Finance and consulting are careers attracting students from all fields. The handsome pay packages, travelling around the world, and the ‘prestige’ that come with these careers makes them seem like perfect choices. More than 40% of Ivy League graduates take up finance and consulting jobs in companies like Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, McKinsey and Bain. That is a significant number of smart, hardworking individuals concentrated in limited fields.
Let’s take the example of an average, bright student, X. X is told from the beginning that he/she needs to work hard and achieve to get a good job. So, he joins school, works hard to ace tests while managing co-curricular like sports and school clubs. He is able to bag a seat at a prestigious university, and again he works hard at internships, clubs and extra courses, to be an ‘achiever’ and secure a good career ahead of him. A career that would pay handsomely and develop his contacts, while keeping his options open and providing him with valuable skills that can be applies anywhere and boost his resume. He sees the prestige and compensation offered by finance and consulting and joins them. The story is similar for most graduates like X. As promised, they get the prestige, but the work comprises long hours of presentations and spreadsheets, and repetitive and mundane tasks of the like, creating a line of dissatisfied and depressed professional.
Finance, Consulting and Legal Services are tertiary industries that support and assist existing businesses in acquiring others and conducting other such operations. They depend on the functioning of existing businesses to earn revenues. So, there is little or no value creation. Society stands to benefit a lot more if more we divert more resources towards research and development, new start-ups and infrastructure.
A few years ago, there was a student from Delhi who started an organisation to help the homeless shelters get food and support from people in the city. She was bright and was doing a great job contributing to the society. Later, she started working at an consulting firm, which is helping corporations, and not the homeless. Every year innumerable students, who are capable of coming up with extraordinary innovations, are channelled to a few transaction based careers.
While there is nothing wrong for an individual to seek out the best possible outcomes for their career, the moot point is this that these individual choices are not leading to the best possible outcomes for the society as a whole. Hence we need to come up with ways to incentivize our youth to make career choices that also contribute to societal progress.