The day after Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. said it would file for bankruptcy-court protection, University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business career office had already made personal calls to all of their 26 alumni from the 2008 class who worked at the firm.
One former student volunteered to become the representative for the group and scheduled a conference call to discuss future career strategies with the business school, says Stacey Kole, deputy dean for the full-time program, which sent 20 percent of its 504 alumni hired to investment banks in 2007. By Friday, career-office representatives flew to New York to have dinner with 14 of the Lehman 2008 graduates to help them figure out a plan. Ms. Kole said they are ready to meet any demand. "We're like a tennis player on their toes," she says.
With the Bear Stearns meltdown this spring already affecting alumni, career offices were bracing for a tough recruiting year and the possibility of more layoffs and jobless alumni to come. Schools were largely unprepared for the onslaught of grads looking back to their alma maters for job help when the Wall Street woes began.
But many have used the summer to find ways to step up, in some cases sending career-service officials to check out the situation and adding extra services. And with the start of recruiting season around the corner, schools are providing additional help to current students as well.
At Columbia Business School, 2008 graduates who left school in May will continue to get access to several student databases and personalized counseling sessions from the Career Management Center, says Michael Malone, director of career education and advising. It's proved time consuming: "At this point we are not quite to the level of investment banking hours, but we are earning our keep," says Mr. Malone of the long hours he's putting in helping displaced alums.
The University of California-Berkeley Haas School of Business, is also extending invitations to its New York-based alumni for several career workshops hosted by Columbia, says Nicole Gerhmann, assistant director of M.B.A. recruiting for financial services and energy at Haas. Typically 5 percent to 10 percent of the about 240 students a year, pursue careers on Wall Street. Additionally, Rich Lyons, the dean of the business school and a former chief learning officer at Goldman Sachs, is visiting New York this week and will meet with alumni.
Schools are also working harder to support current students. At Cornell's Johnson School of Business, a former dean and four former associate deans have volunteered to meet for advising appointments with interested students who now see their career paths changing. Most schools, though, stress the same message — expand your options. "There are many investment banks in other cities throughout the country — not everything is in New York," says Karin Ash, the director of the career-management center at Cornell. Traditionally, about 50 percent of business students at Cornell end up working in finance in New York. Next month, Cornell's career services is organizing a panel with 2002 alumni who will talk about finding employment in the last recession, says Ash.
Career office staff members are also trying to steer undergrads to alternative careers. Patricia Rose, director of career services at the University of Pennsylvania, deals with undergraduate business students along with students in other majors. Typically, Wharton sends about 50 percent of its undergraduates into investment banking. Rose says she's recommending Wharton students look into technology or public-service jobs, which are more plentiful than coveted finance jobs. "We are encouraging students to think more broadly," she says.
Other schools like the University of Chicago used the summer to plan ahead. After it became clear that Wall Street hiring would be off for interns and for the Class of 2009, the career office reached out to boutique and middle-market firms like William Blair & Co. and Perella Weinberg Partners to beef up finance recruitment, says Kole. "We sat down face-to-face with (people) at firms that are healthy and growing and implored them to think about their current hiring," says Kole.
The result? There are 40 new finance-related firms slated to come to Chicago's campus; they probably will be looking for one or two key recruits — not the 20 or so grads a typical large investment bank hired at the school in the past. But Chicago officials hope the number of new recruiters will make up for the smaller volume.
Interest in banking among current students is already down. Typically, more than 50 percent of the nearly 700-person graduating M.B.A. class at Columbia head into finance jobs — more than half of that group working in investment banking and brokerage. But, the day of the Lehman news, at an annual event called "Day in the Life of an Investment Bank" — which included much-touted networking opportunities for first-year M.B.A. students — attendance was down nearly 35 percent over years past.
At the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler School of Business, about 50 M.B.A. students are expected to make an annual visit to Wall Street this fall, instead of the 70 or so who made the trek in previous years, says Brandan Lingle, a second-year M.B.A. student who is organizing the trip.
Many students are even hesitant to search within the banking industry at all, says Al Catrone, career services director at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. "In a typical downturn the students will kind of clamor to us in career services and ask us to find other companies. ... This time around it's been so deep that students aren't even asking," says Catrone.