A recent report from the Pew Research Center found that 60 percent of science and engineering majors say their current job is very closely related to their field of study. Less than 45 percent of majors in other fields report the same. While an engineering career is the obvious choice for most College of Engineering majors, some choose to go in a different direction.
In March, Villanova students were invited to a unique panel discussion on “Alternative Career Paths: Engineers in the Financial Sector.” Participating on the panel were alumni Robert Catalanello ’86 EE, managing director, Foreign Exchange, Credit Agricole; Timothy Arcuri ’93 ChE, managing director, Cowen & Company; Casey Simmons ’01 EE, senior associate, Investment Management, Adveq; and Will Dooley ’12 EE, analyst, Client Analytics Group, BlackRock, Inc.
The alumni shared their professional experiences and spoke specifically about how their engineering degree has played a role in their financial career. While they took different paths to get where they are today, each panelist agreed that majoring in engineering proved to be an advantage. “Engineering teaches you to think analytically,” said Robert Catalanello. “It presents you with real-life situations with real consequences, and that sets you apart.” Panelists also noted that an engineer’s combination of technology skills and problem solving ability is a crucial aspect of working in the financial sector. Timothy Arcuri, the only panelist without a business minor or MBA, told the audience he doesn’t feel held back by the lack of a business degree: “I was hired because I could think. That’s what engineers are taught to do.”
In addition to sharing their personal stories, panelists also provided students with advice on breaking into the financial field. They stressed the importance of doing research beforehand and gaining a thorough understanding of finance. To prepare for interviews, Casey Simmons recommended: “Definitely do your research on the person you’re interviewing with, and demonstrate your passion for the field.” Will Dooley suggested that students stay on top of the financial market by reading the news and going to informational interviews.
When students asked what they could do to impress employers, the panelists encouraged them to take writing and public speaking courses to improve their communication skills. “Writing is definitely the biggest weakness of most engineers. It’s important to be able to communicate an idea in written form,” said Dooley. The panelists also encouraged students to take as many courses as possible outside of the engineering discipline and engage in more creative initiatives, such as blogging, to create a more comprehensive application. They named electromagnetics, organic chemistry, design courses and signal processing as courses that taught them to think outside the box, a valuable asset in the financial world.
Students were also advised to pursue careers in emerging fields such as clean water and energy, the materials industry and, in particular, start-up companies. “Startups are a great way to start a career. CEOs respect someone who has been in their shoes and developed a product. Engineering provides a great basis,” said Simmons.
Senior Mechanical Engineering major Ryan French found the panel discussion to be very informative and helpful. “I have been trying to decide if I want to go in this direction, and it was good to know that I don’t necessarily need an MBA to pursue a career in finance,” he said. Ryan also agreed with Dooley that writing and communication skills are often the most difficult for engineers. “I have been focused on improving in these areas,” he noted.
Freshman Elizabeth Olvey has not yet declared her major, though she is leaning toward earning a degree in finance. After attending the presentation, however, Elizabeth confessed, “I’m actually concerned that I might be limiting myself if I don’t study engineering, which is a major I considered!”
Perhaps the afternoon’s best piece of advice came from Catalanello who emphasized, “Make sure you enter the financial sector because you love it; it’s not an easy industry to work in.” Of course, that sound advice rings true for each of us, regardless of our career choice.