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Arrogance Lost

Like a lot of my classmates, I have been feeling a little shaky lately. While the company cancellations and the limited number of desirable postings in the internship database are depressing, the futile summer job search seems to have taken an even larger than expected toll on my overall mood.

For us fruitless job seekers, it has become glaringly obvious that expectations are sticky. Friends, even old employers, cannot fathom the difficulties a Harvard Business School student could have finding a paid summer internship. “But you’re at Harvard? Surely, you’ll have no problem. Don’t worry about it! Imagine if you went to school somewhere else!”

For most of us, the reassurances just pile up, creating a mountain of overwhelming expectations. I have tried (in vain) to explain to people that a world of opportunities was open to me when my resume could boast only an English degree and a summer internship working on the Applebee’s Restaurants ad campaign. But now, with several years of consulting experience and a year of Harvard Business School added to my credentials, I have fewer leads, fewer interviews, and, undoubtedly, fewer offers.

In another unfortunate turn, our previous experiences have recently been devalued. Those of us with Andersen or Enron on our resumes certainly shift nervously during interviews. Many of us with “cutting-edge technology” experience feel it looks a little less glamorous than it previously did. I know “e-commerce” just doesn’t shine as brightly on my resume anymore. So now we are stuck with tarnished credentials, fewer options, and oppressive expectations.

The job search beating is compounded by the grading curve that forces many of us former academic all-stars to accept a lot of 2’s. We may not be the smartest in every class, but we are still smart enough to know that 2 stands for mediocre. The results of the job search and a slew of 2’s are phenomenally synergistic, leading to an even greater sense of failure than just the disappointment from each separately.

Of course, failure at HBS is relative. So you rationalize that the mean score on a midterm at HBS is actually really somewhat impressive. But you can only rationalize so much until you are simply dubious of your own reaffirmations. A few months ago, my group didn’t get our first choice of Volunteer Consulting Organization project. True, this disappointment was a minor setback, but it is pretty amusing. Only at HBS could a group of venture capitalists, investment bankers, and consultants beg to give services for free – and get shot down!
So, I am left to wonder, “When will I develop at least a little attitude? Where is the arrogance I was promised?” I think back to my good-bye party from work last summer. My colleagues ordered round after round of drinks and toasted “Hahh-vahd.” They teased me about this phenomenal opportunity, begging me to “remember the little people.” Who would have guessed the economy would shift downward so much that these very same “little people” would have suspended their summer internship program altogether? So even if we came begging, the students at Hahh-vahd could not find summer employment there.

Certainly, in a year like this one, it is hard for me, as a Harvard Business School student, to talk about my own personal hardships. Certainly, our difficulties are not exactly devastating. But, I do think it is important for professors, administrators, and recruiters to know that we are different. I know HBS has worked so hard to combat its reputation as a factory that churns out arrogant young bankers and consultants. I’d like to reassure everyone that we are not the same demanding I-know-it-alls we used to be.

Recruiters, we are humbled and we’d like to hear about your company. We are interested in different industries and opportunities and we know we could learn from you.

Faculty, we could use more encouragement than usual. Feel free to tell us that we are destined for greatness and, please, urge us to do great things. If it goes to our heads for a few minutes, don’t fear. There are several forces working to bring us right back down.

March 4, 2002
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