Gonsalves: Responsibilities and Priorities

by Florence Gonsalves | 9/23/14 6:00pm

The start of senior year has been stressful. There’s simply no way around it, and every passing interaction I’ve had with fellow students has reinforced the tension. Much of the stress, unsurprisingly, stems from jobs and hiring. While some were lucky to have job offers from summer internships, applying for jobs is overwhelming for the rest of us. Not only is the post-grad job search competitive — cue fears of indefinite unemployment — but we all face a major tension between finding a job that is suited to one’s passion and having a stable income.

While the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, finding a job that is satisfactory on both counts seems rare. Moreover, many students feel pressured (particularly at schools like Dartmouth) to land an impressive position at a well-recognized consulting, finance or law firm. According to the Dartmouth Class of 2012 Outcomes Report, almost 34 percent of respondents chose careers in consulting or finance.

Yet many of these jobs are also paradoxically often demonized as “soul-sucking,” or purely attractive from a financial standpoint.

At last week’s employer fair, I was skeptical about what would be offered for those of us not interested in a corporate career. Color me pleasantly surprised. I found companies both in the private and public sector whose messages and missions excited me. But after doing some research on the starting salaries of these companies, I understood better why there is a pull toward other, more established, more “Dartmouth” professions.

The annual starting salary for an AmeriCorps member is $13,607. Dartmouth’s guide to working at a nonprofit even specifies that most entry-level positions have a salary between $20,000 to $30,000. It’s hard to justify making a salary that is roughly half or one-third of the cost of a year’s tuition at Dartmouth — such a sum hardly covers the cost of living in many cities. It also probably means paying off student loans until somewhere around retirement. On a salary of around $20,000, luxuries like Starbucks and vacations become difficult to justify.

There’s an interesting tug of war between people who appreciate jobs like investment banking and people who roll their eyes at them. When we hear about classmates who have landed jobs at big banks, one of two responses generally follows: admiration, or skepticism and scrutiny. I tend toward the scrutiny side of the spectrum, particularly because the attractiveness of many of these jobs seems to be purely in the paycheck. But after looking at alternatives, my conviction has wavered.

My disillusionment stems from a deceptively simple realization: it’s really not as simple just doing what you love if there are financial burdens to be considered. We’re not all from the same socioeconomic background. Our responsibilities to our families, as well as to our individual student loan situations, complicates the senior-year job search.

So how much are we willing to sacrifice, in terms of money or passion, when it comes to a job? How big of a lifestyle change is just too much to handle? If our main fiscal responsibility is a $5 latte every morning, isn’t it important to consider accepting lower pay for work that is fulfilling?

It would be great if we could get paid enough to live comfortably while working at a job we care about. But if not, we need to consider seriously where we are willing to make trade-offs and sacrifices. These are conversations we need to have now, not 10 years from now.

With all that’s going on between thesis writing and graduate school applications, most of us just seem desperate to accept an offer at any company that will hire us. Maybe some of us will keep an offer with a prestigious company because it’s easier than starting the search all over again. No matter what year you are at Dartmouth, I hope we can all take a step back and consider our responsibilities in conjunction with our priorities.

Gonsalves is a staff columnist.

This column is part of a special insert on corporate recruiting.

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