Beyond Logo Coffee Mugs and Free Appetizers

It’s easy enough to defer the perennial aunts-at-family-reunions question, “What are you going to do with your life?,” by signing
By Jannie S. Tsuei

It’s easy enough to defer the perennial aunts-at-family-reunions question, “What are you going to do with your life?,” by signing up for the LSAT, GRE or MCAT. But for seniors who plan on earning a living before they turn 25, it’s time to face up to the challenge. There’s only one way to score that Manhattan apartment where you can hang your Harvard diploma without additional years of thankless toil: sell out, and go into I-banking or consulting.

Whether you’re doing it for the money or...well, come on, we know you’re doing it for the money, Harvard has practically paved the yellow brick road that leads to Wall Street gold. The first stop on the path is the Office of Career Services (OCS), at 54 Dunster St, where the recruiting program gives slick city suits the chance to give your t-shirt, jeans, B average, and camp counselor summer job the once-over before transferring your name to the burger-flipping file. If you plan on avoiding that fate, recruiters, OCS staff and students who’ve made it through have a few tips to keep you on track for corporate slavehood.

While you won’t have to head into the Widener stacks, you still have to do research. Beyond reading the websites, “talk to people in the industry, people who had summer internships, people who are going into the industry,” says Boris Gokhfeld ’04, who got a summer internship at Merrill Lynch through OCS last year. Believe it or not, not every high-paying job is also a snug fit. As Victor Y. Amoo ’05, co-president of Aspiring Minority Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs and a recruiting enthusiast, says, “Make sure that at the end of the day you’re going to what company and what industry makes you happy.” And if you know that you do want to pursue an opportunity, “research the culture…and present yourself within that light,” says Eduardo L. Saverin ’05, president of the Harvard Investment Association.

It might seem daunting for students who passed over Economics 1745: “Corporate Finance” to compete with business majors at other schools. But fortunately for those who spent their Harvard life indulging their loves for Celtic runes or Mesopotamian poetry, companies do not expect their recruitees to know about capital markets—although, if you’re applying for an investment-banking job, now might be a good time to start learning, even if only a bit.

Christopher F. Noe, associate principal at Charles River Associates, a Cambridge-based economics consulting firm, says that “first and foremost,” he wants “someone that will be in there with [him] slugging it out.” Although economics is crucial to the work his firm does, this former Harvard Business School (HBS) professor would rather a hard worker with “the ability to think independently and think on your feet.” “I can teach you [the economics we need] in two days,” he says.

According to Karen F. Brackin, a graduate assistant at OCS who coordinated recruiters and students when she worked at HBS, “they’re looking to see that you have transferable skills—leadership, initiative, problem-solving, working in a team, communication skills.”

Gokhfeld, who got fifteen first-round interviews during last year’s summer recruiting season, says “the best way to stand out [and get an interview] is to make sure your resume is well-polished…highlight important extracurricular activities.” Rather than padding your resume, you should try to pare it down to some key items that demonstrate the skills the company is looking for. And if you were considering the animated, fold-out, multicolor, scented, mechanically-singing resume, don’t.

When your professional, understated resume lands you an interview, it’s time to go out and practice interviews. Brackin says that recruiters often ask open-ended questions—“Tell me about yourself” is a frequent favorite—putting the onus on the student to “have an agenda.” “Know what you want the interviewer to know about you,” she says.

Beyond learning information that you volunteer, interviewers also want to see demonstrations of the abilities you claim. Gokhfeld, whose combed hair and button-down shirt exemplify good interview attire, says that when interviewers ask questions, you should “step back and think about what they’re looking for in the question.” Questions ranging from simple arithmetic problems to large, complicated case studies are often designed to test whether you have the required logical reasoning skills.

Most would find it illogical to bring up any negative points in your record, but Madhu Satyanarayana ’03, now an investment banker at UBS Investment Bank, says that sometimes you should “address your weaknesses, and give a good reason for it.” If you know that something will cause them to question your ability—a lower GPA, for example—you should try to turn it into a plus by explaning that you were short-selling Enron instead of going to class.

None of this ensures that you’ll get a job, and most of it won’t even help—according to Saverin, just two Harvard students will score a $60,000 salary from every 100 who interview. So to prevent crying all over your Brooks Brothers suit next March, it’s worth applying to jobs outside of OCS as well. At least that Help Wanted sign at Burger King will still be there.