The Adverse Power of MBA Recruiting

Can “Traditional Paths” Pull You Away from Your True Calling?

NYU Stern has one of the most diverse student populations amongst all the top business schools in the United States. This year’s incoming class is made up of 30% minority students and includes representatives from 40 countries. Yet despite such diversity, our student population remains quite homogenous in some respects.

This year, 36% of the incoming class arrived at Stern with either a background in finance or consulting. However, around 60% of us will graduate from Stern with a job in one of those two industries. What causes this consolidation in career trajectory?

I have no doubt that part of this uptick is a result of natural selection—people choose Stern because of its strength in investment banking and management consulting. But more than that, Stern, like every top business school in the country, has a few industries that float to the top of recruiting opportunities and can draw in students who had never given the industries a second thought.

For the past several weeks, as the recruiting rush has started in earnest, I’ve been wondering how much of the excitement (and pressure) of wooing and being wooed by Stern’s top recruiters drives a wedge between the target careers with which MBA1s started at Stern and the employers with whom they’ll end up.

Why We Choose the Road Well-Traveled

Even for people like me, who come into business school without a good sense of which career path they want, it can be a challenge to sift through the plethora of available career options. This also comes with an incredible amount of both internal and external pressure. Am I choosing the right career path for the long term? A lot my friends are recruiting for investment banking; should I be doing that as well? I wanted to know whether my peers were feeling the same tensions and pressures that I was, and if they were having changes of heart as a result.

One MBA1 I spoke with said, “I came to Stern with a desire to stay in the social entrepreneurship space but wondering if a short-term focus on consulting would be the best way to succeed at social impact in the long term. When I got here it was hard not to get swept up in the herd of people moving toward consulting, and the pressure to follow that ‘traditional’ path. Ultimately, I decided not to.”

Regardless of what industry you want to go into, Stern is very helpful in preparing you to recruit. But the reality is that if you’re planning on pursuing “non-traditional recruiting,” the resources aren’t going to be nearly as strong. This can leave you feeling a little directionally challenged.

The Challenges of Entrepreneurship

Probably more than any career trajectory that students come into Stern interested in that can fall prey to the recruiting rush is entrepreneurship. Before entrepreneurial students even have the chance to get their feet wet, formal recruiting begins. Fear of missing out is very real and, from what I heard from other students, a prevailing thought is, “if I don’t get on board the train now, I may never get to board at all.”

Furthermore, formal recruiting is a very structured process and there is no ambiguity (right down to the color and style of tie to wear). Entrepreneurship, unsurprisingly, is the exact opposite—while Stern is filled with resources for aspiring entrepreneurs, the path to a successful, post-grad career is one you have to blaze on your own. That is a daunting proposition.

One of the students I spoke with for this article weighed exactly that choice and turned from a path toward entrepreneurship to recruiting for investment banking, “I felt that Stern’s recruiting infrastructure is designed to help students land jobs in investment banking and is thus a safer bet. Also, the salary, compensation, and career progression timeline is very clear for a career in investment banking, but a timeframe for compensation in entrepreneurship is not clear. There is high variance in entrepreneurship and no data surrounding it. Ultimately, while there are a lot of resources for entrepreneurship on campus, investment banking seems to be a gateway to other careers and opens other paths down the road.”

It’s hard to argue with such a balanced and thoughtful decision. Nevertheless, I find myself wondering if the recruiting choices we’re making now will be for the best in the long run. As food for thought, I’ll leave you with a Harvard Business Review article I’ve been mulling from Harvard professors Richard Ruback and Royce Yudkoff entitled “Why More MBAs Should Buy Small Businesses” (you can find it at: https://hbr.org/2016/03/why-more-mbas-should-buy-small-businesses).

The gist is: While, right now, the stress of a “risky” endeavor, like starting your own business or acquiring an existing one, may feel overwhelming (especially in the face of the recruiting rush), you could find yourself well rewarded in the future for taking a deep breath and deciding to run against the herd today.  I think we should all take that advice into consideration.

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