Students in China are paying talent agents thousands of dollars to get hired at big Wall Street names as the country opens up its financial market, report says

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Getting a top financial job with one of Wall Street’s big firms is something the well-off value immensely in China.

Talent consultant firms in the country have been recruiting finance professionals to assist rich students secure internships and full-time jobs with Wall Street titans, according to a recent Bloomberg report.

They price these services at $12,000 or more to offer an alternate route for students to get hired by companies like Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, McKinsey, Citadel, or Citic Securities, the report said.

Students are guided by bankers who help them with an entire plan of action ranging from networking, to drafting cover letters, and obtaining in-house referrals. They’ve managed to land coveted jobs in global financial hubs from Shanghai to New York.

The companies either denied association with these consulting firms, or declined to comment when contacted by Bloomberg.

A Shanghai-based agency called Wall Street Tequila is said to charge the highest fees. On its official WeChat account, the firm claims it has helped over 3,000 students secure high paid offers of 1 million yuan ($152,680) in the last seven years, Bloomberg reported.

Wall Street Tequila didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

It isn’t uncommon for bankers in China to tie up with talent agents, take up mentorship roles, and charge fees for internal referrals. But it leads to concern that these opportunities aren’t equally available to all socioeconomic classes.

Sean Wang, a senior banker and author, told Bloomberg: “If you pay to have someone else to write your cover letter, or get a first-round interview, is it fair to those job seekers who don’t have, or can’t afford, such packages?”

One consultant at Accenture told Bloomberg they were approached multiple times by agents, seeking payment in return for an internship referral.

The job market has become more competitive, as both global and regional banks are boosting hiring efforts to expand wealth management in the world’s second-largest economy. Goldman Sachs, UBS, and Credit Suisse are among banks looking to bump up their workforces in China.

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Senators move to make State Department internships paid

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Sen. Cory Booker just won his second term in November.

  • Sens. Cory Booker and Tim Scott just introduced a bill to make State Department internships paid.
  • The bill would also help cover transportation and housing costs for State Department interns.
  • It’s aimed at increasing diversity in the intern ranks and part of a larger paid internship movement.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Unpaid internships have come under renewed scrutiny in recent days, as discourse has swirled online over their potential for exploitation and inequity. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez even weighed in with a tweet on Monday, writing: “Pay your interns! It’ll improve your operation and make it more diverse and just.”

Now, Sens. Cory Booker and Tim Scott are taking it one step further, introducing a bipartisan bill to make all State Department internships fully paid. Booker has already been an advocate for paid internships.

In a press release, the duo cites declines in the number of women and Black workers at the State Department.

The bill would make all State Department internships pay the jurisdiction’s minimum wage. It would also provide housing for students who would live outside the US for their internships, as well as for students who work more than 50 miles away from their permanent addresses. In addition, travel for getting to and from those locations would be covered and targeted outreach to minority-serving institutions would be mandated.

“For far too long, the State Department has failed to recruit low-income and students of color within their internship program largely due to it being unpaid,” Booker said in a press release. “Having a diplomatic corps that represents the diverse makeup of the United States will increase the institutional knowledge and capacity of the State Department and improve our image abroad.”

It’s similar to bipartisan legislation recently reintroduced by Rep. Joaquin Castro.  

“This commonsense legislation will make internships at the State Department fairer, more rewarding, and more open to all, and is a crucial part of my focus on ensuring American diplomats reflect the diversity of the American people,” Castro said in a press release.  

There’s a larger movement to make internships paid

Carlos Mark Vera is the executive director of Pay Our Interns, a group that advocates for paid internships and supports Castro’s legislation. Since its founding in 2016, Pay Our Interns has been changing the conversation around getting interns paid. It was previously successful in getting Congress to allocate $31 million to intern compensation – and now it’s chipping away at the State Department with this bill.

“This is, in my opinion, the golden standard,” Vera told Insider. He said a highlight is how it would make pay the minimum wage rather than a stipend, which sometimes are not enough to live on. 

The bill would transition all unpaid internships to paid ones in three years, and has built-in reporting guidelines, for instance on whether interns are going to public or private schools, what their home state is, and other transparency measures. 

The debate over unpaid internships and their potential for exploitation is not a new one. Research from the National Association of Colleges and Employers finds that students of color are underrepresented in paid internships. 

“This is a big deal for us because it could serve as a model for all other federal agencies, which is our goal,” Vera said.

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