Tag Archive: finance

  1. The Other Side of the Argument

    Leave a Comment

    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.”

  2. The Art of Getting By

    Leave a Comment

    Anyone who’s been to the extracurricular bazaar has heard this refrain: “Do you sing?” “Do you act?” “Do you watercolor/beatbox/bhangra?” (Cue tone-deaf freshman-year me signing onto 37 unnecessary panlists.)

    If this scene is any indication, we have a lot of artists at Yale. Enough to fill five improv troupes and seven major theater venues every weekend. Enough to fill 15 world-class a cappella groups. Fifteen! That’s a ton! Now, where do all these talented people end up after senior year?

    Well, according to Yale’s Office of Career Strategy, 15 percent of the class of 2013 took jobs in financial services and 12 percent took jobs in consulting. Only four percent went into the fine or performing arts.   

    We watch our friends act in Dramat shows and sing for The SOBs and perform for Teeth and dance for Rhythmic Blue. And we watch suited-up graduates shuffle off to jobs at Goldman Sachs. I want to know where all that creative juice goes. Are all those poets and actors and comedians really hunched over in midtown cubicles? I don’t think they are. But we don’t really talk about our campus’ aspiring artists — and whether they receive proper preparation at Yale.   

    How To Be a Working Actor

    When Alex Kramer ’13 graduated, he returned home for the summer and dusted off a copy of a book he’d received in high school: “How to Be a Working Actor.” “It was like reading a user’s manual on my life,” Kramer chuckled. “It was so helpful but it was also so straightforward — why couldn’t Yale give me this information? It’s maddening.”

    Kramer had known since sixth grade that he wanted to be an actor. At Yale he’d made all the right moves: performed in shows with the Dramat, studied theater abroad in London, devised a senior project combining the 2012 presidential election with Shakespeare’s Richard III. But post-graduation, things were a bit more complicated.

    “You hear things like ‘you’ve got to move to New York and start auditioning,’ but I had no idea what that actually meant,” he told me. At Yale, Kramer had access to training, mentorship, heaps of funding for theater pursuits and a thriving arts community. But he received little of the guidance he needed to actually make it in acting.

    Had the University offered more resources and preparation for auditions, Kramer feels his path into the theater world might have felt a bit simpler. The lack of practical counsel dissuaded some of his classmates from pursuing careers in acting, he explained.   

    “Some of the theater training at Yale is obstinately and decidedly anti-vocational, especially given the wealth of talent among composers and playwrights,” said Bonnie Antosh ’13, now a working actress in New York. “I think it’s a shame that the department doesn’t host a senior showcase for casting directors and literary agents.”

    Joseph Roach, former chair of Yale’s Theater Studies program, is quick to defend the University’s lack of pre-professional focus. He notes that a good number of Yale students have gone on to become successful actors — many likely came to Yale for a liberal arts education, not any sort of career training. “From my perspective, no major in Yale College has, or ought to have, a self-limiting vocational focus,” Roach wrote in an email to me.

    Susan Yassky ’16, a Theater Studies major, also felt that Yale strikes a delicate balance between theory and practice, an academic education and pre-professional training. “The department focuses more on cultivating our passions and less on training us in practical skills,” Yassky said, “But that’s what I want from my classes here.”

    And it’s not every school where you would find Theater Studies majors like Yassky taking science credits along with screenwriting classes. For some students, that’s a huge perk. Yale certainly doesn’t offer the vocational preparation that conservatories do but our liberal arts approach has its advantages — like diverse academic offerings and funding in the form of Creative & Performing Arts Awards.

    Nathaniel Dolquist ’15, a Theater Studies major, feels that the University’s distributional requirements make for more well-rounded artists, “People who appreciate many academic disciplines and can bring what they’ve learned back to their art.”

    To Tim Creavin ’15, also a Theater Studies major, Yalies know that they won’t be receiving the same training as conservatory students. He said that those who want to further develop their craft after Yale can enroll in MFA programs.

    What Yale does offer, Creavin argues, is a ‘Do It Yourself’ mentality, and Matthew George ’11, a working playwright, agreed. “Yale provides opportunities to self-create and insofar as self-creation is how you make art, that prepared me,” George said. “But it didn’t offer me much in the way of practical experience. Everyone you talk to sort of ends up saying, ‘just find your own path!’”

    And finding your own path can be difficult — especially when others have theirs clearly defined.   

    The Scapegoat

    Katherine Paulsen ’14 began her senior year the way many Yale kids do — with interviews and case preparation for consulting jobs. She assumed she’d take the same route as many of her friends, getting work as an associate and moving to a large city nearby. The trouble was, the job descriptions on Symplicity simply didn’t excite her. Toward the middle of her senior year, Paulsen realized she wanted to pursue work in theater. The choice wasn’t easy to make when so many of her friends were entering more lucrative fields.

    Looking at the stream of Yalies entering consulting and finance post-graduation, many students pin the blame on Yale’s Office of Career Strategy. Recruitment events for Morgan Stanley and Goldman abound on campus, but jobs in theater and writing can be harder to find.

    “When I was a senior, all these people were going into consulting and banking,” says Yael Zinkow ’12, currently in Los Angeles pursuing work as a comedian. “It was scary because we didn’t have any recruiters coming onto campus to say, ‘hey here’s how you pursue comedy.’”

    Recently, however, the University’s career services took a significant step in catering to the undergraduate arts community. In the summer of 2013, OCS appointed an advisor for students pursuing careers in the arts, Katie Volz.

    Since stepping into her new role, Volz has launched a wide range of initiatives, from hosting screenwriting workshops to connecting students with alumni in theater. She finds that alumni in the arts are particularly eager to lend a hand, recognizing the unique stumbling blocks in their fields of work.

    Volz strives to remain particularly sensitive to the financial difficulties that aspiring artists encounter. Last semester, she organized a financial planning workshop for musicians and performing artists, during which OCS outlined sample budgets and encouraged students to consider alternative revenue sources.

    Volz takes an optimistic — though realistic — approach in helping students finance their artistic careers. “I don’t entirely ignore the ‘starving artist’ notion,” she explained. “While a life in the arts is possible, one has to plan for it in order to give yourself the best possible chance of succeeding — like anything else!”

    The new OCS approach operates under a simple premise: Yale students don’t have to exchange artistic dreams for recruitment sessions at the Omni. It’s not easy to make the leap from the Calhoun Cabaret to Broadway, but it’s also not impossible.

    Take Gabrielle Hoyt-Disick ‘15, a senior major in Theater Studies. Eventually, she told me, she is going to be a theater director. Hoyt-Disick has found OCS’s new arts-focused resources “quite helpful” and said she plans to attend an upcoming OCS workshop on careers in theater.   

    “I just met with Katie Volz a couple of days ago, and I can’t say enough good things about her,” Hoyt-Disick said. “She answered every question I had with thought and specificity.”

    Creavin imagined that OCS resources are geared toward students not as familiar with arts opportunities. Those who have already learned about major casting sites might not find the resources as helpful, he explained. He adds that OCS might take a few simple steps to improve its services: The website might list opportunities according to region and provide contact information for Yale-affiliated arts companies.

    Despite these shortcomings, OCS advisors find themselves in a unique position. In many ways, Yale students are removed from the challenges facing most recent graduates. We’re disconnected from that national narrative — the typical young person who fails to find work and moves back in with his parents. The unemployment rate among workers under age 25 is 14.5 percent. Yet by June 2014, over 95 percent of Yale’s graduating seniors had jobs lined up for the fall.

    “There’s this almost self-indulgent feeling of invincibility because we’re part of this history and we have this name stamped on our diploma,” says Tao Tao Holmes ’14, a former columnist for the News, now teaching English in rural China. “We have this sort of head-in-the-sand mentality of ‘of course we’ll get jobs.’”

    Students with that mentality might feel more comfortable gambling with their careers. Charlie Kelly ’14 said that as a Yale graduate, “It feels like you have a backup plan.”

      “I know that if I sent my resume around enough I’d find something that would keep me alive,” Kelly explained. “It leaves you in a good place to set yourself up creatively.” In other words, being a Yalie affords the opportunity for risk. And for many, these are risks worth taking.

    Double-Edged Sword

    On a Friday evening, Larissa Pham ’14 gathers with other Yale alumni in Teo Soares’s ’13 New York apartment for a writing workshop. One of the graduates in attendance now works at Google, another at a Manhattan dance company, another at a local non-profit. They’re doing what it takes to get by, doing real things and adult things.

    But in their spare time they write and share their work with one another.

    “I love having this group to get together and bounce around ideas,” Pham said. She draws inspiration and support from this network of creative Yale graduates, all finding ways to balance their interest in writing with their day jobs.

    Pham’s writing group is just one example of an alumni cohort staying connected in the working world. New York City — colloquially known as “Yale Part II” — is home to many communities of alumni who live and work and socialize together.

    “Almost all of my friends from college live within 10 blocks from me,” says Willa Fitzgerald ’13, an actress living in Crown Heights. As she was making the decision to move to New York and audition for shows, it helped her to know she could rely on the friends she’d made in Yale’s theater community.

    Paulsen told me that, right before our phone interview, she went out to dinner with three other Yale graduates who are also auditioning for shows in New York. They all traded tips and advice on New York theater — what to wear for auditions, how to prepare in advance.

    Dolquist said he sees no drawbacks to New York’s theater world, where Yale graduates can find a broad range of opportunities and a welcoming alumni community.   

    Lucy Fleming ’16, an aspiring actress and writer, is a bit more skeptical of the post-Yale migration to New York. “I do think there’s value in taking time away from the Yale bubble,” she explains. “I know it’s a huge shock to leave undergrad and suddenly not be surrounded by all your friends, but that’s also an important aspect of transitioning into adult life.”

    Living and working with friends from college, many graduates do indeed make a concerted effort to break into new social circles. Antosh decided to actively seek out new friends in New York. “Staying totally immersed in an exported Yale bubble was never attractive to me,” she explained.

    It’s for that reason that some Yale graduates leave the Northeast. Holmes told me that one of her Global Affairs advisors urged her not to “continue Yale” by moving to New York City. “I see Yalies living together and I anticipated feeling a small pang of FOMO, but I haven’t had even the smallest bit,” she said. “Four years is enough. I was ready to leave.”   

    New York’s expansive Yale network didn’t really appeal to Holmes. And she isn’t the only Yale graduate navigating a complicated relationship with the institutional name on her degree. Graduates say that in the theater industry, stamping the Yale brand on your resume doesn’t always work in your favor.

    “I find that the Yale pedigree is a double-edged sword,” said Antosh. “I’ve had directors who probably gave me a second look because they assumed I was a ‘smart actor,’ and I’ve had other directors almost not cast me because they’d worked with other Yalies who had a chip on their shoulder.”

    Kelly, who’s looking for work as a writer in Los Angeles, said that he has noticed a similar adversity toward Yale graduates. He finds that employers respond well to narratives of desperation, tales of sacrifice for art’s sake. “If you come into meetings like ‘I’m this well-bred Yale graduate,’ they don’t respond well,” Kelly said. “They automatically assume you’re this trust fund-y preppy graduate who already has their ducks in a row.”

    Summer Homes, Starving Artists

    John Stillman ’14 and Brian Loeb ’14 were roommates their sophomore year at Yale. Post-graduation, they’re living in the same place again: New York. (Surprise!) But this time, they’re not sharing a bedroom — they’re not even in the same neighborhood.

    Loeb is working at J.P. Morgan, living in a Tribeca apartment with two other graduates. He typically gets into work around 9:00 in the morning and can finish anywhere between 10:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m., sometimes even later. Though the hours are long, Loeb said he’s enjoying work and loves living in New York City with its myriad bars, restaurants and concerts. His apartment, he added, is “a lot bigger than I would’ve expected.”

    You’ll find Stillman in Williamsburg, where he’s working as a freelance journalist. He has taken on side jobs to support himself; he has worked as a caretaker and he has done gallery installations. He has even modeled for a Facebook messenger ad. Right now, he said, he’s not ready to determine his lifelong career — he’s experimenting, trying to see what fits.

    That’s somewhat difficult in a costly city like New York, where the disparities between professions become apparent pretty quickly.

    “I’m making enough to live, but my friends are making enough to buy summer homes,” Stillman laughed. “I’m happy for them, but it’s crazy how the disparity is not something that takes time to set in.”

    Charlotte Parker ’13, now working on a farm in New Jersey, has also found that class divisions take root after graduation. “When you’re at Yale, finances aren’t totally relevant,” she explained. Of course, she continues, there’s that small subset of students who eat at posh restaurants and throw lavish parties — but frequently students’ financial situations are unclear. “Once you graduate, you can tell a bit more about what people’s financial situations are by what they’re doing on the weekends, where they go out to eat.”

    Sometimes, Parker sees the Instagram photos posted by her classmate working at Vogue. Despite living and studying together for four years, she said, their lifestyles won’t ever be the same.

    Even if you’re doing what you love, you might not find it easy to pursue your passions when your classmates are making six figures. And some say it’s not all a matter of personal choice: Our undergraduate lifestyle informs our career plans. Yale and its frills — its parade of comestibles, its endless fellowships and grants — might encourage certain expectations of future wealth. To some students, the emphasis here is on the luxe (and not the lux).

    “You become accustomed to a lifestyle at Yale that’s kind of unattainable if you really do the starving artist thing,” explained Kelly. “You get chained to a kind of fanciness.” Finance and consulting recruiters give us the chance to latch on to that fanciness, Kelly said, with their lavish information sessions at the Study.

    Paulsen certainly felt the pressures that Kelly describes. She says it wasn’t easy to turn down a high-paying consulting job and its accompanying prestige. “But I realized that sort of work is always available,” she said. “If I don’t try to do acting now though, I never will. I’ll never again put a two-year pause on my life to be a starving actress.”

    Not a single person asked me if I wanted to audition for a management consulting troupe freshman year. On the other hand, I was accosted by about five comedy clubs and nine publications and all 15 a cappella groups.

    So what happens between an extracurricular bazaar and senior year? At Yale, are the arts just a hobby, or are they a possible career?   

    I guess there’s no easy answer.

    But still, so many graduates are making art and making ends meet. Right now, they’re the four percent. And as OCS expands its arts resources, their numbers may grow.

    Antosh told me she was willing to make sacrifices for a career in theater. Unlike some of her peers, she gave up money and security and outside affirmation. But to her, the art was worth the risk.

    “Deciding to pursue a career in the arts was never a matter of courage,” she said. “It was a matter of hunger and love.”

  3. Impact—The Tantalan Thirst?

    Leave a Comment

    Like many students about to be pitched into the world of work, I have been thinking — and worrying — about impact. I want to have one, basically, but am unsure how to make one, and know too that wanting one makes me something of a flamboyant cliché. The old recall the idealism of their youth with nostalgia — its molten eyes, its effervescence — yet while I can diagnose my “impact-thirst” as a product of my own naïveté, I remain parched. I want to have an impact even if that makes me unoriginal and smug. I want one really badly.

    It’s not just me indulging in the navel-gazing. Having done my undergrad at Cambridge, one of the UK’s biggest feeders into the country’s finance sector, I’ve been struck by how many of my friends have spurned the “City” in favor of projects deemed to be “worthier.” There’s Eric, who interned at Credit Suisse before turning his job offer down so that he could learn how to code. There’s Peter, who decided not to apply to reams of consulting firms to work for a Cambridge summer school instead. There’s Joy, who’s working two jobs in London, trying to scrape a living in the world of journalism despite there being no jobs around. If she retrained as a lawyer or a broker, she’d be snapped up in no time by a big firm. But she won’t do it.

    You don’t have to scratch your head for long to work out why young graduates are turning their backs on more obviously lucrative careers. We are products of the financial downturn. Every society has its goodies and baddies, and for better or worse, the UK’s Undesirable Number One is the figure of the greedy banker. You know the type, even if you’re American — he’s white, middle-aged and plump, he gets a fat bonus at the end of every hour and gambles away pensions on hookers and mojitos. He has several offshore bank accounts, a porn habit and a yacht. He works long hours, but only because he gets a kick out of frittering away the nation’s savings and because his wife left him for a bespectacled librarian. 

    Ever since the crash of 2008 — and possibly even before — media outlets worldwide have hounded bankers as the villains responsible for the “big mess.” Of course, a significant portion of the blame can and should be laid at their feet — but not all, definitely not all. While individual bankers should answer to the law, waging a campaign against the profession generally — as many newspapers have done — doesn’t feel right either and has seemingly put many young graduates off the profession. Stock broking might still be a money-spinner, but it’s no longer “cool”. Startups are cool, the UN is cool, NGOs are cool. Banks are not. 

    So finance is somewhat arbitrarily off the table for the impact-thirsty. Even if there are strong arguments to be made for going into banking to, as it were, reform them from the inside, that doesn’t sit well with my peers, nor if truth be told, with me. But that leaves the question even more open — what path can I take after university that will help others, the more the merrier? I’ve agonized about it at length — whilst squirming at the pomposity of my anxiety. Do I set aside my natural interest in, for instance, the fashion industry, in the name of a potentially wave-making career at the EU? Do I ignore the fact that I don’t enjoy hustling people for donations and join the ranks of a charity instead? 

    Increasingly, I’ve come to realize that what looks and sounds like terrifying choice really isn’t. Yes, some jobs do help alleviate suffering. You can work in development and contribute to a project that will actively save the lives of people living thousands of miles away. You can write an app that will assuage the difficulties of Kenya’s ballooning smartphone community. But in reality, you cannot know what you will end up doing or how many people you will help, inspire, change. Our future careers may be more mobile and flexible and varied than those of our parents, but, in consequence, they will be less predictable. Eventually, you will be offered a position in a place that will sound convenient and fun, and, with a bit of luck, “impactful,” and you will take that position. You will discover whether or not that job is indeed a force for good, and whether you like what you are being asked to do. It seems that the best we impact-thirsty can do is avoid sectors that work “against” the morals we uphold, however contingent those morals seem.

  4. Life after Yale: The Roads Less Traveled

    Leave a Comment

    “Unless you landed a job with a salary so high you couldn’t possibly spend it all, you need to begin thinking about developing a reasonable monthly budget.”

    “Life After Yale” booklet, page 1, 2011 ed.

    Keep reading or skip right ahead to the “Million-Dollar Retirement Advice for the Future Millionaire” chapter. Published annually by Undergraduate Career Services, the “Life After Yale” primer is teeming with morsels of insight, from filing taxes to preparing salmon with dill cream sauce — every piece of practical information recent graduates need to know, in 102 pages. This survival guide, though, operates under the tacit premise that those doing the surviving will be headed for a metropolitan apartment in search of employment, or with a job already in tow.

    (This assumption is reasonable. According to the Office for Institutional Research’s most recent study of alumni activities one year after graduation, in which overall response rate ranged from 68 percent to 82 percent, 75 percent of members from the class of 2010 are employed.)

    But first, start from the beginning — flip back a couple of sections, to the part about how to dress to impress. Let’s say it is a balmy November afternoon in a Caribbean city: what should you wear to the office? If you’re Gerald McElroy ’09, you wander the streets of Santo Domingo in a Superman costume. Business casual.

    A red cape, fake pectorals and a stunning set of synthetic abs in lieu of a tie and blazer. This is McElroy’s dress code for the day. The scene, as baffling as it seemed, epitomized the nitty-gritty of his job: face-to-face interactions, colloquial approaches, donations from drivers and pedestrians. His post-graduation stint as a Fulbright scholar in the Dominican Republic revolved around his work for local charity organizations. He currently acts as development director for the Yale-founded student organization turned 501(c)3 nonprofit, Yspaniola.

    McElroy’s choice to chase after his own international projects led him to some of the most uncertain waters Yale alumni can tread after college. Many seniors suit up every year to partake in the well-oiled recruiting machines of Wall Street and Teach For America. On the other hand, it proves nearly impossible to determine the number of Yalies who go down non-traditional avenues following their senior year (“non-traditional,” of course, within the Yale context — meaning, any option outside of graduate school, the finance and consulting sectors, or teaching.) Be it the arts, journalism or civic work, careers outside the popular tracks can take plenty of forms for a considerable demographic of post-graduation Bulldogs. Taking this plunge into foreign territory after shedding your cap and gown involves a myriad of considerations: social groups, vocational interests, chance encounters, fellowship applications. The paths to finance, consulting, or graduate school are quite clear in comparison.

    “I know lots of seniors, myself included, who are planning and thinking about doing very non-traditional things abroad,” said Catherine Osborn ’12, a Latin American Studies major hoping to work in development and urban policy in Brazil. “But we’re very hesitant to announce them to the winds because who knows? We might not get funding and have to change our plans.”

    Yalies who opt to go abroad after graduation do so after accepting and understanding the risks inherent in their personal decisions. What remains a little tricky is pinpointing the common denominator anchoring these experiences, what ultimate set of values determines their decision to pursue the alternative.


    Many postgraduate fellowships awarded each year offer students the opportunity to mold their post-graduate experiences around their needs and long-term plans. While the Center for International and Professional Experience houses its own Office of Fellowship Programs (OFP), other available channels of funding include residential colleges, the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies, and the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs.

    More than 100 postgraduate fellowships were either won through the OFP or reported to their office in the 2010-11 academic year, said Kelly McLaughlin, director of fellowship programs and outcomes assessment.

    “Veering off of well-known paths requires students to be prepared to deal not only with more uncertainty and challenges but also potentially, often happily, to find a much better fit for their interests and talents in the long run,” he added.

    While most of these challenges take place once students arrives at their destination, the phase leading up to the actual experience can be nearly as stressful for applicants.

    Yet Osborn said that candidates have a great deal of control over the process since the applications include written essays and proposals that they can refine, and interviews for which they can prepare. She has applied for the Fox International Fellowship through the MacMillan Center and the OFP’s Parker Huang travel fellowship, among others.

    The risk in planning a postgraduation project that relies on fellowship funding from Yale “is more in the fact that all the deadlines are later,” she said. “So you might be ineligible for other potential jobs.” The success of these fellowship applications usually depends on how students can balance this process with other available opportunities.


    McElroy has been heavily engaged with Yspaniola since his freshman year of college. Even before then, he harbored an ever-growing affinity to languages (he speaks fluent French, Spanish and Haitian Creole) and Latin America, and he mostly surrounded himself with Yalies who had kindred interests.

    “I felt comfortable in pursuing what might be perceived as non-traditional to some,” McElroy said. “During my time at Yale I met many other idealistic individuals like myself who shared the belief that we can go forth and make a positive impact in the world.”

    After spending his first year out of Yale working for a law firm in Paris, France, he has made a second home of the Dominican Republic for the past two years through his Fulbright research on microfinance and his involvement in Yspaniola.

    Yspaniola encourages sustainable advancement and empowerment in marginalized communities of Dominicans and Haitians in the Dominican Republic. Headquartered in the northern cities of Santiago and Esperanza, the bulk of their work occurs in the nearby Batey Libertad.

    Bateys are rural communities in the Dominican Republic that originally expanded through the sugarcane industry in the first half of the 20th century as plantations increasingly employed unregulated Haitian migrant labor. At present, providing these communities with basic public services is an onerous task mired in red tape.

    McElroy described how Yspaniola has evolved from its Yale roots, sponsoring several service-learning trips from the U.S., while also developing a women’s leadership institute, a microenterprise project and a tutoring program. Initiatives start on the ground and come about organically, he added, the product of collaboration between Dominicans and Haitians living in the batey.

    A university scholarship fund, one of Yspaniola’s main projects, was established by Jonathan DiMaio ’09 on a Yale Parker Huang Fellowship after graduation; he is now the organization’s executive director. Two high school graduates from the batey receive generous stipends, academic support and leadership training each year to study in nearby Santiago, with the expectation that they will return and serve as local leaders.

    “We recognize that the people from the community know what’s best for them,” said Julie Gladnick, Yspaniola’s local program director, as we took a stroll in Batey Libertad. Poverty, much like the dust on the ground, covered every inch of the area. As I looked around I felt like a stranger in my own country, and I could notice my cheeks flushing.


    The 6:45 a.m. bus ride from Santo Domingo to Esperanza proved uneventful. I sat in the back row, knowing that no one ever dares to use the claustrophobic bus bathroom. I closed the shades and shut my eyes. I wouldn’t be missing much by ignoring the scenery rolling outside my window: mountains beyond mountains, the occasional mattress strapped on the back of a shabby motorcycle.

    I arrived. Gladnick introduced me in Creole to many community member as “un ami de Ge Ge,” McElroy’s friend. Everybody there knows him. She had an answer to every minor inquiry and curiosity: on the residents’ personal histories, on the racial tensions within the batey.

    The littlest toddlers poked fun at me: “Américain, américain!” I found it endearing — worse things have been said about my pallor. I kept meeting new faces, seeing naked babies sitting on the dirt. I accompanied a mild-mannered woman with joint pains to the local hospital. Everybody was welcoming, devoid of the bitterness I expected in a deprived environment. I began to understand what may drive Yalies back to these places, the Batey Libertads of the world.


    Once he receives his Yale diploma Thomas Smyth ’12, along with two other partners, will board a one-way flight to Zambia. He will be going to his new home.

    Under the Leitner Fellowship, Smyth traveled to Zambia the summer before his senior year, he identified a huge demand for small energy sources in rural areas off the grid, even with the near ubiquity of cell phones. Out of this trip, he came up with Zamsolar, a new company aimed at distributing solar products in under-electrified communities. Despite the venture’s social and environmental mission, he said, making Zamsolar a for-profit enterprise will help it get its products out to more citizens.

    As with any startup, Zamsolar’s founders will be expected to put sweat, equity and capital into their operations. Smyth will earn enough to cover daily living expenses, he explained, while every other dollar from his investors will go toward the business.

    The risks intrinsic to this undertaking did not deter him, in part due to the smorgasbord of academic and networking services provided at Yale.

    “It would be much scarier for me if I didn’t know what I wanted to do or what I was doing,” Smith said.

    In fact, Smyth claims that our generation has a fundamentally different attitude in regard to uncertainty than generations before us. His senior essay, titled “The Riskless Generation,” tries to trace the genesis of this anti-risk mindset.

    “We are more risk-averse in terms of everything,” he said. “People are closing off doors that could lead them to incredible opportunities.”

    If the Office of Institutional Research’s post-graduation employment surveys are any indication, Smyth might have a point. Whereas the study shows that the percentage of employment following graduation has steadily gone up from 16 to 75 percent starting with the class of 1960, the percentage of “others and indefinites” has oscillated since that same year, from 13 percent, peaking at 41 percent for the class of 1973, and currently standing at 4 percent.

    The sheer number of graduates flocking more and more toward safe and gainful employment, at least in the past five years, could be logically pegged to the turbulent economic backdrop.

    “There is some evidence consistent with those who graduate in recessions being more risk-averse,” said Lisa Khan, an assistant professor at the Yale School of Management known for her research regarding the effects of recessions on college graduates’ decision-making and salaries. “However, a number of other factors could also explain that behavior.”

    Graduates may also be avoiding entrance into a toxic economy. Application numbers for fellowships nationwide have risen noticeably in the wake of the recent financial crisis, according to Kelly McLaughlin, director of Yale’s fellowship programs and outcomes assessment. Yale has been no exception, with a steady increase in applications for both national and Yale fellowships.

    For those who instead choose to enter firms during a recession, Kahn has found they are less likely to leave, relative to their office peers. These workers are unsure of the probability of finding another job, she said, even if it doesn’t provide conclusive proof of more risk aversion.

    She continued: “I have seen some work showing that those who graduate in recessions are less likely to start their own companies at early stages in their careers — again, possibly suggesting increased risk aversion.”

    That being the case, Smyth’s endeavors may stand as a distinct rarity among the already rare. A political science major with no previous start-up experience is setting out into another country to build a business from the ground up. At the very least, the fledgling Zamsolar enjoys the nurturing assistance of mentors and investors.

    “We couldn’t make this project work without people in the finance industry,” Smyth acknowledged. “My business would not be possible without access to capital.” (McElroy echoed a parallel sentiment: “Not everyone who does finance is a sellout, just like not everyone who goes into development is a saint.”)

    But if Smyth’s hopes are any indication, this risky new venture runs not only on capital but on shaky idealism. Smyh said he has “no idea” what he will do after Zamsolar, intending to stay in the continent until he “makes it work.”


    Tully McLoughlin ’11 breathed in and then paused.

    “I think there’s a small percentage of those who graduate college that know exactly what they’re doing, and take a small step in pursuing what they want to do for the rest of their lives,” he told me. Eloquent, young and peppy, he appeared to have all the answers.

    “I don’t fall into that camp.”

    McLoughlin is currently in Accra, Ghana, partly to be out in the world, partly to test his own capabilities. Through Yale’s year-long Cohen Public Service Fellowship, McLoughlin works as a project officer for Farm Radio International, a nonprofit focused on improving food security and agricultural techniques for African small farmers.

    He is now halfway through his year abroad. As a Yale senior, he explained, it was important for him to escape the urgency to apply for something by default.

    “There’s a lot to be gained from the undefinable challenges of living and working in a foreign country,” McLoughlin said. “But it’s also the reason why it’s so hard to persuade people to do it, especially to people graduating from college now who are looking for something to seek their teeth into and know what they are facing.”

    Indeed, once abroad, not everything is indicated in the job description.

    “Going from a structured college life, filled with pre-cooked meals, registrars, advisors and organized extracurricular activities, to a foreign country without anyone really looking out for you or giving you feedback was a little bit scary,” said Zachary Fuhrer ’11, who lives in Brazil under the Gordon Grand Research Fellowship researching the politics of prostitution in the United States and Brazil from a human rights and public health perspective.

    Fuhrer studied abroad in Northeastern Brazil during his junior year, took five semesters of Portuguese classes at Yale and wrote a senior thesis that required him to read original 19th century Brazilian texts. In his quest to feed his growing interest in the South American nation, he primed himself for his postgraduate experience.


    The offices of Morgan Stanley near Times Square did not strike anyone in our tour as decidedly miserable. As a recent Yale alumna — a bouncy Humanities major turned stockbroker — led our group into a conference room furnished with sandwiches, fruit and beverages, it was easy to forget how I got there. The feeling did not last long. It was quite glaring: all the Yale freshmen and sophomores in the room were present on account of their Latino or African-American heritage. This was our tailored day trip, not just any kind of recruitment session. The Kool-Aid, however, tasted no different than the one I drank during an earlier visit to Goldman Sachs.

    Major investment banks and consulting firms have the time and the resources to fine-tune their recruitment strategies down to an absolute science, including lucrative offers, countless panels, and meetings that cater to minority students.

    “The difficult thing is when you compare living and working abroad to moving to New York City,” McLoughlin said. “The New York path is much clearer, it’s a simpler sell. Finance firms make it seem like a no-brainer.”

    Not only is it an easier sell, but a much more noticeable option. Undergraduate Career Services Director Allyson Moore recognized in an interview that financial consulting firms claim the upper hand when it comes to having a more visible campus presence than other employers.

    In response, Moore has partnered with Dwight Hall and other community service groups to brainstorm additional ways to heighten student awareness and increase the visibility of less moneyed firms in the nonprofit and public sectors. UCS and Dwight Hall have also agreed to co-sponsor a nonprofit career fair during the next academic year.

    But in fact, the largest employer of Yale graduates for the past few years happens to be a nonprofit, Teach For America — 24 percent of the class of 2010 survey respondents listed in the OIR study went into education, the highest percentage in any category. If there is any resemblance between the appeal of a TFA position and a Wall Street job, McLoughlin said, it is the streamlined process of employment. Any Ivy League student can recognize and adapt to the methodology of “applications” plus “interviews” equals “competition”, and as McLoughlin himself quipped: “who at Yale doesn’t like to win competitions?”


    The debate around job recruiting, though, often overlooks students’ financial circumstances, career motivations and even the likelihood of having a genuine interest in finance or consulting.

    Pragmatism drove one Yale senior away from the development sector and into a desk at the prestigious management consulting firm Bain & Company after college. This senior, who will be referred to as Lindsay in this article, asked to remain anonymous out of respect for her family’s economic situation.

    Lindsay had spent two summers working for Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), a nonprofit founded by Yale economics professor Dean Karlan that measures the impact of international development programs. She expected to work for the organization after graduation.

    Her thinking eventually began to shift for a few practical reasons. Although she is morally and personally committed to development as her ultimate career path, she opted for a consulting job that could provide her with specialized know-how for future work in her field of choice. Moreover, the realistic pressures of paying off her student loans weighed on her shoulders.

    Her plan is to work for Bain for two or three years, she told me, and learn about the managing and scaling of different projects. Later on she will apply this set of skills toward development initiatives, where her true passions lie.

    “You’re always thinking of risk when you’re thinking of unconventional paths: Will it be the best thing that will further my professional goals?,” Lindsay mentioned. “Maybe the objective of my work [at Bain] is not going to be personally exciting, but the mechanisms of that work are what I’m interested in.”

    Lindsay said she gets a fair amount of flak from some of her friends working at nonprofits for going to “the dark side.”

    “Dark side.” A Yale colloquialism reserved only for jobs in finance, consulting, banking and business. At some point, the joke must end and its underlying criticism begins to unravel.

    “The world needs your commitment to public service,” University President Richard Levin told graduates at the 2006 Baccalaureate Address. “We at Yale expect it.”

    For some, this commitment does not necessarily mean going into finance. On Nov. 15, around 50 students picketed a Morgan Stanley information session outside of the Study Hotel on Chapel Street, where it was being held. Right across the street, an “alternative info session” took place.

    The goal of Occupy Morgan Stanley, according to an email announcement sent the day before, was to “make students think more critically about what they’re going to be doing next year in a broader context.”

    Volunteers carrying posters and rallying calls filled the sidewalk as their peers walked past them and went inside the hotel. By questioning — or “demonizing,” depending on whom you ask — the recruiting event, the demonstration became Yale’s translation of the global Occupy movement.

    “Twenty-five percent is too much talent spent!,” the protesters chanted.

    It turns out that oft-touted statistic might be a bit inflated. The 25 percent figure refers to the respondents of a survey on employment sent to recent alumni, Moore said, not the total number of graduates of a given class. For instance, the data collected from the class of 2010 shows that only 869 of the approximately 1,280 graduates replied to the survey, 68 percent of the class.

    But to solely focus on the facts and numbers would be to miss the larger picture. Whether a future banker or an aspiring artist, most Yalies admit to an appreciation of a campus atmosphere where the ideas and decisions of their friends do not stand unchallenged.

    “I think it’s always great to have a conversation about it and not take anything for granted, be aware of all opportunities,” said Smyth, also an attendant and observer (though not a protester) at Occupy Morgan Stanley.

    “What will you do with your privilege?”, read one of the signs in the protest. If anything, questioning students’ vocational paths shines a light on a perceived moral component of a Yale education, one that is gradually becoming more salient in the public forum.


    Over kosher shawarma at a Diamond District Israeli restaurant, Fuhrer had lunch with a former Fulbright scholar in Brazil who is now his mentor. During their conversation, Fuhrer received a piece of advice he still keeps with him.

    “He said, ‘Nothing matters until you’re 30’,” Fuhrer recalled. “This was not meant to discredit any of the work you do in college and your immediate post-grad life, but to encourage a spirit of risk-taking, as in ‘You’re young. You have plenty of time to sit at a desk in Brooks Brothers slacks and wax poetic about your bright college years over summer trips to Martha’s Vineyard.’”

    This advice suggests a step-at-a-time mentality, one which is adopted by most recent graduates abroad. For McElroy, he now aspires to get a master’s degree in development. McLoughlin still remains unsure of his next move.

    Back at Yale, how normal such non-traditional paths seem depends on students’ undergraduate life, the friends with whom they socialize and the extracurriculars they cherish. Seniors tend to overemphasize what their peers are doing right after graduation, Osborn said, so they ignore the possibility of changing career choices down the line.

    “It is hard to pass moral judgment on other Yalies based on their first year jobs after graduation,” she said. Osborn learned this past week she received the Huang fellowship for post-college research. She can temporarily accept the award, pending notification from another fellowship in April.

    At this stage in the academic year, several seniors may lack concrete plans. Recent alumni, in turn, have spent enough months out of Yale to put their experiences into perspective. Since their first postgraduate decisions are not likely to dictate the course of their entire career, the only thing that remains certain in their futures is the desire to get “somewhere.” Wherever “somewhere” happens to be, they agree, there is no dearth of time.

    “I do love the [African] continent and there is so much more to explore,” McLoughlin said, the excitement ringing in his voice. “For now, in my twenties at least, this is the time to have adventures.”

  5. Even artichokes have doubts

    38 Comments

    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.”

    But at the same time he has some doubts about these motives: “I think the last time that most of us went through something like this was when we were applying to college and we’re conditioned to accept the ready-made established process. The problem is, most places don’t have something like that. It’s messy and confusing and we’re often afraid of dealing with that mess,” he said. “Second of all, a lot of people, myself included, are very worried about narrowing their options or specializing, and consulting firms do a great job of convincing us that we still have many options open.”

    “I think it’s a combination of that and prestige,” he added.

    Annie Shi ’12 has similar justifications for her job at J.P. Morgan next year. When asked what she might be most interested in doing with her life, she mentioned a fantasy of opening a restaurant that supports local artists and sustainable food. Eventually, she’s “aiming for something that does more good than just enriching [her]self.” She just doesn’t think she’s ready for anything like that quite yet.

    “How can I change the world as a 21- or 22-year-old?” she said. “I know that’s a very pessimistic view, but I don’t feel like I have enough knowledge or experience to step into those shoes. Even if you know that you want to go into the public sector you’d benefit from experience in the private sector.”

    Annie also considers the financial incentives of the position.

    “I’m practical,” she says. “I’m not going to work at a non-profit for my entire life; I know that’s not possible. I’m realistic about the things that I need for a lifestyle that I’ve become accustomed to.” Though she admits she’s at least partially worried of ending up at the bank “longer than [she] sees [her]self there now,” at present she sees it as a “hugely stimulating and educational” way to spend the next few years.

    Others disagree. One senior who interned with J.P. Morgan (and who requested anonymity) had a very different experience with the bank.

    “Working there was a combination of the least fulfilling, least interesting and least educational experiences of my life. I guess I did learn something, but I learned it in the first two days and could have stopped my internship then. In the next two months I learned nothing but still came into work early and for some reason had to stay until ten,” he said. “I would see these people who loved it but honestly it seemed like they were either uninteresting or lying to themselves.”

    But Annie and Jeff weren’t the only two students I spoke with that prescribed to this notion of the private sector as a kind of training ground. The industries certainly work hard to advance this idea — marketing themselves as the best and fastest way to train oneself for … anything.


    Kevin Hicks ’89, former dean of Berkeley College thinks it’s a load of crap.

    “As for the argument that consulting provides an extraordinary skill set with which one can eventually change the world, I just don’t buy it,” he said. “Everyone knows what the skill set is for most entry-level consultants: PowerPoint and Excel.” He sees a huge problem with the idea that consulting and finance are good ways to prepare oneself for a career elsewhere.

    “Most firms are looking for people who will stay up until 3 a.m. seven nights a week making slides for a partner who goes home to Wellesley for dinner every night at 5 p.m. — and who will do so thinking that they’re ‘winning.’ Look at it this way: most firms assume that you’ll leave for law school or business school within three years, and they invest in your training accordingly. Quality mentoring when you’re young is worth whatever you pay for it. Sometimes that means less money, sometimes that means less of a life beyond work. But quality mentoring is not going to be delivered by someone who is 26, and just one tidal cycle ahead of you.”

    Hicks believes this idea of skill set development is a product of fantastic marketing by the firms themselves.

    “There are a half-dozen more life-affirming ways you can acquire those same skills, including taking a class at night at a junior college while you do something more interesting. I suppose I’m open to the idea that consulting may truly be a great first job for someone, but too many seniors march lemming-like towards it because everyone else seems to be doing it, and it’s the next opportunity for extrinsic validation. If McKinsey says you’re okay, you’re okay.”

    “The danger in doing a prefabricated thing after graduation,” he continued, “is that there’s no unique story to tell about it. If there was ever a moment to be entrepreneurial and daring — whether in terms of business or social change, and really test yourself, this is it.”

    “If you’re like most people, you’ll do one thing for two to three years, then something else for two to three years, and then — somewhere in that five- to seven-year distance from Yale — you’ll see a need to fully commit to something that’s a longer term project: graduate school, for example, or a job you need to stick with for some real time. The question is: where do you need to be with yourself such that when the time comes to ‘cast your whole vote,’ you’re reasonably confident you’re not being either fear-based or ego-driven in your choice … that the journey you’re on is really yours, and not someone else’s. If you think of your first few jobs after Yale in this way — holistically and in terms of your growth as a person rather than as ladder-rungs to a specific material outcome — you’re less likely to wake up at age 45 married to a stranger.”

    Yikes!

    Professor Charles Hill also believes it’s an unproductive use of Yalies’ time — but for slightly different reasons. He sees the job world as split into two categories: primary functions and secondary functions; productive and unproductive. Unlike straight-up corporations, he doesn’t see these banks or consultant agencies as contributing to the world in a primary, meaningful way.

    “People go into it without knowing why,” he said. “They consider you a crop. They harvest you, put you in their grinder, pay you well and off-load you.” He sees consulting services as something companies invest in to protect against potential lawsuits — providing somewhere for C.E.Os to point the finger in the event of legal trouble. When the economy goes down, corporations cut back on the use of consultants — Hill argues that if their services were truly needed, the exact opposite would occur (i.e. the corporate use of consultants would increase.)

    His alternative? Professor Hill wishes more Yalies would go into the productive economy, i.e. work for the corporations themselves.

    “Students have these ideologies dropped down on them from the ’60s and ’70s about corporations being evil,” he said. “For some reason people will work for consultants and banks but not for PepsiCo or General Motors.” As for the non-profit world, Hill sees it as a waste of our talents. “It’s a question of grand strategy,” he said, insisting that our energy is better spent elsewhere.

    Yikes!

    In terms of OTHER IMPORTANT PEOPLE, University President Richard Levin believes “there are many ways to contribute to the well being of society, and there are many forms of public service.” He rejects the notion that “people who choose a business career aren’t interested in being public spirited,” asserting that “what’s outstanding about Yale graduates is that whatever career they choose they end up being active participants in the civic life of the communities in which they live.”

    Harold Bloom disagrees.

    “Alas,” he groaned, “This is the death of the mind. That is not my vision of Yale University.”


    Inevitably, some of the students I spoke with aren’t interested in the industry at all. “I can never say for an individual person because I don’t know their financial circumstances,” Alexandra Brodsky ’12 said, “but 25 percent is a lot of talent that could do a hell of a lot for the world elsewhere. I think that we have to be aware of that when we make these choices.” Brodsky, the co-coordinator of Dwight Hall, spends a lot of her time at Yale surrounded by non-profit management. For her, the argument that working in the private sector is the best way to prepare oneself for this line of work is faulty.

    “I think the best way to get the skills to work for a non profit is to work for a non profit,” she said. “The answer people give about skills acquisition is very convenient.”

    Sam Schoenburg ’12, a political activist and campaigner, is on the same page. “I’ve always been interested in government work or advocacy and I don’t feel that [consulting or finance] would satisfy me in the same way — even if it was only for a couple of years,” he said.

    “There seems to be a great disconnect between the lofty speeches we hear at commencement from Yale administrators about devoting ourselves to public service and the career advice we’re presented with during the rest of the year.”

    Still, some people I talked to were interested in the industry for its own sake — fascinated and excited by the work itself. Three such students requested to remain anonymous, but one, Sam Beckinstein ’12, was willing to comment on his genuine interest in consulting as a career choice in itself, not as a means to another end.

    “In my everyday decision-making, I want to be doing something that has an impact,” he said, “and when I think about how best to be in that position, I usually think of some kind of strategic management.”

    Joe Breen ’12 is caught somewhere in the middle. He’s interested in eventually going into affordable housing development, running a non-profit that improves services for a community or provides services that do not yet exist. But he’s applying for a series of jobs in the real estate private sector and isn’t sure how he feels about it morally.

    “It’s hard to say which types of things are improving communities and which are exploiting communities,” he said. “But ultimately, I want to work for an organization that I’m positive is not exploiting communities for profit.”

    Joe isn’t sure where commercial real estate falls on that spectrum, and it frustrates him.

    “I would love for there to be a great two-year program that helps you gain all of these skills and gets you to start helping people right away, but I haven’t found that yet,” he said. “It’s pretty hard to be proactive in finding your own alternative, meaningful experience when you’re running an organization and taking classes. These commercial systems are already in place. They have deadlines. They present themselves to you.”

    At times, Breen admits, he worries we’re sending our “best and brightest” into jobs that “abuse communities for profit.” (He also worries that every quote he gave for this article has the word “community” in it.)

    The Office of Yale Undergraduate Career Services is well aware of these complaints. But Associate Dean and UCS Director Allyson Moore contends that they’re seeking to answer them.

    “We recognize that financial services and management consulting firms have a wealth of resources at their disposal and that their on-campus recruiting efforts are thus highly visible,” she said via email. “That means there is a responsibility for UCS to help those industries with fewer resources, such as arts, non-profit and public sectors to receive equal visibility.” This year, they made sure that one third of the organizations at the career fair were from these categories.

    “We were quite pleased with that,” she said, “and will continue these efforts within the coming months.” One such initiative is an online self-assessment service designed to identify students’ passions so they can “hone in on motivations” to better address their needs.


    Honestly, I think UCS is an easy scapegoat. The real reason so many of us pursue careers in consulting and finance is far more complicated than that. Of course the word scapegoat is problematic to begin with. Are consulting firms inherently evil? Probably not. Are banks inherently evil? Probably not. Frankly, I don’t know enough about EVERYTHING to make a statement like that one way or another. So is there anything intrinsically wrong with the fact that 25 percent of employed Yale graduates end up in this industry?

    Yeah. I think so.

    Of course this is my own opinion, but to me there’s something sad about so many of us entering a line of work in which we’re not (for the most part) producing something, or helping someone, or engaging in something that we’re explicitly passionate about. Even if it’s just for two or three years. That’s a lot of years! And these aren’t just years. This is 23 and 24 and 25. If it were a smaller percentage of people, perhaps it wouldn’t bother me so much. But it’s not.

    What it boils down to is that we could be doing other things. Sure, working at Bain or McKinsey or J.P. Morgan might be one way to gain skills to help us get hired elsewhere, but it’s obviously not the only option. There’s a lot of cool shit we could all be doing — and I don’t need to enumerate the clichés.

    Obviously, some people need to make money. They have school loans to pay off and families to support. For those of us with an actual need to make money quickly, these industries might make a lot of sense. In fact, I think that working hard to earn a decent amount of money can be quite noble. I’m still struggling with the fact that due to my own (selfish) desire to be a writer, my children probably won’t have the same opportunities I had growing up. For most students, however, I genuinely don’t think it’s about the money. It’s a factor, sure. But it just feels like a factor.

    What bothers me is this idea of validation, of rationalization. The notion that some of us (regardless of what we tell ourselves) are doing this because we’re not sure what else to do and it’s easy to apply to and it will pay us decently and it will make us feel like we’re still successful. I just haven’t met that many people who sound genuinely excited about these jobs. That’s super depressing! I don’t understand why no one is talking about it.

    Often times at Yale, I’ll be sitting around studying or drinking or hanging out when I’ll hear one of my friends talk about a project they’re doing for a class or a rally they’re organizing or a play they’re putting on. And I’ll just think, really, honestly, how remarkably privileged we are to hang around with such a talented group of people around here. I am constantly reminded of the immense passion and creativity of those with whom I get to spend time everyday.

    Maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe it really is a fantastic way to gain valuable, real-world skills. And maybe everyone will quit these jobs in a few years and do something else.

    But it worries me.

    I want to watch Shloe’s movies and I want to see Mark’s musicals and I want to volunteer with Joe’s non-profit and eat at Annie’s restaurant and send my kids to schools Jeff’s reformed and I’m JUST SCARED about this industry that’s taking all my friends and telling them this is the best way for them to be spending their time. Any of their time. Maybe I’m ignorant and idealistic but I just feel like that can’t possibly be true. I feel like we know that. I feel like we can do something really cool to this world. And I fear — at 23, 24, 25 — we might forget.

    (*) Yale Office of Institutional Research, “Type of Employment Chosen by Undergraduates” (2010).