Seniors Begin to Wonder: Where To Go From Here?

A. Jabbar Abdi '94, a government concentrator, some day hopes to attend business or law school. But for now, Abdi would like to find a job in consulting or investment banking.

"I'm hoping a couple of years in the real world will help me decide what I want to do," he says.

In the face of a job market that has been flat for the last few years, seniors such as Abdi are fretting about their short-and long-term job prospects. And most seniors are only just starting to look beyond graduation.

Last year seniors packed in 2,771 individual counseling sessions at the Office of Career Services (OCS)--more than a third of the 8,232 sessions held by the office last year. At OCS, students discuss their postgraduation concerns, evaluate their resumes, or participate in mock interviews with a counselor specializing in thier field of interest.

But if it's a job in the real world that they're looking for, some career advisors say, a job in investment banking or consulting may be a good bet this year. Recent graduates who participated in the OCS On-Campus Recruiting program say it is most effective in the areas of investment banking and management consulting.

Last year was the best year for Harvard students in the business job market since 1989, according to Business Counselor Marc Cosentino. More than 43 percent of the Class of 1993 participated in recruiting. Cosentino expects this year to be another success.

Cosentino says firms, which have cut back the number of schools they visit by as much as 50 to 60 percent, are still recruiting at Harvard. And in the last few years, with Wall Street's recovery, the firms have begun to increase the number of people they hire without increasing the number of campuses they visit.

"Harvard was a bigger part of a smaller pool," he says.

Even though the On-Campus Recruiting Program operates only come-first serve basis, says Coordinator Judy Murray, the schedule was filled last year by February and March.

"There were companies that wanted to come but we didn't have space," she says.

Abdi talked with recent graduates at the OCS Career Forum last month. "It helped a great deal being informal not having to meet people you didn't know and b.s. around," he says.

But unlike Abdi, most Harvard students tend to avoid the real world immediately after graduation. Only 54.6 percent of seniors last year said they were planning to start jobs; 32 percent planned graduate study. In contrast, 84 percent of college seniors nationwide started work in 1991--when job prospects were far worse.

And unlike Harvard seniors who enjoyed the 1980s boom in investment banking and consulting, many are applying this year to a wide-range of post-college opportunities ranging from fellowships to internships to time off.

Some Harvard career advisors warn that seniors may be polarizing their search instead of doing a quality job on a few carefully chosen applications. "Some students sort of target [opportunities] scattershot," says OCS Fellowships Director Lisa M. Muto '79, who meets with more than 400 seniors a year. "It's possible an applicantwill spread himself so thin that he won't do agood job on anything," she says.

She advises seniors to pick their targets earlyand go after them. "Put your best shot in thoseareas in which you most want to go and where youhave the best opportunity to go," Muto says.

Still, seniors should not jump into a career onWall Street just for the sake of getting a jobsomewhere, says OCS International ExperienceCounselor William G. Klingelhofer.

He says the percentage of students who plan togo abroad after graduation has dipped slightlythis year because students are worried aboutgetting into the job market at home. Only 17.9percent of last year's graduating class planned togo abroad, a drop from the usual 20 percent,Klingelhofer says.

"Some students are just a little more waryabout taking that year after graduation to goabroad," Klingelhofer says. Nevertheless,Klingelhofer advises students to take a yearabroad both for the opportunity to reflect on whatone really wants to do and for the internationalskills that employers value.

"Don't go to Wall Street or don't go to lawschool if you don't really want to be on WallStreet or at law school. Better to go to Japan fora year to teach English," he says.

The majority of companies who recruit atHarvard, however, are still investment banks andconsulting firms, which make up 61 percent of lastyear's on-campus recruiters.

Some companies count Harvard on a very shortlist of campus visits. Walt Disney Co., forexample, only recruits from Harvard and Stanford,according to Disney Senior Analyst Tony A. Hung'89.

According to Goldman Sachs Co. Senior PersonnelAssociate Debbie H. Gottesman, Harvard is one ofthe company's most recruited colleges, second onlyto the University of Pennsylvania.

"It all depends on how many people have theright skills," she said. "We are concentrating onmore informational meetings and we expect to getas many students as we can."

Goldman Sachs hired 15 Harvard graduates lastyear, Gottesman says.

Proctor & Gamble continues to recruit fromHarvard despite recently cutting the number ofcolleges it visits by more than half, according toSenior Recruiting Manager Stanley M. Haude.

"[Harvard] wouldn't be one of the schools we'dcut out even if we had a recruiting budget cut,"says Carla Graci the recruiting coordinator forOracle Co., the world's third largest softwareservices company.

Most science consulting companies look forcomputer science majors, says Science CounselorWilson Hunt Jr. "About 25 to 30 companies look forcomputer science majors," he says. "But othersciences are not so fortunate."

Harvard students may register with MIT'srecruiting program, which draws many morebiotechnology and electronics firms. "I think ofMIT as one of Harvard's resources," Hunt says.

Even though the prospects for Harvard studentsare better than for most seniors around thecountry, competition within OCS' recruiting isfierce because it pits Harvard students againsteach other. "Everyone is looking out forthemselves but also looking over their shoulders,"Abdi says.

Only one in three students who participate inrecruiting will take a job through the process,according to OCS.

"There is a lot of heartbreak," says Adam D.Taxin '93, an analyst at Morgan Stanley. "I'veseen a lot of classmates devastated by theprocess."

Students should also contact recruitersthemselves and rely on efforts such as letterwriting that are external to Harvard recruiting,Hunt says.

Since recruiting is dominated by financialfirms, many seniors express disappointment at thelack of companies in other career areas who do notcome on campus.

Richard Y. Chang '94 says OCS should make moreof an effort to broaden its focus into differentfields. "There is an immense diversity of peopleand not everyone is interested in investmentbanking or managing mutual funds," Chang says. "Myview of OCS is like Harvard itself, you have totake the initiative."

Jahan C. Sagafi-Nejad '94 wants to find ateaching job in a private school. "Traditionalfinancial businesses are the only things that aretalked about much," he says. "I wish there weremore about some other fields."

"There should be more government type stuff,more everyday business that aren't like big WallStreet setups," he says. "There should be moreforeign opportunities too."

Gen S. Tanabe '93 agrees. "They could try toget other companies to come for on-campusrecruiting and have more informations sessions forcareers aside from two."

Even for those who are not interested inrecruiting, the first stop in the job hunt isoften OCS, which offers services including joblistings and lessons on resume writing.

Experts estimate that the current generationgraduating from college will change careers threetimes, according to Martha P. Leape, who has beendirector of OCS since 1981. Accordingly, heroffice considers job hunting itself a valuableskill.

"The jobs [seniors] get right out of collegethey should be choosing because they think theywill be learning and developing their skills,"Leape says.

"[OCS is] trying to make sure students havelearned how to job hunt," Leape says. "We reallywant to be educating the students in how todevelop their own careers, and that means makingjob changes and making carers changes. It's thenew reality because the world is changing sorapidly."

Cosentino says OCS has a unique capacity todevelop these skills.

"We're the largest OCS in the country and we'reon the leading edge," he says. "We have atremendous amount of resources and we try toeducate students in the process of looking for ajob instead of placing them in a job."

Students who took jobs through the recruitingprocess give rave reviews to the program. "Theycouldn't have done a better job," says Adam D.Taxin '93, an analyst at Morgan Stanley."Everything was well organized and there was notmuch more they could do to make it better."

Allison G. Oaks '93 landed a job as a strategicmanagement consultant at Braxton Associatesthrough the OCS recruiting program last spring.

"They pretty much do it all for you," Oakssays. "You write up a cover letter, make a resume,get your transcript and that's pretty much it.It's a pretty easy process."

Some graduates who did not have defined careergoals, however, say they found OCS geared too muchtoward the pre-professional.

"I found OCS really discouraging," says AaronJ. Snow '93, who is now a computer programmer."They point you to the right notebook and say golook for your job, and I wasn't ready for that.OCS is a really intimidating place and they don'tdo very much to make you feel at ease," he says.

Kevin J. Fleming '93 says OCS could improve itsservices by providing mandatory meetings forfirst-year students to make them "a little moreaware of what's available."

"Use all the resources you have," he says. "Youdon't have any idea how competitive it is."

OCS counselors recommend that seniors who wishto find employment should start early. "If theydon't start planning in the fall or at least bythe beginning of spring term, they probably arenot going to to have a job when they graduate,"Leape says.

"One mistake seniors make is that they look atit as too painful of a process and not seek help,"says Hunt. "Some people may not want to startearly enough, but if you can make a decision aheadof time it may be advantageous."

The best time to start the job search,according to Cosentino, is October of junior year,when students should start searching for a summerinternship.

"A lot of times the summer firm will offerstudents a later job," he says.

Planning early can also mean aquiring theskills that employers value most. Internationalexperience, computer use, and ability to work as ateam are becoming increasingly important, Leapesays.

Experience also helps applicants to gain theconfidence necessary to present themselves well toprospective employers, says Teaching and StudyAbroad Counselor Catherine E. Hutchison."Confidence comes from experience, from exposingyourself to the world you want to work in," shesays.

While still at Harvard, students interested inteaching, for instance, can obtain experience withchildren through Philips Brooks House Associationprograms or through summer internships.

"It is incredibly difficult to get a job rightout of college in a school if you've got noexperience," Hutchison says.

Elizabeth A. Johnston '93 learned this lessonthe hard way. Johnston, who had worked for theHarvard Political Review, looked for a job inmagazine publishing. After the summer, Johnstonwas unemployed for three weeks until she foundwork as a researcher. She says an internship mighthave helped her get steady work earlier.

"There's not a lot out there," she says. "Youthink a Harvard degree will get you anywhere, andit won't. You need a lot more."

Students should also take advantage of the mockinterview resource at OCS, where students arevideotaped to evaluate their interviewingabilities, Cosentino says.

Biology concentrator Arthur E. Li '94, who isapplying to medical school, refined his personalpresentation skills by walking through aninterview with OCS counselors. "It got me to thinkabout a lot of the ethical questions which I'dtried to think about before but I'd never had toarticulate before, questions about my own goalsand what I envisioned my medical dream to be," Lisays. "Being able to articulate that was veryhelpful."

"The interviews I had after that were morepolished and more relaxed," he says.

Students can use other OCS resources such asthe Career Advisory File to start their jobsearch. The file, a list of more than 3,000alumni, including the ex-vice chair of ChryslerCorp., can help put students in touch with alumniwho are available for career advice.

"They're not there to provide jobs, but you canbuild your network up," Cosentino says.

OCS' video collection is one of the mosthelpful but underused sources of advice forseniors, according to Cosentino. Useful videosinclude a panel of Harvard Business Schoolstudents' discussion of investment banking and aseries on the senior job search process, he says.

Gavin M. Abrams '94 says he started using OCSin his junior year when he attended somerecruiting sessions. Abrams says the service wasinitially informative, but its usefulness maydecrease with the number of sessions attended.

"They give you the overview of what theindustry is like," he says. "Once you have that,they become slightly less helpful but you can seethe atmosphere of each company."

Abrams has found OCS to be helpful on thewhole, but notes the office's high traffic."They're a bit overburdened, I think."

Kerry A. Nelthropp `94 agrees. "I've hadproblems scheduling appointments with counselors,there should be more advisors and more slotsopen," says Nelthropp, who wants to work inconsulting, advertising or marketing. "I won't beable to see the counselor until after somecompanies have already started accepting resumesand cover letters for spring recruiting, so itputs me in a disadvantage."

Female seniors can find more personalizedcounseling than OCS can offer at Radcliffe CareerServices (RCS). About 100 women who graduated lastJune used RCS, which offers individual counseling,sponsors speakers and workshops, and contains alibrary of materials for the public, alumnae andundergraduate women.

Undergraduates and alumnae form 30 percent ofRCS' clientele, and paying public job-seekersconstitute the remaining 70 percent.

RCS differs from OCS because its counselors donot have specialties like OCS counselors do. It isa smaller organization that focuses more on issuesof gender in the workplace and on the careers ofwomen throughout their lifetimes, says RCSDirector Phyllis R. Stein '63.

"What we do is different because we are dealingwith the lifespan question," she says. "We seeseniors but we also see the equivalent of theirmothers."

Stein says individual counseling and the "4:00Forum" speaker series are among the office's mostused services. Last week Cambridge City CouncilorAlice K. Wolf and Radcliffe Public Policy FellowPamela Greene discussed "Pros and Cons of a Careerin Public Service."

Minority students can tap into the resources ofCrimson & Brown Associates, a firm founded byHarvard and Brown graduates to help companiesrecruit minority undergraduates.

President Andrea K. Abegglen says the number ofcompanies participating in the firm's recruitmentprograms has been steadily increasing.Twenty-seven additional companies are included inthis year's minority career forum on December 2,an annual event that draws more than 70 firms froma variety of fields to recruit in the New York andNew England area.

"Every event is free to students to the pointthat we provide transportation for the students,"she says. "We bring companies together withstudents and allow them to work out the hiringprocess."

According to Abegglen, 204 of the 750 studentsin the New England area registered with Crimson &Brown this year are Harvard students, an increasefrom 176 last year. Firms gave students 567interviews in last year's career forums and made150 offers.

Crimson & Brown co-founder John J.-H. Kim '87says the companies participating have increasedboth in geographical and industry diversity."Collectively, at least 7,000 Harvard studentshave had some access to our services," he said."Harvard students have a distinctive advantage andhave done very well."

Hunt, OCS minority concerns counselor, sayscompanies offer minority programs to promote staffdiversity. "A lot of these opportunities arebusiness-related and there are a number of scienceand media internships that seek underrepresentedminority students," he says.

"The job market is tough for everyone," saysAbdi, who is a Crimson & Brown campus liaison."One would expect the coming out of the nationalnumber one institution you're guaranteed [a job],but that's not the case."

Elizabeth T. Bangs and Wendy M. Seltzercontributed to the reporting of this story.