Future Executives Bid Their Way to Wall Street


For some seniors, getting a job after graduation is like going to an auction. Students who are seeking post-education employment play a bidding game at the Office of Career Services (OCS) in the hope of securing interviews with major companies and, eventually, jobs. Every spring, students who are interested in entering the corporate world participate in an unique program that OCS devised to reduce competition for job interviews.

Each student who is interested in playing the employment game receives a hypothetical 1000 points per month which they can use to secure interviews with companies they are interested in working for. Seniors learn to budget their bids wisely, however, since about 200 companies visit the campus in February and March to interview an estimated 600 students.

The companies lay down the ground rules, deciding whether they want to have students bid for the right to interviews or whether they want interested students to forward resumes before they decide who will get an interview.

Known as the closed system, the latter method costs students a mere 20 points per company while the bidding process is more unpredictable. Bidding is done in a vaccuum, and students must calculate how many points they wish to spend without knowing how much others have bid.

Companies tend to prefer the closed method because they can choose which students to interview, says Linda Z. Chernick, the associate director of the OCS who supervises recruiting. This February, 26 companies will participate in the bid method, while 87 already have opted for the closed process which began this fall.

Prospective Wall Street types filled Science Center B two nights this week when OCS kicked off the spring recruiting program for seniors, graduate students and recent alumni interested in participating in the recruiting process.

"When you're a senior, all your friends are doing recruiting. It's a standard thing to participate in," says a member of the Class of 1985 who went through the process as an undergraduate.

Stakes are high and space low, so students must economize with the precious bidding points to get the choicest interviews. For instance, recent graduates start out receiving salaries in the mid-$20,000s their first year on the job, while companies sometimes interview more than 50 people--for one job.

Morgan Guaranty offers closed slots and 104 slots for open bidding. This year, for example, the New York-based firm will interview 65 people for the job of corporate finance intern. That's the highest number of applicants for any job offered through on-campus recruitment.

Working Hard for the Money

Veterans of the bidding system offered various strategies for how students should ration their points to get the best out of the process. Some people bid all their points on one firm to get the interview they want, while others distribute points evenly across the board.

Brad Baker '86, who now works for Proctor and Gamble, advises, "Obviously you want to maximize the number of interviews and minimize the number of points you bid on each."

"If you're in a position to know what you want, then you're going to award that company a certain amount of points," says Eliot House resident Armand M. Nicholi '87, adding that, "unfortunately, most aren't in that position."

"If I see somebody do something I'll check it out." Nicholi says, "The tendency is to play people off one another, all in the race for that elusive position."

Brian F. Wolf '87 and Matthew D. Annenberg '87 agree that the recruiting process is very competitive, with a "lot of guesswork involved."

"It's kind of a peculiar system--there's no doubt about that," says Baker.

But Chernick says that the bidding process was initiated five or six years ago to replace the first-come, first-served method of granting interviews. Under the open system, "students would be waiting outside at five in the morning" to sign up for interviews, she says.

Although there is "no perfect [recruiting] system," Chernick says, the advantage to the bidding process is that the students with the most interest get interviews.

While seniors agree that the system is convenient, they add that it does not include as many choices as it could.

"The recruiting is very helpful for people interested in banking, consulting and advertising," says Wolf, who will interview with Morgan Guaranty this fall and plans to go into banking.

The recruiting program is "much better for people who want to go into business and not much good for publishing and editorial positions," says recruiting veteran Joan H. M. Hsiao '86.

"[The On-Campus Recruiting Program] should not be seen as the only way to get a job," says Chernick, stressing that OCS has other resources available to aid seniors.

Students and company representatives also complain that the 20-minute interview process itself can be too short for them to make a realistic impression on one another.

The time limit "is not sufficient for a complete interview," says a representative of the Boston-area Peace Corp, adding that therefore second interviews are always given for persons in whom they're interested.

A member of the Class of 1985 who works in New York says that "looking back on [the interviewing], it's a cold process but you don't feel it while you're there."

"There is a stereotype of the person who succeeds [at interviews]" says one Manhatten research analyst who survived the Harvard interviewing process, adding, "you have to be very business-minded to begin with, or be incredibly self-assured."

Hsiao, who currently works at First Boston Corporation in New York, recounted the tale of one woman she knew to demonstrate that the interviewing process can be "pretty unsettling." This woman had put her resume in with a number of investment banking firms and had gotten a lot of interviews. The first interview, however, unnerved her sufficiently to persuade her to cancel all the remaining interviews.

What They Want

Companies look for different attributes in the students they interview. Shawmut Banks wants "people with a solid liberal arts education who are interested in business issues, display leadership and strong inter-personal skills." On the other hand, the Peace Corp says it looks for leaders, with mathematical and science skills.

But the companies like Harvard grads; last year one-third of the 200 interviewed students got job offers, according to Chernick. "We've had great success over the past years and we have Harvard graduates currently at the partner level," says a representative from Peat, Marwick Mitchell. "We hire a lot of Harvard people and are very disposed to Harvard students."