News  Finance students cramped for career options

Cyclical market slump shrinks recruiting scope on university campuses

With markets in crisis, banks are scaling back their hiring worldwide, leaving finance students with fewer career options.

According to David Edwards, director of Career Services at Queen’s School of Business, banks recruiting on campus are posting fewer positions this year.

“In the big picture, all the national banks came back and continued to post the same sort of jobs,” Edwards said. “But some have indicated that they’re hiring for a third less positions this year.”

At Queen’s, as at most Canadian universities, finance students represent the largest percentage of hires within the Faculty of Management. Many graduates rely on bank recruitment sessions to secure interviews leading to job offers.

McGill students are feeling the crunch as well, as the McGill Finance Ambassadors (MFA), a student-run club which routinely takes finance students on banking tours to big finance centres to help students find jobs, has cancelled its January banking tour to London.

“Banks were laughing at us when we called them to see if we should come by,” said Clovis Couasnon, chairman of MFA.

Couasnon cited similar problems at Harvard and Princeton, where their traditional banking tours to Wall Street have also been cancelled.

He added that while banks are still actively publicizing on campus, they won’t necessarily hire as many students.

“It’s part of their image: they don’t want to look like they’re not hiring,” he said. “They’re still doing interviews [with prospective hires] because they’re hoping they’ll meet a genius.”

But according to Marie-José Beaudin, executive director of Career Services for the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill, finance graduates in future years may be scrambling for fewer positions than the 2009-2010 class. As recruiters scheduled this year’s visits to Canadian campuses before the markets crashed, many graduates have already had offers extended.

“I’m more concerned that those people who are going to be affected are those with internships this summer – and maybe also in a year from now,” said Beaudin.

Yet Linda Gully, director of Bachelor’s of Commerce Career Services at Sauder School of Business at UBC, noticed that students – especially those graduating – were growing concerned.

“Students are realizing that they might have to go to plan B if plan A doesn’t work out,” Gully said. “They’re looking at alternative ways to enter the finance industry, [but] they’re keeping up their networks.”

But Beaudin remained certain that the current hiring downturn was only part of a market trend.

“This is a cyclical situation. If students change the direction of their lives, it’s because they’re not passionate enough,” she said. “There’s always place at every level for very good students.”

According to Gully, the Canadian banking system has certain safeguards that will protect it from feeling the impact of hiring cuts as intensely as the U.S.

“We have a much different, and more solid banking system,” said Gully. “But we’re certainly not going to be immune [to effects from U.S. markets.]”

The big five Canadian banks – CIBC, RBC, Scotiabank, TD, and BMO – are likely to maintain a steady level of hiring, even as the economy slows, to meet Canadians’ daily banking needs. But investment banking, much of which occurs in larger banks in Canada, is more likely to take a precipitous fall since it is highly sensitive to the market effects.

Edwards noted, however, that banks will still be cautious with their hiring.

“There hasn’t been the same massive layoffs,” he said. “But they’re playing very conservatively while going forward.”

All three career directors recommended that students continue to develop strong quantitative skills by pursuing further education and certification, and diversifying their interests to open up alternative employment sectors.

Beaudin stressed that passionate students may need to compromise on salary figures or accept working in their second-choice position until things level-out.

“For the students that are graduating right now, it might look very gloomy. But they have to remember that they have lots of assets,” added Beaudin. “This is what employers are looking for, regardless of the timing.”