NEW YORK (
TheStreet) -- Seniors in college have an end game in mind: to obtain gainful employment. Finance majors seek jobs on Wall Street or in the financial services sector. Each year at this point in the semester, I always give a lecture called "Working on Wall Street: What Jobs are Available and How to Get Them."
This year, graduating finance students are faced with one of the most difficult job environments in the financial services sector in decades.
As it turned out, I matriculated as an undergraduate at Wharton in the fall 1978 as a member of the class of 1982. During that period of time, the U.S. economy was in the midst of one of the worst recessions on record. Unemployment was high, inflation was out of control, and economic growth was slow. It was a period of stagflation. Wall Street was dead with no signs of life.
While I wanted a career in finance, given the economic backdrop, that did not seem likely at the time of my undergraduate education. I decided to major in accounting and use that experience as a foundation for a future in finance. My reasoning was that reading and understanding financial statements and taxation would be beneficial once I did get to Wall Street.
In my senior year, I was actively recruited by the Big 8 accounting firms at the time, and I took an offer at Price Waterhouse. Many of my friends went to work for
International Business Machines
(IBM), property management companies and even nonprofit organizations to help launch their careers. After two years at Price Waterhouse (I liked accounting but hated auditing), I was hired by
(MS) in 1984. Just over two years later, I was sent over to Tokyo to be part of the team that built up the equity business in the Far East.
The rest, as they say, is history
Today's seniors and even juniors (the class of 2010) are facing a similar environment to the one I faced. Here are my recommendations to those students:
Don't get frustrated by the lack of sales, trading, investment banking or investment management job availability.
Those things simply are not there. Instead, try to get into a top financial organization through support jobs (middle or back office) that are attached to operating units you aspire to a career in, such as equity, debt, mergers or hedge funds. Look for positions in the accounting, operations, risk management or compliance departments, for example. Many people have risen through the ranks of these organizations to successful and high level positions.
There are plenty of jobs in U.S. cities other than New York.
Chicago is the center of the universe for commodity and futures trading. Connecticut is a popular state for insurance companies. There is a big hedge fund community in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. If you are willing to relocate and search outside of the financial capital of the world, you might be more successful at gaining employment than if you stayed in the Big Apple.
I lived and worked in Tokyo and London for many years in the early part of my career. I met many young professionals who took a chance and moved from their home countries seeking opportunities for English-speaking people at foreign firms. There are emerging markets in Latin America and China that could offer unique entry-level opportunities for young professionals not available to them in the U.S. Experience overseas at an early age could pay handsomely upon repatriation. Thus, adventurous risk takers might want to look overseas.
Consider getting an advanced degree.
A master's in economics or business administration (MBA) could be an excellent means to increase your marketability and gain more knowledge while waiting for the financial markets to recover.
Think about starting your own business.
You'd be surprised how many successful businesses have been launched from basements or garages. With no major overhead or commitments (such as a mortgage or family) to carry on your shoulders, now could be the best time in your life to take an entrepreneurial gamble. You and your friends could create the next Facebook, Craigslist,