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On the internship recruiting craze

It is August, meaning we are fully on break from Stanford. Withdrawn from the constant activity on campus, I am happy to spend my days exploring and reflecting about my past year, far away from the unending stream of weekly p-sets and readings.

And yet, the supposed lull in activity has evaporated as recruiting for next summer’s internships has begun. Many of my friends have submitted applications; several have already had interviews. Before stepping on campus in the fall, many will already have their summer 2020 plans set in stone, five-figure internships fully-secured. This has become the absurd reality of internship recruiting.

Tech, finance, and consulting companies have built a culture of unending recruitment that has seeped into every crevice of campus. Components of technical interviews or case interviews have become a shared vocabulary in the student body. Even while in ITALIC — an arts residence theoretically far-removed from such industries — I learned the names of the top consulting firms and the benefits of top tech companies by the end of my freshman year.

This is a culture that thrives at Stanford. Stanford students are superb at following the right steps — taking hard classes in high school, acing standardized tests, crafting compelling application stories — and these well-worn career paths are an easy next step. For an image-conscious student body that has had the word “elite” branded onto them since enrolling, many are drawn into pursuing these prestigious and ever-visible paths mindlessly.

Whether reading “Cracking the Coding Interview” cover-to-cover or frequenting forums such as Wall Street Oasis for hours on end, it seems as though discussions about internships have become centered on “how” to receive offers rather than “why” they are worth pursuing. I was excited to attend Stanford because of the trailblazing classmates I hoped to be surrounded by. In some ways, my expectations were exceeded; many of my peers are the most brilliant, interesting people I have ever met. But I have also encountered a surprising lack of “trailblazing” when discussing future plans, a phenomenon I largely blame on the carefully-curated marketing tactics from these three industries. By being the first to recruit, and recruiting loudly, these billion-dollar companies ensure that every student considers applying. Students that may otherwise prefer non-profit or public sector work are swept in by the choking pressure to find an internship, fast.

I am certainly not immune to this culture. As only an undeclared rising sophomore, I have already sensed escalating pressure to choose a career path. Today, a month before my internship wraps up, I feel an expectation to know what I want from my next internship. I feel tugged into this relentless cycle, and I keep reminding myself not to hop on the recruiting bandwagon for the sake of temporary certainty. I am under no illusion that anything I write will be able to change the waves of students drawn to these internships; companies are not going to change their recruiting tactics, and students are not going to stop applying. Instead, I just hope to remind anyone becoming anxious from murmurs about recruiting and offers to relax. It’s okay to stay off this bandwagon — summer positions truly will still be there when the school year starts.

— Lena Han, ’22

Contact Lena Han at lahan ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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