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03/17/2010

Why SEMI?: A Former SEMI Participant Discusses the Experience


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Like most finance and investments undergraduate students in Baruch College’s Zicklin School of Business, I was preparing to land a job at one of the major financial firms. But virtually no one anticipated the global financial meltdown that began in the summer of 2007 and led to the demise of many of the world’s largest financial firms. This made an already competitive job market more competitive.

I believe it’s essential for anyone to broaden their skill set and knowledge beyond their college curriculum, and for finance students especially to enforce and enrich their understanding of the financial markets through internship programs like NYSSA’s SEMI program. I was fortunate to participate in SEMI program, which has the right blend of resources available to achieve this. The benefits of the SEMI program are multifaceted, but I would like to highlight just a few: informational seminars, mentor program, NYSSA resources, and internship opportunities.

Initially what got me really interested in the SEMI program was the fact that participants are exposed to an elite group of successful business professionals that are willing to go the extra mile to coach, motivate and inspire the next generation of financial professionals. The educational breakfast seminars are thought-experimental sessions, where you get a feel for what industry leaders are discussing such as changes in policies and regulations that are reshaping the economy. The most inspirational presentation for me was Diane Garnick’s discussion on the futures markets. Garnick is an investment manager and investment strategist featured on Bloomberg News and highly quoted for her knowledge in quantitative finance.

Some other topics covered were sustainable investing by Goldman Sachs’ senior research management where we learned what some of the hot emerging markets were and what kind of investment strategies should be explored in the current environment. After the session, we were given the speakers’ presentation and were able to contact them with any questions after digesting the material. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to get these research reports and connect the dots between what you have learned in your advanced finance courses and their applications in the real business world. There are also some things that I learned in SEMI that were not covered in my undergraduate studies. Complex fixed-income products such as TRS, CDS, CDX, ABS, CMBS, SPV’s weren’t covered and it was eye opening to actually have an ex-Bear Stearns trader within the structured derivatives desk explain the ins and outs of these products in complete detail.

The ability to network and build strong relationships that will extend throughout your career is crucial in this ever-changing environment. My mentor took the time to walk me through the process of pricing and risk analysis for CDS’s, bonds, structure hedges and develop P&L for specific transactions. I was able to experience a day in the life of a trader and understand some of the things that he has to closely monitor. I have always been interested in structured products, given that I have interned within the credit derivatives desk and wanted to reinforce and learn new things.

I believe that one of the main reasons why my group won the Steeplechase Competition was the fact that I met with Amit who conducted the steeplechase overview to discuss the investment strategy and how to incorporate new forces—drivers that influence the markets and how to better react to these changes. To make the most of this experience you cannot limit yourself to just the mentor you have been paired with but reach out to as many people as you can. The SEMI program has professionals working in different areas of the finance industry and as college graduates we have to choose a business role we believe we can excel and enjoy working in.

Equally important is the fact that by joining the SEMI program you also become a member of the New York Society of Security Analysts. You are able to constantly expand your network by attending different events hosted by NYSSA such as financial modeling, Bloomberg training classes, seminars, and career chats. Additionally, to help you out with any fundamental research for your classes or stock picks you have access to the Bloomberg, Reuters, FactSet, and Capital IQ terminals. I also attended a resume review with NYSSA’s instructor Hamilton Lin after which I completely changed my resume-writing techniques. Throughout my college career I have signed up for a handful of resume review workshops and have never received such direct, constructive criticism on my resume. Before the SEMI program starts, your resume is posted online on NYSSA’s website. Last May I was working for Coleman Research Group and wasn’t searching for an internship at the time but I received a phone call from Edgar who found my resume through NYSSA’s website. I interviewed with them and was hired the following week!

What sets the SEMI program apart from others are the mentors', speakers' and instructors' complete willingness to help the participants. Whenever I encountered a problem at my internship and was unclear on how to approach it, I knew exactly who to speak to. I reached out for advice regarding a lot of different financial modeling issues that I encountered at my summer internship and my mentors were more than ready to help.

The other day I was reading an article in Business Week and this is what caught my attention: “In real estate, it’s location, location, location. In business it’s differentiate, differentiate, differentiate.” Let the SEMI experience be that differentiating factor that sets you apart from the rest of your peers.

--Liljana Xheka 

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