Wall Street jobs back in demand for finance majors

James Haley started trading fake stocks when he was 13 – and he’s been hooked ever since.

Like many finance majors in the GW School of Business, Haley will gun for prestigious internships with financial firms over the next four years. But despite the blows to the image of Wall Street after the financial crisis and amid Occupy protests, Haley doesn’t feel like the 1 percent.

“I’ll probably be working for free for the next four summers at these banks, so I feel frustration too,” Haley, a freshman, said. “When I get in, I’ll be the little the guy, and the guy above me will be making a lot of money.”

After a dip in business school graduates entering the financial sector in the wake of the 2008 crisis, students are once again pining for Wall Street jobs – but with an increased social conscience. Thirty-one percent of 2011 business school graduates earned jobs in the financial services industry, up from 19 percent in 2010.

Haley was one of 30 business school students who piled into a Duques Hall conference room Monday night for a panel with banking and career experts, searching for answers on how to break into the grueling field.

Aaron Brachman, who graduated from GW in 2002 and now works as a senior financial associate at Royal Bank of Canada Wealth Management, spoke at the discussion, advising students on interview techniques. After conducting hundreds of interviews with potential interns for a decade, Brachman said he’s finally getting one question from applicants he never heard before.

“I’ve never had people, except in the last couple of years ask, ‘What kind of value do I add to society?’ I think that’s wonderful. Before it used to just be ‘I want to work hard and make a lot of money,’” Brachman said. “The general public is starting to ask those general questions of people on Wall Street, which is important.”

Banks and investment firms will stream in and out of the business school throughout the remainder of the academic year, scheduling interview rounds with top students who stand out as prospective hires. Representatives from the Royal Bank of Canada and Bank of America have set up shop in Duques Hall this week for private interviews. This fall, Goldman Sachs came to GW for the first time.

Business school administrators are pushing students to think more ethically in order to curb another generation of Enrons and Bernie Madoffs. Bloomberg Businessweek ranked the school No. 71 for ethics last year, a figure dean Doug Guthrie said he is determined to bring up.

Guthrie tapped Tim Fort, the school’s highest-ranking ethics professor, to lead a curriculum overhaul this year as the interim dean of undergraduate studies.

“Without endorsing all the aspects of the Occupy movement, there are reasons why people are legitimately angered by some of the behavior on Wall Street and in other business,” Fort said. “And I think GWSB is at the forefront of constructively trying to correct such behaviors with our attention to ethics issues.”

The school’s career center is also focused on reform, aiming to improve on GW’s No. 87 business recruiter survey ranking, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

“GW people have to scratch and claw their way in,” Brachman said. “I even went as far as to try to sneak into a Georgetown career recruitment center because the recruiters were there.”

To attract more attention from recruiters, the school’s career center, looked at as a model for the University, has made small changes this year by adding specialized advisers to guide students through individual career goals and ramping up alumni mentoring and career coaching.

Students, flocking back to finance jobs, approve of any efforts that will help them break into the field.

“I know there’s a lot of controversy with the Occupy Wall Street movement, but I’m in this because it’s what I’m interested in doing. It’s not about making a lot of money. It’s not about getting rich quickly,” junior finance major Drew Litavis said. “If you’re passionate about the work, it doesn’t matter what people say about it. It’s what you make it for yourself. That’s how I’ve internalized it.”

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