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Got ICE? You’re Not the Only One

By Ian Ybarra

Features Columnist

We currently have no test for the disease. Until now, we didn’t even have a name for it. Yet it’s safe to say that it affects nearly every undergraduate throughout this campus and, perhaps, beyond. It causes almost all students who aren’t extremely passionate about pursuing careers in science or engineering, as well as many who actually are, to act irrationally when they hear the names of two industries -- finance and consulting.

You may have seen the infected, after being exposed to the aforementioned industry names, experience one of the following symptoms: flocking to career fair booths with swiftness they usually reserve for free food; tripping over their own feet and stuttering while talking to people in Banana Republic clothing; walking through the Infinite in black suits less than thirty minutes after walking the same path in overpriced jeans and t-shirts.

The Irrational Career Election (ICE) disease makes me sick. Yes, there’s a double-meaning to that. It disgusts me and it infected me. After almost three years of preparing to work in consulting after graduation, last spring I decided I was done with consulting for good.

I had figured out that my passion was in writing, speaking, and entrepreneurship. I had learned that most personal wealth is created outside of work and was planning my path to financial freedom. And I had enough exposure to the industry to know that I didn’t like it. I thought I had beaten ICE. Then the summer came and went, and the fall recruiting season began.

After successfully fighting the urge to talk to consulting recruiters, I received a request from McKinsey & Co. to apply for their entry-level analyst positions. My ICE relapsed, and I applied. It will forever be the career-related decision from my undergraduate career that I regret the most. I think I could have avoided it had I been disease-free, but ICE made me vulnerable and caused me to go against all that I believed.

It is important to note two things about the disease. Firstly, it is a precursor to an even more powerful one that affects MBA students (which remains unnamed). We’ve all heard the message that business school is not only a chance to receive some formal management training and connect with others who have demonstrated ability and desire to make impact, but also an opportunity to step back from one’s career and find one’s field of passion in which to deploy those resources. On the whole, though, it seems to amount to a large, yet precisely calculated, pile of crap.

About half of a typical Harvard Business School class worked in consulting or finance immediately before attending HBS. And over the last five years, an average of 62 percent of job offers accepted by HBS graduates were in those two industries. If there’s been any change in student interest, it’s been an increase. And it’s simply ridiculous to think that the passions of over half of Harvard MBA students lie in consulting or finance. It’s not just HBS, either; the statistics for MIT’s Sloan School aren’t much different.

Secondly, ICE seems to spread virally because the anti-biotics known as truths have so far been ineffective against it. One truth is that the life passions of most people do not lie in consulting or finance. The opposite is simply statistically impossible. Granted, most MIT undergraduates don’t know what they really want to do with their lives. But that’s due to youth and lack of opportunity to think about it during infrequent, brief gasps for air between drowning in the MIT fire hose.

Another truth is that entry-level jobs (and curiously, even post-MBA ones) in these industries are not always the highest-paying. A quick browsing of the Web sites of the MIT Careers Office and Harvard Business School shows this.

Yet another truth is that finance and consulting jobs aren’t inherently better or more glamorous than any other. Sixty-plus-hour workweeks, more spreadsheets than spam, and fill-in-the-blank PowerPoint presentations aren’t that exciting. Furthermore, a job’s sex-appeal is ultimately determined by an individual’s confidence and creativity, as well as the spin she puts on what she chooses to let the public know.

Despite these truths, ICE has become an epidemic. Undergraduates continue to battle for finance and consulting jobs, with illusions of doing it for the love of it, for the money, and/or for the glamour. Sadly, there goes more brain power toward making rich people richer and less to making impact in areas close to their hearts.

However, there might be consolation. Martin Smith, President of StartingBloc, is experimenting with a method to manipulate the epidemic for the greater good, by fighting the symptoms rather than the disease itself. As ICE Disease continues to inexplicably usher undergraduates (and others) toward certain industries, Smith and his StartingBloc team are trying to create a mutant of the virus responsible for ICE.

They are exposing undergraduates to the ultimate truth -- that doing good, making money, and enjoying glamour don’t have to be separate activities. The ultimate goal? To ensure that as these undergraduates take the fast track to the uppermost echelons of business, they will make decisions that maximize the economic, social, and environmental value their organizations are capable of producing.

Is the idea just crazy? Does it have a chance in hell to work? Tune in next week to learn more.