Despite the view that the U.S. economy is sluggish and it's hard for new college graduates to get a job, financial services firms are hiring. In fact, top Wall Street companies are reaching out to the elite colleges in a huge way to bring in the best and brightest graduates whom they can groom to fit their cultures.
Campus recruiting at the top universities in computer science, engineering and other technology-related majors has become increasingly important for building a leading-edge capital markets firm, technology executives tell Wall Street & Technology. With the rise of social media, mobile apps and other innovative technologies, firms are looking to the colleges as a rich source of young IT talent.
When Blackstone Group, an investment and advisory firm known for its work in private equity and alternative asset management, hired William Murphy as its chief technology officer in September 2011, one of his first initiatives was to start an on-campus recruiting program. "I started a program on Day One," says Murphy, who targets the top tech schools on the East Coast, including Carnegie Mellon, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), the University of Pennsylvania (his alma mater) and, locally, the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J.
But searching for the best technology talent is not clear-cut. "It's not an exact science, and it's very competitive," acknowledges Murphy. "We're trying to compete for the folks who are going to dot-coms and Google and Facebook and the tech start-ups."
Finding good IT talent always is difficult, says Jeff Shoreman, COO of ConvergEx's Eze Castle Software, maker of the Eze OMS. "Hiring and retaining talent is probably one of our biggest challenges every year." Focusing its campus recruiting efforts in the New England region, Eze Castle hires graduates from colleges such as Bates and Bowdoin, and Brown and Yale in the Ivy League, as well as from technical schools such as Northeastern and Carnegie Mellon.
While financial services firms continue to hire more experienced professionals, hiring newly minted graduates has its advantages, Blackstone's Murphy notes. "Getting people out of school enables you to help grow their careers in the culture you want to build," he says.
Steve Rubinow, CIO of FX Alliance, a leading electronic marketplace for trading foreign exchange, admits that he likes to "steal away" top people at other firms. But, he says, "I love to hire bright young people who are inquisitive and have knowledge about computer technology. They are not encumbered by the old ways of doing things. They bring in fresh ways of thinking."
[Millennials May Be the Cure for the IT Talent Shortage in Financial Services.]
On Rubinow's list of go-to universities are the top-rated computer science schools -- the University of California at Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, Stanford, MIT and the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, his alma mater. But rather than hire the bottom of the class at these top schools, Rubinow suggests, it's also "logical" to hire the top of the class at the second-tier engineering schools. "There is a lot of competition at the MIT and Stanford levels, but I don't think there's anything wrong with going to the other schools and looking for their best and brightest," he argues.
Sapient Global Markets, a provider of consulting services to capital markets and commodities organizations, also is an active recruiter on college campuses. "I look at campus hiring as sort of the future in hiring good technology people," comments Ed Ryan, Sapient director of hiring in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific. In 2011, Sapient brought on 40 graduates from among 1,000 applicants from target universities in North America and Europe. After screening out those who didn't fit, Sapient interviewed the top tier, explains Ryan. "We hired the best people we could find and trained them up," he says.
But to fill its hiring needs, Sapient has to cast a wider net, since, Ryan says, fewer of the top students pursue the computer science major in the wake of the dot-com bust in 2000. As a result, Sapient hires from a broader population of majors. Ryan singles out Rice University for its strong energy program. "If I could hire someone at Rice, I would hire them based on their cognitive abilities," he explains.
Culture Over Code
Regardless of what degree they earn, or where they earn it, graduates must have certain skills to join Wall Street IT organizations. While capital markets CIOs and CTOs typically want IT candidates to know specific languages, however -- Java and C++ are the most prevalent in the capital markets, says FX Alliance's Rubinow -- the so-called hard IT skills are not the only sought-after skills. Today, with the emphasis on collaboration and team and fitting into a firm's culture, the so-called soft skills are gaining greater attention. "Good communication, operating under conflict and influence management are skills that no one will mention, but that are critical to managing a big company," insists Rubinow, who previously was the CIO of NYSE Euronext.
Several Wall Street CIOs downplayed the importance of knowing a specific computer language, contending that the students with the right aptitude can learn on the job. "The No. 1 thing we're looking for is the ability to learn and the ability to work hard," relates Blackstone's Murphy, who says he places more of an emphasis on team skills and aptitude, and less focus on, "Can they write 20 lines of code?" But, obviously, Murphy adds, candidates need to be able to do both.
And while a lot of people focus too much on a candidate's G.P.A., Murphy says he uses grades as a proxy for "Are they willing to work hard?" and not necessarily if they have the skills they need to work today. "We try to focus on people with a lot of raw ability and train them as we need to. It's less important that graduates have to know a specific algorithm than that they are someone you would want to sit next to eight hours a day," he relates.
"Basic computer science and other engineering-like problem-solving skills are the most important," Murphy continues. "The more hard coding skills and experience they have, the better. But the specific languages are not important."
Finally, Murphy says, he looks for people who can collaborate and who don't have a sense of entitlement. "People should be humble, and understand they have a lot to learn," he says. "Those are the real diamonds."
Sapient's Ryan notes that while Java and Microsoft .NET are "hot" languages, anyone with a visualization background and familiarity with apps and interfaces is a potential hire. Sapient even hired an English major "whose aptitude to learn and people skills are fantastic," Ryan says.