If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Even artichokes have doubts | Yale University

If this year is anything like the last 10, around 25 percent of employed Yale graduates will enter the consulting or finance industry*. This is a big deal. This is a huge deal. This is so many people! This is one-fourth of our people! Regardless of what you think or with whom you’re interviewing, we ought to be pausing for a second to ask why.

I don’t pretend to know anymore about this world than the rest of us. In fact, I probably know less. (According to the Internet, a consultant is “someone who consults someone or something.”) But I do know that this statistic is utterly and entirely shocking to me. In a place as diverse and disparate as Yale, it’s remarkable that such a large percentage of people are doing anything the same — not to mention something as significant as their postgraduate plans.

I want to understand.

In the spring of my sophomore year, I got my first email from McKinsey & Company. “Dear Marina,” it read, “Now that you have finished your sophomore year, I am sure that you’re starting to think about what the future may have in store for you,” (I hadn’t), “Perhaps you are starting to experience that nervous, exciting, overwhelming feeling that comes with exploring the options that are coming your way at Yale, especially given your involvement in the Yale College Democrats. To help you get a better sense of what is out there, I thought I would take the opportunity to provide some more insight into McKinsey & Company.”

This weirded me out. How did they know I was involved with the Yale College Democrats? (How did they know about that nervous, exciting, overwhelming feeling!?) As a sophomore, I’d hardly settled on a major, let alone a career path. But despite myself, it made me feel special. Who were these people? Why were they interested in me? Why were they inviting me to events at nice hotels? Maybe I perused their websites, WHO KNOWS? The point is: they got me, for at least an evening, to look into this thing and see what it was all about.

Of course, everyone gets these emails. I’m not special. Their team of recruiters is really good. They come at Yale with a myriad of other consultant firms and banks and sell themselves shamelessly and brilliantly to us from the time we turn 20. We get emails and career fair booths, letters and deadlines. I don’t know much about consulting but I do know if I were having trouble recruiting smart kids for a job, I’d hire a consulting firm to help me out.

But it’s not just them. It’s us, too. I conducted a credible and scientific study in L-Dub courtyard earlier this week — asking freshman after freshman what they thought they might be doing upon graduation. Not one of them said they wanted to be a consultant or an investment banker. Now I’m sure that these people do exist — but they certainly weren’t expressing interest at a rate of 25 percent. Unsurprisingly, most students don’t seem to come to Yale with explicit passions for these fields. Yet sometime between Freshman Screw and The Last Chance Dance something in our collective cogs shift and these jobs become attractive. We’re told they will help us gain valuable skills. We’re told a lot of things.

One senior I spoke with (whom we’ll refer to as Shloe Carbib for the sake of Google anonymity) has known what she’s wanted since freshman year. When asked what she hopes to do with her life, Shloe responded immediately: “Oh you know, I want to write and direct films or be an indie music celebrity.” Ironies of expression aside, there was a sincerity to her avowal. “I want to devote my life to the things that I love. I want to create something lasting that I’m really proud of.”

At Yale, she’s worked hard in pursuit of these goals — directing theatrical productions, playing in a band and collaborating on the 2012 Class Day Video. Yet on Monday evening at 8 p.m., she found herself at a top-tier consulting firm event at the Study — meeting and greeting in anticipation of her interview the next morning.

“Of course I don’t want to be a consultant,” she said the night before, clutching a borrowed copy of Mark Cosentino’s “Case in Point” (the aspiring-consultant bible), “It’s just very scary to watch as many of your friends have already secured six-figure salaries and are going to be living in luxury next year. I’m trying to figure out if I love art enough to be poor.”

Like many students, Carbib was roped in by the easy application process. All she had to do to apply to the firm was submit a resume, cover letter and transcript by the drop deadline.

“Oh, it’s brilliant of them to make their first round of applications so easy,” she said. “It was so little work that I felt like I might as well try.”

Indeed, the recruiting tactics of these companies are undeniably effective. They express interest in us personally — complimenting our intelligence and general aptitude and convincing us that those skills ought to be utilized to their full capacity (with them, of course).

Tatiana Schlossberg ’12 admits she initially fell for the same trick I did.

“I got a personal email and went to their event because I couldn’t believe that they were interested in me and I wanted to find out why,” she said. But when she got there, she wasn’t sure why she came in the first place. “I looked around and felt that I not only didn’t belong with the group of people but that I didn’t believe in what the organization stands for or does,” she said. “There’s definitely a compulsion element to it. You feel like so many people are doing it and talking about it all the time like it’s interesting, so you start to wonder if maybe it really is.”

Mark Sonnenblick ’12 wonders if it might be. A musician, writer and improvisational comedian at Yale, Mark is looking (among other things) into a job at a hedge fund next year. “I want a job that will dynamically engage me,” he said. “But I guess the bottom line is that I want a job in general and I don’t really know how to get a job. This is easy to apply for and would make me a lot of money.” Ultimately, he hopes to work writing music and theater, but understands that’s not exactly a field with an application form.

Of course, many of the people I talked to expressed more explicit interest in the industry. Well, to be fair, most people didn’t want to say anything at all. For every student I interviewed, at least four others refused. In the age of digital print, applicants are (understandably) worried about potential employers searching their names and finding angsty quotes about Their Doubts and Their Hopes. One Saybrook senior declined an interview because he reckoned there was no way to “not sound like a douche bag.” Either he’d come off as pompous for sounding excited about his future job or superior for sounding too good for it. In the words of Michael Blume ’12, “They don’t wanna be interviewed cause they already be on the path to making mad bills.”

However, a few people with offers and interest were willing to talk to me. Their stories and motivations for pursuing consulting or finance had remarkable similarities. The narrative goes something like this: Eventually, I want to save the world in some way. Right now, the best way for me to do that is to gain essential skills by working in this industry for a few years.

Former YCC President, Jeff Gordon ’12 is a great example. Jeff wants to devote his life to public education policy reform but is considering a job at a hedge fund among other options for next year.

“I guess the appeal of that kind of job is more in personal development than in any content area,” he said. “It’s appealing because it seems challenging and because it involves interaction with smart and talented people. There are also some transferable skills.” Yet Jeff claims he could not see himself working in the industry forever.

“I couldn’t imagine myself doing something outside the content area that I care about for more than a few years,” he added. “I take something of a long view on this — I want to place myself in a position to make a very positive difference in social justice.”

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