Bull Bear Report Jul 21 2010

How to Get an Edge for Analyst, Associate Jobs

By sindhu sundar

Swajit Rath has spent nearly 10 years laying the groundwork for a job in investment management. The 28-year-old read economics at Cambridge University, worked for five years in investment banking and sales for Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, and is pursuing a master's degree in business administration at the Chicago Booth School of Business.

But when offered the chance to take supplementary financial modeling courses, he signed up.

Why? Candidates who are "desk ready" -- industry parlance for being prepared to start working on deals -- have an edge when it comes to analyst and associate jobs.

The skills that can give interviewees an advantage include:

-- reading and interpreting financial statements

-- using research tools, such as Bloomberg Terminal

-- building financial models on Excel spreadsheets

-- performing company valuations

"[The courses] put us in an advantageous position," said Rath, who is interning at a major mutual-fund company in Boston.

As hiring has ramped up in the past year, financial firms increasingly want job candidates to complete their training in as few as six months, rather than the usual 12.

"Corporations are seeing the need to accelerate learning curves," said Chirag Saraiya, a principal at Training The Street, a financial training company based in New York City.

"The more 'street ready' an applicant is, the better value proposition they provide to the employer," said Frank Drazka, the head of investment banking at Hudson Securities, a Jersey City, N.J.-based investment-banking and trading firm, which is looking to hire four associates.

Rath paid about $200 each for two financial modeling courses with Training The Street through Chicago Booth. Up to 40% of M.B.A. students at Chicago Booth sign up for these courses, some of which are subsidized by the business school, according to a Chicago Booth spokesman. The practical skills they teach are seldom acquired through regular courses offered by undergraduate and in M.B.A. programs.

"There is a fundamental shift in finance," said Saraiya, who is also an adjunct professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. "A lot of analysis is done in Excel, financial models. So how do you take theory and apply it to an integrated model? How do you take different types of data, and be able to analyze that and turn it into a productive talking point to a client? That's the kind of skill that goes a little bit further."

Not a Must-Have

Many large firms offer training to new associates and analysts. For many hiring managers, these practical skills are a positive for a candidate, not a job prerequisite. But in a competitive market, that's all the convincing students may need to sign on.

"Our view tends to be that when we hire someone, we do expect to teach them," said Scott Oblow, the managing director for the human-capital division of Duff & Phelps, a New York City-based financial advisory and investment-banking services firm. "But any experience in using research applications -- Bloomberg, Capital IQ -- is a plus. Knowing how to model in Excel is also a big plus. Many know the basics, but the more advanced one's skills are in apps like Excel and PowerPoint, the better."

Training expenses are typically borne by the employer, which may pay about $10,000 a day for a three or four-week class of about 40 students, said Geoff Robinson, head of the investment-banking division at 7 city Learning, a global financial services training institution. "It costs a fortune to hire analysts," he said. Employers work in tandem with trainers to create rigorous deal-making exercises replicating real-life conditions of fluctuating data and even the clamor of office phones.

One big reason some students seek out training on their own: to bolster their confidence, often an all-important factor on Wall Street.

"You'll be able to talk in interviews in a way shows that your analysis isn't just verbal, that communicates to them that you can model more readily," said Rath.

And the value of greater self-assurance can last long after the interview. Trainees confident about their Excel abilities can focus instead on learning to finesse financial deals and plumbing repositories of real-time market data such as Bloomberg.

But if you're thinking about springing for some training, keep in mind that your character and other personal qualities and traits can be more important to hiring managers than any skills that you might acquire.

"The hardest thing to find is people fit," said Drazka. "You find a lot of people who are technically competent. But there are these intangible elements of personality that really matter. And they go a long way."

Write to Sindhu Sundar

Related Article: Foot in the Door: The Finance Resume

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