COLUMNS

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January 12, 2012

Irrational expectations

CAPS offerings reflect troubling job market realities, not program bias.

One of my favorite moments in the Potter Puppet Pals video series on YouTube occurs when the puppet Harry Potter thumps his head on the wall and repeats, “Angst, angst, angst, angst.” Those five seconds encapsulate my feelings about the beginning of winter quarter. It’s cold (well, usually), the sun sets far too early, and everyone else you know is still on break.

The big deal about the start of winter quarter, though, is that it seems that nearly everybody is trying to figure out plans for the summer. This is probably also the peak time for people to express their frustration with the limitations of career services. A sentiment that I often hear (most recently expressed in a Maroon editorial) is that career services resources for students seeking jobs in industries besides finance and consulting should be augmented considerably. As part of the very substantial fraction of the student population looking into options besides business, I too would like University-provided job listings to be more in line with my interests and qualifications. However, I also think that students may be seeking change in the wrong places.

I don’t believe CAPS is willfully ignoring students’ wishes. It’s important to examine the possible explanations for why finance and consulting offerings are so much broader compared to other sectors. The listings may simply be a reflection of the entry-level job market for college graduates. Traditional journalism, for example, is not a field experiencing blistering growth right now. Moreover, it seems to me that other professions are structured in such a way that it is impractical for them to practice business-style recruitment. First, finance and consulting firms have relatively high and predictable turnover rates. Every year, they are going to have to train a new cohort of people who will start their jobs at around the same time. They can synchronize their hiring schedules with those of students since so many of their new hires will have just come out of school. In contrast, firms with fewer resources will probably want to avoid having a large number of jobs open up on an annual basis because it’s expensive to look for and train new employees frequently.

It also takes time and money for organizations to recruit college students. I will venture a guess that organizations that do not pay their interns are not going to have the infrastructure in place to hold on-campus events at many different colleges. Furthermore, it is most worthwhile to recruit at the colleges where one’s organization expects to hire a relatively large number of students. That’s why it makes more sense for engineering firms to devote more resources to scoping out University of Illinois students than University of Chicago students, even though the University of Chicago has certainly graduated students who went on to work as engineers. Likewise, University of Chicago students are probably going to get more exposure to firms with a strong alumni presence, in part because such firms know that University of Chicago students want to work for them. Universities and their students’ top employers have a mutual relationship. The schools provide the talent, and the employers provide the jobs. CAPS isn’t perfect, but it also cannot control many of the factors that influence employers’ hiring practices.

To be honest, I think a lot of the complaints directed at CAPS are really expressions of frustration with what contemporary American society values. While I believe that finance and consulting firms are useful, I would prefer for people not to feel that they are being pushed into those sectors. The contributions that public service, nonprofits, and creative professions have made to society are certainly not inferior to those made by finance and consulting. Yet it’s the first three fields that are making a lot more headlines for shedding jobs and freezing paychecks. Unfortunately, I suspect that altering societal priorities is not a part of the job description for the CAPS staff.

Jane Huang is a second-year in the College.

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