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The future of Career Services?

The conventional wisdom that Ivy Leaguers are vacuumed up by finance and consulting firms at the expense of “non-traditional” careers has been so thoroughly discussed by students and pundits that “finance-and-consulting” may as well be a single word. David Brooks blames the “brain drain” on students with a “blinkered view of their options,” Bill Deresiwicz blames “entitled little shits” with a “stunted sense of purpose.” Whatever the cause, it bespeaks a bewildering lack of initiative that so few careers are open to us — or, more accurately, that we are open to so few careers.

Based on his background, Pulin Sanghvi hardly seems the man to change that. As the new Executive Director of Princeton Career Services two years ago, the Stanford MBA and former McKinsey analyst crafted a business school mad-lib of a mission statement: “We help our students define a unique career and life vision, and then connect them in multi-dimensional, personalized ways to the resources, people, organizations and opportunities that will enable them to make their visions a reality.”


Masked by that MBA-speak, though, is a fundamental shift in Career Services’ role. Rather than focusing on the symptoms of the “brain drain,” (our first placement) Sanghvi is focused on the cause — our vision, or lack thereof, for postgrad life. The first job shouldn’t be the first rung on a ladder, but, like classes and undergraduate internships, an experiment in a “laboratory for life” — a way to test a “hypothesis” of what’s fulfilling, and to gain experience for a meaningful vocation. The flagship of this approach is the Career and Life Vision workshop, an hours-long session for introspection and self-exploration. Sanghvi has also expanded the visibility of “alternative” options through “non-traditional” career fairs (which seemingly means anything besides finance and consulting), and restructured Princeton’s job-posting site HireTigers to partner with smaller recruiters.

After attending a CLV workshop, I was curious how Career Services’ pivot was working two years in. I spoke with students and alumni to understand the weaknesses of Career Services pre- and post-Sanghvi, and whether the ex-consultant’s prescriptions could fix them.

The discussions and exercises Sanghvi led at the CLV workshop focused on codifying our values and thinking of ways to “invest” in building skills for careers which fulfilled those values. The self-exploration was hardly groundbreaking — I “discovered” that my values and skills align with science, education and journalism. A pre-med friend learned that she valued health care. Another, an historian with no firm post-grad plans, was inspired to think deeper about her long-term vision, but was underwhelmed by “too much consulting and finance” and not enough visibility of other options.

Given his pedigree, it’s unsurprising that Sanghvi would talk up consulting. More surprising, when I asked him about students who the philosophy of Career and Life Vision had led down well-thought-out or unconventional paths, Sanghvi directed me to Laura Du ’14, who graduated straight into an analyst position at McKinsey. It’s a sensible path: post-baccalaureate analysts at firms like McKinsey have clients from many industries, allowing them to test numerous hypotheses about what their vocation should be (and the salary and prestige certainly help). Du discovered through her thesis a passion for K-12 education, but told me, “it’s definitely been tougher to find education work” at McKinsey. Most of her assignments at McKinsey have been in retail, finance and marketing.

Since consulting firms decide which cases analysts work on, it’s hard to follow Sanghvi’s advice and test “hypotheses” without bias. Princeton’s network, too, privileges some some hypotheses, some paths, over others. Consider Dylan Tatz ’06 and R. W. Enoch ’09. Princeton’s network has helped Tatz constantly. Entering business school, he connected with and got advice from a Goldman Sachs vice president simply by emailing the Princeton MBA listserv. Afterwards, he received a cold call from Irene Scully, who asked him to direct a music education non-profit her foundation supports; she found Tatz by asking Career Services for MBAs with music experience.

Unlike Tatz, Enoch’s success as a freelance musician and front-man of the jazz/hip-hop band Urban Renewal Project comes despite Career Services efforts. Unable to aid his plan to move to Los Angeles to perform, Career Services suggested he pursue an only-tangentially-related fellowship in Switzerland. Both at Princeton and afterwards, Enoch has found few Princetonians with the experience or interests to mentor or collaborate with him.


“I don’t think it should be a compromise to go to Princeton,” he told me.

Well, some compromise is inevitable: Princeton can’t be the best at everything. But students shouldn’t have to fight against Princeton’s culture and practices to follow their dreams.

Enoch knew what he wanted to do; for students without a vision, the “blinkered” view Princeton provides is even worse. Christina Farah ’09 only found her career once leaving the Princeton bubble. At Princeton, she told me, “I didn’t know what was out there, so I thought ‘It’s time to go do some more school!’ ” Only by searching “language” on her grad school’s and third-party job sites did she find her current position — project management for a translation company.

“It’s something I’d never thought of as existing, but it played to all my strengths,” says the “super-organized” Farah, who graduated with certificates in two different languages.

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Sanghvi told me he’ll diversify the options visible to students like Farah and Enoch by revamping HireTigers and creating a “big-data” matchmaking service to connect students with mentors. But with a homogeneous alumni base like ours, that may be less than effective. A search for “language” on HireTigers shows 16 jobs — a few, yes, in the “non-traditional” teaching path, but more in finance and consulting, and none along Farah’s path. Princeton’s message: we learn languages to invest in and consult for the people who use them! And with Sanghvi’s example, early recruiting through internships, and a homogeneous alumni network, it’s hard to imagine this changing soon.

Perhaps, with enough effort to include the full spectrum of Princeton alumni, we can make progress. But it’s not just alumni. Enoch and others I spoke with said they found their professors (perhaps Princeton’s greatest resource) far more helpful than Career Services. As Sanghvi builds a clearinghouse for mentorship rather than a launch-pad for jobs, he will need to co-operate closely with the rest of the university: alumni, professors, parents, staff and even unaffiliated recruiters. Otherwise, too many students will find themselves like Kaya Zelazny ’11, who told me, four years after graduating, “I still don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing with my life,” partially because “I just keep encountering careers I had no idea existed!”

As too many of my classmates know, it’s hard enough to decide how to start our lives even without other senior year pressures. Starting the discernment process earlier will help somewhat — Sanghvi hopes to expose students to CLV starting frosh week. But too often, what Zelazny called the pressure “to have a perfect, great career coming out of Princeton” will lead students to sign by Thanksgiving rather than explore all our options. It is down to Career Services, and the students it serves, to destigmatize the risk of moving into truly non-traditional careers — otherwise exploration will continue to lead to students “investing in the skills” we gain from a few specific industries. It’s a shame to waste a Princeton education, but it seems to me it’s more wasteful to be pressured into a safe path than to have a rocky start to an ultimately more meaningful career. Sanghvi is moving in the right direction, but it’s a long path to go. For now, Princeton is a laboratory for life — let’s experiment.

Bennett McIntosh is achemistry major from Littleton, Colo. He can be reached at

Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this column misstated the namesake of Scully Hall. The Hall was named for John Scully '66. The 'Prince' regrets the error.