Givin' Up

On-campus recruiting is an unavoidable, if unpleasant, part of Harvard

I have a confession to make. After three and a half years of exploring the arts, trying my hand at editorial writing and involving myself in Harvard’s academic centers, I have fallen prey to on-campus recruiting, which every year clutches numerous seniors in its unforgiving grip. I have long disdained and derided the whole process: a child of artists from San Francisco, I could never imagine myself on Wall Street in a tailored suit and prim pumps. Yet I have succumbed to the pressures to find a competitive, high-paying job.

I have greatly enjoyed my years at Harvard, taking full advantage of many of the resources the University has to offer. But as I reach the end of my stay here, I am confronted with the inevitable—what the hell am I going to do next year? Having endured many years of draining, albeit rewarding, schooling, I am not prepared to commit myself to more. Further, after investing over $100,000 in education, I would kind of like to see some return. I came to Harvard not only for the excellent knowledge I would acquire and the stimulating company I would keep, but also with hopes that this education would carry some capital in the outside world

Starting in the spring of my junior year, I began to hear this “recruiting” word bandied around. I saw fellow students finding lucrative summer jobs in New York, working at investment banks and consulting firms. But I never thought that I’d consider such a career choice. I enjoy creativity of the kind not often found in corporate offices; I like helping the needy, though not through tax cuts; and I like working in the arts, though not as a patron. However, despite all of this, when September rolled around, my type-A personality kicked in, and I too found myself attending the recruiting meetings.

The fact is, the Office of Career Services offers little help in safely navigating this brutal process. When I looked into finding jobs in the media, the public sector or the arts, I was referred to standard booklets kept on file or to the resources of other centers altogether. When I asked about working abroad, I heard the all-too-common refrain of: “Well, it’s really hard without a work permit. Have you thought about working with a company with international offices?” This essentially means consulting firms, international banks or other sundry companies that remind me of the evil corporation in the recent remake of The Manchurian Candidate. I am not particularly excited at the prospect of working for a Halliburton, an Enron, a WorldCom, a Hollinger or a Marsh and McClellan.

Nonetheless I’ve donned my pinstripes, gone to corporate presentations, schmoozed, smiled, preened and feigned interest until my jacket made me sweat, my makeup began to run and my toes went numb in my pointy pumps. But, alas! Only a select few get the interviews in the first place. Those of us who have never had a corporate job, aren’t economics concentrators and don’t have perfect grades are finding it difficult to get a foot in the door. Instead, the same twenty-odd names turn up on every interview schedule, thus shutting us poor souls out altogether. What are we to do when all career resources are tailored to those on the fast track to corporate success?

Between despairing over rejections and enduring the scornful comments of my roommates, who are definitely not supportive of the corporate track, I’ve taken the time to explore the other resources around me. And while practicing case interviews and writing cover letters, thus demonstrating my undying desire to work for an elite company, the informal chats I’ve had with tutors, friends who’ve graduated and professors have put things in perspective and helped me to prioritize my goals. I’m really not sure where my A.B. in Modern European History will take me, but I’m willing to explore the options and keep an open mind.

When all my resources have been exhausted, there is a possibility I still won’t have a firm idea about what I will be doing next year. But I’m beginning to realize that very few of my peers do. Even friends finding jobs through recruiting, applying to law school or looking at fellowships have expressed the same skepticism that I have. The truth is that none of us really know where we will end up, and even the firmest of plans fall through when we discover other passions and priorities. All we can do is explore our options and keep our minds open. That or have a nervous breakdown.

And if you are an employer reading this well-reasoned comment, might you have a job for me?

Sophie L. Gonick ‘05, a Crimson editorial editor, is a history concentrator in Winthrop House.