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The fall job recruiting season at Harvard has begun, and it is already bringing out some of the worst aspects of the Harvard experience. First, the bulk of the recruiting is for investment banks and management consulting firms. Their full-page advertisements inundate campus publications, and they pretty much monopolize the Career Forum and the Office of Career Services resources. Pursuing a career in either of these two fields is not necessarily a bad decision, but seniors are presented few other options. In fact, there is a subtle but unmistakable perception among many seniors that taking any job besides one in banking or consulting is somewhat suspect if not downright disdainful.
Thus, scores of seniors flock to the requisite information sessions for these two fields. There seems to be at least one every night in the Faculty Club or the Charles Hotel, and they're all pretty much the same. You'll see the same students and hear the same cliches about "adding value" and thinking strategically at most of them.
Despite the fact that most firms invite students to attend their information sessions in casual attire, at least half a dozen seniors come decked out in their best business gear. The guys sport pin-striped suits and power ties and the women wear dark-colored ensembles with silk blouses. Do any of these idiots really think that they will impress anyone with such a ridiculous, pretentious display? Perhaps they think, "Maybe the recruiter will see that I'm all dressed up and I'll get a job offer and big signing bonus right on the spot." What they should realize is that they probably won't be remembered out of the hundred other seniors there.
If I was a recruiter I would probably try to remember the names of the students who came in suits when they were informed that the event was casual. Then I'd throw their resumes in the trash when I received them. I certainly wouldn't be looking to hire any uptight Harvard students. But then again, that's probably why I won't get a job in business. Maybe the over-dressed weenies really are more likely to get the best jobs.
The over-dressed seniors at worst are only passively annoying, though. The students who ask stupid questions after the initial presentation are actively bothersome. Whoever said that the only dumb question is the one that isn't asked certainly didn't have to sit through one of these informational meetings. Some students simply ask vague questions which have been answered dozens of times before, in the firm's presentation and its literature, such as "What makes your firm different from others?" This is the ubiquitous opening question and elicits the most predictably banal response.
Others students seem to insinuate they know more about the industry than the firm's representatives. These pompous students will ask questions such as "Why don't you have an office in Latin America, like Firm X?" or "Is there any reason that your firm hasn't expanded more rapidly in the last few years?"
The recruiting representatives, while usually earnest and honest, won't answer all your questions. The one they duck most is the inquiry about their lifestyle and typical hours. None of them will say, "Look, they work me like a slave at Bank X. I work 80 or 90-hour weeks and my boss is a bully and a jerk. Also, if you do the math, I'm not even making minimum wage." You have to start working to find out that part of the equation.
Another annoying part of the information session is when the firm's representatives try to tell you how special their company is. They all say that they value integrity and hard work and reward dedication, that they put the client first, that they focus on people, that they think creatively, etc, ad nauseum. Just once, I want to hear a recruiter say, "Look, this firm is dishonest; we're crooked as hell. We put ourselves before our clients, we don't value teamwork or dedication, and we don't care much about our employees either. That's pretty much why we're at the top of our field."
David W. Brown's column appears on alternate Wednesdays.
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