I’ve avoided writing on consulting because I’ve heard about, argued about and read about the subject ad nauseum. Hating on consulting is as ubiquitous at Yale as Blue State coffee cups and GCal invites. But another inflammatory diatribe on consulting is not going to change a systemic issue. Rather, we must change the way we talk about it. There is a lack of nuance in our criticism, which often casts the private sector as evil. If people are really that passionate about their career choices, we should have more honest conversations about the issue — not meet it with an eye roll. All too often, we don’t even discuss remedies to address the reasons people enter consulting in the first place.
At Yale, we frequently assign categorical blame to nuanced, individual choices. I’m not saying consulting is categorically good or bad because I fundamentally do not believe it is. It’s like saying writing is categorically a bad profession — when there are good and bad writers, and politicians, and lawyers, and people in just about any job. There are even certain nonprofits that are consulting organizations.
Our assumptions are dangerous. I do not believe in the private-public binary. I do not think certain careers should be disparaged based on them being in the private sector. To me, the staff of an organization speaks far greater volumes. What kind of work is the organization doing? Who are its clients? What projects do they work on? We should be critically thinking about the nature of the companies and organizations we are working for, rather than disparage them solely because of the sector they exist in.
Instead of focusing on the private-public binary, we should be ensuring that good work is being done in both sectors. For example, I wouldn’t disparage a for-profit clean energy company because the private sector is a necessary player in solving our world’s issues. I want my innovative friends to create products that save water, plastic and food. Every day, we use so many apps that make our lives and the lives of those around us so much better and easier — apps that help us take public transportation, tell us about what’s happening in the world and allow us to support homegrown businesses.
Consulting — as a proxy for the entire private sector — has come under greater scrutiny beyond just Yale. Every few weeks, a skeptical article in mainstream journalism is published about a consulting firm’s scandalous deal or contentious client. These firms have been written about for years, but do these exposés actually prevent people from entering the field? Instead of shaming people who work at these companies, rather let’s think more critically about what drove them to make that decision in the first place.
People have their reasons for consulting — whether to support their family or pay off student debt — and we’re not in a position to judge. To an extent, there is some privilege in undertaking public service if one is not encumbered by financial burdens. So, when we see a friend go into consulting, we shouldn’t tell them that they are singularly responsible for a systemic issue.
However, I do find it disheartening when people view consulting as the only way to “make connections,” acquire important skills and pursue their long-term goals. It’s common for people to delay or give up entirely on their dreams and passions and enter consulting because it is the safer, more “prestigious” choice. In reality, there could be better opportunities more related to their field, but the hiring process may come later or the brand is less recognized. We should take these factors into account when evaluating others’ decisions.
Sometimes I wished I had gone through the recruiting process this year, but not because business consulting is something I am incredibly passionate about. The hiring process is just so much more straightforward. Yes, studying cases and being drilled on market shares is not pleasant, but there’s a straightforward timeline and a plethora of resources devoted towards students receiving offers.
Instead of name-calling and shaming, the only way to remedy the “consulting question” is to target the reasons people enter the field in the first place. It’s a straightforward path with seemingly high payoff. Maybe if people felt like the hiring timeline was more straightforward for other jobs or if they could see examples of people who have accomplished their goals without needing an offer from a Big Three consulting firm, they would be more inclined to choose differently.
I think the Yale Office of Career Strategy has some improvement to do. A more detailed comprehensive list of major think tanks and nonprofit internships and their deadlines would bring the burden off students to pursue this research about jobs on their own time. In contrast, information about consulting is fed to you on Symplicity and various email chains. Symplicity has an overwhelmingly high number of banking and consulting jobs listed, but significantly fewer in other sectors.
With a more balanced list of options, people will naturally be more drawn to what they’re passionate about. Career fairs and the Domestic Summer Award are steps in the right direction, but there needs to be a stronger push for showcasing professions in fields besides the consulting and finance industry.
Shaming people for their career choices is not the way to resolve this ongoing trend. We must be ready to withhold our judgments long enough to have a productive discussion. Only then can we start enacting real solutions.
HALA EL SOLH is a senior in Berkeley College. Her column runs on alternate Wednesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .