Say you just graduated from an elite college, near the top of your class. So many options to choose from, all of them good. As an old song goes, the future's so bright, you've gotta wear shades.
But where to start? There are the usual draws of Wall Street and management consultancies. But the public sector, particularly the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency, is also getting into the fight for top students, some of whom may find themselves analyzing foreign nation weapons capabilities. And the teaching profession, through the fast-growing Teach for America program, is attracting students from the best schools who aren't yet sure of their long-term career plans and don't mind deferring a big paycheck for a couple of years.
Other students, according to Lance Choy, director of Stanford's Career Development Center, are taking low-paying research jobs at the World Bank to take advantage of networking opportunities.
"It's a chance to work with high-level people, and it can be a real gateway to graduate school," Choy says.
But the immediate paychecks are there for those who want them. Investment banks and management consulting firms have stepped up their hiring again after the slump that came with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. A graduate from an elite school can secure as much as $60,000 per year plus bonus as an analyst in corporate finance or in the sales and trading department at a Wall Street powerhouse such as Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs Group, JPMorgan Chase or Morgan Stanley. And many hedge funds are now filling their analyst ranks with both recent college grads and summer interns at competitive salaries, says a Duke University placement officer, in an attempt to compete with the big banks.
On Wall Street, Goldman Sachs in particular has shown a greater inclination in recent years to grow employees right from college through its analyst program, rather than insisting on an MBA. In the two years they spend as entry-level analysts, new recruits effectively get the same experience they would in graduate business school, according to Janet Raiffa, Goldman's co-head of U.S. campus recruiting.
For those who are more into creating computer programs than financial models, Microsoft and Google look to recent grads for software developers and associate product managers, who research markets and help design new products.
"We recruit extensively on campus, targeting the elite schools," says Microsoft recruiter Warren Ashton, adding that the company often hires over 1,000 graduates per year.
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Google, meanwhile, has emerged as the top employer for Stanford graduates over the past couple of years, according to the university's career development office. It helps when you go to a school that has not only one of the best computer science departments in the world—Yahoo!, Cisco Systems and Hewlett-Packard all have their roots there—but whose Palo Alto, Calif., campus is just seven miles down the road from Google's Mountain View headquarters.
While the opportunities are there, the competition is intense. Candidates greatly enhance their chances with a top company by securing a summer internship before graduation. And many of those programs are a lot more demanding—and rewarding—than the grunt work of years past.
IBM's consulting unit selects 60 undergraduates along with 20 graduate school interns per year out of more than 1,000 applicants for its Extreme Blue program. Divided into teams of four, students spend the summer analyzing a complex problem such as a work-flow snag in the health care industry. At the end of the summer, each team has exactly four minutes to pitch their analysis and solution to IBM executives at the company's Armonk, NY, headquarters. About half the participants wind up with permanent consulting jobs, according to Margaret Ashida, director of IBM's University Talent Programs.
Most interns get hired
Meanwhile, internships are becoming the backbone of Goldman Sachs' hiring program. The company said it moves 70 percent of its interns into permanent jobs.
JPMorgan Chase, which heavily targets Ivy League schools, starts its talent search even earlier. To fill its future trading ranks, the bank selects 1,200 applicants to play "Fantasy Futures" right from their college dorms. The winner of the mock futures portfolio contest is flown to New York to meet the bank's head trader and is offered a summer job. Often, that winner and other participants wind up with the company permanently.
"The program is done to help educate them on what sales and trading is all about," says Deborah Korb, the company's Campus Marketing Manager for North America. She said JPMorgan Chase is also making a concerted effort to market the traditionally testosterone-heavy trading floor as an appealing place for women. While the job is intense and demanding, it has minimal travel and client entertainment responsibilities.
The bank has also forged a partnership with Teach for America, allowing graduates who prefer to teach for awhile before embarking on a financial career to defer a job offer for two years, while working summers at the bank. The competitive teacher program has modeled its recruitment process after top consulting firms, says University of Pennsylvania career officer Patricia Russo, rejecting many more applicants than it takes despite the low pay.
"Its pitch is that it's a place where top graduates want to come. If you come, you will be among other top people," Russo says.