In one of my classes for my minor of BALA (Business and Liberal Arts), we are required to conduct an interview with a person in a position that we aspire to hold. The project entails much more than simply interviewing and it is a major to-do. I was stressed, not about the five page reflective essay about what I gleaned from the experience, but at the prospect of finding someone who would be willing to be interviewed by me, an unimpressive sophomore from a CUNY school; after all, people in this field are stereotypically arrogant. Many hours of Google research later, I sent out email requests to a multitude of people in finance related positions who worked in NYC (which, as you can imagine, is a lot. Finding their names was the easy part; tracking down their emails and contact information, on the other hand, was a nightmare.) After much waiting, I eventually received a reply from two individuals at vastly different institutions that for privacy purposes I will from here on out refer to as X and Y. X is a prestigious financial firm located amidst other wealthy institutions. Y is at a less central address and is a not-for-profit (exactly what it sounds like-they do not make a profit. A profit is the amount left over after you subtract expenses from revenue.)
While the assignment required one interview, I decided to conduct an interview with both people since they would each provide unique insights. In addition to being exhausted by the end of the week from commuting from Queens to Manhattan and back two days in a row after my classes, I came out being more informed about the diverse nature that exists in the finance world.
Coming to X, I was extremely nervous. While I do not wish to publicly say what company it was, I will say that it was a renowned institution with someone whose professional opinion is often sought by the media. I was told to dress smartly, and that I did: I donned a sweater shirt and black pencil skirt (both from Banana Republic, together costing no more than $20), a classic blazer (it was rather pricy, but I have worn it so many times that it was a worthwhile investment) and of course a pair of fancy heels. I thought I looked like a million bucks! When I looked around, I was both relieved and surprised that I fit right in. Everyone else was wearing essentially identical suits, each with a unique silk tie as a minute reflection of his personality.
I say this because for the most part, there were only men walking in and out of the building. I was appalled. For all that is done to prevent a certain field from being dominated by one gender, the ratio I calculated of women to men was around 1:8. Whenever I read the business section of the newspaper, the person discussed is almost always a male. I nonetheless had a glimmer of hope when I came to the building that the reality would be the opposite- that women would have an equally important role. Instead, as the revolving door turned, more and more men walked in and out, preparing for a meeting or taking a quick smoking break.
The amount of smokers around the building was astronomical. All the current attempts to rid smoking from society are surely negated by the incessant puffing I witnessed. The instant they left the building, they lit up their cigarettes. While I understand the unfortunate reality that some smokers are so addicted that they physically cannot stop, I find it rather ironic that financial advisors who help clients save and earn money are wasting their own on something that is so detrimental to their health.
Those who were not smoking were frantically checking their phones. At first I thought maybe they were playing an intense game of Candy Crush, but I later realized that many of them were still attending to business matters. As I soon learned from my interview, in prestigious financial institutions, one is always on the job.
Work at one of these high ranking financial firms entails a tremendous amount of diligence and drive. It is a high pressure environment, and unless you are truly passionate about your work and motivated to work yourself to the bone, you will not succeed. It is a cutthroat environment that is not meant for the weak of heart. If you do not put in 110%, someone else will put in 115% and beat you; the finance field thus functions as a microcosm for a dog eat dog world. The financial benefits are incredible, but receiving them ultimately comes at a price. In economics, we call this an opportunity cost- what will you give up in order to receive something else. When working in this pressurized work environment, you may get a terrific paycheck, but at a cost of not spending any time with your loved ones. Sacrifice and compromising your personal life is inherently part of this type of work. The person I interviewed, through his personal experiences and opinions, truly shed light on the significant highlights and lowlights that exist for those who work in the top firms.
What I witnessed at Y, the not-for-profit, was so different than X that I had to stifle a laugh. The ambience in the office space of this company was extremely modern and casual. Unlike the sterile, serious environment in X, Y was filled with bright colors in addition to workers who all clearly had their own unique identity; no one was wearing formal business attire, but rather garb that was interesting and creative. To call this area an office space is almost a misnomer because such a word connotes serious, silent working. Here, employees were indeed working, but in a setting that did not feel nearly as tense as in X. The people were friendly, an important quality considering the importance of teamwork for many tasks in Y; in X, independence and getting the job done on one’s own was of the utmost importance. Overall, the mood was not nearly as stressful as that in X. Y was also an important company with goals to achieve and deadlines to meet, but it employed a vastly different corporate culture than that of X.
My original goal was just to glean insights about the finance world from one interview. But by conducting not one, but two interviews at institutions that are polar opposites, I thoroughly achieved the mission of this project. People may attribute certain stereotypes to the finance field, but in reality, it is extremely broad. It is possible to work in a cutthroat environment where all of the work must be done on your own. Long hours and no fun, in the end, are justified by two types of people: those who are genuinely passionate about finance, and those who value rewarding paychecks above everything else (I interviewed the former type, which made for a terrific experience). On the other hand, it is possible to be involved with finance while still having a relatively stress-free time. It might entail a smaller paycheck, but peace of mind for many outweighs the debilitating stress that can come with huge companies. A place like Y also allows for learning and training-the person who I interviewed had majored in political science and communications (so she had no formal education in business). In X , however, you are thrown into the water and must fend for yourself. It is therefore crucial to know yourself and your limits. When you think of people who work in this field, know that in fact a broad range of people can work in finance.
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