Kane: Northwestern Career Advancement’s focus on consulting misguided


Noah Kane, Columnist

In 2013, the Northwestern Division of Student Affairs conducted a joint study with Northwestern Career Advancement to find out what NU students do after graduation. Fifty-nine percent of respondents indicated that they had found jobs. Sixteen percent of this group now works at consulting firms. Despite the fact that, in my experience, the conventional wisdom at this school is that “everybody goes into consulting,” this number represents less than 10 percent of the overall 2013 graduating class.

NCA’s automated emails, however, tell a different story. Nearly every email I’ve received from NCA (and its predecessor, University Career Services) features consulting opportunities prominently — and sometimes exclusively. Consulting booths are ubiquitous at NU’s career fairs. It is disheartening that the institution charged with supporting students in their search for work disproportionately promotes jobs in which those students have little or no interest.

To be sure, consulting recruitment is an intense and cutthroat process. It is certainly possible that students are interested in the industry but are simply unable to secure highly coveted jobs in it when they graduate. Assuming that this were true, though, NCA’s emphasis on consulting would be superfluous at best for two reasons. First, if students are already biting at the bit to secure a particular job opportunity, there isn’t a great need to disseminate information about it. (I have two friends who are going through consulting recruitment right now, and their inability to talk about much besides various firms’ application deadlines is staggering.) Second, it is disingenuous to perpetuate the illusion that there are a plethora of consulting opportunities available in the face of the truth that there aren’t. It doesn’t put students on the path to a career; it gives them false hope in one that only a select few NU graduates attain.

The unfortunate reality is that student demand for a particular job or job industry is not the only variable in NCA’s decision to promote certain opportunities. NCA Corporate Sponsors receive substantial tiered benefits in return for cash gifts ranging from $2,500 to $15,000. These perks include preferred placement at career fairs and “increased exposure to students through social media and marketing.” The majority of NCA’s Corporate Sponsors are firms that provide consulting services, helping to explain why students’ inboxes are so saturated with their job offers. (Of the five non-consulting companies, three are in the financial services sector.)

The number of graduating seniors who go on to work in media, finance and engineering — individually, not collectively — is roughly equivalent to the number who land consulting jobs. However, not a single media or engineering firm is an NCA sponsor. ALDI, a grocery store, and Sodexo, NU’s dining contractor, are present among the highest-paying sponsors, but to my knowledge NU is not known for its propensity to produce gastronomically inclined graduates.

My goal here is not to argue that consulting firms not be allowed to donate money to NCA, or that NCA not be allowed to incentivize such gifts by promoting certain opportunities to students. At the end of the day, regardless of how it is currently being used, funding is synonymous with potential impact. I believe that, given better priorities, NCA can be a valuable resource for the 90% of students who will not become consultants — even if that means reaping the benefits of consulting firms’ war chests along the way.

To this end, I propose that NCA proactively seek additional sponsorship funding from companies in industries that are currently underrepresented in its promotional materials. There is an abundance of companies outside of the consulting industry with a few thousand dollars to spend on a cash gift. The opportunities NCA promotes should reflect both the interests and eventual careers of NU students, not just the priorities of the easiest funders to find. Our career services department should be advancing our careers, not merely its own financial interests.

Noah Kane is a Weinberg senior. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].