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Downturn doesn't deter some business school students

The Baltimore Sun

Imagine you're a business student and you've been eyeing career prospects on Wall Street.

But then the financial turmoil gets worse and events of the past few weeks - the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers and the sale of Merrill Lynch, Washington Mutual and Wachovia Corp., among others - leave you with fewer options. It might force some to consider alternative career paths.

On a visit to the University of Maryland, College Park last week, I dropped by a job fair for MBA students at business schools across the Washington region to ask them how the financial turmoil was affecting their job search.

"It's rough," said Sean Perschy, a part-time master of business administration student at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. Perschy, who wants to work in investment management and capital markets, is graduating in December and hopes to find a job with a community or regional bank.

Perschy said he could wait out the market turmoil in a worst-case scenario because he has a full-time job with the U.S. Census Bureau.

"If I were a full-time student, I would be a lot more worried," he said.

Ben Chiu, a Smith student who is graduating in May, said investment banking has always been a difficult field to crack. Last year, Chiu said, he started noticing students also were having trouble finding internships, so he figured he would be looking for a job in a challenging environment.

Chiu, who spent nearly eight years at JPMorgan before pursuing an MBA degree, said he sees growing opportunities in the regulatory industry.

But it is not all bad news in the financial services industry.

Accounting majors are in demand. A recent study by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants found that hiring in the 2006-2007 school year was up 83 percent compared with 2003-2004, given the regulatory requirements under Sarbanes-Oxley. Forensic accountants are especially in demand. (Stevenson University, formerly Villa Julie College, offers a master's program in forensic studies with an accounting track.)

"You could see from all the statistics that demand is huge," said Susan Milstein, a professor of accounting at McDaniel College. "There is definitely no lack of supply and demand. And I think accountants will not have a problem getting a job."

Milstein has seen accounting firms hire her students through Interviewing Day, a program she started three years ago to give her students experience with employers as well as internship and job opportunities. The program has expanded to include business and economics students and financial services employers such as Baltimore's T. Rowe Price Group.

Josh Smith, a senior majoring in business and economics with a minor in accounting at McDaniel, has had an auditing job lined up since the beginning of the year. The position is with a Bethesda accounting firm he encountered on Interviewing Day two years ago.

"Given the state of the economy right now, I know I have something that I'm going to," he said. "I don't have to worry about the downturn right now in that sense."

Workplace tidbit: With Election Day a month away, here is what the Maryland Board of Elections says about taking time off work to vote:

"In every election, every employer shall permit any registered voter employee a period not to exceed two hours absence from work on election day if the employee does not have two hours of continuous off-duty during the time that the polls are open. The employer shall pay the employee for the two hours absence from work. The employee shall furnish to the employer proof that he/she has voted."

One employee is taking it a step further.

Senior account executive Amy Burke at Baltimore public relations firm Profiles Inc. tells me that employees will get paid time off to vote and those who wish to work at poll sites will not have to take a vacation day or forgo a day's pay to volunteer.

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