October 27, 2013

BUSINESS | ‘Unconventional’ Classes, Positivity Important to Firms

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As many Cornell students pick out the perfect suit and tie to land a lucrative Wall Street finance job, they face a big question: what are these firms looking for?

Some common requirements in a candidate include quantitative skills, good academic standing and impressive past experiences, according to most banking internship and job postings. However, firms are increasingly emphasizing the “fit” of applicants.

Classes other than those in math, finance and economics can often help students succeed at a job in finance, according to Vinay Ramprasad ’14, who worked at a bank over the summer.

“Looking back, I would say that Introduction to Asian Religions is a non-finance class that helped me this summer,” he said. “While it may seem completely irrelevant to [a finance] job, the course encouraged students to analyze many abstract concepts.”

Ramprasad added that humanities courses can also help students develop skills like critical thinking, writing and “seeing issues from a different perspective.”

Echoing Ramprasad’s sentiments, Kartik Das ’14, who worked at a bank over the summer, said he does not think that finance-related classes are the most important component of a potential intern’s application.

“Pursuing an internship or career in finance does not require you to be a finance guru. You need to take accounting and probably an introductory finance course, but apart from that, you need to know how to work efficiently and communicate effectively,” he said.

Cheryl Cho ’14, who interned at Goldman Sachs this summer, said that art history was a class that helped her stand out during her interview.

“I was able to speak with my interviewer about my interest in art and museums during my interview,” she said. “Additionally, one of the partners’ daughters at the firm was an art history major, so I was able to converse with her on topics unrelated to finance.”

Being multi-dimensional is important for not only jobs in finance but also every industry, according to Cho.

“You do not want to be one-dimensional because that makes you a robot,” she said. “I truly believe, though, that this is important for every industry, not just finance.”

Classes out of one’s comfort zone often help build “soft skills,” according to Enrico Bonatti ’14, who worked at a financial firm over the summer.

“In terms of what specific classes have helped me, I would say pretty much any class that is far outside someone’s comfort zone and a class that not only makes you think critically and ‘outside the box’ but also has communication and teamwork elements [helps,]” he said.

Ramprasad echoed Bonatti’s sentiment, adding that group work can also help people develop interpersonal skills.

“Beyond the accounting and finance classes that develop technical knowledge, I believe courses where students are able to focus on group projects, like Marketing Plan Development, prepare them for the intangible aspects of the job,” he said. “Being able to work in a team, and more importantly, communicate with that team, is essential for any role.”

Finance firms also look for positive attitude and composure under pressure in applicants, according to Cho.

“Honestly, I think that a positive energy goes a long way especially when you are in a high stress, high intensity job,” she said. “Firms look for applicants who are able to stay positive no matter how difficult the situation gets or how many hours you have to work.”

Being a part of student organizations is one way to build on these skills, according to Bonatti.

“Joining student organizations can help one develop these highly prized soft skills or [emotional quotient],” he said.

Such a skill set can also help students handle the stressful environment of investment banking and finance jobs, according to Bonatti.

“This was definitely true for me, as joining organizations like AIESEC, [International Student Board] or the Student Assembly had a great influence on the development of my leadership and organizational skills,” he said. “[These qualities are] essential when working under time pressure in a stressful environment [such as investment banking].”

Like Bonatti, Das also advised students to prepare for finance jobs through extracurriculars and classes.

“If you want to be prepared for the non-finance skills, join an organization that helps hone those skills like a business fraternity, and take an Excel or class communication class,” he said. “Not having those skills will put you at a significant disadvantage.”