November 9, 2007

Recruiters Question Interview Skills of Cornell Job Candidates

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“We regret to inform you that we are unable to extend you an offer…”
Each of us has read a letter starting with this dreaded sentence at one time or another, telling us how great of a person we are, but nevertheless implying our inadequacy in some way. For Cornell students looking for internships and full-time job offers, this experience might be more common than usual.
This is not to say that Cornell students are deprived of their fair share of internship and job offers on Wall Street. But concurrently, there has also been negative feedback from some recruiters on the interview performance of Cornell students. Specifically, recruiters voiced concern over students’ technical knowledge and communication skills.
“I have heard some of the same comments from recruiting coordinators on campus, and they are the ones who would know,”said Rebecca Sparrow, director of Cornell Career Services. “I have not heard the comment about technical skills — I hear students have the technical skills, but sometimes they lack the ability to demonstrate it in the interview. Cornell students have a little harder time articulating why they are the right student for the position. That may be just a lack of practice interviewing, it may be lack of doing research on an employer — that there is really no excuse for.”
While the school should provide resources and support whenever available, according to some Cornell faculty members, it is ultimately still the responsibility of each student to adequately prepare for interviews. Further, preparation and practice are crucial to success in interviews, and while some students understand this concept, many others choose to ignore it and fail to reach out for necessary help. Students from the latter group often walk into interviews making easily avoidable missteps, such as being unfamiliar with their own resume.
“A lot of students complain that they didn’t know the steps until later. Right now it seems that students more or less rely on each other for information,” said Prof. Charles Chang, finance. “If you rely on students educating students, then some people will fall through the cracks. On one hand, part of the responsibility should be students helping students. That said, I think students require a commitment from advising and from the faculty to be a resource as early as they may have it.”
Because of Cornell’s large student body, the University boasts an on-campus recruiting program that dwarfs similar programs at some peer institutions. Recruiters will invariably see a representative cross-section of student preparation and initiative during interviews.
“I felt very well-prepared and comfortable going into the interviews. I think it’s important for students to be proactive in their preparation efforts and not expect to learn everything they need to know from school. Certainly, taking the right courses such as accounting and corporate finance provides a good foundation,” said Christopher Hur ’05, who works for Lehman Brothers.
“Most of the students just don’t have enough practice,” said a 2004 alumnus who currently recruits for a Wall Street firm and wished to remain anonymous. “It’s very different having someone in Career Services prep you for interviews than actually having someone who is well versed with the finance interview process [do it]. I think it will be useful if the school made some efforts to get some of its alumni who are on Wall Street to come back to campus to work with students on interview practice.”
Responding to this type of feedback and constructive criticism, AEM and the School of Hotel Administration have chosen seemingly different strategies, with the former focusing more on application and practice and the latter focusing more on advising and preparation. However, the ultimate goal of both strategies is to help students become more competitive in interviews by enhancing their communication skills and financial knowledge.
“Specific mention was made of technical questions about valuation using cash flow. At this stage we do not know just which group is possibly weak on valuation, but certainly any student in AEM324:Finance and AEM323:Managerial Accounting would have been exposed to the issues raised,” said Prof. William Lesser, chair of the AEM department. “For the future, we are checking with recruiters of our students to determine if there is any further technical material we can provide to our students. More generally, our alumni have kindly offered to hold sessions on preparing for interviews, and running some [practice] interviews.”
“Certainly we have room to grow. Given the youth of some of our programs, we should still be growing,” said Chang. “We see some challenges in terms of appropriate advising [due to the limited number of finance faculty], but it’s absolutely something we’re dedicated to. In fact, we’ve just started a new advising program and we’ll see how that pans out. We’re trying to get the right kind of advising to the right people, and early.”
Along with the initiatives taken by AEM and the Hotel School, Career Services also plans to launch initiatives of its own that will benefit every student on campus, irrespective of major.
“We don’t have the resources right now, but we’re looking at trying to come up with some creative things,” said Sparrow. “We periodically will offer a one-and-a-half to two-day program, like a job search boot camp, and building an interview piece to that — a lot of our peers do that. If we could expand that to include everyone who wants to participate in on-campus recruiting, I think it will be a great way to address the issues.”