A Banker and Teacher Walk Into a Bar…
By Myrel Iturrey, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, January 25, 2013
Rummaging through a bin of old art projects, I came across my illustrated kindergarten journal. The obligatory memoir of my elementary school years had enough drawings of my puppy to dedicate a wing of the Louvre in his honor. But as I was getting ready to leave for college, one entry stood out. The prompt was, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” To the degree that my artistic ineptitude allowed, I had drawn myself as a far more cheerful bus driver than I would ever encounter in all my years of public school transit.
If someone asked all incoming Dartmouth freshmen to draw a picture of what they wanted to do with the rest of their lives, hardly any could respond with the same clarity as my six-year-old self. Yet by the end of their Dartmouth careers, it appears that a number of students fall into one of two “life-path” categories: the first being in the high-paying corporate-recruited world, and the second in the philanthropic and idealistic endeavors in non-profits and other organizations such as Teach for America.
This, of course, is an oversimplification. Over the years, Dartmouth has graduated students who have gone to work for every industry from entertainment to politics. The variety of talents and diversity of interests that colors Dartmouth’s campus guarantees that alumni excel in a wide array of careers.
By no means do I intend to diminish their accomplishments nor do I wish to ignore the aspirations of others who hope to forge a path that is entirely their own.
However, the undeniable tendency for many students from the same school to gravitate toward seemingly dissimilar humanitarian organizations and large corporations for employment merits some explanation.
Certain students have long aspired to pursue one of these paths. Lauren Willoughby ’13, who will be joining the investment banking division of Goldman Sachs after graduation, said that she had known she was bound for the finance industry since before matriculation, as she always hoped to follow in her father’s footsteps.
For the great majority of students, however, the desire to land one of these “dream jobs” grew slowly and irregularly throughout their undergraduate years. The extensive corporate recruiting process facilitated by Career Services makes it relatively easy for all students to apply for internships, according to several students interviewed by The Dartmouth.
“I literally had never heard of consulting and suddenly I found myself looking up case studies online because it seemed like everyone was doing it,” said Anna Levine ’11 who is currently employed by TFA to teach English as a second language. “It was so easy to apply.”
Though Levine did not secure an internship through the corporate recruiting process, which (in her words) “is fortunate for all who would have been involved,” others who went on to intern at high-profile investment banks or hedge funds found that the hands-on experience solidified their interest in pursuing a career in finance.
“After my internship at Morgan Stanley, I realized that the firm would provide me with a remarkable chance to continue to learn, be challenged and have the type of real-world experience I wanted right out of Dartmouth,” said Sean Donovan ’13, who will be joining the firm’s investment banking division in June.
Like Donovan, Christian Sherrill ’13 did the corporate song and dance.
After two separate internships, one at a hedge fund during his junior winter and another at a sales and trading desk the following summer, Sherrill was extremely pleased with his experiences.
“I was doing very interesting, compelling work with really high-quality, moral people,” he said.
Unlike Donovan, however, Sherrill opted out of the finance career and decided instead to apply for Teach for America.
“I realized that the support network that I had as a kid and even now, it’s not the rule, but rather the exception,” Sherrill said. “Who better to try to make that the rule than somebody to whom it was extended? I was driven more by this idea of paying it forward.”
When I first began interviewing for this story, I didn’t expect that students interested in the fast-paced, high-salaried world of finance could simultaneously desire to further TFA’s objective of equal education for all children in America. However, the experiences of Sherrill and Levine, as well as further confirmation from Career Services co-director Monica Wilson, quickly squashed that stereotype.
“In a liberal arts environment, a lot of students haven’t figured out what they want to do, and even when they figure it out they change their minds,” Wilson said. “We’ve actually seen a lot of students who are thinking about the corporate world at the same time that they’re thinking about Teach for America.”
Indeed, Sherrill offered an enlightening comparison between both recruitment experiences. Each rely on competitive and strenuous processes with multiple rounds of interviews aimed to test one’s knowledge and problem-solving abilities and, most importantly, to ensure that he or she is applying for the right reasons.
“If at any point you showed that you are there just because you need a job after college, [the interviewers] would see right through you,” Sherrill said of TFA.
Willoughby echoed the sentiment, saying that going through corporate recruiting simply to follow the herd is “not a good enough reason.”
Students who go through both processes need to be “hardworking, passionate and have boundless energy,” Levine said.
With that in mind, neither field seeks a “prototypical student,” but rather embraces an array of backgrounds and experiences, she said.
“I have peers going into similar lines of work who have very different academic experiences,” Donovan said. “As a result, you get to work with and learn from a diverse mix of people with different interests and backgrounds.”
Ultimately, students make their pick on which route to pursue for a variety of reasons. However, many interviewed by The Dartmouth indicated that a broad support network of students who had already gone through the processes was indispensable.
“I was truly blown away by how far out of their way Dartmouth students are willing to go to help you learn about different opportunities and aid you in achieving your goal,” Donovan said. “For me, that speaks to the type of people at Dartmouth and the effect that four years at Dartmouth has on people.”
Levine said she was similarly influenced by her peers.
“I saw a lot of upperclassmen who I really admired heading into TFA, so that was compelling to me,” she said. “Also my DOC First-Year trip co-leader told me sophomore year that he thought I would be great for TFA, and he was a total dreamboat. Sold!”
Though they may attract similarly-minded students, the careers offered by the philanthropic and corporate industries are vastly different.
As Wilson indicated, students who find themselves “thrilled by presentations and analysis” opt for the corporate world, while others like Levine who “prefer working with clients under the age of nine,” might choose to join the TFA. In the end, all students simply try to aim for a career in which their passions and talents intersect.
“We’re all just trying to find work that is meaningful, makes use of our skills, makes us feel valued, and maybe contributes something lasting to the world,” Levine said.