Alumni Perspectives: Dealing with careers in the corporate world

For most Williams students, the decision to attend college was easy. However, there is no natural first step after college. Some Williams graduates choose to venture out into the world of consulting and finance in cities like Boston, Washington D.C. and New York City.

For some, jobs in fields such as investment banking or management consulting are a logical choice after college, whether as careers in themselves or as preparation for further education. For others, they offer an opportunity to be self-sufficient in an exciting urban environment and give graduates a chance to contemplate their next move.

Franklin McClelland ’97 majored in political economy and history at Williams. He now works as an analyst in the Global Investment Bank at Chase Manhattan. He remembers the relentless pace of spring his senior year. “One might think that getting free trips to towns like San Francisco would be a blast,” he said. “And it is, right up to the point where you start eight consecutive interviews answering questions like, ‘So, tell me about your biggest weakness.’”

The recruitment process is just the beginning for those who choose to pursue corporate careers. One ’97 graduate, who prefers to remain nameless, feels that he misses a lot in his current position. “Just be prepared to forsake being outside,” he said. “I love being outside, and I miss it.”

McClelland said he must make similar sacrifices, but is happy for now. “I’m somewhat convinced that in the long run, the money is not worth the lifestyle choice that has to be made,” he said. “But for now, everything is going well.”

Many graduates relate a similar sentiment. They are content, but don’t plan on staying forever. Dylan Ragozin ’97, an associate with the Parthenon Group, sees his current job as preparation for the future. “With consulting, you’re placed in a tremendous learning environment that exposes you to numerous business issues and opens a lot of doors for you when you decide to leave,” he said. “It’s a great way to postpone answering the question, ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’ for a few more years.”

Many recent grads have plans to go back to school after a few years of working. Daniel Kim ’96, a consultant for Price Waterhouse Coopers, felt the need to get some employment experience before continuing with his education. “Today it is practically a requirement to have a few years experience working if you want to go to business school,” he said.

Paul Ham ’97, a sociology major, is a software development engineer for Amazon.com. He chose to postpone law school in favor of working. “Grad school was always a concept floating in the back of my mind, like college was in high school—one of those things that just happens,” said Ham. “Now I have a better idea of what I want to do and why I want to do it.”

Christina Li ’95 majored in English, and now works as the managing editor of Health Care Innovations, the journal of the Association of Managed Healthcare Organizations. “I didn’t get into any of the graduate schools to which I applied, so I had to default to plan B, which was to get a job,” she said.

Many graduates remember being unsure about what they wanted to do when they graduated. “You have to expect nothing and everything at the same time when entering the working world,” Kim said, comparing his actual work experience to his imagined one. Most Williams graduates went in with an open mind, and the reaction seems to be double-sided. Ham, who said he was “pleasantly shocked,” described the experience as both “intense and extremely gratifying.”

One of the greatest rewards seems to be working with other young people. “The job is tough, but we are all young and willing,” Kim said. He works in Washington and describes it as full of “young, ambitious, active, well-rounded people.” Li said he has met, “a lot of interesting people from all walks of life.” For Li, other advantages include urban life, having an apartment, and the social scene.

The disadvantages most frequently mentioned were long and grueling hours, sometimes 12 to 15 hours a day. Kim was very aware his first year that he didn’t get a summer break. He is aware now that he has entered what he calls a “never-ending cycle of work.” Ham said of his experience, “[It’s] not essentially soul-satisfying.”

Li was also disappointed in the attitude of some of her coworkers. “I’ve encountered people who aren’t interested in learning anything new. Generally, people in the real world are much more narrow-minded than the people at Williams,” she said.

Williams seems to have done a good job preparing its students for the corporate experience. For many, Williams was more stimulating and demanding than the outside world. “When I was in school, I felt like it was pretty laid-back, but now that I am out here talking to non-Williams people, [I realize] the Purple Valley was a pretty hard-core place to be,” Ham said. In terms of valuable skills, he added, “The curiosity, the depth of learning, the ways of looking at things—these are the most important things I learned from school.”

McClelland also felt that the education he received at Williams prepared him well for his career. “Though I work with a number of finance majors from excellent schools, I feel that the liberal arts education is the singular best way to prepare for the real world,” he said. “Though it may seem ironic that four years in the Berkshires is the best way to prepare for the ‘real world’, never underestimate the power to think and reason. Finance is a skill, but merely one aspect of my job. My ability to write, to question and to reason allows me to have a more ‘big picture’ view of my job and allows me to be more effective as a result.”

These graduates all would describe themselves as happy in their new lifestyles. Although it is drastically different being out in the real world, the transition seemed to occur pretty smoothly for these Williams alumni. It didn’t hit Kim until he came back here to Williams to recruit for his company. “I was walking around campus in this nice suit with shiny shoes and a wool coat, you know? And everyone else was wearing, like, Tevas and fleeces. And that was when it really hit me. I’m different now.”