This possibility was explained to me several weeks before my Penn trip by a second-year Goldman Sachs analyst, who stopped me short when I posited that college students flock to Wall Street in order to cash in. “Money is part of it,” he said. “But mostly, they do it because it’s easy.” He proceeded to explain that by coming onto campus to recruit, by blitzing students with information and making the application process as simple as dropping a résumé into a box, by following up relentlessly and promising to inform applicants about job offers in the fall of their senior year—months before firms in most other industries—Wall Street banks had made themselves the obvious destinations for students at top- tier colleges who are confused about their careers, don’t want to lock themselves in to a narrow preprofessional track by going to law or medi- cal school, and are looking to put off the big decisions for two years while they figure things out. Banks, in other words, have become extremely skilled at appealing to the anxieties of overachieving young people and inserting themselves as the solution to those worries. And the irony is that although we think of Wall Street as a risk-loving business, the re- cruiting process often appeals most to the terrified and insecure. “It’s incredibly risk averse,” the Goldman analyst told me. “Think about it: if you go to a bank, you make as much money as anything ex- cept hedge funds, private equity, or possibly a tech startup. Those things are wildly more risky and a lot harder to do. So if a bank comes to me with an opportunity to lock down a good, high-paying job in September of my senior year without working too hard for it, I’m going to privilege that over anything else I might be thinking about doing.” After watching Penn students line up to nab precious seconds of face time with Morgan Stanley recruiters that night, I couldn’t help feeling like not much had changed since the financial crisis. Whether because of the structured, well-timed nature of recruiting or simply Penn’s finance- centric campus culture, the fact remained that these jobs were still ob- jects of intense desire. Even a financial near-Armageddon, it seemed, hadn’t been able to dislodge Wall Street from its pedestal. And I won- dered: if students at Penn couldn’t be swayed from their synchronized march to big banks by the worst economic crisis since the Great Depres- sion, was the financial sector’s allure simply irresistible? Excerpted from the book YOUNG MONEY: Inside the Hidden World of Wall Street’s Post-Crash Recruits by Kevin Roose. Copyright (c) 2014 by Kevin Roose. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved. Kevin Roose is a business and technology writer for New York Magazine and NYMag.com. Previously, he was a staff reporter for The New York Times, where he covered Wall Street for the business section and for DealBook, The Times’ award-winning financial news site. He is the author of The Unlikely Disciple, and his writing has appeared in GQ, Esquire, ESPN: The Magazine, and other major publications. *
You can now buy the “Investment Banking Interview Prep Pack” for $79.99 from Wall Street Oasis; the “Ace the Technical Investment Bank- ing Interview” webcast and PDF guide for $99 from Wall Street Prep; or, if you’re really playing catch-up and don’t mind shelling out, a four-day “Intern Core Skills” workshop from Adkins Matchett and Toy for $3,000. Wharton students generally don’t need these study aids, since they al- ready learn advanced financial skills in their classes. Still, in an attempt to garner offers from their financial firms of choice, they spend months bur- nishing their résumés, practicing their interview skills and elevator pitches, and poring over the Money and Investing section of the Wall Street Jour- nal in order to arm themselves with sufficient knowledge to impress the recruiters. And then, every year, they head off to information sessions to begin closing the deal. It wasn’t always such an ordeal. For many years, Wall Street banks re- cruited like any other corporation—hiring a handful of graduates from top colleges to fill their junior ranks and employing them indefinitely. But in the early 1980s, banks began instituting what became the mod- ern Wall Street recruiting program, in which college seniors are hired for two-year stints as analysts. After their two years are up, analysts are expected to find work at a hedge fund or private equity firm, or, in a few cases, get an offer to stay on for a third year of banking. The ones who don’t are gently shown the door. This new plan, nicknamed “two and out,” was a brilliant tactical move. Selling Wall Street jobs to undergraduates as a temporary com- mitment rather than a lifelong career enabled banks to attract a whole different breed of recruit—smart, ambitious college seniors who weren’t sure they wanted to be bankers but could be convinced to spend two years at a bank, gaining general business skills and adding a prestigious name to their résumés in preparation for their next moves. The strat- egy also created a generation of accidental financiers—people who had graduated from elite colleges with philosophy or history degrees, had no specific interest in or talent for high finance, yet found themselves still collecting paychecks from a big bank three decades later. At Penn, though, most of the enthusiasm was genuine. “Finance is a great industry filled with great people,” one revved-up student told me. “Traders are probably the coolest people you’ll ever meet!” raved another. Morgan Stanley’s actual recruiting pitch was a fairly unremarkable col- lection of corporate banalities (“culture of excellence,” “world-class men- toring opportunities”) and promises of prestigious “exit opps” once the analyst years were over. But few words were given to describing the actual, day-to-day work of being a first-year analyst. And nobody from the bank mentioned the biggest reason a college senior might be attracted to Wall Street—namely, the fact that first-year analyst jobs pay a starting salary of around $70,000, with a year-end bonus that can be upwards of $50,000. The lack of overt focus on money surprised me, though perhaps it shouldn’t have. As strange as it sounds, a big paycheck may not in fact be central to Wall Street’s allure for a certain cohort of young people.
SOON, THEY WOULD OFFICIALLY BECOME CARD-CARRYING FINANCIERS, AND THEY WOULD BE INVITED TO TAKE PART IN A GIANT, GLOBE-SPANNING MONEYMAKING OPERATION THAT CONTROLS THE FATES OF COMPANIES, GOVERNMENTS, AND MILLIONS OF ORDINARY PEOPLE AROUND THE WORLD.
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