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What’s in Your Backpack?

Leo Murphy teaches Northwestern students how to use TT.

BACK TO SCHOOL! Parents breathe a sigh of relief as students begin their march into autumn. Time to fill backpacks with all the essentials: assignment books, dictionaries, calculators, pencils, flash drives and campus maps. The last thing a student wants to experience is to be in class and not have what they need.

But how does that backpack look at graduation? Do students have what it takes to make the move into today’s financial markets?

There’s no better time to load up on “market-ready” skills than when you begin your education. Just as every class has a syllabus with dates and deliverables, so too should a student’s education provide them with more than the required curriculum and a diploma. It should empower them to succeed. When it comes to finance, financial services and risk management, a student should be as prepared as possible for the marketplace.

So what’s in the backpack?

Calculators (i.e., the tools for problem solving): While there’s no doubt that finance students must have a solid foundation in topics such as investing, corporate finance and the money markets, today’s employers demand more. In finance, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education (or “STEM”) is a must—but it still needs support from those classes that make the STEM student well-rounded. Edward Ray, president of Oregon State University, said “Clearly, all successful careers require critical thinking, teamwork, sensitivity to cultural, demographic, economic and societal differences and political perspectives. A liberal arts education provides this grounding.” Mr. Ray reinforces his point by stating that a third of the Fortune 500 CEOs have liberal arts degrees. This underscores the fact that employers are looking for skilled, multi-faceted graduates and not one-trick ponies. In Forbes, Robert Farrington writes that “real world critical thinking skills” is one trait that employers need from today’s college graduates. His recommendation is to go beyond the campus and work, volunteer or become an intern.

Dictionary/Thesaurus (i.e., speaking the industry’s language): When it comes to speaking the language of business, and that means any business, coding is essential. Whether it is processing data, managing health records, banking, entertainment or just about any other facet of life, computer science is involved. People are beginning to realize that automation is not machine-focused but rather people-focused as it seeks to answer our problems and manage our solutions. When we talk about pure computer science (CS) jobs, the projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show a shortfall in supply for 2010-2020, but the bigger issue is whether the non-CS students understand how computer science applies to their career. Can they speak the language when (not “if”) asked, and do they understand how their education dovetails with technology? Monster’s career advice for finance students states it simply as “all-around IT skills.” With hardware and software in flux, employees need to be comfortable in an environment of change and not afraid of it.

Pencil and Pens (i.e., writing skills): Sure the English majors and those in the journalism school can write, but what about everyone else? The fact that finance, CS or engineering students will not be the next Dickens misses the point. These same students must be able to clearly and concisely communicate their ideas. I wonder how good some authors would be at the elevator pitch? To explain oneself in one page or less is no simple task. Carolyn O’Hara writes about this in the Harvard Business Review. She says “…knowing how to fashion an interesting and intelligent sentence is essential to communicating effectively, winning business and setting yourself apart.” She emphasizes that clarity and brevity are the key and suggests the following steps:

  • Think before you write: Plan your message.
  • Be direct: Get to the point as soon as possible.
  • Be brief: Don’t say in three words what can be said in one.
  • Avoid jargon: Industry-specific terms can be unavoidable, but too many can muddle the message.
  • Read what you write: Put yourself in your reader’s shoes. This is where real issues can be seen and ultimately corrected.

Campus Map (i.e., networking): A student needs to know how to engage the industry, and the best way to do that is to take advantage of any and all networking opportunities offered to them. Universities engage with the industry through advisory boards, corporate donors and technology providers. Through the TT CampusConnect™ program, we collaborate with universities by donating our trading software and providing support on campus. More importantly, TT CampusConnect builds a bridge for students to the financial services industry. I have had the opportunity to introduce students to the industry, field their inquiries and, in some cases, point them to potential employment.

In an article from the Chartered Association of Business Schools, Professor Zahir Irani emphasizes the importance of engaging alumni in what the university provides. He states, “…we’d want alumni to give something back to the next generations of students. Giving guest lectures and talks, acting as mentors for students, providing opportunities for placements, supporting professional ‘problem solving’ clinics, getting involved with practitioner research—it would all become part of a virtuous circle.”

There are also student organizations such as the International Finance Student Association (IFSA) that help students network with the finance industry.

So what’s in your backpack?

Posted by: Leo Murphy, TT CampusConnect™ Program Manager

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