TFA Shows the Way

The organization's corporate recruiting strategy is a smart move

A source of some consternation every year is the disproportionate percentage of Harvard seniors who are immediately swallowed up by consulting firms and investment banks come graduation. Of course, the numbers vary from year to year for a variety of reasons—for example, due presumably to the stock market crash in the fall of 2008, the percentage of graduates going into consulting and investment banking cratered, plunging from 47 percent in 2007 to 39 percent in 2008 to 20 percent in 2009. Regardless of the ups and downs, however, it is hard to deny that in any given year, finance can be counted on to play an outsized role in the future of the collective Harvard senior class. This disparity between the proportion of graduates entering the financial sector and the proportion of those entering more service-oriented fields may lead some to form mistaken conclusions about the motivations of Harvard students.

However, we believe that the success of the recruiting practices of Teach For America demonstrate that what attracts graduates is not so much the financial sector’s monetary allurements as it is the sense of security provided by its heavily structured nature. In adopting the “corporate approach” to recruitment, TFA has thus embraced the reassuring structure of consulting firms and investment banks. Furthermore, TFA has also sought to entice graduates of the nation’s top universities by engendering an “aura of status and selectivity,” as TFA founder and CEO Wendy S. Kopp describes it in her senior thesis, “An Argument and Plan for the Creation of the Teachers Corporation.”

Beyond structure and status, TFA further caters to Harvard graduates in particular. For example, TFA, Google, and McKinsey & Co. were initial recruiting partners for the Harvard Business School 2 + 2 Program. The result? Eighteen percent of Harvard’s 2011 graduating class applied to TFA, a proportion which, while clearly lagging behind applicants for the financial sector, is still formidable in its own right. What is significant about this number, however, is that it reflects, contrary to the narrative encouraged by the dominance of consulting firms and investment banks in post-graduation careers, that there is a vibrant contingent of Harvard seniors going into public service professions upon graduation.

While there is nothing inherently faulty in pursuing a career in the financial sector, we believe that it is the effects can only be positive for more industries and fields to adopt the “corporate approach” as TFA has in order to maximize the array of viable career paths to students to consider after graduation. There is no reason why only students who go into consulting and investment banking should enjoy the benefits of structure and status that they provide, and TFA has proven that that model is widely applicable.