Perspectives on the Working Life

One question that dominates the minds of most Stanford undergraduates is what to do after graduation. And in the hyper-competitive atmosphere, the steps taken to reach highly coveted jobs vary.

The Review investigated a few of the most popular post-graduation fields and interviewed current seniors and recent graduates who have been successful in them. Below is a breakdown of each sector and How the individuals prepared to enter them.

Government

Several students, particularly in the Political Science, Economics, and Public Policy departments, plan to enter the government sector.

Cindy Guan ‘11, a Public Policy major, has received an offer from a local “intellectual property/tech law firm,” said Guan. But she also says that she is currently “looking to something in D.C….somewhere away from what I’m used to.”

While a student here a Stanford, Guan studied abroad at Oxford and serves as a Vice President of the Forum for American-Chinese Exchange at Stanford (FACES). “In some ways FACES…intrigued my interest in working for the State Department or the Foreign Service,” she says. Asked about compensation for government policy positions, Guan replied, “Government jobs tend to start on the lower spectrum. For a recent grad it is like mid-40K. Private law is 50-60K.”

But the path to working in the nation’s capital is not easy. “D.C. is very different because it’s really hard to find a job unless you live there and have a DC address,” said Guan. There are many jobs that are stable and politically independent, as there are a variety of NGOs and think tanks who also employ college graduates. “You can definitely get a job if you move there, but a lot of people just don’t want to deal…with that sense of instability,” explained Guan.

Teach for America

Many Stanford students are interested in entering a K-12 classroom. Teach for America (TFA) offers them the chance to teach in an inner-city classroom for two years with only a brief training the summer before they begin. For Stanford students, it is a highly tangible way to give back.

Kelly Gleischman ‘10, a Political Science major with focus on International Relations, found teaching through TFA a challenge as well as calling.

She pointed to the inspiring and groundbreaking nature of the work that TFA core members do on a daily basis as a reason for her involvement. Gleischman firmly believes that her time spent with TFA reaffirmed her desire to work in education.

“People who go into the job don’t go for the compensation but for the students,” she stated. Gleischman’s typical work day starts at 5:30 A.M. when she gets to school early to prepare, and it does not end until 10:00 P.M. when she finishes her prep for the next day. “My motivation is from my students,” she commented enthusiastically.

According to the TFA website, salaries range from $30,000 to $51,000 per year.

Consulting

The consulting industry always attracts Stanford students. Consulting, typically epitomized by management consulting firms like McKinsey and Accenture, entails groups of employees developing customized business strategies for other firms.

One Stanford graduate now in consulting, John Nantz ‘09, B.A. Economics, Mathematics Minor, M.A. MS&E, focused on “doing what you are passionate about” rather than on the resume padding rut in which many Stanford undergraduates find themselves. Also, Nantz pointed to the importance of actually doing and following through with ideas rather than simply contemplating them.

He feels that the level of authenticity in a resume can only be achieved by genuine passion.

For two consecutive summers, Thomas Igeme ’11, B.A. MS&E and a co-term student in Public Policy, worked at BCG as an intern and was offered employment at the end of his second internship.

Last year, BCG received 400 applications for its summer intern position. According to Igeme,  “they usually interview 40 [people] for the first round, and [narrow the selection] down to five in the end.”

Igeme deferred his employment at BCG for a year to intern with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, a religious organization that has chapters in universities all across the United States. He did so partly to “find his soul,” because he thinks many lose their souls in corporate America soon after getting into the market. “I think that in both [the BCG and Intervarsity] cases I…view my role as providing value. My faith is important in both aspects.”

One of the reasons management consulting is so popular is its high income returns. An “average consultant would get 55K to 65K, plus benefits” according to Igeme, who, due to his past experiences, earns a salary between $70,000 and $80,000.

But high compensation often comes with high working hours, and at a top management consulting firm such as BCG, the average work week is 65-75 hours, according to Igeme. “It tends to be a very deadline driven field… I would get into the office at 10, but…leave at 1 in the morning.”

**Startups **

A startup,  any company in its initial developmental stages, will often involve technology if it was conceived at Stanford. And at Stanford, which is situated in the heart of Silicon Valley, also known as the start-up capital of the world, students are exposed to and given the opportunity to participate in startups quite often.

Life working in a start-up is hard. Generally speaking, first-time entrepreneurs have less than a one in five chance of succeeding. Not everyone starts Facebook or Google.

Alvin Tse ‘10,  majored in MS&E and is now CEO at his second start-up company, Tixxme.  Founders can “pay [themselves] 2-3K a month, the minimum which you can survive off,” Tse stated. “If you’re a top engineering talent, it’s probably around 70K-80K a year [when] entering a start-up as a first employee, including equity.”

The start-up lifestyle is flexible, as set hours are unusual and companies work at their own pace to develop products. This culture of flexibility can also lead to instability as employees are often offered equity in the company as part of their compensation.

Banking

The banking industry offers more high-end positions, but without undergraduate business degrees offered at Stanford, students will have to be creative in their preparations for a banking position.

Christina Phillips ‘10, now in the banking sector, talked about the need to focus on overarching goals and the importance of mentors in the job search process. She pointed to conversations with upperclassmen as early as freshman year as being instrumental in allowing her to “evaluate many different career paths I knew were available after college, weighing those with my interests and academic strengths.”

More importantly, to gauge whether banking was the right fit, she undertook a nine week long summer internship in the banking industry. The biggest takeaway from her experience, however, is that she did not bind herself to one particular field. During her other summers, Christina interned at other organizations, an important facet in her overall development. Her  base salary is $70,000 with a $10,000 relocation grant and performance based bonuses at the end of the year.

From the experiences of these Stanford students, a few clear themes emerge. The loudest is the importance of authenticity. Following genuine passion and interest seems to result in tangible positive outcomes in contrast to following a perceived “correct” way.

And while first jobs are not the glamorous windows into corporate stardom undergraduates want them to be, they are crucial stepping stones to reach a space and field aligned with ability and interest. Ultimately, as Kelly Gleischman frames the discussion, it is of utmost importance for undergraduates to “follow their passion [and] find some way to apply their passion to making this world a better place.”

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