In the next two months, several finance and consulting firms will be interviewing Georgetown University students for summer 2021 internships — more than a year before the internship start date. For seniors looking for full-time jobs, recruiting for finance and consulting will wrap up within the first few months of the fall semester, earlier than all other industries.
Such early recruiting timelines can leave students doubting whether they are making the right career choices, according to Tina Gaddy, assistant director for undergraduate professional development at the School of Foreign Service Career Center.
“Many students have this feeling of FOMO on whether they should pursue consulting or investment banking,” Gaddy said in an interview with The Hoya. “They see some of their peers wanting to go into these industries, maybe even having these jobs already lined up, and they think, ‘If everyone else is doing it, then I should be, too.’”
In 2018, management consulting was the most popular employer industry for Georgetown undergraduates, with 14.5% of the graduating class choosing to work in consulting. The popularity of consulting has been consistent since 2008, with the exception of one year, according to Susan Campbell, director of the Cawley Career Education Center, a career resource center on campus.
Many Georgetown students choose to pursue consulting because of the prevalence of preprofessional clubs and encouragement from recruiters at large consulting firms. While consulting is a popular industry among Georgetown graduates, some consulting firms do work with controversial clients, raising ethical questions among those who go into consulting.
Consulting and the SFS
The SFS sends the largest proportion of graduates into consulting, with 21.3% of the class of 2018 SFS graduates pursuing careers in management consulting, compared to 14.3% of McDonough School of Business graduates, 13.3% of School of Nursing & Health Studies graduates and 11.4% of College graduates.
Unlike the other undergraduate schools, the top three employers of SFS students in the class of 2018 are all consulting firms: Deloitte, McKinsey & Company and PwC.
In recent years, the SFS has emphasized the importance of understanding the relationship between policy and business. For example, the school has created academic programs focused on business studies that can serve as a stepping stone for students interested in consulting, international trade and development, as well as other industries.
In light of trade wars and international economic tensions, the SFS has increased the presence of business in the curriculum to educate students in both diplomacy and business studies, according to SFS Dean Joel Hellman.
“As we can see already with the trade war between the United States and China, commercial policy is going to be an important tool within this great power competition,” Hellman said in an interview with The Hoya. “Diplomats need to understand business to a degree they did not 40 years ago. Business people are going to need to appreciate how the policy ecosystem works to a degree they did not have to.”
As the need for people skilled in business and diplomacy has increased, the SFS has created more opportunities to study the business sector through initiatives such as the bachelor of science in business and global affairs program, a joint degree program with the MSB that officially launched this semester.
In addition to the appeal of consulting in the context of international affairs, students are often drawn to the industry for the skills development and the job security that consulting provides, according to Hellman.
“There is a temptation for students to take the jobs offered to them,” Hellman said. “They’re great jobs. They pay well. They do give you a lot of skills.”
For students interested in being hired for a full-time job or a summer internship at a consulting firm, recruitment season involves substantial efforts by large consulting companies, which usually recruit early during the fall semester.
“They really make their presence known,” Gaddy said. “They try to come even earlier, but we don’t let them.”
To balance the presence of large, well-known consulting firms, the SFS Career Center is working to give students exposure to opportunities from less accessible and less recruitment-heavy industries, according to Hellman.
Despite efforts to balance consulting with other industries within the SFS, pursuing a consulting job does not fully embody an SFS education’s emphasis on service and advocacy, according to Olivia Torbert (SFS ’20).
“I came into the School of Foreign Service expecting everyone to be really into international relations, and to a degree that does incorporate the business sector, but to me that much more means government and nonprofit and advocacy work,” Torbert said in an interview with The Hoya.
Students often opt for a career in consulting because of job security and the Georgetown culture surrounding consulting, according to Torbert.
“I’ve talked to friends and peers who have gone into consulting, and it’s not their first choice, but because it ensures job security so early in their senior year, they trade pursuing their dreams right after graduation for the job security,” Torbert said.
Some jobs in the public sector might be seen as less secure because they may require obtaining a security clearance, which can be a lengthy process and complicate recruiting, according to Daniel Byman, professor and vice dean of the SFS. While the SFS cannot change the hiring practices of some sectors to make them more efficient, the school supports students interested in industries other than consulting, according to Byman.
“We can’t make the federal government better at hiring. We can’t make a small nonprofit all of a sudden have a huge human resources division,” Byman said in an interview with The Hoya. “But we are trying to make it more reassuring to students who are pursuing those opportunities.”
Working in the public sector or for a nonprofit is not the only way to make a difference in the world, however, as consulting jobs can also allow students to have a fulfilling career, according to Samuel Aronson, an assistant dean in the SFS.
“I’m overjoyed that more students are going into the consulting/finance sector and not the government/foreign policy route,” Aronson said in an interview with The Hoya. “Consulting entities are really helping to shape what’s happening around the world, and I’m so glad our students are the ones that are there and share our values of cura personalis and being men and women for others.”
When Katie Merola (MSB ’20) joined Hilltop Consultants, a preprofessional consulting club that works with nonprofits, during her freshman fall, she cited campuswide pressure to have a career plan.
“If anything, I think there is pressure at Georgetown just to know what you’re going to do and want to do,” Merola said in an interview with The Hoya.
Hilltop Consultants is one of several established consulting clubs on campus, including Georgetown Global Consulting, Innovo Consulting, TAMID Group and DCivitas.
These clubs are among the most selective student organizations on campus, with Hilltop Consultants accepting less than 4% of applicants on average, according to the club’s LinkedIn page.
Merola, who is now the director of personnel for Hilltop Consultants, only started considering consulting as a potential career after two years of internships in finance left her unsatisfied with the industry.
Merola was recruited as an incoming business analyst for Bain & Company, one of the “Big Three” management consulting firms, alongside Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey. Merola attributed part of her successful recruitment to the skills she learned from Hilltop Consultants.
“All of my presentation skills are from Hilltop,” Merola said. “The ability to work on a team and synthesize large amounts of information into a really aesthetic and well-thought-out presentation — I think that’s been hugely helpful.”
Consulting clubs on campus can also open the door to nontraditional consulting careers, such as consulting for nonprofit organizations, according to DCivitas vice president Monica Essig Aberg (COL ’22).
“With DCivitas, I have seen the impact of nonprofit work on social justice issues, and how my skill set fits into the needs of nonprofits,” Essig Aberg wrote in an email to The Hoya. “This has opened my eyes to careers in the nonprofit sector that I didn’t know existed.”
While consulting continues to be the most popular Georgetown career path postgraduation, students also grapple with how consulting influences communities around the world.
Management consulting firms have played a significant role in helping different enterprises grow and develop their companies, according to management professor Nicholas Lovegrove, who worked for McKinsey as a senior partner in the London branch and managing partner of the Washington, D.C. branch.
“You could say enterprises of various kinds have been obtaining higher standards of performance and enabling that growth,” Lovegrove said in an interview with The Hoya. “To do that, they’ve been drawing upon whatever advice they can get and management consultants play a prominent role in that.”
However, major consulting firms have recently been exposed for working with clients that violate human rights. For example, McKinsey consultants have worked with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to cut costs in detention facilities and accelerate the deportation period, disregarding the rights of detained migrants, according to a December 2019 report by The New York Times and ProPublica. In 2018, 11 Georgetown undergraduate students chose to work for McKinsey after graduation.
After facing public backlash for their involvement with ICE, McKinsey announced that it was halting its work with the controversial government agency in July 2018. However, that same month, McKinsey signed a contract to consult for Customs and Border Protection, a partner government agency with ICE involved in family separations.
McKinsey is not the only consulting firm that has worked with ICE. Deloitte, the largest employer of Georgetown graduates in 2018, has been awarded over $74.9 million in consulting fees for ICE since the start of President Donald Trump’s administration.
Management consulting firms need to start being accountable for the clients they choose to advise, according to Lovegrove.
“Where they’ve made tangible mistakes — and clearly McKinsey in particular has made some quite tangible mistakes in its choice of clients and engagements — they certainly need to and have not owned up to that,” Lovegrove said.
Fr. Matthew Carnes, S.J., professor of government and director of the Center for Latin American Studies, believes students have to consider how their career choices will impact others.
“Everything is bothered,” Carnes said in an interview with The Hoya. “People are bothered in whatever area we are working in. If we’re working in an NGO, we’re bothered in how we make that NGO better. If we’re working in consulting, we’re bothered on what difference does it make.”