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Elitism of finance, consulting clubs hinders sense of community among business students

Business groups such as Bruin Consulting enjoy connections with numerous recruiters, but are arbitrarily exclusive in who they allow into their inner circles, brewing an exclusive culture. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Selby Kia

February 27, 2019 10:23 pm

Prospective students come to UCLA after constantly being told how open and welcoming the campus is to students with different backgrounds. Building a community, we’re told, is as simple as banding together with like-minded people your age.

Too bad it’s a group of elitist clubs if you’re interested in consulting or finance.

Students eager to break into business or finance can pad their resumes with membership in pre-professional groups, such as Bruin Consulting, Bruin Asset Management and UConsulting. These groups can allow students to improve their knowledge of the industry and gain experience working with club members to solve real clients’ problems.

These career-developing clubs recruit twice a year, during which interested students can apply by submitting their resume through the clubs’ websites. If the clubs like what they see, the applicant is invited to a coffee chat, which can be followed by one or more interview rounds.

Analytical skills, leadership skills and personal qualities like ambition are often taken into account. Bruin Consulting’s website, for example, offers a vague description that applies to most UCLA students – which is made evident by the high volume of applicants.

“We look for candidates who are enthusiastic and tenacious about solving puzzles, who yearn to succeed as individuals and as part of a team,” the site reads.

Unfortunately, these finance and business clubs often split hairs between who gets in and who doesn’t based on who they know and whether they appear career ready. This discourages perfectly qualified and interested students from joining the field and gaining valuable experience in the process.

The clubs’ lack of transparency in what they are looking for in applicants breeds a culture of exclusivity among finance- and business-interested students. Membership in these clubs almost seems to boil down to who you know and what you can offer their existing cultures, not your capacity to grow or your skillset. While this behavior might mimic the network-heavy emphasis of the business world, we should expect better from campus student groups.

Students applying to clubs like UConsulting are evaluated on hard factors, such as GPA and analytical skills, but also on soft skills, such as how well they fit within a group’s culture, their ability to take initiative and their enthusiasm. However, students do not have many opportunities to showcase this, given there is only one information session per quarter – which often overlaps with other business clubs’ information sessions.

Katherine Zhu, a third-year cognitive science and economics student, said she applied to Bruin Consulting twice but didn’t get accepted, despite getting a consulting internship at Deloitte. In other words, she scored an internship with a “Big Four” firm, but not even a coffee chat from a club that prides itself on having a connection with that firm.

“At UCLA, these kinds of business clubs should prepare students to better their opportunity to find work in the future – not just shut the door in their face, make them feel bad about themselves and lose confidence in pursuing a career in it,” Zhu said.

She added since it’s a student club, many applicants might not think there’s a need for heavy networking as if it were a job.

In reality, these clubs function as pre-screening for job recruiters, doing most of the work for actual consulting firms by selecting students they think are most likely to succeed in the business world.

James Lo, UConsulting’s president and a third-year business economics and statistics student, said that in narrowing down 200 applicants to 15, the club selects based on “culture fit.” Members of the club interview applicants and deliberate on who they liked best.

“If (a club member) really wants someone in the club, they’re almost certain to get in,” Lo said.

He added nearly all members of UConsulting end up with job offers. Bruin Consulting, BAM and UConsulting readily use their websites to showcase where their members end up – putting flashy company logos like Goldman Sachs, Bain and Deloitte front and center.

“(Recruiters) don’t necessarily want to spend all their resources, time and money to find the talent, so having this concentration of talent and seeing this brand approval attracts them to recruit from UCLA,” Lo said.

But these clubs devote less than a sentence on their sites to explaining their selection criteria. And students who get rejected before the coffee chat aren’t even notified, or simply receive a standard email that doesn’t explain what they did wrong.

The finance industry can be cutthroat, but if these clubs are holding their applicants to high standards, the least they should do is make clear what those standards are.

The problem isn’t that these clubs are selective. But the level of selectivity is exaggerated in these business and finance groups, to the extent that it’s almost comical how tough – and seemingly arbitrary – it is to get in.

“It’s kind of silly. From what I hear from people who work at Deloitte and McKinsey, some people get (into the firm) from good networking skills, but they’re not actually good at doing the work,” Zhu said.

Certainly, these pre-professional business clubs are in their right to be hyper-selective. But the apparent who-knows-who selection process of these groups sends a message – at its nicest – that you’re only worth these groups’ time if you come in with connections and can fit with their supposed cultures.

That’s a discouraging way to filter out qualified applicants and foster interest in business and finance.

It’s also a lousy way to build community in a campus of 45,000.

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Selby Kia | Opinion columnist
Kia is an Opinion columnist.
Kia is an Opinion columnist.
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