It’s January and a flurry of anxious suits descends onto Sellinger Lounge. Below the surface of casual chit-chat about winter break bubbles an undercurrent of apprehension about the nebulous and uncertain future, the entirety of which seems to rest on the outcome of the next few months. Recruitment season has begun.
It’s 2015 at Georgetown, and a culture of pre-professionalism has become firmly inculcated in how students conceive of success, ambition and recognition in their four years on campus. Students are placing undue emphasis on resume building, networking, interviewing and brand-seeking, oftentimes at the expense of their intellectual interests. They worry that the skillsets they are acquiring in the classroom are “impractical.” But who cares? Your undergraduate education is meant to be impractical.
College should be where you learn to think, love what you learn and test the waters. Instead, students are tunnel-visioning themselves towards graduation before the academic journey has even begun.
To be sure, the situation is not as dichotomous as I’m making it sound, and the logic is not zero-sum. Paying the bills is important, and seeking out your future paycheck in finance, consulting and other “recruitment-cycle” industries is totally legitimate, if those are the fields that truly interest you. But the job search should not be at odds with what you care about. You shouldn’t force yourself to be interested in something because it presents itself as the norm, and as something you should be gearing towards.
A disclaimer, before I continue: I participated, bought into and emerged from this recruiting process. I have a lot of regrets about how I approached it. My professional trajectory for the next few years has been largely determined by it. But yours doesn’t have to be.
There are a panoply of reasons we shouldn’t buy into the recruiting cycle hype, but I’ll highlight two that are the most important. First, it fosters a norm of extrinsic instead of intrinsic measures of success: “I want to work in x because it’ll get me places” vs. “I want to do x because I care deeply about it.” (To be fair, the fields we care deeply about don’t always present the most compelling opportunities in practice, so it’s not a black-and-white matter.) Balancing pragmatism with passion is always a difficult tradeoff, but the current emphasis fosters a very narrow view of pragmatism and circumscribes true introspection. Second, professional recruiting cycles set unrealistic expectations for job acquisition. Only resource-rich firms can afford such massively-publicized recruitment undertakings, which students come to regard as the norm and the extent of their pool of options. It is not so. There are plenty of other industries out there, but most lack the resources to come knocking at your front stoop. And a lot of them will hire people when they have an empty desk and the budget to do so, which makes it virtually impossible to lock down an offer a year in advance in those fields.
We like these recruitment-cycle industries because they extend opportunities that are convenient, in line with prevailing notions of success and come with brand cachet — and we are risk-averse. But there’s no better time in your life to take some risks. Start with focusing on what you care about, and it’ll all flow better from there.
Stephanie Zhou is a senior in the School of Foreign Service.