Prestige, Money, or Google Didn’t Hire Me: Why Do Ivy League Grads Really Work on Wall Street?

by Derek Loosvelt | June 03, 2014

If you’ve accepted a job with a Wall Street bank or are considering working for one in the near future, you’ll want to listen to what Kevin Roose has to say. Roose is the author of “Young Money,” a book detailing his time following eight investment bankers described as “a searing portrait of confused kids getting what they thought they wanted and, in most cases, finding themselves truly miserable, and even a little broken by the experience.” In a recent Q&A with Vox, Roose made some interesting points about who’s joining Wall Street these days and why, as well as how a career on Wall Street can harm you—forever.

As for who’s currently joining the ranks of bulge-bracket investment banks, Roose says it’s not the money-hungry, risky, and adventurous youth at the top schools in the country but the prestige-minded, risk-averse, and frightened.

We think of Wall Street as being full of these crazy risk takers. But in a lot of schools it's these scared organization kids going to Wall Street. One thing Wall Street does that's really smart is they actually tell you way earlier than other industries if you got a job. They'll let you lock the job down in the fall of your senior year. So you can take that job on Wall Street or you can gamble on getting something after you graduate … The lesson of that is you don't have to pay people a ton of money to come to your program after college if what you're giving them still offers prestige and structure and the sense that they're not signing up for something forever.

In other words, it’s not so much the money but the safety and prestige that drives Ivy League grads to Wall Street. However, that prestige is dwindling, in part due to the financial crisis and ensuing financial collapse, which caused banks to become safer, less interesting, less powerful machines, with severely tarnished reputations. In addition, the prestige of Wall Street has fallen due to the rise in prestige of another industry: technology.

I should also say that I think the bigger factor in causing disillusionment among young people is the rise of Silicon Valley and other parts of the economy growing much faster than Wall Street … College students basically want a couple of things out of their job. They want money. They want structure. And they want respect when they tell people where they work. And Google now has that in a way the banking industry doesn't. There's a lot of risk aversion in that. You get the sex appeal and allure of the tech industry without taking on the personal risk of starting your own company.

That is, although a job with Google is more prestigious than one with Goldman Sachs, it’s still a safe bet, and the real risk takers are doing this: starting their own businesses. Which is where the real money is and where the real prestige is (at least, where it can be if your venture doesn’t flop).

In any case, the type of blue-blooded graduates that once joined Goldman, Morgan Stanley, and other top Wall Street banks are now joining Google, Apple, Facebook, and Twitter.

[The] geek contingent—the stereotypical socially awkward hackers—is no longer the dominant phenotype of Silicon Valley. Now it's people who are well adjusted, good looking graduates of elite institutions. It's gone from weirdos in pocket protectors to the guys who used to go to Wall Street … I talked to one guy who's a former Goldman Sachs guy who left to go to the tech industry who said the adage in the tech world now is "be wary when the pretty people show up."

Young bankers who envision themselves working in the tech world someday should also be wary. According to Roose, banking might not be the stepping-stone they’re looking for and, in fact, might ruin their chances of ever working for the likes of Facebook and Google.

I've spoken to tech recruiters who say they only hire bankers in their first year or two because after that banking ruins them … It makes them too risk-conscious. It gets them used to a standard of lifestyle they may not be able to replicate in any other industry. And it has a deleterious effect on creativity. Of the eight people I followed, a few came out very damaged by the experience. And not in a way a vacation can cure. It's not about having bags under your eyes. It destroys your ability to think in creative ways about what it means to build something of value.

And so, current and wannabee Wall Street bankers, consider yourselves warned.

Follow me @VaultFinance.

Read More:
How Wall Street recruits so many insecure Ivy League grads (Vox)
Harvard Class of ’14: The Interesting, the Disappointing, the Disturbing (Vault)
Why Goldman Sachs’ New Saturdays-Off Policy Won't Work (Vault)

Filed Under: Finance | Job Search


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