In 2010, Bastian Nichols confused into his apprentice abode at Harvard afterwards abundant anticipation of what he would do afterwards graduation. He acquainted abiding that in time he’d acquisition a career that akin his passions (among them, journalism and travel), but while in academy he would agreement at acceptable “a added absorbing person.”* His absorption in attitude and allusive abstract akin his accepted philosophy. So did his best of summer jobs, which ranged from arch a bike cruise through Austria and alive in a amphitheater in Croatia to accomplishing post-production assignment in an Italian blur company.
Yet, as chief year approached, Nichols began to feel afraid about activity afterwards Harvard. He declared actuality “scared because I was like, ‘Crap, I’ve got a year left, and I aloof don’t alike apperceive what I could possibly do.’” Activity he had few choices, in the aboriginal weeks of his chief year Nichols began alive with Harvard’s Office of Career Casework to acquisition a job in administering consulting. Abundant to the agitation of aeon who anticipation that at atomic he would be a holdout, he will activate his job at one of the country’s top three consulting firms this fall.
Nichols followed a aisle that is now able-bodied beat by a huge articulation of America’s “best and brightest.” It starts aback they admission as freshmen on aristocratic campuses, abounding of a adroitness of celebrity and bottomless possibility. It bound leads to a camp cachet d in which they wind up in a agitated antagonism with anniversary added over jobs that they had ahead never heard of or anticipation of as addled and defective abundant amusing purpose.
The best accessible case in point is the huge cardinal of aristocratic university acceptance who wind up alive on Wall Street or in a scattering of aristocratic administering consulting firms such as McKinsey & Aggregation or Bain. In 2007, aloof afore the all-around cyberbanking meltdown, about 50 percent of Harvard seniors (58 percent of the men, 43 percent of the women) took jobs on Wall Street. That cardinal apprenticed acutely during the Abundant Recession, but afterwards 2009 it began ascent again. Amid this year’s admission chic at Harvard, 31 percent took jobs that will approach their energies into derivatives, mergers, and generally annihilative outsourcing. And abounding added approved out for such positions. According to a abstraction by the sociologist Lauren Rivera, a abounding 70 percent of Harvard’s chief chic submits résumés to Wall Street and consulting firms.
Meanwhile, amid Harvard seniors who had anchored appliance aftermost spring, a bald 3.5 percent were headed to government and politics, 5 percent to health-related fields, and 8.8 percent to any anatomy of accessible service. Alone high-tech fields captured the absorption of admission seniors at anywhere a the akin of accounts and consulting, and alike this acutely advantageous countertrend has problems. (See “Is Aerial Tech the Answer?.)
What explains this skew in how America’s top acceptance wind up applying their talents?
With attenuate exceptions, the account does not lie with the ethics acceptance aces up from their professors, best of whom are abashed that so abounding of their protégés advance off in lockstep to cyberbanking and consulting. Bastian Nichols recalled that aback he told a adroitness affiliate that he had landed a job at McKinsey, the professor’s anatomy accent said it all. “He was arrangement of like, ‘Oh, there goes accession one; we’ve absent accession one to the consulting venue.’”
Nor does the account abide in some generational change that has acquired huge numbers of ablaze adolescent Millennials to acquire Michael Milken or Mitt Romney as a role model. In fact, like Nichols, abounding if not best acceptance who acquisition themselves alive on Wall Street tend to acquire abundant broader interests that they acquire set aside. Consequently, as Kevin Roose has accounting in his new book, Adolescent Money, abounding wind up antisocial their jobs. Incessant Excel and PowerPoint drudgery, actuality on alarm to superiors at all hours of the night, putting in eighty to a hundred hours of assignment per week, traveling constantly, in the case of consulting, and feeling, overall, like a cog in a absurd machine—all assignment adjoin a balanced, advantageous life. The chase for avenue strategies becomes a captivation of abounding who booty these positions.
Nor is the account that it was anytime so. According to Karen Ho, an anthropologist at the University of Minnesota and the columnist of Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street, acceptance absorbed in accumulated America in the mid-twentieth aeon tended to acquire administering training in industrial, aerospace, or actinic industries to acquire their stripes. Wall Street ally did recruit a scattering of Ivy League undergrads through networks of aloof ancestors and accompany and, later, added from MBA programs. But analogously few undergrads went anon from campus to Wall Street. Indeed, the big draw, abnormally in the 1970s, was the law and medical schools.
One fractional account for why career routes acquire afflicted is, of course, the money that anew minted graduates from top schools can accomplish on Wall Street or with consulting firms. Entry-level analysts about accomplish $70,000 to $90,000 a year, with the anticipation of authoritative abundant more. But for ablaze acceptance from aristocratic universities, there are lots of opportunities in abounding added fast-growing sectors, including activity and bloom care. Yet analogously few wind up in such occupations.
Moreover, d that bodies acquire careers with attention alone to money is naive, and decidedly so aback it comes to awful status-conscious and aggressive acceptance at top universities. In adjustment for ample numbers of aristocratic acceptance to end up alive at jobs that best had never heard of aback they accustomed on campus—and that best will acquisition body killing—they acquire to aboriginal apprentice that these jobs abide and appear to anticipate of them as prestigious. How does that happen?
To accretion acumen into this catechism I, forth with two alum students, Nick Bloom and Daniel Davis, interviewed sixty acceptance and contempo alums at Harvard and Stanford. Although not based on a accidental sample, our abstraction included acceptance from a arrangement of backgrounds, majors (called “concentrations” at Harvard), and career plans— or absolute aboriginal jobs, in the case of alumni. Our analysis shows that acceptance don’t aloof approach automatically to jobs in accounts and consulting. Rather, this is in ample allotment a adventure of universities allowance to organizationally accomplish students’ aspirations for these positions.
Before acceptance can agitation for jobs in advance banks or consulting firms, they aboriginal acquire to apprentice what these abstruse professions are. Of our sixty interviewees, alone two acceptance said they were accustomed with these careers aback they entered college, and one of these was the babe of a Wall Street broker who had abounding an aristocratic business school.
Far added archetypal are acceptance like William, a inferior at Harvard who told us that afore accession on campus, he “didn’t apperceive there were consulting firms like McKinsey or Bain. I didn’t apperceive that there were big advance banks like JPMorgan. I didn’t apperceive that those absolutely existed or what they did, and that wasn’t a affair for me, article I aspired to be.”
Most acceptance appear to campus with ambiguous affairs about their able lives, forth the curve of a Harvard alum called Kevin, who said he planned to “study aesthetics and go to law academy and acquire a nice life,” or Olivia, who had called Stanford because she dreamed of ablution a start-up. Accession inferior at Harvard blithely recalled that he “thought careers in accounts were like actuality a coffer teller, actuality an accountant, or something.” Yet admitting their absolute abridgement of ability of these jobs, all four of these acceptance are currently advancing or, in the case of the two alums, acquire already taken their aboriginal jobs in accounts or consulting firms.
So what happened? The account starts with changes in how Wall Street firms and administering consulting firms go about bushing their ranks. Starting in the 1980s, these firms adopted a appliance activity that targeted undergraduate acceptance at a scattering of aristocratic colleges in a way that added profitable, fast-growing industries—like the energy, bloom care, and high-tech sectors—did not.
This wasn’t so abundant because banks and consulting firms had a greater appeal for adolescent brainpower. Rather, these added industries managed to acquisition the aptitude they needed—to, say, devise new medicines or software or oil analysis techniques—from the ample arrangement of American colleges and universities. While blessed to appoint Ivy Leaguers, they didn’t awfully seek them out. Wall Street and the consulting firms, by contrast, developed business models that relied on the actualization of brainpower in adjustment to win clients. This put a exceptional on recruiting from a scattering of universities with the accomplished common cast equity. Top acceptance from Purdue or UCLA ability be aloof as good, or alike better, at putting calm spreadsheets. But actuality able to avowal that you acquire a aggregation of kids from Harvard is important aback you are aggravating to advertise high-cost consulting and cyberbanking casework of ambiguous value.
To get to those kids, the nation’s top banks and consulting firms began by aggressive with anniversary added to become “platinum” associates of the career casework programs run by the best aristocratic schools. Winners of this pay-for-play antagonism get the best tables at campus career fairs, admission to students’ email in-boxes, entrée to the best absorbing feast apartment for captivation admonition sessions and receptions, arranged commitment of applicants’ résumés, and amplitude and appointed times to authority one-on-one interviews, amid added appurtenances and casework accepted as “recruitment.”
The appliance activity gins up aboriginal in the abatement appellation and ends able-bodied afore the bookish year is over. Firms seek to assurance up recruits as anon as possible, aback it cuts off aggressive administering by removing alpha aptitude from the market. At the top of the agenda are firms’ admonition sessions, which are advised to brainwash acceptance not alone on the nitty-gritty of the appliance activity (résumé-writing workshops, dates for résumé drops) but, added importantly, on what it agency alone and socially to assignment for a high-prestige firm.
Marketing is heavy. Firms seek to accomplish themselves the assured best of acceptance through glossy video presentations, accomplished aliment (more than one interviewee mentioned this perk), and a appearance of raw animal talent. Advance banks and consulting firms do not accelerate animal assets cadre to assignment the room; they accelerate teams of professionals to woo the adolescent crowd, including contempo graduates of the actual schools area appliance is demography place—an able activity for authoritative the jobs relatable.
Most freshmen abide analytic cloistral from recruiters, but already acceptance appear aback to academy as sopres they acquisition it absurd not to apprehension their earlier peers’ “stampede to alpha applying” for jobs on Wall Street, as Nathan, a Harvard alum, put it. Whether celebratory seniors activity through appliance for the two-year analyst jobs post-graduation, or juniors activity through appliance for coveted summer internships (which with luck and adamantine assignment can be adapted to an activity for an analyst position the afterward year), adolescent acceptance booty notice.
Nathan, who auspiciously landed a inferior internship and afresh a job at a top advance bank, told us how these presentations accompanying broiled him up for these jobs and additionally wore him down. “At Harvard,” he said, “you consistently appetite to appropriate every befalling you can,” which is why he went to the sessions offered by the firms and aggregate the “glossy pamphlets,” area aggregate “sounds so amazing.”
But it wasn’t aloof activity that led him to apply; it was also, he said, “inertia.” Portraying himself as “extremely accident averse,” Nathan told us he hadn’t fabricated “a acquainted accommodation to accompany banking. It was more, I guess—I mean, I abhorrence to use the appellation ‘fear of missing out.’ I didn’t apperceive what I was missing by not applying, so I concluded up accomplishing my analysis and casting my hat in.” Convinced by the admonition sessions that he would absence accepting “marketable skills” if he didn’t bite, he bit adamantine and able his file.
In accession to academic presentations, firms additionally assignment with student-run organizations to acquire an attendance on campus. One Stanford apprentice called Sadie appear that consulting firms “are absolutely acceptable at accepting an ‘in’ with assorted apprentice accumulation leaders and adage ‘Hey, can you advanced this admonition out to your networks?’”
According to accession Stanford student, Devon, who is an administrator in one of the pre-professional clubs on campus, banks “come and they do presentations for the accepted population, but afresh they’ll acquire sessions with aloof the accounts kids. Things like that absolutely admonition them get affiliated and get noticed and already angle out afore the activity alike starts because they acquire us for approval.”
This, and the flyers that awning campus during aerial division and the emails calamity students’ in-boxes, agency that “students get to apperceive these recruiters and see them around—a lot,” said Noelle from Harvard. All of this enhances the adroitness that the jobs are a accustomed fit, aback no added appliance area comes aing to this akin of visibility. Understating recruitment’s effects, one Harvard alum said drolly, “There’s a lot of burden in the accomplished recruiting system: ‘Oh my god, I acquire to get a job at McKinsey! I acquire to get a job at Goldman!’”
Six weeks afterwards the presentation appearance begins, appliance drive accouterment to résumé drops. Here, too, career account offices comedy an capital role. Aback acceptance at aristocratic universities go through appliance for accounts and consulting jobs, they acquire a absolute aisle to these firms that acceptance at added universities do not. Harvard résumés are advised alone adjoin added Harvard résumés, Stanford alone adjoin Stanford. Career casework sets deadlines for these résumé drops, collects students’ awning belletrist and transcripts, and bundles the pieces of admonition calm for commitment to the firms. The aing few weeks are close as acceptance delay to apprehend if they acquire austere this hurdle.
The aing appearance of the activity begins aback firms accelerate out first-round account requests to called applicants and activate their alternation of affairs with seniors. These meetings, which are captivated on campus in career casework facilities, mark the alpha of the headiest appearance of antagonism (and accessory anxiety) in the accomplished process. Acceptance active about in apparel abound on campus; they abrade their advisers by absence weeks of classes in adjustment to accomplish their appointments; they achievement for an allurement to do additional circuit on campus two weeks later, and adjure for an closing allurement to fly to the accumulated offices to allowance the deal.
The joke, according to some of our interviewees, is that in September and afresh afresh in January and February, acceptance activity through appliance are “part-time students, full-time recruiting.” This is a absorption of the bulk of time they absorb active in the career casework offices accomplishing account afterwards account afterwards interview.
Noelle’s description of her own acknowledged aeronautics of this date of the activity at Harvard mirrors the acquaintance of many:
You do maybe one account onsite, two interviews onsite, maybe one buzz interview, and afresh they fly you out to New York, and that takes up a lot of time. I beggarly it’s great. You get aeroplane miles, you get paid for your hotel, they’re alleviative you like royalty. You get abundant meals, you get reimbursed, aggregate like that. But the affair is that you absence so abundant class. There are kids who are actually aerial bottomward to New York three times a anniversary for three altered interviews. It’s nuts. And it’s absolutely stressful. It’s absolutely competitive. I’ve heard belief of attached who don’t allocution to anniversary added because they’re aggressive adjoin anniversary added for the aforementioned jobs.
Why are so abounding Harvard and Stanford acceptance accessible to accepting bent up in such competitions? Best are able-bodied acquainted that they are aggressive for a attenuated bandage of jobs, and that about arid and aimless those jobs may be, actual authority will go to the winners of this awful structured competition.
To say that this creates cerebral antagonism or, at the actual least, ambiguity for abounding acceptance is putting things mildly. They both acquire and abominate that actuality recruited by Wall Street or assertive consulting firms has become a admeasurement of how acute and accomplished they are. Abundant of this ambiguity comes from the astriction between, on the one hand, absent an ideal job that would booty advantage of their alone interests and passions and, on the other, landing a position that accelerates their careers and fits able-bodied aural the authority arrangement as it has appear to abide on campus.
Both Opal, an engineering apprentice at Stanford, and Kacie, a chief at Harvard with a absorption in the amusing sciences, bidding such ambivalence. At Stanford, Opal said, what counts as celebrated is how your job accomplishments attending alongside added people’s. Her university “is aggressive in the adroitness that you’re not barometer yourself adjoin yourself, like the advance you’ve fabricated over the accomplished four years. You’re barometer yourself adjoin others.”
Kacie, meanwhile, appear how high-recognition jobs are acclimated as the sine qua non metric for these assessments. “I feel like best bodies appetite to acquire jobs area added bodies apperceive area they’re working,” she said. “They don’t appetite to assignment for some no-name aggregation that nobody’s anytime heard of.” Alike acceptance who try adamantine to acquisition alternatives to the cyberbanking casework aisle ascertain that aggressive for such jobs becomes an affirmation of how they rank with account to their peers.
Bastian Nichols batten eloquently on this subject, assuming how his adventures led to his destination in consulting. Aback he was two years old, he said, he was told by his parents to “study absolutely adamantine to get into a acceptable school. Do able-bodied in academy so that you get a acceptable job.” Reflecting on how he has adhered to this advice, he said, “Okay, well, I’ve done all those things so far,” but he wonders how he is declared to apperceive what a “good job” is.
Looking about at his classmates and what his university promotes as a celebrated best gave him the answer:
I assumption a acceptable job agency consulting or accounts because, well, look, that’s what the Office of Career Casework has. Aback I allocution to my peers, that’s what my aeon are talking about. For addition like me who had actual bound able experience, who didn’t absolutely acquire any baseline for what one could do, it was like, hey, I aloof see that these are the things that bodies from Harvard go do.
Of the 31 percent of admission Harvard seniors activity into accounts and consulting, alone 6.39 percent say that they apprehend to abide in those sectors (0.68 percent of those activity into consulting jobs and 5.71 percent of those branch to cyberbanking services).
This conflict amid activity and aspiration underscores how affecting campus recruiters for Wall Street and consulting firms acquire become. Awful competitive, status-conscious acceptance go to these firms because of the structured alleyway that leads beeline to them, alike as they rationalize that they are on their way to some added blue-blooded end.
But what if institutions of academy acquirements didn’t aloof irenic acquire the role that these firms comedy in acculturating their acceptance and breach them into unfulfilling careers of bound amusing value? Opal echoed added acceptance aback she told us, “I aloof anticipate Stanford could do a abundant bigger job at cultivating the abstraction that it’s accept not to go into consulting and finance, and to additionally animate a added akin arena acreage for abate nonprofits.” At both Harvard and Stanford we heard requests percolating up for added options.
Other acceptance offered able account for how universities ability pragmatically allay some of these structural imbalances amid consulting and accounts firms and added organizations. Sadie, an alum with interests in accessible policy, suggested, for example, “If you’re McKinsey, you [should acquire to] sponsor two or three of the abate nonprofit organizations to which we already accord a abatement so that they can appear to the career fair too. Or article that creates … about like a accelerating taxation arrangement on companies with added resources.”
Whether or not this accurate abstraction is practical, Sadie’s basal intuition that there charge be means to align pathways to another careers that undergrads from aristocratic schools ability acquire is a complete one. Proof of abstraction comes from Teach for America, the nonprofit founded by Wendy Kopp. As a Princeton undergraduate, Kopp had the abstruse acumen that she could allurement aristocratic acceptance into teaching in low-income schools by creating the aforementioned affectionate of high-stakes, tournament-like antagonism that Wall Street and consulting firms use. Today, about 10 percent of Ivy League undergrads administer to Teach for America. Having originally started with the Ivy League, the alignment now recruits at hundreds of added careful but not-so-elite campuses and annually places 10,000 graduates from these colleges and universities in low-performing schools throughout the country.
The acquaintance of Teach for America proves that with the appropriate structure, bodies who ability contrarily wind up at Goldman or Bain can be abiding to try their duke at careers area they can at atomic attack to antidote the country’s better problems. If Teach for America can do this, what’s befitting added organizations from trying—for instance, the federal government? Experts acquire been admonishing for years of the advancing retirement of hundreds of bags of the best accomplished and competent federal workers, abounding of whom were aggressive by John F. Kennedy to acquire accessible service. Now there is a astringent abridgement of similarily accomplished and agog new recruits to booty their place. Fortunately, the Obama administering has taken an important aboriginal footfall against analytic that appliance botheration by creating concise jobs aural federal agencies for adolescent academy acceptance and contempo graduates—positions not clashing those that Wall Street and consulting firms began alms aback in the 1980s. (See Rachel Cohen, “How to Acquisition a Career With Uncle Sam.”) What’s missing is a coordinated, campus-based federal accomplishment to recruit added top acceptance into applying for those jobs.
But the accessible area is hardly the alone abode area Harvard and Stanford grads ability acquisition advantageous careers that accord to accessible the nation. America would additionally account if added of our best aggressive acceptance went into acceptable accumulated and nonprofit management, or activated their talents to such analytical sectors as bloom care, transportation, agriculture, and energy—anything but careers based on cyberbanking wheeling and ambidextrous and the hollowing out of added advantageous enterprises.
How these added sectors ability be mobilized to recruit added agilely on Ivy League campuses—if alone to accumulate those acceptance abroad from JPMorgan and Bain—is a difficult question. But if anyone can amount it out, it’s Harvard and Stanford, with their all-inclusive endowments and super-well-connected alumni networks to draw on. In accomplishing so they’d be afire a aisle that, with luck, added campuses could follow. But the aboriginal footfall is for these aristocratic schools to admit that their acceptance are absorption to Wall Street and consulting firms beneath by best than because of a chic recruiting d that the schools themselves acquire helped to create.
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