After more than two decades in the Executive Search
business, I have learned a lot about what goes into a
successful hire. I try to impart my knowledge to both hiring
managers and candidates. Nevertheless, at many job
interviews I find myself listening to questions that make me
cringe and answers that make me want to cry.
Now it's my turn to talk.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Seinfeld Meeting

Last week, I co-hosted an informal breakfast meeting with attorneys from Ice Miller LLP.  The attendees were all upper management executives at Chicago area firms, including representatives from manufacturing, insurance, banking and other disciplines.

Over the past few years, I have arranged several of these meetings, inviting current and former clients and candidates and other business friends.  I call these gatherings Seinfeld meetings – or meetings about nothing – which generally end up being meetings about “whatever.”  As the host, I get to guide the “whatever” toward current business issues that I think are noteworthy.

At last week’s meeting, “whatever” included some very interesting topics like how economic uncertainty affects business activities, the availability of credit to small businesses, and aspects of the local business climate (we DO live in Illinois, after all). As many of the participants are parents, a natural topic was the current state of higher education and how it prepares (or doesn’t) young people to enter the work force.   Contributors brought up the following points:

1.      Decision making:  How many other $100,000 to $200,000 decisions do we let our kids make at age 18?

2.      Cost vs. value:  Are we sending our kids off to pursue expensive degrees that will recoup only minimal financial benefits (enough to buy their own beer as long as they live with their parents) for several years following college?

3.      Participation: Is it a good thing for students to participate in the funding of their education as a means of taking some ownership of the process? 

My two daughters went to private universities, and I can happily report that both were successful in landing good jobs within their major fields of study (Business/Communications).  But they did not major in Gender Studies or Medieval History, in which case that private school decision might have been financially questionable.

So, is a parent morally compelled to fully subsidize any area of study at any school? 

I am reminded of a speech given by a Notre Dame Professor of Anthropology at orientation when my oldest daughter went there.  He humorously portrayed the reaction a parent might have when his/her child is accepted into Notre Dame’s Anthropology major. He was a great guy, but my daughter was not encouraged to study Anthropology.  She was pretty much given the choice, Business or Business.

I am also reminded of making the trip to the University of Missouri with my second daughter to discuss its journalism program.  The Dean of that department told her to expect to live far from the Chicago metro area and make approximately $25,000 in her first job.  He was also a great guy – and he happily pocketed the twenty I slipped him afterward.

I guess, what it comes down to is this:  The world always needs experts in Anthropology and Greek Studies, but not very many.  If you can afford the luxury of a yacht or an island vacation home, you can certainly fund your child’s education in any area of study, even one that promises very few jobs. 

But if spending on luxuries is not your lifestyle, I certainly suggest having your children share in some of the financial consequences of their decisions.  And if you are looking for a monetary return on your education investment, it might be wise to select a more marketable major.  I suggest Business.  Or Business.

1 comment:

  1. Sad but true. And take a look at commentary in Chicago Tribune today by Walter V Wendler, similar.