How has the job market in Silicon Valley and Wall Street changed since fifteen years ago? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
The last fifteen years have seen tremendous change in the job market, especially for new college graduates, across Silicon Valley, Wall Street and beyond. I'm fortunate to have had a front row seat throughout that colorful period, which has witnessed the resurgence of Wall Street (and the tech industry) following both the dotcom bubble and the financial crisis; the birth of game-changing companies like Facebook, and the disappearance of the once-mighty (Lehman Brothers).
Over this span of time, the recruiting landscape across these industries has changed in three distinct but interconnected ways:
It is more competitive.
It is more egalitarian.
And it is more diverse.
Getting ahead as an organization on Wall Street or in Silicon Valley arguably boils down to one simple objective: amassing more intellectual firepower under your roof than your competitors can.
That simple dynamic has produced a perpetually escalating 'arms race' between competing firms to land the best talent.
Not only does that dynamic exist among Wall Street firms and among tech firms independently; for of talent (especially in the areas of systems engineering and data science), Wall Street and Silicon Valley compete directly with one another.
Significant absolute growth in these industries has also been an important contributor. When I joined Goldman Sachs in the mid-1990s (during a multi-year period of economic expansion) the firm had fewer than 15,000 employees worldwide. Today it has around 35,000. Facebook, meanwhile, didn't even exist 15 years ago; today it hires thousands of engineers each year.
The result of all this is that recruiting timeframes for college-level talent in these industries have moved earlier and earlier - both in terms of when, on the calendar, most recruiting activity takes place and at what point in their college careers companies are actively seeking to engage students.
The main battlefield on which this 'war for talent' is being fought is in the area of internship recruiting, the preferred mechanism for leading employers to hire full-time, entry-level candidates. By creating a 'try before you buy' opportunity for employer and candidate alike, the journey from intern to full-time hire is substantially de-risked for both.
Interviewing for internships typically used to take place in the January-February timeframe of candidates' junior (penultimate) year of college. Over the last few years, however, timeframes have moved earlier and earlier, with top firms perpetually seeking to steal the march on one another in getting to the best candidates first. Consequently, internship selection for top firms now occurs mostly in the September-October timeframe, four to five months earlier than before. In some cases, candidates coming through early engagement programs of one type or another (many of which are aimed at underrepresented demographic groups, as we'll see below) are securing summer internship offers more than a year in advance of the internship commencing.
This, in turn, has led to earlier and earlier outreach to candidates. A casual look through the websites of leading companies in these industries reveals a significant proliferation of 'early access'-type programs aimed at sophomores, freshmen, even high school students.
All of this serves to illustrate how crucial it is for students aspiring to work in top finance and tech firms to start their planning and preparation early in their college careers in order to get access to the best opportunities.
A natural consequence of the ever-increasing competition for top talent between firms has been that they've been impelled to look further afield to find it. If your plan as a top employer with a significant hiring appetite is to visit a handful of putatively 'elite' schools to hire all your entry level talent, you will lose - and it doesn't matter who you are.
Until recently, this produced an acute challenge for many employers. It was very difficult to include candidates in the recruiting funnel in a way that was both efficient and fair without physically visiting the campus where they were studying. But radically increasing the number of campuses you're going to visit is no simple proposition, even for the largest and most generously resourced employers.
Luckily, the proliferation over the past few years of specialized video interviewing platforms, as well as various forms of testing and assessment, have leveled the playing field considerably. The result of this is that talented students at less well known universities have never been better positioned to receive fair consideration for top jobs. At our firm, for example, we've specifically designed our selection process at the college level to be essentially blind to the question of what school a student attends. If you are getting good grades in college - no matter which one - and have achieved strong standardized test scores in high school (SAT, ACT or equivalent) you will be invited to participate in our first round interview process. We just want the best talent. Simple as that.
Similarly, for firms hiring software engineers - either in the tech industry itself or within the huge technology divisions of leading finance firms - if you can pass a demanding coding test they don't care where you learned the skills necessary to do so. may not even care if you have a college degree at all.
As firms continue to build expertise in identifying early markers of future potential, the hiring process will be democratized further in the coming years.
Few themes have been so central in recruiting and hiring in the finance and technology industries over the last twenty years as the drive by leading firms to .
There have been several factors behind this, not the least of which is that the customers of both technology and finance firms demand and expect them to build diverse workforces. Moreover, where there was once an assumption that hiring people with similar backgrounds would be conducive to building team cohesiveness, that has been superseded by an appreciation that this leads to groupthink and a lack of creativity. Indeed, by McKinsey and others have found that companies with diverse workforces routinely outperform their less diverse competitors.
In many respects, the pursuit of talented students from demographic groups that have historically been underrepresented in the finance and tech industries (women, for one, as well as black and Latino students in the United States) has been one of the central factors driving the altered recruiting timeframe and competitive dynamics I've described above.
For if talented students generally are in high demand and limited supply, those from historically underrepresented demographic groups are in even higher demand and shorter supply.
Early outreach programs aimed at these groups of students have in fact been one of the main catalysts for the overall shift in recruiting timeframes to their present spot on the calendar. A few years ago, when most internship hiring occurred in January and February, several firms - in banking, at least - began introducing accelerated interview programs aimed at female, black and Latino candidates that occurred at some point in the Sep-Nov timeframe. After a couple of cycles of that, eventually the dam burst and the whole recruiting timeframe seemed to move to the third and fourth quarter for most firms.
The result of all this is that students from the aforementioned groups are now among the most heavily recruited in the United States, at least within the Wall Street and Silicon Valley arenas, even as much remains to be done to get top employers to where they need to be in this regard.
For everyone, though, there are more jobs, there is more access, and there is more competition. We will see what the next 15 years will bring.
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