September 6, 2010

You Could’ve Told Me I Was in Malaysia

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Seniors: After you graduate you’ll hate your job anyway, so don’t worry about picking the right one. Let me be the first to rain on your parade and prepare you for the quarter-life crisis.When I was starting my senior year I freaked out over what I was gonna do after I graduated, much like everyone at Cornell except for the hockey team (they’re all moving back to Canada). For lack of anything better, and the promise of a solid paycheck, I took a job with a second-tier management consulting firm in Washington D.C. The entering analyst class was a refugee camp for liberal arts majors. “Send me your sociologists, your gender studies majors, your comparative lit concentrators yearning to pay the bills!” The only reason they hired me with my anthropology degree, and my lack of business acumen, was the fact that my diploma said Cornell. In a sense, I got the job based on the high school achievements that landed me at Cornell, not the classes I took in Ithaca. That’s why the Cornell brand is worth $50k/yr. If they had been hiring for any marketable skills, I would’ve been lifeguarding at the company picnic.Most undergrads have no skills, experience or expertise, and most of you reading this will think you fall outside of this generalization. Engineers, architects and computer scientists — disregard this paragraph. Even if you studied something “practical” like AEM or ILR, no business has yet to profitably act on one of your in-class projects. If you studied something qualitatively focused, an employer isn’t hiring you for anything more than your ability to think somewhat rationally and your potential to write in a non-academic manner.This distinction in writing style is important. Academic English is structured to present complex ideas to someone who is going to take the time to read an essay. Outside academia, though, writing is set up to present complex ideas to someone who’d rather be watching the “Paper Towels” video on YouTube than reading what you wrote (“Now you just got a crap load of squares.”) The inquisitive style of writing that got you good grades in college isn’t appreciated or needed outside of the university. No one reads anything more than 500 words, except my 826-word column.Also, your summer internships aren’t that big of a deal. They’ll show that you have some knowledge about the field, but interns rarely carry much responsibility or perform any critical tasks. Furthermore, few employers are going to invest a lot of energy — beyond a token meeting or mentoring lunch — in extensive or difficult conversations with interns over their skill development.  If you think you were vital to any operation in the 10 weeks you spent there, you probably weren’t. Sorry, this means you, type “A” Hotelie.This lack of tangible skills, combined with the fact that no one knows who you are, will put you firmly at the bottom of the value chain. Your work probably won’t have anything to do with your greater career and life ambitions. Despite those AEM courses you took on international business, they won’t ask you to write a new marketing plan to sell the Wii in Panama. I think they call it “El Nosotros” anyway. You’ll spend a while, perhaps six months to a year, building up credibility through formatting spreadsheets, making call notes and calling the caterer — work “far below” what you’re really capable of.Get used to it. For the driven, passionate, ambitious Ivy League graduate, this phase of employment sucks. Most of my friends didn’t like their jobs after graduating. The bankers hated looking at spreadsheets all day. Filmmakers adjusted mic booms. Journalists proofread the police blotter. Consultants didn’t really know what value they provided. Across the board, we all felt like we weren’t doing the work we actually wanted to do, and we realized we had no idea what we actually wanted to do.Be prepared to graduate and feel disappointed, lost and listless. Bienvenidos to the quarter-life crisis, where none of your potential is realized. I left my consulting job, moved in down the hall from mom and dad, sold silk-cotton-cashmere blends at Banana Republic, got over a breakup (never date a girl who’s American Visa is about to expire) and then went on a cliche journey to find myself in Southeast Asia. Apparently I had been in Malaysia all along, I wish someone had told me.Unlike a mid-life crisis you probably won’t have to sign divorce papers, however you also won’t have the money to buy a Porsche, which kind of sucks.  Get ready to be let down, and to feel impatient and restless as the peaks and troughs of stimulation and achievement contained in one college semester spread themselves out over two years.Post-graduate life isn’t linear and sequential. It’s circuitous and erratic. You’ll need to discern what you want out of life in the absence of a structured path. I’ll publish that column on my deathbed. Ben Koffel is a first-year grad student in the College of Architecture, Art & Planning. He may be contacted at bkoffel@cornellsun.com. Come Again? appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.

Original Author: Ben K.