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Interview with Babson Career Center’s Tara Place

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Tara Place, Sr. Associate Director of Corporate Outreach for Babson

Tara Place, Sr. Associate Director of Corporate Outreach for Babson

We recently sat down with Tara Place, the Sr. Associate Director of Corporate Outreach for Babson’s Undergraduate Center for Career Development.  Her responsibilities include overseeing the recruiting program and building recruiting partnerships with companies.

What did you do prior to taking on this position?

I worked at Fidelity Investments for over 10 years and held various management roles including Director of Human Resource Process Consulting and Director of College Relations.

What advice would you give to applicants with a lower GPA?

Under 3.0: It’s important to focus on your story. You should be able to deliver some background on your academics without becoming defensive. Feel free to note any external factors that could play a role in your GPA.

For example, a student athlete with an advanced course load could be in this situation. The most important thing is to focus on all of your positive attributes including your passion for the industry and company you are interviewing with and your unique skill set and experiences. All of these will offer a picture of a well-rounded individual, regardless of your GPA.

After a meeting or interview, how important are thank you notes?

Crucial. You should always send a thank you note. You should never be the candidate that didn’t send a thank you note. Not only are you thanking the person for their time with you, but thank them on behalf of your school/organization.

In terms of medium, email is always fine. If it was a second round interview and you met many members of the firm for example, it looks better to send a hand written note in a timely fashion to convey your appreciation for their time. But be careful, thank you notes can be where mistakes happen. Be sure to be as meticulous in checking for typos on these short correspondences as you were with your cover letter.

If you don’t hear back from a firm, do you recommend following up?

Absolutely. Usually firms will send an automated email after receiving your application. In that case your resume has been received and will be viewable by recruiters.   If you do have a contact at the firm, and haven’t heard back, then it may be worthwhile to reach out. After not hearing back from a first or second round interview, follow up with the recruiter who may be willing to provide you feedback.  Any chance to learn about ways to improve as a candidate is important.

When students are considering offers at large financial institutions against offers at smaller boutique banks, what are some key differences they should weigh?

It’s an individual decision on which type of firm they’d prefer.  Larger financial institutions tend to have more resources and tools available, in addition to more career paths offered.   Having a strong brand name is always excellent on a resume. In a smaller boutique firm, the learning approach is much more direct, and provides an excellent opportunity for more direct exposure to senior management. Once again, it’s a personal decision.

In the end, select a firm that you believe will allow you to excel.

What are some of the most common mistakes you see candidates making when trying to land an investment banking position?

Make sure your cover letter and resume are proof read and there are no mistakes!   Your cover letter should always be a unique read to help differentiate yourself. One mistake in a cover letter is not clearly articulating why you want investment banking. Also, make sure you prepare for interviews with different people, such as someone recently recruited off campus – who can share feedback on technical questions asked, etc.   If you have the opportunity, conduct a mock interview with a more seasoned professional who has been in the business awhile – make sure you prepare and then take advantage of that opportunity! This way, you gain a wide spectrum of knowledge about the interview process.   Do not underestimate the rigor of this process.

What should students in college do more of to land an investment banking job that you do not see enough of currently?

Candidates should -in addition to excelling academically and interning to gain hands on experience- prepare executive briefs that they can reference or share during interviews.  For example, modeling a specific company with a DCF or comps model, or following a merger from beginning to end if you’re interested in M&A. This might not be something you can add to a resume or cover letter, but it may come in handy during an interview or when meeting with an investment banking professional. The exercise in preparing this kind of document is helpful in itself, and you’d be surprised as to how many times you could reference it during conversations.

Investment banking fees and bonuses are down over 30% this year.  How has this affected the recruiting process at Babson?

In 2009, there was of course a decline in students going into financial services from Babson, a market driven reality in smaller class sizes for the banks. We have seen hiring levels return for 2011 and 2012, though the field remains predictably competitive. Something to keep in mind is that the swing in bonus numbers that the press likes to highlight affects senior bankers more than those joining analyst programs. Currently, 25% of Babson undergraduate students go into positions in Financial Services post-graduation.

Are recruiters scaling back on campus visits? How does the number of offers for internships and full time jobs compare to last year? Also, do you see more internships leading to full time employment compared to prior years? 

Recruiters are recruiting earlier for internships, as we see more firms using the internship pool as their pipeline for entry level full time hiring.   Financial services firms were the pioneers in developing this process years ago and they continue to utilize internship programs as feeders for full time programs. More and more students are returning to campus senior year with offers from their summer internship.  Overall, we’ve seen an increase in both internship and full-time postings on campus.

What are the biggest challenges for a career center in attracting on campus recruiters?

Many firms have decreased the number of target schools and limited their traveling so getting firms to physically recruit on-campus can be a challenge.  However, even when a firm does not have a physical campus presence, we host them through our posting services and in some cases (through alumni led relationships) we are invited to visit the firms for an information session and tour.  This allows the firms to preview a select group of students prior to their selection process.

How has recruiting changed in the last four to five years?

One change has been an increase in technology; more and more firms are conducting Skype interviews if they’re not able to get to campus or if the student is studying abroad.

How much should interns know before they apply? Is there more a preference in “soft” behavior skills rather than finance from recruiters? Or should one have a good knowledge of finance skills/have taken a good amount of finance classes?

For these positions, you need to bring it all. There is absolutely a  need for a strong accounting and finance base. Even though companies will be training you, it’s important to have the foundational knowledge about valuation methodologies and accounting principles. In addition to strong quantitative skills, employers look for candidates that they envision will be a successful team contributors. You need to be a well rounded candidate who can operate with ease and flexibility in many situations. When you think of all the hours spent at work – it’s important that they find a trustworthy and solid team player.  Ensuring that your personality comes through in an interview is critical.

Recently there was an article in Bloomberg about students reconsidering finance careers in light of the negative press against financial institutions?  Have you seen something like that on campus? Is there any worry of this expressed on recruiters minds?

Babson is a business school so we see students entering with a passion for business – whether it’s on Wall Street, working for a small business or starting their own.    We saw a decrease in 2009 and 2010 in the number of students going into Wall Street roles, but that’s because there were obviously fewer positions.  We typically see year after year approximately 25% of our students going into finance related roles. Businesses are cyclical in nature and at Babson, we believe that challenging environments offer the best opportunities for innovative solutions.

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