By Ian Shapira and Jordan Weissmann
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, September 22, 2008
Wall Street's meltdown this week stirred such angst among University of Virginia business students that professor Susan Chaplinsky tried coaxing her wannabe Masters of the Universe to think positively.
"I've asked them, 'How do you feel about a career in debt restructuring?' " said Chaplinsky, whose corporate finance students typically seek careers in investment banking or private equity. "Many of my students, who interned at banks in New York, expect the worst, that their offers will be rescinded."
As headlines continued tumbling out of Lower Manhattan, Washington area business school professors and students said a mixture of fear, confusion, outrage and nervous hope has swept lecture halls and seminars. In interviews, professors at Georgetown University and the universities of Virginia and Maryland said some students are convening group meetings with professors or are bracing for firms such as Lehman Brothers, which filed for bankruptcy, to take back full-time job offers.
Steven Heston, an associate professor at U-Md.'s Robert H. Smith School of Business, said a student with a Lehman Brothers offer walked into his office, looking for counsel. "I asked him if he accepted, and he said he was continuing to search for jobs," Heston said. "I told him, 'That's a good idea.' He's trying to be realistic about diminished prospects in the short term."
The turmoil will most affect students eyeing lucrative investment banking positions, and especially those who had offers from such once-reliable stalwarts as Lehman and Merrill Lynch, administrators at several schools said. Still, with Barclays potentially buying part of Lehman and with Bank of America purchasing Merrill Lynch, it is too early to gauge how drastically the reshaping of the financial world will reduce the pool of jobs. Recruiting also has yet to begin in earnest.
After news broke about the demise of Lehman and Merrill, administrators at U-Va.'s Darden School of Business called a meeting with students who had interned at the two firms to hash out new game plans for the job hunt.
"The tenor could have been quite morose, but was not," said Jack Oakes, director of Darden's career development center. "It was more about, 'All right, how do I move forward?' "
At Georgetown's McDonough School of Business, finance professor Sandeep Dahiya said he is holding a town hall meeting with students Wednesday to review how Wall Street cratered.
"It's going to be mostly a question-and-answer session. Instead of dumping jargon on them, I plan on having the audience react and express concerns," Dahiya said. "Many want to know, 'What are these headlines?' I look at it this way: The MBA program depends fairly heavily on Wall Street, and [some] of our largest banks are gone."
Still, many specialists say the bad news is mainly confined to the upper tier of powerhouse banks. Midsize firms are still chugging along.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the financial services industry has already shed more than 200,000 jobs over the past year. But throughout the ongoing credit crunch, many firms have continued to search for and hire new talent, said John Owen, Washington regional vice president of Robert Half International, a recruiter for financial and accounting firms. Even with the market turmoil, 58 percent of the recruiter's clients said that finding qualified talent was their biggest recruiting challenge.
"There's this perception that a lot of people are getting laid off," he said. "And not to minimize what's been going on at Lehman or anywhere else, but there hasn't been a lot of that in financial services."
Colin Dove, 30, editor of the Darden school newspaper, the Cold Call Chronicle, said he is slightly concerned about his chosen field: commercial real estate development. "There's not a lot of lending going on," he said.
But Dove said there are some signs the job market for business students remains strong. This week, he said, a surprisingly high number of companies were seeking résumés of Darden students in an online submission program. "The list was full of companies like 3M, Procter & Gamble and Pepsi," he said.
Dove, a second-year student, has a sense of humor about the financial crisis. On Tuesday, Chaplinsky recalled that Dove was in her class and raised his hand at the outset to ask a question.
"He asked, 'Is there a chance that we could extend the program by a year?' " Chaplinsky recalled. "There was just nervous laughter in the classroom after that."