Last month, I had the good fortune or bad luck -- depending on your perspective -- to be a participant in the process known as interview week. I started them with the relaxed attitude of a person who: 1) really didn't want a "Wharton" internship, 2) disdainfully rejected the need for preparation and, 3) believed he would receive endless job offers anyway. So you can imagine my shock when I completely bombed my first three interviews. Judgmental 23-year-olds grilled me about bond prices, betas, income statements, cash flows, regression analysis... material from classes I took semesters ago and had since tried hard to forget. Uncertain and stuttering answers peppered with nervous jokes didn't seem to go over well with the unsmiling drones across the table. As the week progressed and the rejections mounted, my detached demeanor faded. Suddenly, I really wanted one of these internships. While the idea of making money for the first time in my life was appealing, my most pressing desire was to be marked as one of the chosen few. It was disturbing, but what I really craved was to be deemed worthy by people who didn't know the first thing about me. I unexpectedly began to let my self worth rest on whether I got a job I didn't even want. This disappointed and puzzled me greatly. What could have produced this transformation into what I hated most at Penn? No, not a raspy-voiced girl from Long Island -- a stereotypical Whartonite. Some of the blame has to rest on the interview process itself. In 30 minutes, you are supposed to explain why your accomplishments and personal qualities make you a worthy hire. I quickly realized, however, that an interview is just a police interrogation with better lighting and more dishonesty. Every answer is carefully crafted to replace the real you with a smarter, more dedicated and harder working version. Suddenly, "accomplishments" take on undue significance and demonstrate your great leadership skills. Smug interviewers ask insipid questions and jot down notes while they nod their heads condescendingly. They know the "right" answers and you'd better conform to their expectations. Obligingly, you spew forth inanities about your great desire to be a banker, your love of working in teams and your potentially great contribution to their company. Blah, Blah, Blah. Just don't let any personality slip out. Despite its deceptive nature, the job interview sparks a repressed desire for self-validation. To some extent, we've always allowed things like grades, test scores and the opinions of others affect our self-perception. So when you put yourself out there to be evaluated and get passed over, the feeling of rejection can be intense. Of course, some blame also rests on society's shoulders. It's unfair to ridicule rampant pre-professionalism when our society is constructed in a way that increasingly herds us into two-year i-banking and consulting programs. With my student loans piling up to pay for an absurdly expensive private university, and with the American ethic of consumerism assaulting me from every side, it's difficult to resist leveraging my Wharton degree into a high-paying, prestigious -- and, ultimately, mind-numbing -- job. But I think almost everyone agrees that it's just not healthy for society to have so many of its supposed best and brightest feel like they can do nothing better than spend two years in jobs that trained monkeys could do. Our society's perverse valuation of work drives many people away from careers that would fulfill them as individuals and benefit society. Think of the teachers, artists and writers we as a society have lost as a result. Additionally, as college students place more emphasis on landing one of these jobs, they increasingly choose their majors and courses to make themselves more "marketable." And so our universities are pumping out more and more students who have a professional skill set, but who lack the learning and experience in the humanities needed to make them better citizens and more complete human beings. Fewer spend time nurturing their creative gifts, examining their idiosyncrasies or developing their capacity for self-reinvention while in college. Students who focus singularly on professional preparation neglect the open experimentation that permits one to challenge uncritical opinions and to live a more self-aware life. With so many students passing on these opportunities, it's no wonder that even as Americans get richer, increasing numbers of people feel unfulfilled and alienated. Of course, we all still know people who are doing exactly what they love to do. But we also know people who rationalize working 90 hours a week mindlessly entering data by promising to pursue their dreams after finishing a two-year program. To be fair, some people actually do want to be bankers -- though only a deranged subset of the population with whom we needn't concern ourselves. In all seriousness, though, my experience with job interviews underlined the obligation I have always felt to stay true to myself. And I've realized that an important part of this responsibility is to find a profession that will make me genuinely happy. If everyone tried to meet this deceptively simple objective, I am convinced the world would change for the better. I am completely certain of this. I really am. So why am I still waiting anxiously for that call from Goldman Sachs?Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.