Career Funneling

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    • 00:08

      [What inspired you to conduct this research on careerfunneling?]

    • 00:17

      AMY BINDER, PHD: So in career funneling,which was a paper that Dan and I and a third graduatestudent, Nick Bloom, published in 2016 in the journalSociology of Education, we were lookingat the extraordinary numbers of studentsat private elite universities who

    • 00:37

      AMY BINDER, PHD [continued]: were marching off to an incredibly narrow band of jobs.And we began by looking at the numbers goinginto finance and consulting.And I-- this is before Dan and Nick came on to the project--and I had been reading both social scientific workand in the public media that extraordinary numbersof students were doing so, such that a New York Times

    • 01:00

      AMY BINDER, PHD [continued]: article in 2007 wrote that nearly 50%of students at Harvard went into either investmentbanking or consulting.And I found this number to be shocking.I wondered about how it was that students were taking jobs

    • 01:22

      AMY BINDER, PHD [continued]: in such numbers, and I was really interested in whatuniversities were doing to create these kind of escalatorsto get students into these jobs.So often, when we think about job taking,we think about how individuals have particular passionsor preferences for certain kinds of jobs.

    • 01:43

      AMY BINDER, PHD [continued]: And we also think about how the labormarket pulls students, or people, potential employees,into jobs.But we don't really think about the organizational levelof universities as helping to createthe conditions under which certain jobs becomeprestigious in attribution by the people who

    • 02:03

      AMY BINDER, PHD [continued]: are looking for them.

    • 02:05

      DANIEL DAVIS: It was really interesting,for me, when I first joined on this, because you thinkof these students at Harvard and Stanfordas having the whole world of opportunity in front of them.So why would they end up going into such a narrow bandof fields?

    • 02:19

      AMY BINDER, PHD: OK, so in terms of the researchquestion for this book, it reallycame out of not only thinking about these empiricalquestions-- like how many students are taking these jobsin such a narrow band of fields-- but also from workthat I had been doing looking at how universities are really

    • 02:40

      AMY BINDER, PHD [continued]: the place where a lot of student identities, student desires,come about.So a book that I had written prior to this researchwas called Becoming Right-- How CampusesShape Young Conservatives, and that was a comparative casestudy of two campuses.And we noticed that while conservatives

    • 03:01

      AMY BINDER, PHD [continued]: on both of those campuses held to very much the samepolitical tenets-- low taxes, small government, and soforth-- the way that they expressed themselves--whether in a very provocative manner, in a muchmore civil kind of refined manner--was shaped incredibly by the campuses that they were on.

    • 03:24

      AMY BINDER, PHD [continued]: So bringing that kind of conceptual frameworkto the question of all of these students takingthese jobs in this narrow band of fields,we wanted to look at how universities shapethe preferences for particular kinds of jobs and kindof decrease interest in other kinds of jobs.

    • 03:45

      AMY BINDER, PHD [continued]: So the research question was to think about the university,think about the organizational machinery on that university,and how it is a very important intermediaryactor between individuals on the one handand the labor force on the other.

    • 04:02

      DANIEL DAVIS: A lot of sociology falls in sortof this dichotomy, right?Its either individual characteristics,so in this case student backgrounds, or market forces,what jobs are paying the best or something like that?But often overlooked is that mezzo level.So organizations, whether it's workplaces, colleges, whatever,they have this really powerful ability to shape people.

    • 04:25

      DANIEL DAVIS [continued]: And as sociologists we're curious whichof these variables, obviously all of these play in.But this piece really foregroundsthat the mezzo level.And we are making the argument that itmay be more powerful than individual characteristicsor broader market forces than maybe a lot of sociologists

    • 04:45

      DANIEL DAVIS [continued]: have assumed in the past.[Which research methods did you use?]

    • 04:54

      AMY BINDER, PHD: I have always been predominantly qualitativeresearch.So I've used interviews, I've used media sources,I've used observations.And I think that those kinds of methodsreally help you get inside the black box of these larger

    • 05:15

      AMY BINDER, PHD [continued]: social forces and patterns.It helps you understand how students are interpretingtheir lives and so on.So we used interviews and we alsoused what's known as a comparative case methodology.So with comparative cases, you tryto find a couple of cases that can really speak to one anotherand help you get serious leverage as the researcher.

    • 05:38

      AMY BINDER, PHD [continued]: So we picked, in this study, two campuses--Harvard and Stanford-- which have a lot of similarities.They both seem to be atop the national rankingsand international rankings for most selective schools,most prestigious schools.But we also selected them because they have some really

    • 05:59

      AMY BINDER, PHD [continued]: interesting differences.And those would be proximity to different labor markets.Harvard has a little bit stodgier reputationand Stanford has a little bit quirkier reputation.And we were wondering the degree to which these similaritiesand differences would shape students' pathways out

    • 06:20

      AMY BINDER, PHD [continued]: of college into these kinds of jobs.

    • 06:23

      DANIEL DAVIS: There's a qualitative method, mostlyinterviews, although I did spend some time on Stanford's campus,which seeing these different departments in proximityto each other it was helpful for meto do a bit of a field observational approachat that school.[What did this case study uncover or confirm and what can

    • 06:44

      DANIEL DAVIS [continued]: we do with this information?]

    • 06:50

      AMY BINDER, PHD: Our findings confirmedthat a huge number of students are marching off to these jobs.Our findings also indicated that a lot of the students,even among those who are taking these jobs,are unhappy about taking these jobs, or at least expressambivalence about them.

    • 07:13

      AMY BINDER, PHD [continued]: We know what the perks are-- they have high salaries,they seemed to be incredibly prestigious for one reasonbecause students compete so hard for them.And remember, these are students who have competedevery step along the way.Yeah, they've competed to do well in middle school,so they could do well in high school,

    • 07:34

      AMY BINDER, PHD [continued]: so they could get into the college of their choice.And so the kind of structured recruitment on campusthat is run through career servicesand which allows these kinds of firmsto come onto campus to recruit these students,these are also highly competitive structures.

    • 07:55

      AMY BINDER, PHD [continued]: And these students know how to competeand there's a lot of resonance between what they're doing herefor these jobs and what they've been doing all of their lives.And so we found that career services allow these companiesin, they charge them a lot of money

    • 08:16

      AMY BINDER, PHD [continued]: to have a presence on campus, to coordinate resume drops,to interview students on campus, to hold receptions.And one of our colleagues, Lauren Rivera,who's a professor at the Kellogg School at Northwesternestimates that 75% of students on campus

    • 08:39

      AMY BINDER, PHD [continued]: think about entering the structured recruitment,and about 50% go through it, with extraordinary numberscoming out of it.So we found this incredibly intensive recruitment structureand we found that this created this peerculture in which there was a ton of energy, a ton of talk,

    • 09:01

      AMY BINDER, PHD [continued]: and a sense that if you're not participating in ityou're kind of missing out on something important on campus.

    • 09:07

      DANIEL DAVIS: And for a lot of these students, you know,they haven't spent a lot of time thinkingabout their own passions and interests.And so if you don't really know what you want to doand you're getting toward the end of your college careerwith sort of this big lingering question mark,this competitive set up structureslooks like a solution.And they tell themselves, well these will be temporary jobs.

    • 09:29

      DANIEL DAVIS [continued]: So a couple years banking analystprogram or a couple years at McKinsey,and then I can do something else.But of course, where you go to work ends up shapingyour networks and the things you know about and the thingsyou apply for after.So they see these jobs, in some ways,as putting the decision off, but notrealizing that they are still making choices as they do it.

    • 09:51

      AMY BINDER, PHD: And often these jobsserve as kind of golden handcuffs for these students.You start making a certain amount of money,you see yourself as being kind of in the center of decisionmaking and power, and then it's very hard,even if you do somehow, ineffably, find your passion,making a leap to doing something else is harder to do.

    • 10:14

      AMY BINDER, PHD [continued]: We do see, from other research, that studentswho enter consulting are more likely to gointo other kinds of work.Students who enter investment banking,in particular, are likely to stay in the financial world.

    • 10:29

      DANIEL DAVIS: Another finding what was interesting,to me at least, was that when we started the project we thoughtfrom previous literature there were three main career paths,all right?It was going to be Wall Street finance, management consulting,or McKinsey or something, and law.But then once we started doing the interviewswith the students, we found that law

    • 10:49

      DANIEL DAVIS [continued]: had slipped in the sort of prestige structure,and had been replaced by high tech jobs.And so it's interesting that in any given erathe sort of hierarchy of what's seen as a most prestigious job,it evolves.It's fluid.And so over time these most desired kinds of jobscan change.

    • 11:09

      AMY BINDER, PHD: And yet another interesting thing, riffing offof Dan's response, is that when we found that students wereinterested in high tech, we thoughtOK they might be interested in all kinds of high tech.They might be interested in biotech,they might be interested in new sources of energy tech.And there were definitely some students and graduateswho we talked with who said as much.

    • 11:32

      AMY BINDER, PHD [continued]: But most of that kind of prestigious, the kind of jobI want to get right after college job,that they were talking about werein the mega industries or the mega firms of Apple, Google,Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and so on.

    • 11:53

      AMY BINDER, PHD [continued]: So in the same way that just a few jobs had gainedso much currency in finance and consulting,it was also true in high tech.And high tech had this interesting kind of flavorto it for these students.There was kind of a halo effect to tech.

    • 12:13

      AMY BINDER, PHD [continued]: We had just been through the economic recessionwhen we were conducting these interviews.Students had begun to look a little moreaskance at these kinds of jobs.I knew that their peers were judging themif they were going into Wall Street in particular.So tech kind of had a "I can get into this thing

    • 12:38

      AMY BINDER, PHD [continued]: that everybody recognizes and it's notso bad as anything else".Of course, we have a lot of informationabout how these kinds of corporations in high techhave the same kind of, let's say,imperialistic designs as some of the investment banksand consulting firms as well.So we weren't convinced by that whole kind of halo of tech.

    • 13:03

      DANIEL DAVIS: Amy had mentioned the structured recruitingthat's on campus, right?And so administrators create this.And so when we were doing the interviews with themand sort of asking, why do you give so muchmore space and time to some of these firms than others?And they're like, well these are what the students want,so we're responding just to demand.And then we talked to the students

    • 13:23

      DANIEL DAVIS [continued]: and, why do you want this?Well there is so much more stuff on campus for itand their peers are talking about it.And so there becomes a sort of circular loopwhere administrators are trying to respond to student demand,while also manufacturing that same demandthey're responding to.And so you end up with this loop effect.So some of these students, they don't knowexactly what they want to do.

    • 13:44

      DANIEL DAVIS [continued]: But large firms are able to hire earlier in the year,they know that they have a certain cohort sizeneed for an incoming set of entry level jobs.So they're able to offer these jobs earlier.And so students will start seeing their peers gettingjob offers, and if you're not sure what you want to do thatcreates this added anxiety.

    • 14:04

      DANIEL DAVIS [continued]: Because now, you know, Lacey has a job and I don't.And I think I want to go into marketing,but marketing doesn't offer jobs for quite a few more months.So you have this choice-- wait or justjump into the structured recruiting as well?And a lot of students will make that choice,because they're nervous of the future.And so it creates that funneling effect.

    • 14:25

      DANIEL DAVIS [continued]: [What questions could you pose to students for them to furtherreflect on this case study?]

    • 14:33

      AMY BINDER, PHD: So the questions that I would askare of universities and less of students.You know, students have agency.These are powerful people.But they're 22-year-olds by the time they're taking these jobs.We're really focusing in on undergrads.We weren't looking at graduate students.We're talking about 22-year-olds,or 18 to 22-year-olds, because they're also

    • 14:54

      AMY BINDER, PHD [continued]: thinking about internships along the way.So keeping with that organizational level analysisthat we set out to study from the beginning,I really ask questions of universities.Sometimes university administrators, presidents,faculty, others will question students

    • 15:19

      AMY BINDER, PHD [continued]: and why can't you find your passions?And why are you marching off to this narrow band of jobs?And why are you so superficial?And why are you so materialistic?And the problem with those questionsis that these administrators are notlooking at their own practices.They're not looking at what they'veset up on campus to create the peer culture that grows up

    • 15:44

      AMY BINDER, PHD [continued]: to match the organizational machinery of allof the structured recruitment.And so universities have to do a lot better jobof being ingenious and being innovative, and maybenot allowing some of these gold plates recruiters on campus.Or if they do continue to allow all of this recruitment

    • 16:07

      AMY BINDER, PHD [continued]: on campus, to think about alternatives for other sectorsin society that don't have the same amount of moneyto come on campus and lavish hundreds of thousandsof dollars on students, which helps the career servicescenter subsidize itself as well.So I'd really direct questions to campus leaders as opposed

    • 16:31

      AMY BINDER, PHD [continued]: to students.It doesn't mean that there aren't questionsto be asked of students, but that'swhere I'd really put the responsibility and the focus.

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Career Funneling

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Professor Amy Binder and Daniel Davis discuss their research into career funneling at Stanford and Harvard universities. Thanks to a competitive recruitment process supported by career advising centers, a majority of students at these elite universities enter consulting or finance.

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Career Funneling

Professor Amy Binder and Daniel Davis discuss their research into career funneling at Stanford and Harvard universities. Thanks to a competitive recruitment process supported by career advising centers, a majority of students at these elite universities enter consulting or finance.

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