The Reed College Financial Services Fellowship is a career exploration program funded through the generosity of a Reed trustee with support from the Reed College trustees' investment committee. Students interested in financial services and/or quantitative fields compete for the fellowship and are interviewed by the College trustees’ investment committee. Fellows have the opportunity to gain insight into career options in the financial services industry through a short-term field trip to New York City. The trip includes business dinners with alumni and trustees of the College; an opportunity to shadow professionals in the workplace to get a sense of day to day operations, to discuss specific jobs and careers in the field, to take a tour of a trading floor. Pre-departure workshops on networking, resume writing, and intro to markets will be held as well. This is the first reflection from the 2014 Financial Services Fellows, Sanjeev Verma.
Financial Services Fellowship: Fact & Fiction
You might expect that as good Reedies we shook hands with all of the "evil" people on Wall St. in a detached manner with a heightened sense of irony. Au contraire! I put down my metaphysics book for a week and fully immersed myself in their world. Turns out, a job in finance does not amount to the death of "life of the mind." Finance is very much an intellectual profession; it is a technician's sport that requires both brains and creativity. I know that I went in with a few preconceptions too, but please allow me to dispel some of the common myths about finance. Of course, finance is not a perfect industry, so I will also share some of the unfortunate truths that I confirmed while on the trip.
Debunking common myths:
1. Myth: It's a homogenous industry. We saw big firms, we saw small firms. We met investment bankers, hedge fund managers, traders, and even investigative journalists that serve as watchdogs on Wall St. Finance is an extremely diverse industry that offers a little something for everyone.
2. Myth: It's all numbers. There are research analysts who deal in the qualitative, and associates who meet with CEOs and business leaders to make informed investment decisions. Of course, there are also highly quantitative positions, and others that require coding (remember: in finance, a little bit of Python can go a long way. If you're currently learning R, stop what you're doing right now).
3. Myth: You need highly-specialized knowledge. Most firms love to teach. In fact, a number of firms prefer liberal arts majors. One hedge fund manager we met refuses to hire business majors altogether. Another said that "business school has a history of not teaching anyone anything." Nonetheless, a little math or a basic understanding of finance won't hurt.
4. Myth: Reedies don't go into finance. This is simply not true. I met them. Some majored in philosophy and others, anthropology. They were successful, and led meaningful lives. (They also still wax poetic about Renn Fayre.)
Now let me confirm some of the unfortunate truths:
1. Truth: Finance is demanding and fast-paced. Most two-year rotational analysts can wave their weekends and social life goodbye. To some degree, this is overstated but the supposed 100-hour weeks do speak for themselves. But you came to Reed, so hopefully you're up for a challenge. That said, the Big firms have recently been trying to change this trend and enhance the work-life balance.
2. Truth: Big firms can make you feel small. I think a majority of Reedies interested in finance would prefer smaller firms, but there's probably also a significant number of Reedies who would enjoy big firms. Keep this factor in mind. The size of the firm can affect how much you can do, and how much interaction you have with senior staff.
3. Truth: It is a highly competitive industry. This is true in a number of respects. Jobs in finance are competitive, and there are a number of skilled people ready to replace you if you perform poorly or are untrustworthy. If you want to stay afloat, admit your mistakes or miscalculations, maintain a sense of humility, and be personable.
I encourage all eligible students to apply to the Financial Services Fellowship next year, so they can explore the industry firsthand and form their own opinions. During the Fellowship, you will learn an incredible amount in an incredibly short period of time, and meet some of the most interesting and diverse financial leaders. It is a fantastic opportunity, and I hope you will take advantage of it (whether you know what a hedge fund is or not!) Please feel free to email me or other previous participants if you are interested in applying next year and have any questions about the program.