Helping graduates resist the sparkling lure of corporate jobs

George Monbiot’s garrulous graduation-season rant rang some Zone 2 and 3 bells for us (these are the realms of one’s career and lifelong learning).  The title and subtitle really say it all: “How a corporate cult captures and destroys our best graduates: Universities should defend students against lovebombing by banks and consultancy firms – before it ruins their lives.”  Wow!  We’ll readily admit to knowing a few corporate types living valuable and change-making lives, but his point is well worth bearing in mind; it can indeed be hard to prioritize investments in one’s Personal Assets (including your dreams for the world and desires for personal balance) when six-figure salaries are dangled about.  As Monbiot says, “I watched it happen to my peers. People who had spent the preceding years laying out exultant visions of a better world, of the grand creative projects they planned, of adventure and discovery, were suddenly sucked into the mouths of corporations dangling money like angler fish.”

A bit of good news, though: he reached out to the eight UK universities with the highest graduate salaries and found one (yes, just one) that does indeed encourage its graduates to think twice before taking the leap. The full column is a quick and entertaining read, but here’s a taste.

Finance, management consultancy, advertising, public relations, lobbying: these and other useless occupations consume thousands of the brightest students. To take such jobs at graduation, as many will in the next few weeks, is to amputate life close to its base. . . . We have but one life. However much money we make, we cannot buy it back. As far as self-direction, autonomy and social utility are concerned, many of those who enter these industries and never re-emerge might as well have locked themselves in a cell at graduation. They lost it all with one false step, taken at a unique moment of freedom.

Career advisors at Oxford, Edinburgh, the London School of Economics, and similar schools were asked whether they did anything to counsel students about the tradeoffs they may be facing, and “their responses ranged from feeble to dismal.”  Except for one:

The hero of this story is Gordon Chesterman, head of the careers service at Cambridge, and the only person we spoke to who appears to have given some thought to these questions. He told me his service tries to counter the influence of the richest employers. It sends out regular emails telling students “if you don’t want to become a banker, you’re not a failure”, and runs an event called “But I don’t want to work in the City”. It imposes a fee on rich recruiters and uses the money to pay the train fares of nonprofits. He expressed anger about being forced by the government to provide data on graduate starting salaries: “I think it’s a very blunt and inappropriate means [of comparison], that rings alarm bells in my mind.”

Hip hip.  Make that first step a wise one, new grads!


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