Financial Management Association Honor Society puts students face-to-face with industry professionals

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Reading a job description is one thing, but hearing about it from professionals who are experts in their respective fields has much more impact. One organization that steers students toward career opportunities and internships is the Harbert College's Financial Management Association Honor Society, or FMA.

FMA members have the opportunity to get firsthand career advice from industry professionals, meet with financial executives and learn how these professionals turned failures into career successes, and to receive career coaching, resume guidance and mock interviews. Its full-time job placement rate last year was 93 percent, while the internship rate for juniors was 100 percent.

Just ask Krista Alexon, a senior in finance from Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, who will become a full-time financial analyst with Wells Fargo upon graduating next spring. "Two internships at Wells Fargo can be attributed to connections I made through FMA," said Alexon, currently Auburn's FMA president. "Not only has FMA led me to achieve summer internships, but it has provided me with essential training that has set me apart from my peers."

That preparation led Alexon to New York City for 10 weeks in 2014 to train as a financial analyst and the summer of 2015 to work and train at Wells Fargo's San Francisco and Palo Alto, California, offices. "Being exposed to all of the technology in the Silicon Valley was an unparalleled experience," she added. "It is one that I would have never received without FMA opening doors for me."

Jordan Carr, a senior in mechanical engineering with a minor in finance, is another success story. "Right off the bat, FMA gave me the opportunity to interview with Goldman Sachs Investment Banking," said the Birmingham native. "Using resources that FMA offered, I completely reformatted my resume and improved my interview practices. Two weeks after my Goldman interview, I flew to Houston for an interview with ExxonMobil."

Shortly thereafter, Carr was offered—and accepted—an internship at ExxonMobil, where he did everything from analyzing the company's wax storage locations, created a supply matrix and performed data blends with SAP and Excel-based files.

"I associated my internship at ExxonMobil directly with being part of FMA," he said. "The resources that it provides prepared me more than any class ever could have. College is about so much more than just good grades. To get where you want, it takes leveraging those grades and putting in the extra effort. FMA gives students a way to do that and puts them face-to-face with industry professionals."

To be considered for FMA, students must maintain a 3.5 GPA, be at least a second-semester freshman and pursue either a finance degree or have a genuine interest in a finance career with an equivalently difficult major. Applicants are selected by a panel of FMA officers through an interview process.

But the FMA isn't a longstanding Harbert College institution. It's only three years old.

Tracy Richard, a finance instructor, has directed the group since its inception. "Before the FMA, we didn't have a direct path to assist the students," she said. "If you were a finance student and you knew you were interested in private equity, for instance, you didn't have anywhere that you could go to learn more about that field other than on your own. You didn't have a roadmap for who to talk to, what skills to work on, or exposure to any of the firms in that area."

Giuli Bondi, university recruiter at BBVA Compass, said her team tries to attend at least one FMA meeting or mixer each semester.

"The career development that Tracy and her team provide are huge," she said. "Most of the time, FMA members are able to network and work a room more effectively, are confident in their experiences and can talk about them in writing without sounding too braggy – and they have done their company research prior to meeting or interviewing with you."

An executive from BBVA Compass might address members one week, while the CEO and founder of Reliance Financial Group, a high-growth registered investment advisory firm, might bring his or her expertise to Auburn the next. Also, the group takes field trips—sometimes into the heart of a financial giant—each semester. For example, the FMA visited Delta Airlines' corporate headquarters in Atlanta in February and met with a number of top executives, including in-depth Q&A time with Delta CFO Paul Jacobson, a Harbert College alum.

"Getting the chance to sit down with industry leaders and ask them questions about their personal experience in a specific finance career helps young professionals like ourselves learn more about many career options offered to someone with a finance degree," Alexon said.

"There are some things you cannot learn in the classroom," said Caroline Clothiaux, former FMA president who graduated in the spring and works within Delta Airlines' Delta Connection finance group. "Meeting different people is the best way to learn about an industry. Every person I have talked to has had a different experience on how they have reached their level of success."

Clothiaux, a former FMA president, recognizes the impact FMA can have on its members. "I think the more time you put into the organization, the more you will get out of it," she said. "I think the more perspectives you are exposed to, the more open you become to different jobs and opportunities you wouldn't have otherwise considered. I saw FMA as an opportunity and decided to devote myself to the organization, as did many other members. By the time I graduated from Auburn this past May, I felt prepared to begin my first job. FMA is an invaluable organization for any student interested in a career in finance."

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