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Information Gathering Services: Business at Harvard

By Laura R. Benjamin

ARE prospective employees more interested in challenging careers or fat pay checks? What is the expected starting salary for a business career? for a career in government? If these questions intrigue you, you may be interested in Information Gathering Service (IGS), a division of Harvard Student Agencies.

IGS, which began in 1963 as a student-run employment bureau for computer programmers and now has several separate divisions, attempts to make the skills and talents of students available, on a paid basis, to the business community.

According to John J. Merrill '66, manager of IGS and one of the three full-time non-student employees (all other employees are students), the organization is unique in offering high salaries--the minimum wage is $2 per hour--for jobs which are both interesting and educational. About 200 students are on call at any one time.

IGS is mainly involved in consumer and industrial market research. Sometimes the group merely supplies man-power for professional market research firms such as Arthur D. Little, Inc.; at other times they supervise the research themselves.

IGS often works on as many as 25 projects at one time, many of which are handled directly from their head-quarters on Mass. Ave. near Harvard Square. Their clientele is primarily industrial and business firms. IGS does no mass advertising, but relies on promotional newsletters and word of mouth. Many of the assignments gotten this way are those mundane but vital matters businesses keep secret from each other.

3000 Passengers

SOME IGS projects involve traveling by interviewers. Once 40 students spend several days riding every branch of the New York Central Railroad, interviewing approximately 3000 passengers. Another few students spent the spring in Cleveland one year, interviewing gas station owners. For the recent Career Planning Study, interviewers were sent to 35 colleges all over the United States.

IGS's Translation Service is perhaps its most distinctive division. Don Gleason '68, head of Translating, says his department is particularly appropriate for a student organization because so many students have language skills. IGS has on file student experts in as many as 35 different languages; students translate only from a learned language into their native tongue. The real problem is matching the language talent with a particular skill area, since most assignments are translations of technical articles. IGS has had great luck with the translating bureau, making use of such unusual skills as a Czechoslovakian-speaking graduate student in East European physical science with secret security clearance. A company happened to be looking for someone with just this combination of skills. A student whose parents are Hungarian but who had lived in Germany was once asked to translate a marriage license from Hungarian into German.


The least important of IGS's divisions is the Library Research Bureau. Most of their work is done in the Business School Library, looking up statistics. From time to time an interesting assignments comes along, as when they were hired to find a certain passage from Goethe about a soldier. They found it.

IGS HAS WORKED on many projects which affect Harvard students. One study they did with Arthur D. Little was based on the question: if New Hampshire raises the taxes on cigarettes and liquor, would they lose income from student buyers? When the study revealed that higher taxes would make no significant difference in quantity of sales, the Granite State promptly upped its rates.

Very often the results of studies are not clear cut, or else are contradictory to the projected answer. One study, which tried to discover why lawyers are not used more frequently in underprivileged communities, came up with mostly ifs and buts. Another study of the power of word of mouth communication in consumer buying turned up some rather surprising results. There is definitely a relationship between the frequency with which you hear the name of a product, and your instinct to buy it. But it makes no difference whether what you hear about the product is positive or negative--you might be told that soap X ruins your skin, but the next time you shop for soap all you remember is the name X, and you buy it.


IGS has just finished a study of career planning, sponsored by various large business firms. Despite the backing of the business world, however, Merrill claims that the study is, if anything, more important to the students involved in it, and to all those who are now or will be soon investigating business careers. The aim of the study was to discover what attracts students to particular jobs or specific companies. Such a study helps students in several ways. By pointing out what they are interested in to various businesses, they are more likely to be offered what they want. And students are also forced to examine their motives; all too often a career is picked by potluck, or for the wrong reasons. The study hopes to bring the student and potential employer in closer communication with each other.

The study was run for the first time this spring. Merrill, who wrote the questionnaire, is already contemplating many changes in the format of the study, and hopes it will be run repeatedly in the next few years. For this year's study about 3200 students were interviewed at 35 schools including Harvard, Yale, M.I.T., Cornell, the University of Chicago, Rice, Cal Tech, U.C.L.A., and Stanford.

Of the sample about 1000 were technical students, 1000 non-technical, and 1000 graduate business students. About 70 per cent of the non-technical sample plan to go on to graduate school somewhere, and 34 per cent ultimately to have a career with an industrial or business firm. Only 25 per cent said they wanted to go into education, while 20 per cent plan to be self employed and 5 per cent want to go into government.

San Francisco

According to the study San Francisco is the most popular city to live in, while Detroit is the most unpopu- lar. Suburbia is the preferred residential location, with the big city in second place. The expected starting salary varies with the field of work, the highest being $775 per month for those in business, and the lowest $675 per month for a government job.

MORE than 50 per cent of the sample said they would prefer to work for an employer who would finance continued education, specifically a formal degree program. Such a program is now being offered by the First National Bank of Chicago. Under its Scholar Program students are sent to a graduate business school to earn an MBA degree. The bank pays both tution and a salary and recognizes the student's need for study time.

The Career Planning Study pinpointed five most important criteria in choosing a job:

* Opportunity to acquire training and experience which would increase attractiveness to other employers

* Opportunity for diverse field experience in several functional areas

* Good working conditions

* Opportunity for significant responsibility

* Maximum opportunity for promotion.

Many interesting hypotheses can be drawn from these findings. Sixty per cent of the sample were eligible for the draft, and of these two thirds plan to go to graduate school. However, many of these responses were given before the new Selective Service ruling. It is impossible to judge from these figures how many of these students were planning to continue their education solely as a means of avoiding the draft. But it will be interesting to see if there is a significant drop in this percentage in subsequent years.

Starting Where Dad Stopped

The study points up the fact that those from an urban environment are more interested in working in business than those from rural areas. Of those at business schools, the greatest number come from a middle to high income suburban, educated family. Today's business school graduate expects to start his salary where his father left off, according to the study.

AN INTERESTING tangent to this study is the question of the effect that riots in the cities has on job applications. Detroit, which has been the scene of some of this country's worst riots, is the most unpopular city. Chicago, another racially tense city, was almost as widely disliked as Detroit. Figures like these might convince to business based to try to improve their surroundings if they hope to attract new talent.

Most basically, the study demonstrates a new emphasis on making the most of one's capabilities to work and to learn. Students want jobs which demand responsibility and initiative; parallels can be drawn between the findings of this study and the success of IGS itself.

The individual managers at IGS do not earn fantastic salaries. Many over 20 hours per week for only $30 per week. Some of them worked their way up through the ranks, others applied directly for specific jobs. Joe DiMento '69, personnel director for IGS, says he likes his jobs because it is interesting, well-paid, and diversified. Ted Siff '70, who runs the financial end, is enthusiastic about IGS because the projects "have something to do with tomorrow," and because it is almost completely run by students with dynamic new ideas.

From the other end, most of the interviewers who work for IGS enjoy the interesting work and the casual set-up. The workers get to choose their own hours, have frequent changes of jobs, and can work at their own pace. Joyce Peters '68, and IGS employee, says she thinks the organization is run very well, and that the management is very friendly. "The way it's set up is optimum for the way I want to work," she said.

There are many people who work at IGS because it pays well. Good translators can earn as much as $5-6 per hour, and no IGS worker ever earns less than $2 per hour. For a student on scholarship who has to work, but who wants to work at erratic times and learn something at the same time, IGS is the perfect employer.

Few of us are aware of IGS's existence. Although much of its work does not affect us, some of its projects involve us directly. You know that new privately-financed stadium that may be built one of these days? When and it that day comes, you can thank IGS for the finished product, because they proved to the Commonwealth Stadium Associates that it was economically feasible

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