It’s the Winter Quarter of your sophomore year — banking recruitment season. You wake up to a day filled with networking calls, studying technicals and keeping your GPA up. All the added extracurricular pressure has you struggling to find time to complete work for your classes and maintain a balanced social life with friends.
Many Northwestern students go through this rigorous recruitment process to land elite business jobs after college. The process is informed by various factors including personal connections and industry background knowledge. Acceptance into some of Northwestern’s elite business clubs awards access to exclusive resources and connections that can heavily influence job recruitment.
Northwestern’s business clubs range in size and exclusivity. Northwestern University’s Investment Banking Club (IBC), Investment Management Group (IMG), and parts of the Institute for Student Business Education (ISBE) are often considered the most competitive, as are co-ed business fraternities Alpha Kappa Psi (AKPsi) and Delta Sigma Pi (DSP).
According to the IBC website, the organization prepares its members to take advantage of recruitment opportunities by providing access to private recruiting events, invite-only office visits and alumni mentoring.
Similarly, the AKPsi website says the group’s goal is to build a supportive community of driven individuals with a shared interest in business. ISBE is the largest student-run business organization at Northwestern and aims to provide its members with business education and opportunities within its seven focused sectors.
IBC focuses on pre-professional development, guiding members through the junior year internship recruitment process, while business fraternities like AKPsi and DSP have an additional social element. IMG and ISBE work to foster students’ experiences in the finance industry. The benefits of club membership motivate students to endure the competitive recruitment process.
“They do a really good job at simulating what the actual workforce looks like and what the actual finance recruitment process looks like,” says Jessica Hu, Weinberg second-year and member of DSP, IBC and ISBE.
These business clubs give their members a leg up in the interview process by imparting the esoteric knowledge needed for job recruitment in their members. Additionally, members gain the intangible advantage of connections with peers and employees at elite companies who provide assistance during recruitment.
Northwestern sociology professor Bruce Carruthers says the connections and factual information about career opportunities in finance are not widely circulated, so if a student is plugged into the proper networks, they are at a significant advantage.
The goal of most exclusive business clubs is to have all members receive junior summer internships at impressive companies — internships that often turn into jobs following graduation.
Receiving an offer from one of these companies typically requires hours of networking with employees at different businesses and memorizing possible technical questions for interviews. The veteran club members guide new members through this grueling recruitment process. How did they accrue this knowledge? An intense recruitment of their own.
“Recruitment, as you’ve probably heard, it’s pretty horrible. It’s a terrible time of your life,” says Rohan Gudivaka, Weinberg third-year and member of AKPsi and the IBC executive board.
Weinberg third-year Nina Petrouski, who is also a member of AKPsi and the IBC executive board, says she was told to prepare to sacrifice most of her social life when she was recruiting last Winter Quarter.
“It just never leaves your mind. You’re always thinking about it. You’re always checking your emails. You’re always in go mode,” Petrouski says.
Although the experience was taxing, Petrouski says membership in the clubs helped her immensely throughout the internship recruitment process. She explained how AKPsi and IBC taught her the unspoken rules of business, introduced her to networking and gave her access to exclusive interview question banks and job information sessions. Clubs gain this information from current students who have already received offers and alumni working at these elite banks and firms.
But what does this mean for people who want to go through finance recruiting but are not members of these clubs?
Often, admission to the clubs can feel as selective as companies themselves.
Weinberg second-year Becky* explains the rigor of her IBC recruitment process.
“IBC did three back-to-back interviews. Before you even got to that point, you had to put in an application, and you had to network with two people in IBC. Then you had to do a phone screening and the IBC super day,” Becky* says.
After all of this, Becky* was told by the IBC presidents that, while she was not accepted to the club, she could come to club meetings. When she and other seemingly half-rejected members went, they were lectured and given quizzes, despite not having access to the same resources as members. The presidents also made it clear IBC was not to go on their resume.
Eventually, Becky* stopped going to these meetings and joined other more accessible finance organizations with tangible benefits.
“It made you think, ‘If I can’t even get into a club for this, how am I supposed to get an actual real-life job,’” she says.
Weinberg second-year Dan Buzali is a member of the Hispanic Finance Association. He went through the recruitment process without being in any of the most competitive business clubs and landed an internship at Blackstone, an elite private equity firm, for the summer prior to his graduation. He says he kept himself on track with recruiting and forged industry connections on his own.
Buzali says participating in a program at McKinsey, an elite consulting firm, after his freshman year helped him get a foot in the door in the finance world. He found out about the McKinsey opportunity from an older student who had successfully landed prestigious positions in finance and mentored him throughout the recruitment process.
“I think the general culture [around recruiting] is fairly competitive and aggressive. But I also know that I’ve had a lot of great experiences with people who were willing to help each other,” Buzali says.
While he prepared a lot on his own, Buzali says he also worked with friends. He explains that most people use the same guides to prepare for interviews and that if you know the right people, even friends who are in the clubs, it is not difficult to find prep guides.
Becky* took a similar approach to Buzali and mentions the role LinkedIn played in her job search.
“LinkedIn stalking was actually something that I did a lot, and it really helps because these people really want to help you,” Becky* says.
Still, reaching out to alumni or professionals in the field without a previous connection is hard for many students. And while it’s true that Northwestern’s prestige helps many of its students acquire higher-level job opportunities, this is not always enough in the world of finance.
“The elite status of the investment banking firms is fed by the elite educational status of the people who they recruit. So there’s this kind of mutually affirming elite status,” Carruthers says.
Carruthers explains how, while Northwestern students all have a huge advantage, aspects of people’s personal backgrounds and campus experiences create another level of privilege. Students from a higher socioeconomic status are more likely to have connections coming into school, helping them gain admission to these elite clubs.
“The only way you can best position yourself is by having upperclassmen friends that have gone through it –– it’s so unfair,” Hu says.
Gudivaka says his older brother, a Northwestern graduate, helped connect him with friends in business clubs on campus when he began his freshman year.
“I would have had no idea that like 90% of the clubs existed without talking to them,” he says.
Personal background and prior knowledge influence students’ experiences with business organizations and job opportunities at Northwestern. For those who are not accepted to one of these elite clubs or do not know they exist, Buzali seems to have found an answer: asking for help.
“I feel like I’ve seen a lot of people get discouraged by rejections from the clubs, or I’ve had friends who the pressure of being in the clubs kind of gets to them,” Buzali says. “It’s not for everyone, and for those who don’t land there, I hope they are aware that there are other resources, and they should still be looking to reach out to other students on campus and find alternative support systems.”
As intimidating as blindly asking for help may sound, Becky* agrees it is a valuable option for students looking to break into the industry.
“So many people were in your shoes,” she says. “If you realize that you want to get into banking, a lot of people at Northwestern will just be open to help you.”
*Names have been changed to preserve anonymity.