When applying to 120 consulting, investment banking and trading firms this fall, fourth-year student Zack Shalvarjian felt unprepared for the recruiting process.
As a mathematics/economics student at UCLA, he said it was difficult to apply the theoretical concepts he learned in his classes to specific real-world scenarios he was asked about during interviews.
“I didn’t have a good sense of what businesses actually do because in my classes we never looked at specific case studies,” he said. “I felt like I was at a disadvantage compared to people who were business majors from USC or UC Berkeley, who had taken classes on finance and marketing, and looked at real-world examples of how businesses actually work.”
Shalvarjian was able to make up for his lack of practical classroom knowledge through internships and networking but said he would have highly benefited from a more applied degree.
While some students think that pre-professional degrees are the best way to obtain practical job skills, counselors stress that it is vital for students to gain this practical knowledge like Shalvarjian did, through internships and not from the classroom.
“Your degree is not going to get you a job. Even if you are a business major, without practical experience, you will not be hired,” said Debbie Bernstein, director for college advising at USC. “Professional schools prepare students for specific professions, but you don’t need those majors to work in that field.”
Bernstein said she emphasizes that a student’s major can be separate from what they plan to do after they graduate.
“A student’s major is not a finite destination but a launching off point,” said Karol Johansen, counselor supervisor for pre-professional services at the UCLA Career Center.
The skills obtained in any liberal arts degree such as strong writing skills, the ability to think analytically and communicate well are vital in all fields, Johansen said.
Next year, Shalvarjian will be an analyst at Analysis Group, an economics consulting firm, working on econometrics modeling, a way to model economic principles using quantitative and statistical methods. Though he will be able to utilize knowledge from courses he took at UCLA on econometrics at his job, for a wide variety of jobs he applied to, Shalvarjian said these skills were not applicable.
For students who want to strengthen their industry experience, Johansen said the best way to do this is with an internship.
“A UCLA degree combined with an internship is a very dynamic combination,” she said.
Completing several internships is the best way to gain industry experience and will help students narrow down what they are looking for in a job, Bernstein said.
Shalvarjian said his internship at a financial planning firm last summer was crucial in securing a full time job for next year.
“I wouldn’t have gotten a job if I didn’t have any experience,” he said.
Through his internship, Shalvarjian said he learned valuable skills about the business world he could never have obtained in the classroom, including learning how to interact with people in a professional setting, and how to pick up skills quickly by observing others.
“It’s a different way of learning than taking notes in class and studying them. You have to learn things very quickly and apply them immediately,” he said.
Though Shalvarjian said the skills he learned during his internship were extremely beneficial, he said that if he had been able to take more applied business classes, he would have a stronger business intuition and been better equipped to answer interview questions such as how to value a company or hone in on a problematic part of a company.
“I would have liked to be able to more directly apply what I have learned in school to the business world,” he said.
Much of what Shalvarjian said he learned about the business world came from talking to friends, family, and from visiting the UCLA Career Center.
Johansen said networking is one of the best ways to learn about industries.
“Talking to family members, friends, or alumni will give students great insight into whether a particular job is right for them,” she said. “Students need to be their own advocates and talk to as many people as they can because you never know where a job opportunity will come from.”