Banks or Bust


Kieran McQuilkin

When you enroll in Washington and Lee University, you know there exists a high probability that you will find a good, if not great, job once you graduate. The “work hard, play hard” atmosphere pervading campus prepares students not only to be smarter, but offers invaluable social experience for an American job market where the hands you shake are as important, if not more, than the grades on your transcript. Network, network, network, the Career Services office tells us.

And, if you’ve been awake in the last three weeks, you’ve seen email blasts and campus notices offering those types of opportunities as recruiters visit campus. But you’ve also seen that nearly all of those info and networking sessions have been banks. What if I don’t want to be an investment analyst? we ask, where’s the network for something else?

Out of 21 info sessions on campus in September (including just tables set out in commons), 11 were investment banks. That leaves 10 other opportunities – three were consulting firms. Five were post-graduate programs for other universities; leaving two job recruiting sessions outside of finance – Christie’s Education, and the U.S. Navy. More than a few liberal arts majors are thus far skeptical, and October’s numbers look similar.

Now, the goal of a liberal arts education is to be wholly prepared as an individual to take on whatever career path you choose – the banks aren’t closed to English majors. But, you can imagine those recruiting sessions were scarce on students outside of the Williams School. 40 percent of students receive degrees from Williams, and in 2014, just 16 percent of students went into banking and finance. Williams has about 40 faculty, as opposed to The College’s (liberal arts’) 140. It’s hard to see equal representation.

But that is part of the problem – it’s literally hard to see equal representation of job opportunities for liberal arts majors on campus. The perception by so many students, including myself, is that these banking-focused peers have jobs thrown at them from every which angle in the fall. As I worked through the numbers with Director of Career Development John Jensen, it became clear that banks have more foot soldiers – sending recruiters to schools and being particularly adept at advertising those opportunities. Companies like Coca-Cola, P&G, and advertising agencies do most of their recruiting over the phone during the school year. You just don’t see it.

Additionally, the ‘investment bank or die’ perception takes particularly strong hold of campus during the fall. For me, November is the month of journalism recruiting, and for most others, it comes even later.

It started with J.P. Morgan starting to recruit earlier than other banks. They would quickly scoop out the best candidates, leaving less talent for the other banks come their recruiting period. So, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, etc. shifted their schedules earlier, then other banks earlier, and so on. It’s a vicious cycle of premature recruitment. Some firms offer banking-intensive internships and programs to freshmen and sophomores – who are exactly how sure they want to be an analyst in three years?

A small part of the problem is the administration. It’s easier to bring the aggressive investment banks to campus, because, well, they are aggressive. Additionally, any school would love to graduate investors because they will be much more likely to throw a big check into the alumni donation pile. A shaky ethical concept, and I have no evidence to accuse Washington and Lee of such a consideration, but it is certainly one worth paying attention to.

A big part of the problem is the banks. They advertise networking opportunities very well, and approach universities earlier and earlier every year. Keep in mind that big banks are actually looking to hire more liberal arts majors. Which brings us to the students.

Students are not solely victims. It is part of our role as job-seekers to do exactly that – seek jobs, not wait for them to invite us to the Livery Inn’s private meeting room. Too many liberal arts majors that I’ve spoken with have offered their discontent with the bank-centric job overflow, but when I ask what they have done to seek jobs this month, they twiddle their thumbs and stare at their shoes.

Career Services, at the beginning of the year, sent out notices that students could now choose the sectors from which they would receive potential job opportunities and information. 72 percent of undergraduates have yet to check any of those boxes. That’s a major disappointment for Jensen, who can only do so much for a student who hasn’t expressed even a generic career preference.

But, Jensen said student appointments (with recruiters, information sessions, etc.) are up 70% from last year. That’s a massive increase, and makes you wonder what Career Services was doing before that.

You ought to believe that bankers have the advantage at Washington and Lee for job opportunities. They do. But you also ought to look around more carefully, because the difference is much smaller than we make it out to be.