd, how to make a special impression, how to thrive during tough technical interviews, how to handle seeing 5-8 people in one day, and how to handle nuances (dress, confidence, comfort levels, etc.). Some are looking to rehearse with experienced people.

Mentors who have been on the other side of the interview table and who know exactly what banks, firms, and funds are looking for, can help or guide students before they head to New York, Chicago, Charlotte or San Francisco for second rounds.

2. Plans A, B. Many students have a Plan A and Plan B. Some have a Plan C: They ask, "What if I can't get on interview lists of my first choice? Or what if there are no opportunities in my chosen sector?" Mentors can review these plans with students and help identify opportunties or next steps.

In the process, mentors can help students survey more realistically what's out there. They can (a) provide leads for other (perhaps better) opportunities or (b) help students learn about similar positions (called by something else, but essentially requiring the same interest and skills). A student interested in municipal finance may consider working for a municipality. One interested in mergers/acquisitions may consider corporate strategy at a Fortune 500 company.

3. Keeping Up to Date. Most interviewers tend to refer to current events, deals, transactions, topics, and issues. They expect students to know what's go on and have an informed opinion. While immersed in advanced accounting, intro finance, or macroeconomics texts, students find it a challenge to keep up with evolving issues in capital markets and corporate finance.

Mentors can help students digest the headlines, prioritize important issues or even teach them about the complexities of specific market activity or corporate transactions. A mentor might help a student understand why GE sold its stake in NBC Universal or help him/her understand why even Toyota faces challenges in the auto industry.

4. Off the Beaten Path. As students grapple with finding the right internship, mentors can help students think about the job market in different, novel ways: Have students thought about banks outside the money-center banks or top five? Have they explored business management, risk management, community development, or retail banking? Have they considered opportunities at securities exchanges, securities clearinghouses, regulators, or commodity-trading firms? Or how about finance roles in foreign countries or in major non-profit organizations?

5. Next Year's Openings. First-year students are striving for both 2010 internships and 2011 full-time offers. Hence, companies, banks and investment firms are already projecting what they need 18 months from now. Mentors can help students identify the sectors that will grow and have higher demand for MBA's at that time.

Do firms have long-term plans to grow in private banking, equity research, derivatives clearing, energy finance, carbon-cap trading, cash management, financial brokerage, or inflation-hedge investing? Do firms have long-term plans to grow their businesses on the West Coast, in the Southwest, or in Dubai, London, Seoul, or Singapore? Mentors--especially those in the midst of such long-term planning at their respective firms--will offer clues to help students chase after the right opportunities.

6. Eyes Open, Contacts Fresh. Most of all, mentors help students keep their eyes open and focused and keep their networks and contacts fresh and useful. They make a difference.

Tracy Williams

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