Students brave uncertainty, pursue careers outside major

By Jay Bensal

From an early age, Suman Patel knew he wanted to pursue a career in finance. But unlike most business students who spend their time discussing pivot tables, corporate valuations and financial models at BIF and Wohlers, most of Patel’s classes are north of Green Street, in the Materials Science and Engineering Building.

“When I was deciding my major, it was really important to me to build out my skill set, or my toolbox,” Patel said. “I didn’t see myself as pigeonholed into a single major or career, but rather I want to develop skills that will benefit me regardless of my career path.”

According to Jana Lithgow, the interim director of undergraduate advising with Business Career Services, Patel’s choice isn’t unusual.

“Major is simply one path to career. There are very few industries in which you have to major in something in order to do that job effectively,” Lithgow said. “You can be a student in any major and still develop the skills and get the experience you need that would lead you to what you want to do in your career.”

Investment banking is a career path that has a wide variety of exit opportunities for young professionals, Patel said. Many banks and analyst positions are structured so that new graduates have a disparate range of opportunities available to them after successfully completing two years as an analyst. Potential fields include private equity, hedge funds, venture capital, consulting, startups and more.

However, being an engineer trying to break into the close-knit, relationship-driven world of finance and investment banking doesn’t come without its challenges.

In December, Patel published a blog post on Medium that received over 7,000 views from across the country. In his post, Patel wrote about his own journey and career ambitions and shared a few details about his job search as an engineer from the University caught in between two coasts. According to his article, while seeking out an internship position, Patel sent out over 1,300 emails and scheduled 132 networking phone calls or meet-ups.

On a few of these networking phone calls, Patel has been asked difficult technical questions by his interviewer right off the bat, forcing him to validate his interest and financial ability, which is abnormal for these short discussions. However, because of the competitive nature of investment banking application processes, interviewers need to gauge interest and ability quickly.

Rob Metzger is the director of the Investment Banking Academy (IBA) on campus. IBA is a selective program that prepares students for careers in investment banking. The program has accepted a growing number of engineers in recent years as class sizes have grown.

“Generally, engineers start slightly behind the curve because they haven’t taken finance or accounting courses, but these students are self-starters and make up that ground on their own outside of class. Once they do, they do really well,” Metzger said. “Investment banks look to hire the best and brightest students, and many engineers fall into that category because they’ve gone through a stringent engineering curriculum — to the extent they have good grades and are leaders on campus. IBA helps students get into the flow, and our goal is to serve as a significant enabler for them.”

While engineering students face a range of challenges, their background can also yield some benefits. Their engineering coursework often gives students knowledge that creates unique opportunities for them when applied to business.

Neal Sarraf, senior in Engineering and current IBA student, gravitated toward investment banking after starting his engineering curriculum and discovering his own interest in the intersection of business and technology.

“I’ve always been interested in understanding how the technologies behind technology firms work, but I’m also interested in the business aspect of technology and how to sell and market those ideas,” Sarraf said. “Solving large-scale business problems isn’t something you learn about in strictly engineering classes, so this gives me access to the best of both worlds.”

[email protected]