The summer internship hunt is in full swing.
No doubt many of our classmates are hoping to dip their toe in the waters of consulting and finance at places like McKinsey & Company or Morgan Stanley. Unsurprisingly, however, the mere mention of such companies sparks heated discussion on campus.
We all know the stereotypes, which have only intensified since the 2008 economic downturn — the big, bad banker; the soulless consultant; Excel spreadsheets until three in the morning. Yet according to the Office of Career Strategy post-graduation survey of the class of 2014, Goldman Sachs was the second most common employer of graduates of the class of 2014, behind only Yale itself. Some find this worrying.
Scott Stern ’15, a columnist for the News well known for his stance on finance and consulting, is troubled by industries that he views as focused solely on making money, rather than making money and a difference. When Yale students enter such industries, he explains, something is “lost,” some potential goes unrealized.
Stern may object to these jobs on moral grounds, but others wonder whether the industries are even good for their recently graduated employees. In a review of Kevin Roose’s “Young Money,” a book about the experiences of eight fresh Wall Street recruits, The New York Times’ Chris Hayes compares a high-powered investment bank to “a boot camp that will reliably turn normal but ambitious people into broken sociopaths more or less willing to do anything.”
But say we take all this as read; all this has been discussed. The question remains: How do the actual experiences of graduates who have entered these stigmatized industries stack up next to the impressions we receive on campus?
* * *
According to the OCS survey, 16.9 percent of the Class of 2014 went into finance, and another 11.0 percent chose consulting. In a follow-up survey conducted by the News last fall, 56 percent of respondents working in finance reported being “satisfied” or “highly satisfied” with their work — just barely lower than the 57 percent of those employed in education reporting the same. Seventy-nine percent of respondents working in consulting reported being at least satisfied with their jobs.
Whatever you might glean from these statistics, they provide little detail about the lives or career trajectories of students taking entry-level jobs in these industries.
There is, of course, the distinction between finance and consulting; within these industries, moreover, are a range of possible roles.
“There are venture capital firms that help set up new businesses, and private equity firms that help finance non-profits,” noted Office of Career Strategy Director Jeanine Dames. Moreover, she said, many consultants at smaller firms specialize in topics from health care to sustainability.
And even within a single job, a new employee’s work might not follow a set routine. According to Michal Benedykcinski ’09, who spent over three years in banking, life as a junior banker could involve anything from working on financial models late into the night to juggling multiple investment pitches. There was no “typical day,” he said, likening the intensity of the job at times to “drinking from a firehose.”
On the consulting side, Sarah Minkus ’08, who has worked at The Boston Consulting Group since graduation, sees a similar variety.
“I’ve gotten to taste-test for food manufacturers, tour plants with industrial-goods companies, visit stores in different countries and interview moms and babies living in Israel,” she said.
Brian Goldman ’05, a co-coordinator of Dwight Hall during his time on campus and a business analyst at McKinsey for two years afterwards, recalled that he typically spent four days a week at his client’s office, working with their senior team on the strategic questions that kept them up at night.
Sitting in a room with executives twice his age was intimidating at first, he said. He’d think to himself, “What am I doing here, offering advice to these people about their organization that they know so much better than I do?”
Yet Goldman came to believe a fresh perspective could be valuable, introducing a new way of thinking that, as he put it, “breaks open a problem.”
* * *
Although many Yalies go on to work in finance or consulting, they don’t all stay there. The 27.9 percent of the class of 2014 employed by those industries will almost surely diminish as the years go by.
Monaghan said it would upset her if the large portion of Yalies who work for Goldman Sachs, for example, stayed there for an extended period of time. “But,” she explained, “that’s not really the case.”
After three years as an investment banking analyst at Morgan Stanley, Yoonie Hoh ’11 now works in private equity, a common career trajectory. At the same time, she was optimistic about those who leave finance altogether.
“I know banks may feel differently, since they invest a ton of time into their analysts.” Hoh said. But she found it natural that young people should want to explore before settling into a dream job.
Drawing contrasts between their own generation and that of their parents and grandparents, both Sheila Rustgi ’07 and Shannon Monaghan ’08 believe that it’s less common now for people to stay in the same firm or industry for life.
According to Dames, the OCS director, many students enter consulting hoping to gain business experience across a variety of employers, which they can then apply to future pursuits. Likewise, many who enter finance seek strong analytical experience.
“In both these cases,” she added, “I think their expectations are met.”
After graduation, Rustgi spent a year at Archstone Consulting working on projects like helping a client’s human resources division develop a health insurance plan. She said that, among other things, she learned how to set goals and solicit feedback, skills that she has carried into medical school and her residency.
Career changes like Rustgi’s are far from uncommon among recent graduates who go on to work in consulting or finance. In fact, in information sessions and on its website, McKinsey is open about the fact that after two or three years, employees often pursue professional schooling or other work experiences — something Caitlin Storhaug, a recruiter with the firm, corroborates. Monaghan sees this cycle as a major factor in consulting firms’ heavy recruitment presence on campus.
As a history major who had realized after taking a course in constitutional law that law school wouldn’t be a good fit for her, Monaghan, like many of her classmates, was unsure what to do senior year. Then management consulting, which she hadn’t known even existed for much of college, emerged as a possibility.
Although Monaghan was excited about the prospects of her job at Oliver Wyman, she harbored no expectations of working there for the rest of her life. If anything, a major draw was the flexibility that it would afford.
“It wasn’t like I was signing onto something forever in a way that I would have, for example, if I had gone into a Ph.D. program immediately, or if I’d gone to law school,” she said.
Ultimately, Monaghan believes that her work experience has better equipped her in pursuing a Ph.D. in history at Boston College. She plans to finish her Ph.D. after five years, a total of eight years after graduating from Yale, which she said is the average completion time for such a program.
Unlike other students who may enter graduate school too quickly and have difficulty formulating their dissertations, Monaghan said she was able to approach her scholarship from a more disciplined and experienced background — not to mention that she was more financially stable after working at Oliver Wyman.
Likewise, one of Monaghan’s best friends from Yale, after working in consulting for a year, is now completing a residency in surgery at Columbia University. Another friend who worked for Goldman Sachs for a year has since finished his Ph.D. in computer science and works at a tech firm in San Francisco.
But if a consulting or finance job is only a springboard to more “worthwhile” employment later, why not start doing something worthwhile now? What value could a stint in consulting or finance hold for those who end up moving on to something completely different?
For some alumni, consulting jobs afforded them the business acumen they needed to pursue their fields of interest. Shannon Stockdale ’06 had been interested in education throughout her time at Yale. Having worked for Teach for America, the Yale Early Childhood Development Fund and NYU’s Institute for Social Policy, however, she discovered that teachers weren’t necessarily the ones making important decisions.
“In a lot of ways,” said Stockdale, “it was the businesspeople.”
Stockdale wanted to become more fluent in the language of business and worked at the management consulting firm Katzenbach Partners, honing her skills in research and data analysis. Non-profit organizations don’t always have the resources to invest in employees’ development to the extent that consulting firms do, said Stockdale. She believes that her experience prepared her better for entering the education policy field, where opportunities for entry-level positions are limited. Stockdale now works for the KIPP Foundation, an educational non-profit that serves nearly 150 schools across the U.S.
Similarly, Goldman, the former Dwight Hall co-coordinator and one-time McKinsey employee, said that his experience in the Dwight Hall Management Fellows group first exposed him to the management questions that occupy organizations of all kinds, from Dwight Hall to federal offices.
After McKinsey, Goldman went to Stanford Law School and now works in a legal practice in San Francisco.
“I went to law school with a much more realistic understanding of the way companies and individuals in government operate, and there’s a lot in law that’s very rooted in economics,” he said.
Such perspectives extend to finance as well as consulting. Lynn Wang ’11, the child of two doctors, was pre-med freshman year, but realized after a summer internship with International Bulldogs that business suited her better. After working a year as an investment banking analyst at Morgan Stanley, however, Wang decided that she wasn’t passionate enough about finance to make a career of it, so she struck out on her own, founding a nail polish company.
Wang, who now works in an urgent care clinic, is currently exploring ways to apply her business knowledge to the health care industry, a far different set of challenges from what she would have encountered had she practiced medicine. She said that finance allowed her to build analytical skills at a time when she wasn’t completely sure what she wanted to do, and that those skills have continued to prove valuable.
Disputing the notion that bankers are “spreadsheet monkeys,” Wang recounted how she was able to completely redesign the clinical workflow at her clinic.
* * *
Some Yale students lament that would-be engineers and creative types end up as suits. But some of those would-be engineers and artists don’t seem to mind.
For example, Minkus, the BCG employee, majored in theater studies and psychology at Yale but worried that the theater world would be too unpredictable.
“Consulting met this list of requirements I loved about theatre that I didn’t want to lose — working on scenes, having new projects all the time, traveling to different places, playing different roles — but it also offered stability and meritocracy,” she said.
All this isn’t to say that consulting and finance are for everyone, nor that opinion is anywhere close to unified on the matter. But Monaghan wondered why finance and consulting bear the brunt of criticism, pointing out, “We have no problems with people going to medical school or law school, which are both also professions with their own problems.”
And while this article can’t claim to be scientific, the stories of the alumni interviewed reveal a more varied picture of the industries in question than we might otherwise be exposed to on campus.
Many alumni have managed to turn their post-graduate employment in consulting or finance into something more their own. Given their hands-on experience, there’s room to add their two cents to the complicated discussion of money, ethics and plain confusion that we’re all a part of. Hopefully, it’s a valuable two cents.
“My experiences have led me down a path that I didn’t see coming when I was 22, but it’s been a good path,” said Minkus. “It’s opened a lot of doors for me now, moving forward.”