Banking and finance seniors mulling first job offers

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Published: May 15,2006

While spring may be in the air, parents of college banking and finance seniors are hoping that viable employment is also within reach.

Mississippi bankers and university professors indicated that employment prospects for this year’s graduating class were keeping pace with or were somewhat better than recent years.

“So far this year has been fairly consistent with the past few years,” said Ken Anderson, first vice president with BancorpSouth in Tupelo. Mitch Waycaster, president of Renasant-Mississippi, concurred. “From a management trainee perspective, I think that demand has been pretty much the same.”

Dr. Ken Cyree, a banking professor at the University of Mississippi, said that he is encouraged by what he is seeing on campus as “more interviews and job offers.”

“I certainly feel that recruiting is up, and I think that this will be borne out with independent research,” Cyree said. Some of the factors impacting employment prospects this year, according to Cyree, are the economy, growth in the state and region and dislocation of personnel due to Katrina, among other factors.

Dr. Larry White, a banking professor at Mississippi State University, said that he is seeing opportunities for students in management trainee programs, but that more emphasis is being focused on sales skills in addition to credit skills. While internships and previous employment experiences are not necessarily mandatory among employers, those interviewed indicated that these types of practical experiences can provide a competitive advantage in setting candidates apart.

Additionally, bankers and professors indicated that students who are still in college should take advantage of opportunities to network with banking professionals when they are on campus for advisory board meetings, seminars or other events.

“Every year, we invite the current president of the Mississippi Bankers Association on campus to give a `state of the State’ address and perspective on the industry,” White said. “Additionally, we have several bankers who are actively involved with our Advanced Bank Management Class, which has a case orientation. These types of events and others provide opportunities for students to meet with bankers and ask questions.”

Cyree indicated that his advisory board has provided numerous opportunities for student internships and job contacts. “I estimate that over 100 jobs have been expedited through the board in the last five years,” Cyree said. “They (board members) also provide leadership for our program and help endow scholarships for students in addition to helping bring important speakers to campus.”

Waycaster stressed that internships reflect a sense of self-initiative that is attractive to potential employers. Moreover, these types of experiences can reinforce communication, analytical and salesmanship skills.

While branch management/retail banking and credit/commercial lending continue to be strong employment draws, sources said that interpersonal skills are becoming increasingly important given the industry’s continued emphasis on building customer/client relationships. Good eye contact, thoughtfulness in addressing questions, strong verbal and written communication are all desired traits in prospective candidates beyond the grade point average.

Representatives of the American Bankers Association also had several suggestions for college seniors based on their experience and interaction with banking executives throughout the nation. First, they suggested that students check their credit report, as chances are that a potential employer will do so prior to extending an offer.

Additionally, they encourage students not to overlook entry-level jobs. Front-line experience can provide valuable on-the-job training, while honing customer relations skills. The ABA also suggested obtaining additional certifications that might make candidates more marketable to employers and pursuing continuing education opportunities once on the job.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Karen Kahler Holliday at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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