An Open Letter to Wall Street Recruiters: What Junior Bankers Really Want

Published: Aug 27, 2014

 Finance       Workplace Issues       
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Dear Wall Street Recruiters, 

I would first like to say that I do very much applaud you for making an effort: those “protected weekend” policies were a nice touch (and the least you could do in light of what happened last summer) and the 20 percent salary hikes just announced will not go unappreciated. However, if you really are, like so many financial journalists and bloggers, including this one, have pointed out, attempting to compete for America’s most excellent sheep with the Googles and Facebooks and Twitters of the world, then you have been, as they say, barking up the wrong trees. You don’t need to go to the money tree or the fewer-hour tree, but what you do need to do, and what young wannabee masters of the universe really want from you and your colleagues, is this: more responsibility. 

That’s right, more responsibility. Which includes more contact with senior bankers. More client contact. More deal experience and better deal experience. More senior-level work (or at least higher-level work). More fast-track promotions. More internal mobility. More international work placements. More interaction with your C-suite. More interesting work. More challenging work. More work that could be used no matter where (and to which industries) the future might take you. 

I think the same could be said for consulting firms. Consider who started out at McKinsey: Facebook's COO Sheryl Sandberg. And who started out at Andersen Consulting: Twitter's CEO Dick Costolo. And who started out at Braxton Associates (another consulting firm): LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner. And who stared out at one of your own, Goldman Sachs: Twitter's CFO Anthony Noto. 

Thing is, even if a young lamb does want to go into tech (or some other industry of the moment such as clean energy), if they aren't a tech genius (Zuckerberg, Gates) then they're going to need financial experience and operating experience if they want to $ucceed at the highest level. And you and your Wall Street firms (and perhaps consulting firms) are still able to provide that experience, perhaps better than any other industry, including tech. 

However, too often, what you and your colleagues do is this: dump your newbies into sixteen-square-foot cubicles and force them to crunch numbers until they turn purple in the face and fat around the middle and full of way too much caffeine. And you make them do this night after night (okay, except for Saturday nights). Instead, they could (and should) be allowed to attend all high-level client meetings, be on all client calls, even meet your own CEOs and very high-level managers (which some of you, I understand, are beginning to do; word on the Street is Morgan Stanley now offers an internship, not a very highly publicized one mind you, that gives a select number of college students access to the highest level of the firm—James Gorman level—and by access I mean the ability to work alongside the CEO and have a few one-on-one chats with him). 

Don’t get me wrong, I do understand the difficulty you find yourselves in. There was that financial crisis thing when all sorts of mortgage-backed securities hit the fan and misdeed upon misdeed was revealed for all the public to see. And since then, it hasn’t been exactly rosy. There have been other scandals. A lot of scandals. Whales. Libor fixing. Michael Lewis and Martin Scorcese haven’t helped, either. And there will be more misdeeds and more billion-dollar fines coming down the pipeline. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that there are some very good and very ethical blue and gray pinstripe suits among the bad. Nor does it take away from the fact that many of them are privy to the most high-profile, impactful companies, products, governments, and deals on the planet. 

Which brings me to this: impact. 

That is, it’s not so much the financial crisis and evildoers among your firms that have made a job on Wall Street less attractive to the excellent sheep, but the fact that times change, and technology changes, and the desires of the nation’s youth change, and what’s cool changes, and right now the perception is that the more impactful companies and thus the more impactful jobs (of the corporate stripe) fall into the tech sector, mainly located down in something called Silicon Valley. (During the Reagan era and G.W. Bush era this wasn’t the case; as you know all too well, you and yours reigned during those high times, when deal summaries were still sent by fax and/or DHL, when analysts could expense everything from their dry cleaning to their Hampton shares, when bottle service wasnt ridiculed but envied.) 

However, remember, this is only perception, not truth. Who took Facebook public? Who underwrote Twitter’s IPO? Who helped Apple aquire Beats? Who advised Instagram on its sale to Facebook? (Okay, that last one may be a poor example.) 

In any case, the point is you’d be wise to listen to your own young bankers and hear what they have to say. Have you asked them what they want lately? Have you?

If not, one week from today, right here on this very blog, Vault will be releasing its latest Banking Rankings, and so next Wednesday, September 3, you’ll know where your firm stands in the areas of client interaction, internal mobility, ability to challenge, supervisor relationships, and international opportunities, among other workplace categories. I hope to see you then. 


Read More:
Wall Street Banks Dig Deeper to Keep Best and Brightest Junior Bankers (DealBook)
Sorry, Wall Street. Paying Young Bankers More Won’t Make You Cool Again. (NYMag)
Goldman Sachs’ ‘Protected Saturday’ Policy Might Be Working After All (Vault)