June 2, 2006

It is time for CAPS to offer more advice than “come visit CAPS”

“So, what are you doing after graduation?”

Dramatic pause. Uneasy shifting. Nail-biting/hair adjustment.

The previously mentioned question generally brings out one of four possible answers:

(A) “Um, don’t ask me that question.”

(B) “Something tear-jerkingly noble that pays virtually nothing (e.g. Teach for America.)”

© “I’m staying right here/college admissions/same research job I had as an undergraduate/The Reg.”

(D) “I’m doing I-banking for J.P. Morgan. Back off. Watch the suit.”

After four years of diving into the grander metaphysical problems of humanity and finally answering that irritating little bugger, “Why lead a good life?” we crawl out of the Cave only to be blinded and incapacitated by that obnoxious glare above. Part of the blame for this inevitably falls on our treasured curriculum, and this we can accept as a natural consequence of such a theoretically rigorous education. But this is perhaps what we cherish most about the U of C—its blissfully removed analysis of the philosophy and metaphysics of everything. That’s all well and good. But given the lack of real world–applicable skills a Fundamentals degree gives you, it is perhaps best that our career guidance service does not adopt the same approach.

For those not particularly intrigued by the fascinating world of investment banking, Career and Placement Services (CAPS) is woefully incompetent. Other than the obligatory and typically disorganized job fairs, most students find the generalized, generic CAPS events less useful than the advice of our grandparents.

CAPS barely exceeds common sense in helping students find and advance along a career track. A year ago, a science student was shocked to accidentally discover several prestigious internships at certain elite research centers two days before the due date—from Princeton University’s career website. It should be noted that, thanks to the advice of CAPS, the student was able to submit a chronologically-listed résumé without issue. The student didn’t get the internships because he was unable to collect the necessary recommendations in time for the due dates. Score one for CAPS.

The website represents the greatest failure of CAPS. Most students don’t have the time to visit CAPS events and private meetings that are legendary for providing the sagacious advice “come visit CAPS,” which inevitably leads to you actually doing so and realizing that meeting with CAPS is useless. Instead of this useless cycle continuing, CAPS ought to refocus its efforts on something students could actually use without wasting our time: a website.

Someone’s job description at the CAPS office should be finding as many internships as possible in each field and listing them. Metcalfs are great, and Summer Links is noble, but these internships interest perhaps 20 percent of the student body. Outside of those two internships, CAPS lists little and demonstrates no creativity. Why does Princeton list internships that Chicago’s CAPS seems unaware of?

A visit to the CAPS website reveals an “Internship List” comprised of a few flagship internships like Human Rights, Summer Links, and Metcalf, and then has links to “internships-usa.com.” Is that why our tuition money goes to CAPS? So they can inform us that internships-usa.com might be a good place to find internships?

With a new director coming in, the time is ripe for change. Something as simple as revamping the website so that information is concentrated, better organized, and easily accessible would tremendously improve the usefulness of CAPS. They could also stand to offer more industry-specific advice for those who are not interested in finance or graduate school. The U of C produces its share of academics and bankers, but our alumni also occupy prominent positions in politics, journalism, medicine, law, and virtually every other profession one could possibly want to pursue. Would it be so difficult to ask these people to offer their assistance beyond Taking the Next Step? Forget the alumnae connections graduates of other universities rely on to get them jobs—something as simple as a little general advice on how to get your foot in the door would be far more beneficial to us than examples of good résumés and cover letters.

We would also strongly urge the new leadership to begin to actively market our students to potential employers. The economics department at the U of C is world-renowned for producing dedicated bankers with remarkable critical thinking skills, and as a result places like J.P. Morgan and Morningstar actively recruit us. But aren’t most of the majors here among the top-10 programs in the country? The Renaissance men and women that will graduate next week are among the best and brightest, and are among the best-informed as well. If CAPS is to truly serve its purpose, it would do well to make an effort to make sure that the kinds of places we would like to work know that.

Critical improvements wouldn’t even take that much of an effort. Something as easy as increasing the level of contact between CAPS and the student body would make a huge difference. The workshops and job fairs that they do offer are never well-publicized, and students who do not actively seek out information about deadlines for Metcalfs and other internships almost never hear about them until it’s too late. As much as advertising to potential employers matters, even if such a project does result in better opportunities for UChicago students, they won’t do us much good if we don’t hear about them.

Time and time again, the University administration has been praised in these pages for its work to improve the daily lives of its students. The change at the top at CAPS gives us an opportunity to further extend those efforts. Like it or not, the job hunt and similar practical concerns are a major part of our daily lives. It may be anathema to our theory-first lifestyle, but there is no excuse for something as fundamental as career services to fall so far short of expectations. With such a dissatisfying range of services, there are plenty of places for the new administration to start improving.