Jon graduated from the College of William and Mary with a Bachelor's degree in geology and economics and worked as a geologist (primarily in the petroleum industry) for about five years. He then returned to the University of Virginia to earn an MBA. He currently works for a major Wall Street investment bank. His job responsibilities consist of advising clients on strategic transactions such as mergers and acquisitions and joint ventures; helping companies to raise funds in the equity and debt capital market, and providing other financial services such as commodities hedging and risk management.
Desirable Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities
Although Jon specializes in energy investment banking, his education in geoscience has little direct application to his work. His experience working in the petroleum industry, he says, gives him some credibility with industry executives, but is otherwise not particularly relevant. However, Jon sees many of the skills he learned as an undergraduate, studying geology and economics, as essential to his success in investment banking.
Geologists and economists, Jon argues, have to analyze very complex systems on the basis of incomplete information. Moreover, they have to be able to develop and communicate a coherent interpretation and viewpoint, from that limited data. These skills transfer very directly to the world of financial services, where Jon finds himself using them every day. The economy is a very complex system, and it's impossible to know everything about it at any given time. Nonetheless, it's Jon's job to develop a viewpoint on the market - a prediction of where it will go, both in the near future and over longer time scales - and to advise his clients on the basis of that viewpoint. In a sense, Jon does for the financial market what climate scientists do for the Earth's climate: they're all working to predict future behavior, based on the past and on their understanding of the behavior of the system.
In addition to his skills in data analysis and interpretation, Jon finds other aspects of his liberal arts undergraduate education were valuable training for his current career. At William and Mary, he began to develop his abilities to do research, to work independently, and to develop and communicate a viewpoint. In particular, his senior thesis project in geology provided excellent practical experience in conducting and presenting independent research. At the same time, he was learning teamwork skills, working on collaborative projects for a variety of classes. All of these are skills he uses in his job on a daily basis.
Advice to Job Applicants
Jon has participated in the interview process for about one hundred applicants to his firm. He emphasizes that they are not looking to hire graduates from any specific discipline; rather, they are looking for employees with core skills. He refers to such applicants as "natural athletes": the candidates who can solve analytical problems, who exhibit leadership and communication skills, who exude confidence, and who are hard-working.
The most important factors for success in investment banking, in Jon's opinion, are endurance and a strong work ethic. It's a very demanding field, he says, particularly for new employees; they can expect to work seven days a week, from 10-16 hours a day, and need to be able to do so mostly on their own. It's not a career one chooses for a relaxed lifestyle - but it does have its rewards, he says.
Reflections on the Value of an Education in Geoscience
Although one can come into the field of investment banking from many different directions, Jon does see some advantages he had because of his background in geoscience. For example, he points out, in geoscience one learns to understand complex systems, and even to understand the interactions of intersecting complex systems with each other. In addition, one learns to think creatively. This is particularly helpful when one is asked to make decisions based on incomplete data, or to predict the behavior of a complex system without knowing all of the relevant information. These skills are non-trivial, require a lot of practice to hone, and are extremely valuable in the financial industry, just as they are in geoscience.