What if it were possible to get better job opportunities by doing less recruiting? That would be a godsend for many of my friends who are spending their sophomore summers trying to game the corporate recruiting process into offering them jobs in which they have no interest. Many of my friends feel intensely pressured to get jobs in consulting, private equity or investment banking. Some are in it for the money and others to appease an over-zealous parent. Some are drawn by the promise of status-security and others are running from the prospect of unemployment. But very few have a genuine interest in these professions. This thoughtless pursuit of high-status jobs is a problem that has fueled the “snake” stigma against consulting, finance and even the economics major.
There’s nothing wrong with business-oriented pursuits — it can be exhilarating to understand and improve America’s most powerful engines of value-creation. Personally, I would love to build better businesses, and I derive a certain satisfaction from using Excel to solve business problems that matter. Sometimes, I even learn more in a job information session about how the real world works than I do in a lecture. It can, in fact, be truly rewarding to work in the business services sector, but only if done for the right reasons. The problem is that impure motives drive people to pursue the wealth and status associated with corporate jobs, not the unrivaled learning opportunities offered by these jobs.
Direct benefits like pay or prestige are not good goals for a first job out of college because, ultimately, our future careers are much more important than our first jobs. Whether you care about your happiness, your personal growth, your salary or your social status, much more is to be gained during the upwards trajectory of your career than from the period immediately following college. This upwards career trajectory, however, is not automatic — it takes work. Most experts agree that career development is best served by impactful work, involving passion for the profession and leveraging of natural strengths, and a supportive workplace that maintains work-life balance.
Those who enter corporate professions for the wrong reasons also risk encountering job burnout. The Mayo Clinic defines this condition as “a special type of work-related stress” and “a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.” The Harvard Business Review warns that “burnout can take a serious toll on your health, performance, career prospects, psychological well-being, and relationships.” Burnout squanders the gift of one’s youth and the promise of one’s future, a fact made more regrettable by its frequency. According to Deloitte, a professional services firm, 84 percent of millennial corporate professionals report experiencing burnout and nearly half of millennial corporate professionals have quit a job specifically because they felt burnt out.
It is no wonder that high-burnout industries like consulting and investment banking shower their entry-level employees with pay and advancement opportunities: Employers must somehow compensate potential applicants for the long-term costs of burnout in order to remain competitive. High entry-level pay and prestige are not simply lavish perks — they are a risk-premium. Career-minded students with a long-term perspective who understand risk management and discounted cash flow analysis should think twice before they apply their talents in a workplace that exposes them to such a considerable burnout risk.
Still, intense corporate jobs can be a good fit for students who have the right talents, values and motivations. Burnout and growth are both products of the interaction between an employee and their workplace, not the workplace itself. Two people can have very different experiences in the same environment. Especially for Dartmouth students, who have a plethora of enviable career options, it should be clear that consulting and investment banking are not for everyone. Only those who truly thrive on long-hours of data-driven collaborative problem-solving should even consider joining Corporate America.
For these select business-oriented students, however, there are few better places to grow than a top consultancy or investment bank. Where else can they learn to leverage their full creative, interdisciplinary pragmatism in a way that drives an impact measured in billions of dollars? Where else can they gain such a bottoms-up understanding of global economic structures? Where else can they gain meaningful experiences working across functions at the top of exciting companies before they turn 30? There is no better place to grow for the business-minded student who values hard work and market impact than in the “high burnout” business services sector.
The paradoxical notion that some students should work in a high burnout environment for non-monetary reasons speaks to a broader insight: Early-stage career choices must be made based on fit, not just on job characteristics. Our careers loom large before us. These careers are grand and exciting beyond measure, but also largely contingent on our own choices today. We can only grow into leaders if we find the supporting environments we need early on. With the recruiting process in full swing, I hope every Dartmouth student can exercise the judgement they need to find the spaces in which they can thrive.