Features - June 7, 2000
Fishing for answers at Career Services
Students gripe about narrow focus, lack of resources, and that long walk
If you go to Career Services wanting something other than management consulting or investment banking, you're told to go to the computer," says Tristan Snell '00. "The impression on campus is that Career Services reinforces a tunnel vision of what students can do, a homogeneous 'Princeton mold.' "
Snell is not alone in his opinions. The recent Undergraduate Student Government's "Visions of Princeton" survey yielded numerous complaints covering office location, the number of counselors, and the tilt toward management consulting and investment banking. "It's part of the folklore passed down from one class to another that what you do is go to Princeton and come out a management consultant or investment banker," says USG president P. J. Kim '01. "Students want diversity, not just in where classmates come from geographically and in skin color, but in career goals and what they get out of life."
These complaints don't surprise Career Services Director Beverly Hamilton-Chandler. But she defends her office, pointing to new initiatives-some cyber-based, some not-to meet students' concerns. "I don't think there's any dispute that the use of technology clearly has increased in this office. That's the way people do business now," Hamilton-Chandler says, adding that CS, which she has headed for two years, also aids graduate students and alumni in their searches. "We're seeing more and more students, not fewer. Plus our interactions are more varied -e-mail, assisting with self-assessment, résumés and cover letters, as well as summer jobs and internships."
But when it comes to the "Princeton mold," statistics support the folklore. The investment banking firm Goldman Sachs was the largest corporate employer of students from the Class of 1999, according to Hamilton-Chandler. The senior check-out survey, which measured about half of the class, indicated 36 percent were employed after graduation, mostly in the financial services and business services areas. Of those numbers, 89 percent in financial services went to investment banking and 72 percent in business services to management consulting. Hamilton-Chandler says money is one reason management consulting and financial services are alluring-some companies offer salaries in the high $50,000s-but she also thinks there's a feeling of an extension of the college experience, because so many peers are moving in the same direction.
Hamilton-Chandler has worked to provide more options. Last fall CS sponsored its first-ever general-interest Career Fair, hosting 98 employers in, yes, consulting and financial services, but also fields ranging from advertising and computer products to publishing and information technology. Fifty nonprofit groups were invited, and 10 accepted.
The Ivy Plus Virtual Career Fair ran on the Internet from April 1 to 14 and offered information on 239 companies ranging from research to communications, mostly firms too small to come on campus physically and recruit. Midway through the two weeks, 362 Princetonians had logged on to the postings. Princeton teamed with the other Ivies and M.I.T., Stanford, and the University of Chicago for this event.
Online through the CS Web site, CS offers eRecruiting (an online recruiting management program, which allows students to manage résumés and other documents and schedule on-campus interviews with employers), Jobtrack (an online job-listing service), and two Princeton exclusives, the CareerNews e-mail subscription service (which alerts students to the latest postings CS receives) and postings for the Alumni Careers Network (contact with 4,000 volunteer alumni in a spectrum of professions and geographic locations). Technology also means the office is open virtually 24 hours a day, so those who don't want to make the trek to 201 Nassau Street-a 20-minute walk from most dormitories-can still use many of its services.
As of July 1, new staff members will bring the ratio of counselors to students to one-to-1,200 instead of one-to-2,513-still the largest ratio in the Ivy League, according to Hamilton-Chandler. (Numbers in 1998 showed Harvard had approximately one counselor for every 600 students; Brown one for every 900 students; and Yale one for every 1,000 students.)
Still, for jobs outside the mainstream, students tend to go elsewhere. For nonprofit leads, they head mainly to Princeton Project 55 for the best referrals. For cutting edge or off-the-beaten-track jobs, students network; some pick up tips from other students; others use TigerNet.
The most striking example of do-it-yourself job-hunting may be in dot.coms. Interest in e-commerce is growing on campus, as evidenced by the Princeton Entrepreneurship Club's Business Plan contest; in its second year, the number of entries more than doubled, from six to 13. But jobs with startups are tough to find, unless, like Gregory E. Lilien '00 and Aditya Dev Tandon '00, who took second place in this year's contest, you plan the start-up yourself. "It's all about networking," says Tandon, who did just that through a friend at Tower Club to get some experience with a start-up last semester and recommends TigerNet's VentureNet as an additional resource. "I think Career Services should begin to develop ways for start-ups to better reach Princeton students. That infrastructure connecting students to startups needs to be developed," Lilien says.
But Career Services can claim at least one success story in the high-tech field. Like many of his classmates, economics major Nelson Cheng '00, who helped start the Princeton Entrepreneurship Club, went to past Career Fairs, but in his senior year he decided to hold out for an offer from an Internet-related company. His job-search process included a feverish round of interviews in January and February with a half-dozen businesses. Networking through a friend got him a foot in the door at one firm in Silicon Valley; there he learned that career fairs at Stanford and Berkeley are flooded with technology firms. As for blindly contacting companies, "I found just sending out résumés was useless; the places looking for résumés [were the ones] I heard back from," he says. But in March, as Cheng was about to bite on an offer with a business-to-business Web company in New Hampshire, Career Services, via its CareerNews, e-mailed him a posting from Amazon.com. He ended up being offered and accepting the Amazon job.
Part of the perception of the Princeton "career mold" stems from the recruiting system itself. Established firms have stepped up their efforts in recent years, moving up campus visits to the fall, courting seniors almost from the moment they start classes in September. Princeton's links with big-name companies like Goldman Sachs are well established, and these corporate giants are eager to snatch up young talent. Many are making job offers after the ever-more important junior summer internship, snapping up these recruits well before they take a look at other firms.
Those students heading to graduate or professional schools have a schedule more similar to that of their classmates heading to corporations; they need to get their applications and recommendations completed before winter holidays. Nonprofits, on the other hand, run on a very different timeline. They, like dot.coms, either need staff immediately- whether school is in session or not-or gear their limited recruiting efforts for the spring. And holding out past the fall for the job search, as Cheng did, takes a special set of nerves. "Since a lot of dot.coms have very short hiring time frames, it may be tough to wait when you have a good offer from, say, an investment bank, that you have to decide on in October," says Cheng.
Students can sort all this out on their own, or take the 20-minute stroll to Career Services for person-to-person contact through counseling sessions, either by appointment or on a walk-in basis. "We talk about what someone likes and enjoys as the first stepping stone," says Lyon Zabsky, a nine-year veteran at CS. "We provide individual attention." And, yes, students are urged to check out the online links to research companies in their prospective fields.
Presentations are made at each residential college to acquaint students with Career Services long before senior year. That, in fact, is one of Hamilton-Chandler's goals: To begin the process as early as freshman year. "Traditionally, students thought about Career Services for graduate school or for full-time jobs. Then we became involved with internships. Now we're saying we'd like to be a part of students' thinking when they arrive on campus. We'd like to be there as they think through how skills translate to majors, and how majors translate to work," Hamilton-Chandler says.
"Every option has some level of risk. Life is about options. Take the opportunities that make sense to you," she advises students. "The core of a job is not financial. Work has to be satisfying. It has to make sense and fulfill a purpose in life."
Maria LoBiondo is a freelance writer in Princeton.
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The Princeton Student 2000
She's smart, athletic, technologically savvy, and public-service-minded
By Marianne Eismann '79
As every Princetonian knows, January 1, 2000, marked neither the start of a new millennium nor of a new century. Y2K disaster scenarios and a great deal of anticipatory hoopla notwithstanding, the most recent January first turned out to be just another New Year's Day. Even members of the Class of 2000 didn't think the changing of the millennial digit from one to two was such a big deal. Having once dreamed of a big party to celebrate the occasion, Molly O'Brien Hall '00 realized those plans would fizzle since all the people she would have invited "ended up in different places" on December 31, 1999. And the fervent third-grade discussion she remembered about whether it would be "cooler" to graduate from college in 1999 or 2000 had long ceased to matter. "Really, the whole thing was anticlimactic," she said over a recent lunch at Tiger Inn, where she's a member.
But if January 1, 2000, turned out to be no big deal, the importance of May 30, 2000, is unquestionable for the Class of 2000, their families, and their friends. And the Class of 2000's graduation is a milestone to which paw cannot resist paying attention. So this spring we spent some time with one member of the Class of 2000 to get her take on the Princeton she's about to leave and the larger world she's about to enter.
If you had been walking past Pyne Hall during the last few days of the spring 2000 semester, you might have heard some percussive sounds emerging from an open courtyard window. Soft-slap-slap-thump-poom, soft-slap-slap-thump-poom. These aren't the sounds one usually associates with collegiate Gothic architecture and central New Jersey. Soft-slap-slap-thump-poom, soft-slap-slap-thump . . . oops. But there they are, a tentative tumbaó by way of western Africa and Cuba to Princeton, courtesy of Molly Hall '00, politics major, lacrosse team cocaptain, and beginning conga drum player.
The two sleek, black-and-chrome, 36-inch-high drums occupy a significant amount of space in Hall's average-size single. They've been wedged between her bed and her desk much of the year, perhaps serving as a harbinger of the new beginnings that awaited her post-thesis life. "I've never been very musical, but I just like the sound of them," she says. And in the spring of 2000, with thesis and almost all of college behind her, she has time to have some fun with them.
Tall, graceful, and strong, Hall grew up in Bernardsville, New Jersey. At Princeton she became a politics major and cocaptain, this year, of the lacrosse team. Hall knows that her position near the approximate center of her class's demographic profile prompted paw to choose her for this article. While she concedes that she shares some of the characteristics that mark her class-"ambitious" and "hard-working" are the words she uses to describe them-she thinks her college experience has not been as culturally balanced as that of many of her classmates. She wishes she'd seen more plays, heard more concerts, and visited more museums. Four years of afternoon practice meant putting those interests to the side. Still, she became fascinated with art history in Professor John Wilmerding's introductory class on American art, and, she consoles herself, she has years ahead in which to pursue that interest. She'll start with a postgraduation trip to Italy and France.
One way in which Hall will admit to being absolutely representative of Princeton is intellectually. She laughs that Princeton has "reshaped" her brain-"but in a really good way." "Since freshman year, I've grown up a lot in the way my thoughts develop and the way I relate to people," she says. "Now I'm critical of things I hear. I don't accept everything. I question."
Becoming four years older has also made Hall more confident of finding her own answers. As a freshman she says she was awed by the talent of the students around her and sometimes even overwhelmed. Any problem sent her straight to the telephone. "I would immediately call my dad, and he would give me some perspective," she says. "He'd tell me to look at the big picture. I didn't have to start every game. I didn't have to get an A in every course. Now, I can give that perspective to myself."
Princeton, Hall believes, encourages its students to take on challenges rather than to shy away from them. Even more important, she says, is that the university encourages its students "not to be fearful of failure." That confidence, combined with her "reshaped" brain's critical powers, led to her conviction to "do something useful" for her politics department thesis.
Conversations with Wendy Kopp '89, who founded Teach for America after developing the concept as part of her own senior thesis, led Hall to focus on a gap she perceives between the kind of education American society asks teachers to deliver to their students and what that society's institutions actually prepare them to teach.
Hall's thesis, entitled "A New Approach: Using the Internet to Improve Teacher Education," concludes that although a majority of government officials and education professionals endorse the use of the Internet in classroom teaching, little to no effort has been invested in making sure teachers know how to use the World Wide Web and other technological tools effectively. This oversight not only shortchanges students, it contributes to the teaching profession's increasing difficulties in attracting sufficient numbers of talented new members. Hall suggests that incorporating technological education into teacher-training programs will benefit students and help raise the social and economic standing of teachers by grouping them with workers prized for their "higher-order" technological skills. The inclusion of teachers in this professional class, she argues, will attract more candidates to teaching.
Hall's adviser, Donald Drakeman *83, a lecturer in the department, was particularly interested in her practical recommendations for improving teacher training, which included one Web-based suggestion that Drakeman says "has the potential to enhance teacher effectiveness across the country."
Hall's wide-ranging interests may signify her as typical, but her work habits make her anything but. A morning person who nonetheless wanted to put some distance between herself and her bed, she spent many early mornings studying in a coffee shop on Palmer Square. The mingling of coffee orders, quiet morning conversations, and milk being steamed created a cocoon of soothing sounds, helping her focus on her work without becoming distracted. Not only did she hand in her thesis on time, she may be one of very few Princeton seniors in any year who never had to pull an all-nighter to do it. "I was always excited to be doing my thesis and never got sick of my topic," she says. "So finishing it wasn't really a big deal." What she really liked about the process, she adds, was "being able to structure an argument for that long and becoming knowledgeable about something I'm interested in."
Hall worked hard as a student, but she has had her share of fun, too-though her four years on campus coincided with yet another university effort to combat the continuing problem of excessive student drinking. Bicker period for Hall and her classmates started with drinks flowing freely and ended "dry," a change Hall feels was a bit of a let-down. While she is quick to state that alcohol abuse on campus is a serious issue, she doubts the current attempts to curb drinking will have much effect.
The university abolished another long-standing tradition during Hall's tenure, too-the Nude Olympics, in which Hall took part her junior year (there was no snow her sophomore year, the traditional time of the running of the bare bottoms). Although some students got carried away, Hall says, she thought the now-defunct activity was "really fun."
With the glory of being among the last class of Nude Olympians-and, on a more serious note, of helping to lead her lacrosse team to the NCAA Final Four-behind her, Hall is looking forward to her next challenge. "I like the feeling of being a student, but I'm ready to graduate," she says with a smile. A few weeks before commencement, she was considering offers of employment from three New York City Internet companies and was conscious of her good fortune.
"I'm so excited I'm the age I am in the era I'm in," she says. "I feel like we're in high demand, being young and having gone to a place like Princeton. It used to be, and still is sometimes, that you had to pay your dues for 10 years before you could really do anything. Now, you can run your own company at 21."
And while she intends to take advantage of that opportunity, she is also aware of the risks. "Power in the working world is [no longer] the property of age," she says. "But it's a little bit dangerous giving so much power to youth. We have ideas, but we are still very inexperienced."
Whatever course Hall's life takes, she knows she wants to keep pushing herself intellectually. She might go to graduate school for a master's in education and then become a teacher or school principal. She might become an Internet entrepreneur, running the teacher-education Web site proposed in her thesis. She definitely intends to learn to speak French, and to live in Paris some day.
If she could register for classes for Fall 2000, Hall says, she'd take French and art history and architecture. The latter is an old interest, stemming from days spent reading Architectural Digest and other design magazines in her mother's interior design office. "I always thought architecture was like a grown-up version of making forts."
Hall is looking forward to joining what she calls "the extended Princeton family." She is certain she will be on campus a year from now to celebrate her first reunion. Princeton "lives on" in its alumni, Hall says. "It's not like you graduate and you're gone. Alumni have helped me, even having never met me. These are the things you take advantage of in the expectation that one day you'll return the favor."
Other than getting through finals and departmental comprehensive exams, Hall's plans for her last weeks on campus are relaxed. She says she'll relish spending time with friends, lingering over meals at T.I. and simply hanging out, enjoying the quiet of her fourth-floor room while, as usual, so much of the rest of the campus is under construction. Soon she'll have to decide about her future, but she's got time.
For now, she also has those conga drums. Soft-slap-slap-thump-poom . . .
Marianne Eismann is a freelance writer in New Jersey.
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