Recruiting Lessons from the Financial Crisis

Conor Grennan, NYU Stern Dean of Students

So, pretty busy, right? I know. Classes, clubs, going out (sorry – “community building”), exploring the city…it all adds up.

And here comes recruiting season.

To give you some perspective on how to get through it all, I wanted to share a few thoughts from my own first semester. For this, we harken back to September 2008, when we, the fresh-faced MBA1s, were preparing to start our recruiting season.

So much energy and enthusiasm! New York City! World at our feet!

And then the economy collapsed around us, like that Lego tower you were trying to build during LAUNCH.

Just to take you inside that world for a moment:

The single biggest and most reliable employer of NYU Stern students was Lehman Brothers. Now there was no more Lehman Brothers.

Bank of America was in the process of buying Merrill Lynch, yet they still held their scheduled recruiting events – at the same time, no less – forcing students to choose which one to attend. (OCD never prepared us for those awkward conversations with bankers who were unsure of whether they would be keeping their own jobs, let alone able to offer us any.)

The number of internships contracted quickly – not just in banking (it was a time when the even the future of investment banking was unclear), but in other industries as well. Nobody knew which firms would make it through the crisis intact and hiring.

The faculty and administration were fantastic. They stepped up to address the climate. Professor Silber and others held off-hour discussions in classrooms talking about how this would affect the economy, the future of finance, and our prospects as MBAs.

But what I remember most about that time was something that the Dean of Students at the time, Gary Frasier, told us as we gathered for a special session on the new recruiting landscape.

Dean Frasier reminded us that the upcoming summer internship – for which we were all recruiting, about which we were all panicking – was just one small step in what would be a very long career. He told us that when Stern admitted each one of us, they were choosing students who could handle a crisis. They were choosing students who were not simply blindly running after one industry, but who could adjust to the rising and falling waves of the economy.

Most importantly, he reminded us that we would have many jobs in our post-MBA life, and this one would not define us. In five years, the majority of us would no longer even be in the same job.

I don’t know if that helped anyone in that moment. Probably not.

Still, at the end of my two years, I saw a lot of my friends in jobs that they loved, because they had been forced to look outside traditional recruiting.

All this is to say: This semester, you’ll find a balancing act that works for you. You’ll become a better time manager, you’ll be tired at times and frustrated at times. You’ll have highs and lows and come to rely on your classmates, which will bond you guys for a lifetime.

But through all that, remember that this semester is not going to make or break your career, even though sometimes it will feel that way. That feeling is just that – a feeling.

This is one step, and not even close to the most important step. It’s just one.

Remember: This semester is supposed to be hard. It’s supposed to be tiring. It’s supposed to be draining at times, and it’s supposed to have ups and downs. When those things happen, try to remind yourself that you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. You are experiencing exactly what thousands of alumni before you have already experienced.

You’ll get through it. You’re going to knock it out of the park.

Then, in a few years, when you’re fabulously famous and wealthy, you’ll come back to the school to commemorate the new wing that they’re naming after you. We can sit and have a coffee and reminisce about this crazy first semester. And then I’ll finally be able to look you in the eye and say I told you so.

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