As someone who too has wondered if I was a sellout for interviewing (and ultimately accepting) an offer at a consulting firm last fall, I was excited to read the columns written by Aidan Calvelli ’19 and Ruth Foster ’19 this week. What Foster in particular objects to is the exploitation of seniors’ uncertainty, a notion no one can disagree with on the surface. I argue that banning or otherwise relying on Brown or consulting firms to change the recruiting process misses the fact that recruiting is a two-way street: Companies provide the demand, but we, the talent, make up the supply. By focusing on one side of the issue tree, we deny agency to the supply side.
Banning or changing how consulting companies recruit is not feasible, and, I argue, not even necessarily desirable. Firstly, Brown can’t afford to — nor should it think it right to — choose for students what careers they should pursue (see Alexa Clark’s ’19 opinion for an incisive analysis of why). Secondly, I applaud consulting firms for making an effort to reach every type of applicant, regardless of concentration, which most industries don’t — I met people with backgrounds in everything from zoology to oceanography this summer who otherwise wouldn’t have discovered a career they find fulfilling. Thirdly, the omnipresent nature of consulting firms is more perception, a function of their extensive marketing and recruiting efforts, than reality. Only 11 percent of Brown graduates last year ended up in consulting — and only a fraction of them end up at the firms that Calvelli or Foster might consider particularly egregious. Finally, Calvelli deplores the fact that the number of graduating seniors entering consulting is higher than the number of “people working in environment and sustainability, community service and development, government and public policy and the arts.” This in fact is primarily a demand problem and not a supply one — consulting may be a more popular entry-level choice, but the majority of consultants leave the industry after two to three years and some enter the exact fields Calvelli extols after having gained the skills and the network to enter them.
I do not deny that recruiting in general creates an unhealthy atmosphere of stress around campus. However, the right way to deal with that stress is not by removing these firms from campus but addressing the root cause of seniors’ uncertainty: a lack of knowledge of career options and feelings of insecurity during recruiting. (I know exactly how emotionally draining the latter is as a survivor of junior-year recruiting). Exploitation is an issue when people who would otherwise not be interested in consulting at all feel pressured to go to information sessions and apply to consulting firms. Let’s change the potential supply of consultants to people who don’t feel pressured to pursue consulting if it’s not for them.
From my experience, the people who know why they want to enter consulting are the ones who, more often than not, end up with offers. By the time candidates get to the final rounds, they’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why this career would be a good fit. When I accepted an offer last year, they hadn’t exploited what Foster might term my “uncertainty,” but were in fact rewarding my certainty.
Instead of banning these firms entirely, let’s change what kind of space we give them in our discussions on campus. Why can’t we take the spirit with which we approach academics and apply it to life after Brown? Why shouldn’t people be allowed to “shop” employers just as they shop classes?
What kinds of jobs we choose and how we talk about them is something we have under our control, as individuals, as friends, as a campus. If we demand more from our employers, if we stand up for ourselves and our skills, and, most of all, if we support each other without judgment, we can change the atmosphere of uncertainty and fear that surrounds the recruiting process. If we amplify other voices, other choices, other decisions, we can change which career paths are the most commonly discussed, and more importantly, socially rewarded. We can circulate information for the more informal recruiting processes: share spreadsheets on exciting non-traditional paths, advise on how to network, invite alums we look up to. Working to create access to the kinds of opportunities we wish we had is what we as Brown students do best.
We may be victims of Friedrich Engels’ “false consciousness,” but we don’t escape that trap by banning a company or even an entire industry. We can create a community, even if it’s limited to College Hill, that can have open conversations about what kinds of work are and aren’t valuable for each of our personal hopes — but that can’t happen by tearing each other’s choices down.
Finding a job is a difficult enough process as it is. Let’s not make it harder for one another.
Saanya Jain ’19 can be reached at the moral high ground at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send responses to this opinion to email@example.com and op-eds to firstname.lastname@example.org.