By 2014 Yong Gao had been in banking for six years and had built a successful and international career for himself.
He was an associate in corporate finance and project finance at China Development Bank, and he’d worked in Beijing, Shenzhen, Holland, Belgium and Ireland.
Gao’s undergraduate degree, however, was in engineering not finance.
“I’d reached the stage where a wider grounding in finance was becoming vital for me to advance my career. I was looking for better quantative knowledge and to learn more about financial-markets derivatives pricing,” says Gao.
His need for highly technical expertise influenced Gao’s decision to enrol in the Master in Finance programme at ESSEC, rather than start a more generalist MBA.
But Gao wasn’t only after new skills. He wanted to be mentored by leading industry experts during the course, and he wanted to meet finance professionals across the world who could give him career advice after he graduated.
“When I was researching which Masters to do, I found that ESSEC puts a lot of emphasis on building its alumni network,” says Gao. “That was an important reason I chose the degree. I needed to develop a new career plan and I thought that both the faculty at ESSEC and its alumni could give me guidance.”
As Gao progressed through the 15-month Master in Finance programme – which is taught in both Singapore and France – he increasingly came into contact with people from previous cohorts.
His class, for example, visited ESSEC graduates in London and Hong Kong during one-week trips to those cities. While in London they went to about 12 banks and asset managers, including BNP Paribas, Goldman Sachs, Nomura, Societe Generale and UBS.
“At Nomura we listened to presentations from senior alumni about the bank and the jobs it offers,” says Gao. “Then we mixed and socialised with their staff at all levels. I asked them about their career paths and got advice about where I should go next in banking, given my background and interests.”
ESSEC Master in Finance students get to mingle with alumni on campus as well. The school runs regular recruitment and networking events and invites past students to give guest lectures.
It also provides technical career-focused training organised by AlumnEye, a finance-focused career coaching company founded by former ESSEC student Michael Ohana. This includes interview preparation sessions with senior investment bankers and Q&A events with ESSEC alumni who’ve completed internships at firms like Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan.
AlumnEye helps ESSEC students with each stage of the banking recruitment process – from writing essays that simulate online job applications to taking part in mock assessment centres.
Gao says as a student he was impressed by how international ESSEC’s alumni network is. “You study in France or Singapore, and you go to global financial hubs such as Hong Kong and London, so you meet former students in all those places during the programme.”
“Financial markets and careers are international, so you need to be flexible about where you work. If you do the ESSEC Master in Finance, you have people globally to turn to for advice – whether that’s job hunting or practical life tips for settling down in a new city,” says Gao.
As well as Singapore and France, his own classmates came from countries as diverse as India, Holland and Argentina.
Gao himself got a job in a new country, Singapore, after graduating in 2015. He is now a credit manager at ICBC Standard Bank, specialising in derivatives products.
“The role combines my old skills with the new derivatives knowledge I learnt during the ESSEC Master in Finance. I couldn’t have got the job without the degree,” says Gao.
Former students like Gao can also join the ESSEC Alumni Association after they graduate. Its intranet features both junior and senior job vacancies posted by alumni.
But the association is much more than just a website. “It puts you in touch with alumni if you’re having general issues with your career or want assistance with anything specific, like advice about a potential new job. And you have access to this broad, global network throughout your career in financial services.”