Money Talks

FM turns the tables on an I-banking interviewer.

Q&A;: Vicki Lin, Analyst, Credit Seuisse First Boston

FM: How do you think on-campus recruiting has changed in recent years? Why do you think we’ve seen these changes?

VL: Well, this year it is just a lot more competitive than it has been in the past. Like never before, we had more people pushing for less spots. Last year the economy was in an entirely different position and we had more to offer in terms of summer opportunities. We could hire four internship positions last year, but this year we were only looking for one or two. There was still the same interest among the students at Harvard, but we just couldn’t offer as many opportunities.

FM: What are your suggestions to Harvard freshmen who already know they want to go into finance? How can such gung-ho students position themselves to eventually get these jobs?

VL: They should make sure to take classes that would prepare them for this form of work. Finance classes, accounting classes, and a strong background in math are all excellent options. They should also try to gain experience in finance through summer internships early in their college careers. That is always an important factor when we choose our summer interns, and especially when we are looking for people to hire.

FM: So do you think then that Harvard students are at a disadvantage because we don’t have as many vocational classes as other schools? You mentioned accounting. Are Harvard students less likely to do well in these positions because we don’t have majors like accounting and undergraduate business?

VL: Not at all. A lot of Harvard students have a good analytical sense, which is ultimately crucial for these positions. They should try to take classes that build on those skills. It also always helps to know the industry, to take that extra time to read the Wall Street Journal or to make sure you understand how to use Excel. When we interview Harvard students, we expect them to know less than Wharton undergraduates. It always helps, though, when we see students who have really shown a commitment to the finance industry, and who have tried to make up for Harvard’s weaknesses. There are a few classes offered at Harvard that always look strong on a resume—there is a Mergers and Acquisitions seminar in the economics department and another economics class called Corporate Finance. And there is another one—I think it’s called Capital Markets?

FM: There is definitely a supposedly very difficult ec class here called Capital Markets.

VL: That’s the one, then.

FM: But what about all those History or English majors who want to go into finance? There are so many humanities majors out there who want to get in on this scene who aren’t enrolling in upper-level economics classes like Capital Markets.

VL: Oh, definitely. In the past, we have had Classics majors and literature majors in these positions. For those people, though, the summer experience factor becomes a lot more important. A significant summer experience early in their college years can really help these students gain an internship with our company after the junior year.

FM: So, how many interviews have you done on campus? What would you say is the most memorable moment you have had as a Harvard interviewer? Have any students done anything enormously humorous or impressive to get your attention?

VL: I did 13 interviews on the Harvard campus, all relatively recently. We were looking for students for our summer internship program. I have to say that all the Harvard students were all pretty impressive and well polished. No huge surprises—everyone showed up in suits, everyone was polite. It might have been fun to see something out there, but these kids were definitely all following the protocol.

FM: It sounds like a pretty standard bunch of kids. How can a student make himself (or herself) stand out in this sort of interview setting without seeming too over-the-top?

VL: I know this will sound a little basic, but a lot of standing out is just knowing what the job you are applying for is about and showing that you’ve really taken the time to talk to a lot of people. It’s wonderful when you have a candidate who has really thought through why he or she wants the position. You would be surprised at the number of students who can’t answer even basic questions about why they applied to us. For example, our firm deals predominately with tech companies. The kids that always blow us away are those who can name the tech firms they like and then engage in real conversation about the sector.