On the Campus: November 27, 1996

Humanities majors question their prospects as investment firms woo techie Tigers

"So what are your plans for after graduation?" That's the dreaded question parents keep asking seniors these days. We ask each other a slightly modified version: "Do you have any plans for after graduation?" The question is prompted not by idle curiosity. We're looking for suggestions. There are many who have their lives all mapped out, others with less concrete career plans, and a frightening number of students with no plans at all. Those fitting the latter category tend to stick together and pooh-pooh their classmates' conventionality. "Tunnel vision," they scoff, and then ask each other for the umpteenth time, "So what are you gonna do?"
As humanities majors head off to med school, law school, and grad school, the engineers-after wasting away in the bowels of the E-Quad for the past three years-suddenly emerge, radiant in suits and ties and grinning all the way to their Procter & Gamble interviews. Senior recruiting is in full swing, and Bachelor of Science in Engineering students are getting job offers, their recompense for four years of problem sets.
At last month's Science and Technology Job Fair in Dillon Gym, engineers and computer science and economics majors feasted at this smorgasbord of corporate opportunity. Software, pharmaceutical, and tech companies; research laboratories; investment banks; management-consulting firms-a whopping 68 organizations decorated tables with posters, pamphlets, and gimmickry to lure the best and the brightest. As I strolled down these makeshift supermarket aisles, smiling representatives-many of them last year's graduates looking strangely at ease in their new power suits-eagerly accepted résumés and scheduled interviews.
Prior to this job fair, it seemed as though the only companies hiring were management consulting firms or investment banks. And these companies weren't just interested: they were aggressively recruiting seniors with what Alex Harney '97 termed "blitzkrieg advertising," slipping flyers under your door each morning, cramming them in your mailbox each afternoon. A few companies even sent personalized letters, complete with lists of Princeton employees. Many management-consulting firms accosted you with fluorescent flyers and somewhat hokey slogans, such as "Close the books . . . then open an exciting chapter in your life." One emphasized its "small firm atmosphere that is collegial and fun." Flyers announcing investment-banking presentations took a different tack, opting for stylish simplicity, cream-colored paper tastefully commanding seniors to "Join Us" or "cordially" inviting seniors to attend. Goldman Sachs even specified "Casual Attire."
Many of these swanky, investment-banking presentations were held in the Prince William Ballroom at the Nassau Inn. Watching slide shows beneath dim-med chandeliers, nibbling hors d'oeuvres from silver trays, this elegant atmosphere clashed with the horror stories I'd heard about hundred-hour work weeks and employees foregoing their company cars to crash in sleeping bags at the office instead.
The calculated, "wine 'em, dine 'em" strategy must help persuade some to "sell their souls" for the next two years. But what many regard as selling out, others consider a stepping stone. As an analyst, you acquire skills useful in a variety of careers and an astronomical salary to help pay off student loans or start your own business. Because the stakes are so high, jockeying for consulting positions is "frighteningly competitive," says Bill Christiansen '96, a civil engineer with a certificate in engineering management systems who is now an analyst at a New York consulting firm.
Crowds formed around the tables of these sought-after companies. Microsoft had by far the catchiest display-young, hip reps in jeans standing before an MTV-inspired backdrop, passing out purple-and-black bouncy balls, smiling those two magic words: Bill Gates. Less popular displays had one or two representatives shifting about, trying not to look bored as they rearranged handouts.
I paused at another lonely table, where the sole representative of an upstart software company launched into a promotional spiel hyping its latest products, advancement opportunities, and friendly, youthful staff. Pausing for air, she gasped, "Are you a computer science major?" I shook my head. "What is your major?" My murmured reply, "English," produced a peal of laughter, which she quickly stifled with the statement, "Well . . . you should check out our web page." I guess I should take some comfort in her presumption that I possessed the technological knowhow to find a web page.
Unlike many of my classmates, I left the job fair with no prospect of employment, but I did make off with lots of free pens, pencils, magnets, keychains, coffee mugs, and T-shirts-consolation prizes for those out of the science and technology loop. Come June, though, when my classmates join the workforce to become professional hackers and geeks, I'll be one of those scoffing at my Microsoft bouncy ball and still looking for suggestions.

After graduation, Julie Rawe '97 may move back to Charleston, South Carolina, to live with her parents.