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Choosing a career path

Brief case in hand, freshly printed resumes flying, marching in quick succession, running on caffeine and freshly memorized case studies: The Potential Consultant Robots, or the PCRs, for short.

We see them, we know them—or knew them, before they became robots, we despise them, but at the same time we kinda wish we were them and we feel like we’re doing everything wrong because we’re not them. 

For some reason, it seems like the Class of 2018 is under the impression that consulting is all there is. After all, we are smart, driven over-achievers who thrive under pressure and stress: the perfect candidates for consultants. So, naturally, we should all be PCRs. 

It’s not that the PCRs are bad people. It’s not that they’re doing something wrong. And it’s not that they’ve picked a bad career towards which to strive. 

It’s that a lot of them are terrifying to watch because they are so robotic, structured, and stressed that it’s hard to see or understand why they are even going about the consulting process in the first place. And, what’s worse, I’d venture to say probably half of them don’t know for themselves why they are going through the process.

Duke students got to Duke because, at least at some point in time, we checked the right boxes and did things for our resume. Unfortunately, this mentality has carried us through our undergraduate career and now, most notably, into our career search. We look at consulting as the obvious next box to check, the necessity for our budding professional resumes, the key to a better life, and what everyone else who’s smart and motivated is doing. 

But what’s so sad about that is that many PCRs are beginning a career they won’t actually want to have. (Take Friday’s Homecoming Ball when an intoxicated graduated student “accidentally” told me how miserable she was at her Big Three consulting firm as an example.)

That’s not to say everyone interested in consulting is just doing it to do it. In fact, allow me to provide my own perspective on why I *might* want to do federal consulting: This summer, while working for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), I worked alongside a small, boutique consulting firm that provides insights for the federal government to run more efficiently. I was amazed by their work! They had the knowledge, insights and relationships to call out the federal government on their bureaucracy and actually make changes. I left the summer excited to explore a career in federal consulting in order to continue helping the federal government run more efficiently. 

The only problem with this is that to get a job in federal consulting, I still have to show my face at the typical consulting info sessions and coffee chats. In other words, I have become a PCR. 

While at these info sessions, I see a room of anxiety, nervousness, and confusion. The people sitting to my left and right often don’t have prior experience, aren’t familiar with the company, and can’t actually articulate why they’re there. And when I stand off to the side to ask about any Federal Consulting opportunities at the company, I’m met with scoffs and eye-rolling from the same students, who see my decision to do a different type of consulting—with less travel and less pay—as a pathetic alternative. 

I want everyone to know that not only are there more options within consulting besides the Big Name companies that recruit here, there are also more opportunities outside consulting. 

Since when did it become the right thing to do for a bunch of creative, intellectually curious, driven people to all go after the same type of job?

The blessing of being a Duke student is that in the job process you will have choices. Don’t take the choices for granted. Instead, choose something where you know what you’re getting into, where you like the work, and where you feel like you’ll make a difference. 

The job process isn’t about taking the job with the best global ranking. It’s about taking the job that’s the best fit for you. 

So here’s a challenge for you, Class of 2018: Every time you see the PCRs walking around and feel a wave of stress and anxiety, take five minutes and google random careers. (I’ve started a list and I now have 172 random jobs that make me feel happy: working on a cacao farm in Costa Rica, participating in a strategic communications program, joining a leadership institute on the other side of the world, researching for a think tank, the list goes on and on.) And next to each job write what you’d learn there, why it’d be fun, and how you’d make a difference. 

Maybe in the end you’ll choose consulting, and who knows, maybe I’ll end up doing federal consulting, or maybe we won’t, but at least we’ll have learned that there are more job openings than just Associate Consultant.

Hope Arcuri is a Trinity senior.


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