By Loren Snel
If you thought university students were world’s future reformers, the following might surprise you: a fourth of Yale University students end up in the consulting or finance industry. And this is not just an American phenomenon. UCU alumni Dominique (class of 2009 1/2) and Berend (class of 2008) estimate that about 10% of their former peers are now working at consulting companies, themselves included. What is the story behind this apparent trend? How come so many of us – talented and brainy idealists – end up in such a ‘mundane’ field?
To put it briefly, being a consultant means getting paid for looking into a problem of a company and coming up with possible solutions. ‘This could involve anything, really,’ says Dominique. ‘Most recently, I counselled the Dutch Ministry of infrastructure and environment on the legal framework regulating the rail tracks in Holland.’ It was her task to look into the possibilities. She had to do a research on European as well as Dutch law, present the results and give a final judgement. ‘Being a consultant means familiarising yourself quickly with certain information. You have to be effective and creative in your methods.’
This rings a bell. Is it not one of the main skills that University College students are meant to acquire? ‘Yes, I do believe my studies taught me the most when it comes to problem solving,’ says Berend, currently working at Booz & Company Amsterdam. ‘UCU also encouraged me to work hard. Everyone did, so I had to keep up. The world of consultancy asks the same of people. Looking at it like that, it’s like I’ve never left campus.’
‘Most young consultants leave the branch after a year or two,’ says Dominique. ‘They hope to have learned all skills and knowledge required in order to take the next step by then.’ For most, this entails finding a job that allows them to finally fulfil the old desire of adding something to the world.
‘You might come out of college full of ideals,’ says Berend, ‘but only after some work experience will you be able to realise them. Consultancy prepares you for this by providing you with both the skills and connections you need.’
Dominique herself is thinking of leaving her company within a year. ‘Being a consultant is too much like being at UCU. I advise people because I posses problem solving skills, but I only take a quick dive in and have to get out again. I do not get involved in the action myself.’
Berend disagrees. He deems consultancy as a field of knowledge in its own right. He has just re-started at Booz & Company after a three-month break during which he was part of Dutch Labour party’s campaign group – with apparent success, considering the election results. ‘My skills as a consultant helped me realise my ideals.’
Perhaps those Yale students can do the same for Mr. Obama…