The student sits anxiously in a waiting room in the Leavey Center, clad in a black suit, grasping a fresh copy of The Wall Street Journal, and anticipating the set of technical questions and brainteasers that lie on the other side of the door.

Banker and trader hopefuls repeatedly find themselves in this position during February’s prime interview season, when major financial services firms visit Georgetown for on-campus recruiting. And for some McDonough School of Business students, the undergraduate curriculum doesn’t make the process any less stressful.

Finance major Brent Gunderson (MSB ’10) recalls the anxieties he felt before his first investment banking interview as a junior.

“I was interviewing for an internship with [a prominent investment bank’s] global market solutions group, but I didn’t know what `global market solutions’ meant,” Gunderson said. “I got job offers because I researched companies and educated myself . on my own time. But a lot of students end up going into interviews not only unprepared, but having no idea what they’re getting into.”

This feeling of unpreparedness is pervasive among some MSB students majoring in finance, who make up 64 percent of the business school’s student body.

Kate Sterne (MSB ’11), also a finance major, said that her courses are not geared toward preparing her for interviews, which quiz candidates on their knowledge of technical financial concepts as well as test students’ ability to work under pressure. Though Sterne acknowledged that professors should not “turn classes into interview practice sessions,” she said that the interview process is stressful enough as it is.

“The last thing we should have to worry about is whether or not we’ve learned the right financial analytical tools we need for interviews before spring of junior year. We shouldn’t be learning this stuff in class during or after interviews . we should be learning it earlier,” Sterne said.

This trend may be reflected in the school’s academic rankings. Business Week’s 2010 annual report ranked Georgetown the 23rd best undergraduate business school in the country, losing out to the usual suspects – such as University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton and University of California-Berkeley’s Haas – but also to some underdogs. Back in 2008, when Georgetown’s MSB was ranked 19th in the country, the undergraduate business schools at the University of Richmond, Wake Forest, Miami University of Ohio, Carnegie Mellon and Babson all received lower ratings than Georgetown, according to Business Week. But over the past two years, all five schools have moved up in the rankings, surpassing Georgetown.

Despite lagging behind in the overall rankings, the business school has made strides in specific categories this year, boasting a 79 percent placement rate after graduation, and an “A+” from Business Week in the category of job placement – up from a “C” in 2009. Georgetown’s undergraduate business program also tied for second in overall starting salaries – $60,000 per year – only to be beaten by MIT, and tied with Wharton and Carnegie Mellon.

According to MSB professors and students alike, two main issues lie behind any shortcomings in interview readiness: a gap in communication between students and faculty regarding the curriculum and the curriculum itself. The curriculum is structured so that students often find themselves taking applicable finance classes too late in the game – classes that would have been helpful in finance interviews if taken earlier. And often, students do not know that they should take these classes sooner rather than later.

A pamphlet from the MSB Dean’s Office states that the undergraduate program consists of a strong core of both business and liberal arts classes during the first and second years in order to teach students how to think and reason. This means that the focus does not shift to business courses until the junior and senior years, which proves to be problematic for students like Marco Gomez (MSB ’10).

“[You] have to take business school core requirements, like calculus, micro [economics], macro [economics] and BFM [Business Financial Management],” Gomez said.  “But you can’t take micro without calculus, you can’t take macro without micro, and you can’t take BFM without all three, plus an OPIM [Operations Information Management] class, too.”

Gomez was not able to start taking finance classes until his junior year – the same year he had to declare his finance major.

According to professor Lynn Doran, the MSB does offer classes that effectively prepare finance students for interviews, such as Business Financial Management and Advanced Financial Management, both of which Doran has taught.

“AFM helps the most, especially with technical questions,” she said.

Though Doran believes Georgetown’s business school is offering all of the classes it should be, she “absolutely [sees] a gap in advising – in the student knowledge of what they should be taking when – and what’s actually happening,” she said.

Doran went on to explain that students do not soon enough realize the importance of taking Advanced Financial Management, a course that teaches students how to apply corporate finance theory through case studies. Business Financial Management is the only prerequisite for taking upper-level finance courses in the MSB, and “since finance courses aren’t structured in a particular order, once you take BFM, you can take any finance course – and you might not choose the one that best prepares you for your interviews,” Doran explained.

BFM is classified as a business core class, which the typical four-year course model on the MSB Web site suggests can be taken anytime from the fall of a student’s sophomore year up until the spring semester of junior year.

Tico del Castillo (MSB ’10) also acknowledged the communication problem.

“There’s no official source telling you that you need to take these classes at a certain time. You just find out from other students,” he said.

In fact, the only “official” advice as to when a student should take Business Financial Management can be found on a handout in the MSB Dean’s Office, which states that students should have taken the class by senior year, thus rendering it impossible for students to take Advanced Financial Management before interviewing for positions during the spring of their junior year.

Fortunately for Georgetown business students, the administration is catching on.  Christopher O’Brien (MSB ’10) calls Norean R. Sharpe, the new undergraduate dean as of July 2009, “the MSB’s Obama – she’s all about hope and change.”

Indeed, Dean Sharpe and Curriculum Committee Chairman Pietra Rivoli are leading a re-sequencing of the undergraduate curriculum, including a shift that would encourage students to take Business Financial Management the spring of their sophomore year.  “This way, students will have exposure to finance before deciding on their majors, and those that do decide on finance will be able to take AFM their junior fall before beginning the interview process,” Sharpe said.

Things are already looking up. In its 2010 survey, Business Week ranked Georgetown’s MSB No. 29 in terms of student satisfaction – quite a jump from its 2009 ranking of No. 72.

“I have been working hard to make myself both visible and accessible to students . and taking the time to listen to their input,” Dean Sharpe said in an e-mail.

Before the curriculum restructuring goes into effect, which will most likely occur next fall, Georgetown’s Career Education Center, which provides services to students of all majors, will continue to “play an integral role in preparing students for interviews across all industries, including finance,” Executive Director Mike Schaub said in an e-mail.

The Career Education Center also offers guides from Web sites like Vault.com, which many finance majors deem helpful in providing practice for specific interview questions – especially technical questions that are typically asked of candidates in finance interviews.

However, the majority of top undergraduate business schools, such as University of Pennsylvania, Villanova and Notre Dame, also offer another academic training program called Training the Street. This private training group teaches “the valuation and financial modeling methods used by Wall Street professionals” in both corporate and academic settings, according to its Web site, and is employed by prominent companies and banks to train their employees.

“I took a three-day Training the Street crash course during my internship last summer,” Gunderson said. “Georgetown should really offer this. TTS looks great on your resume because it means that you’ve done applicable things in an academic setting that the people who are interviewing you do during their job.”

In the end, the question still remains: Is it an advanced curriculum, effective advising, extra workshops or just pure brain power that gets undergraduate finance students where they want to go? According to Gunderson, “It’s a lot of studying, a lot of luck and a little bit of madness.”

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