Part of an ongoing series “MBA in Finance: Forget It?”
Given the weakness in investment banking, hedge funds, and financial services in general, how do you react to applicants who say they want an MBA to enter IB, PE or a related field that has been devastated by the economic downturn? Is the reaction “What planet have you been on?” Or, are you willing to consider those applicants because you feel the market for these skills will come back in a couple of years? Would you like to know that IB et.al. is the primary goal? Would you like to see a Plan B? Is your reaction different if the applicant is coming from IB or a related field as opposed to someone seeking the MBA to change careers?
Wharton’s Senior Associate Director in the Office of MBA Admissions and Financial Aid, Jackie Zavitz responded to me over the phone. What follows is a paraphrase of her comments:
We don’t perceive interest in finance as disingenuous or naive. However, it is important that applicants interested in the fields hardest hit by the financial crisis show they are aware of the environment.
There will always be a need for financial services. It is a major part of the economy and commerce. I understand if candidates are a little vaguer than usual about their goals because of the increased uncertainty. Whatever its future form, we understand that people want to go into finance and declaring that as your goal is not an automatic red flag.
We do expect applicants to show awareness of current volatility and an open-mindedness to pursuing different tracks given their newly acquired skills and past experience and interests. We want to see that they have the flexibility to use skills in different ways. For example, if someone is interested in doing corporate valuation or mergers and acquisitions, they can use those skills in investment banking or finance within a corporation. Are they showing awareness of the different ways those skills can be applied?
We expect Wharton grads to recognize that the market is challenging, although our 09 grads are getting jobs. Students have to work harder to land those jobs. They have to be a little more flexible, and they have to evaluate their priorities.
Consequently, a certain flexibility and acknowledgment of the environment is a plus for applicants when discussing their goals. Applicants should understand that we use the goals essay as a way to see how they think; we do not view it as a career commitment. We recognize that the goals are not cast in stone. Indeed in this environment, they shouldn’t be.