The Death of Wall Street, and Why Harvard Students Should Cheer

For better (or worse), ibanking is dead in the way we once knew it. Lehman Brothers ain’t coming back three or four times this semester tossing magnetic clips and shiny brochures at eager undergraduates and touting their numerous job opportunities.

The seniors this year will be pouting, missing out on the chance to sell their lives for a bazillion bucks a year. (Perhaps it’s too late for them to change their ways.) But, the juniors, sophomores and freshmen should take this as a sign of what will most likely be a turning point for the better when it comes to selecting a career.

If you have no idea what ibanking is, bless your soul. And for those who do know of it, this is why the death of 50% of the e-recruiting jobs is good for you.

1) Most people were in it for the money, anyways

Yes, money makes the world turn ’round. To get smart, passionate Harvard grads to crunch out numbers on Excel for 80 hour weeks for 2 years out of the prime of their lives requires tossing the big bucks at these doe-eyed undergraduates.

Think of ibanking as a trade of time, rather than a career. You give your 80+ hours per week to said ibank (that probably no longer exists), and in return you get a fat checking account. Unfortunately, you probably won’t have time to spend that much money from said checking account. And you probably won’t have time to date, read books, cook meals for yourself (on the off chance you’re not at the office at dinner time).

You won’t get the chance to read that fantastic series of novels by your favorite author, attend random Futurist conferences or volunteer your time to a political campaign. God forbid, you have a significant other who is too nice to dump you because you had to miss your anniversary because you were helping to close a major deal.

Like a lot of things in life, it’s easy to put a price tag on something, but very hard to translate that dollar amount into it’s true value of real experiences.

2) Doors close, windows open

Trite but true. While you may have heard stories of sad seniors grappling for jobs, rest assured (provided that you’re not an international looking for work in the U.S.) your chances as a Harvard grad of actually finding one is much better than a grad from another liberal arts college.

Job searches are hard. OCS calls them “contact sports.”

The landscape of e-recruiting will change, and so much for the better. Harvard students will (gee) actually have to try to figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives. No one goes into ibanking as a permanent lifestyle/career choice.

Although I’m tempted to say that not much variety will actually hit the e-recruiting calendars these next two years, students will finally be looking for jobs outside of e-recruiting, in industries that wouldn’t e-recruit anyways (e.g. music, entertainment, advertising etc.)

Once that filthy rich option of ibanking is effectively “closed” in the minds of Harvard students, students will actually see the actually rich opportunities there are in other industries.

3) Time, meaningfully spent elsewhere

Although one may argue that you can easily just spend 2 years in ibanking and then “cash out,” this isn’t the best argument either.

One, your time is fairly non-existent those 2 years. Compare this to earning an ibanking salary over 2 years, with half the hours (like a lot of other jobs available). Yes, your bank account will be happier, but you’ll have to literally put your life on hold. Think about how hard it is to get back into the “swing of things” after a summer vacation. Now imagine that after 2 years.

It’s easy to think you’ll be able to resume your life after said 2 years, but it’s hard to resume said life, when you didn’t really have one for that time.

Two, you’re wasting your talent and potential. The time right after you graduate is one of the best times to get your hands dirty and try to figure out what you want out of this silly thing called life. It’s the best time to break into the film industry (when you’re still used to living on a student’s budget). It’s a fantastic time to spend your free hours writing that Great American Novel or painting the Next Mona Lisa. You might learn a few languages in preparation for a move abroad, or pick up PHP to code Facebook 2.0.

The more time you divert from your true passions, the sadder you will be when you’re 40 and hating your miserly 20-something self for a misspent youth.

Three, you’re going to get used to the money. A Harvard grad (who also composed Legally Blonde the musical) told us during FAP, “Don’t think to yourself that you’re going to make money and then live like an artist doing what you want. When you get older, you’re going to get used to making and spending that money.” (More or less that is what he said.

If your greatest passion is to make it big on Broadway, you’re not going to be able to switch to the lifestyle required of a young up-and-coming artist if you’ve been blowing cash like an ibanker. In fact, you might mentally trap yourself into ibanking forever for the money (and because you’re afraid of exploring other options). And now wouldn’t that be a shame?

4) We’re too old to not do the things we want to do

Maybe it was okay during high school to take that lame AP History class. But it’s a helluvalot different in college when you are, indeed, literally forced to take a history class. College is great because it forces you to decide amongst a billion options that all seem shiny.

And when presented with that sea of options, what you do decide to do better mean a lot to you, because that’s time that could’ve been spent somewhere else.

5) We’re young and need to live a little

While 100k a year is fantastic, not being able to backpack Europe before you’re married, strapped with kids and settled is a tragedy. There’s plenty of time, I promise you, to work a bazillion hours a week with your CrackBerry strapped to your hip when you’re 40.

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2 Responses to “The Death of Wall Street, and Why Harvard Students Should Cheer”

  1. 1 jonathan Singleton Copley

    I enjoy your blog, appreciate your advice etc. but I’m not sold. If you are going to work as hard as Harvard people work, I say get the highest compensation possible rather than convince yourself through some expertly applied cognitive dissonance that you are doing something meaningful, or something that you enjoy, or whatever.

    If you enjoy it so much, it is probably because of the social ego boost success at it provides rather than anything in particular… Humans are by nature incentive motivated, not motivated by, um, other worldly “passions” that drive them to pursue “their dreams” unless we are talking about characters in romantic-era novels or what have you. While everyone here detests those laboring to get banking jobs, I always have found them LESS narcissistic and MORE transparent than those convinced the world needed to here what they had to say about the human condition, social injustice, politics, whatever.

    Also if you want to have fun and don’t care about money, you can easily drop out and go to a state school, drink, play video games, hook up a lot… Without the flagship benefit of something like being a direct path to banking, to my mind Harvard looses a lot of appeal.

    That said, the reference to Facebook 2.0 does ring true at some level. We would be better off if Harvard overachievers were fighting to the death toward value creation — for monetary/ego reward — rather than fantasy value creation (banking). Perhaps they can find some value to create that is well rewarded financially that doesn’t turn out to be fantasy value… like swapping house debts or internet super companies!!1.

    Humans are not value optimizers however, but religious fanatics (all of us) sprinkled in with charlatans and fools… so there will most certainly be another bubble to ride - do not fear, young Harvardians! (although you might want to hide out in business school for a few years if possible)

  2. 2 David Nutting

    As a casual observer of this particular blog, this post was a source of credible encouragement. Jonathan, I don’t think the blogger’s point was that graduates necessarily cut loose and mope around. Rather than being subsumed into the unthinking and recently unknowing edifice of corporate finance, the blogger was suggesting if you are a Harvard graduate having just completed a general arts education with a history major. That perhaps one might think about becoming an accomplished campaign staffer or developing their own contributory venture (i.e. an arts event or music festival).

    And what do you mean more transparent, that they are more open with the fact that they indulged their greed and that the plight of others is less of a concern to them than what they have going on in their own lives. Now that may be the status quo in contemporary society or has been for hundreds of years past but that doesn’t necessarily vindicate that behavior nor give it sustained credence in the future. In fact Harvard being the ideas factory that it is, perhaps could develop new ways of thinking and new social technologies for which we model new ways of behavior.

    And that other forms of capital not just monetary would be exemplified and valued.

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