For Fay, an MBA graduate of the Tuck School of Business, it was a route to one of the most difficult banks to break into. “The recruiting is so competitive and inevitably you need an edge to stand out… It is a demanding job and sometimes you work 100-odd hours each week,” she says.
The investment banker moved from Tuck’s New Hampshire base to New York with 40 other classmates for her summer internship with the firm. “Being a first year associate-career-changer was easier because my friends went through the same thing,” says Fay, who is now a full-time merchant banking associate at Goldman. “It made a huge difference to have that support network of friends who understood. It helped me survive that first year.”
But many do not survive at the big US banks. The summer associate programs provide an entry point for many students. In the past few weeks, thousands of business schoolers have started work at investment banking departments across the globe.
Associates do not need MBA degrees and many banking interns come fresh out of undergraduate studies. Some 24% of undergraduates surveyed by Businessweek this year said they were pursuing an internship in investment banking, more than double the number of students looking to intern in consulting, which was the second most-popular function.
For MBAs then, the pressure is on to recoup what can be more than $100,000 in tuition per year in America.
Morgan Stanley rejected a staggering 89,000 summer internship applications this year, first reported by Bloomberg News. The company received some 90,000 applications for summer analyst and associate positions but offered jobs to less than 2% of them.
Yet it is unsure what, exactly, is needed to land a spot on these exclusive associate programs. A snapshot of associates’ backgrounds reveals that at Morgan Stanley, you can bet on a top-ranking business school. Many of this year's crop come from London Business School, Dartmouth Tuck, Columbia Business School and Stanford University.
But there are also associates from unconventional backgrounds. A US-based MBA, for example, worked in the product department of a leading luxury brand in Asia before banking with Goldman. Another graduate from a London school has a coal energy background, where they spent a year with a firm in remote Kazakhstan.
Even more surprising is a graduate from a top US university who ran a campus laundry company in Virginia, or the former biological anthropology student at a leading UK university who wrote a dissertation on “Human Mate Choice”.
Students from far-flung academic and professional realms are not deterred from seeking careers at the bank. A survey released last month by the Graduate Management Admissions council revealed that 26% of graduating MBAs with job offers were heading to finance, more than those headed for consulting.
Alex Figueroa, an MBA recruiter at Goldman, said that financial experience is not a necessity to get hired by the firm. “You need zero professional finance experience to get hired. We’re not cookie-cutter in our approach,” he told BusinessBecause.
Alex said that they will take candidates who are smart and hard-working, and train them up for the job. “We’ll set that person free in a team environment where they have support and mentorship, and they’ll use their own initiative and the firm’s resources to launch their career,” he added.
Morgan Stanley is no easier to begin a career with. About 1,000 summer hires started work on the bank’s summer program last month, but their acceptance rate is lower than Harvard Business School’s.
Analysis of their 2014 summer associate’s reveals a preference for the elite schools, which in the US means Harvard, Columbia and Stanford. Typical European associates come from INSEAD in France and Italy’s SDA Bocconi.
However, this year’s group also has a diverse range of backgrounds. One summer analyst from one of Europe’s top Master’s programs has a background in Italian motor racing, for example, while another graduate of an Asian university worked as a secondary school teacher in China.
Education is a consistent theme. Another analyst, who does not hold an MBA or Master’s degree, ran their own youth education organization in Singapore.
Roberto Rossi, HR Manager of EMEA (non-UK) at Morgan Stanley, said experience in financial services was not essential. “We use internships to make sure people understand the world they come to, and we have an opportunity to assess them at an early stage before they are hired,” said Roberto, in an interview with BusinessBecause.
He added: “Previous experience is less important. I would even say a diverse background is really appreciated.”