It is that special time of year again: job recruitment season. Seniors scurry about from job fair to information session to coffee chat, exhausted, confused and desperate for employment. And, as we all know, the majority of job fairs, information sessions and coffee chats they attend will be with firms in consulting and finance.
I wish I could write a column decrying this unfortunate societal fact; it practically writes itself. But I cannot because: a) it would be deeply hypocritical (I most likely will be working for a hedge fund next year) and b) I do not really think it is all that bad, or at least not bad in the way people usually describe.
I think the reason so many of us feel vaguely uncomfortable with taking a job in consulting or finance, and why some choose to publicly decry it, is the sense that in doing so we are selling out. For many of us the mantra of our lives has been to follow our passions. There are certain activities, we are told, which will bring unique meaning to our lives and that should guide our choices of employment.
But many of my peers and I are discovering that we do not have any obvious passions. Or rather, our passions do not transfer easily to employment. There are some jobs we know we do not want to do for various reasons and perhaps we have far-flung aspirations for positions we want to hold when we are 50, but neither of these provide much guidance as to what we want to do for the first few years after graduation. Finance and consulting firms take advantage of this uncertainty and provide a structured transition into adult life.
Taking one of these jobs is not selling out because, for the most part, we have nothing to sell. We are not turning our backs on our loves. The popular conception of passion — as some inherent quality that presents itself and then guides one’s life — is not the whole story. Passion is developed. People learn to find meaning in their work, and their lives more generally, and in the process attain fulfillment. Few people grow up passionate about accounting, or sales, or indeed finance or consulting, and yet thousands of people lead meaningful lives in those very professions.
A job in finance or consulting provides an opportunity to develop passions relevant to the working world. They can teach you to love working with a team, or the excitement of delivering a product, or the thrill of speaking in public. I do not think these industries are uniquely well suited to the development of these passions, but then they are not uniquely flawed either. Combine that with the fact that they are readily available, they pay well and open other doors, and it makes sense that so many seniors will flock to these jobs. I certainly think they are as well suited to the task as most other jobs in the private sector.
A job in finance or consulting, indeed really any job right out of college, should be viewed as an opportunity for self-creation. It gives us the chance to craft our passions, to discover what motivates our work. That will then inform our adult lives.
Of course, there is a downside to the ubiquity of finance and consulting on campus. These industries carry with them a level of prestige and some students seek to use that prestige as a proxy for passion. Instead of looking at these jobs as opportunities to discover what they enjoy, what they dislike and what excites them in the working world, these students view them as the first steps to an ill-defined career of acclaim, in which content is secondary to popular regard.
When that is the case, finance and consulting become crutches that we lean upon instead of standing on our own two feet. They hinder our development. This, I believe, is the real danger of these jobs. They are not much worse, nor much better, than most first jobs out of college. But they open the path to a seductive complacency. Just as a Yale education means nothing if all you got from it was the name, two years at Bain or Goldman is a waste if all it ends up being is a line on your resume.
We are responsible for shaping our lives. It is an intimidating task, but one that must be taken on. Our careers are a way to do that. We are extremely fortunate to have the chance to work in competitive industries. We should not feel guilt taking advantage of these opportunities but we cannot waste them in the pursuit prestige.
Isa Qasim is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.