Alumni Column – Experience vs. Compensation

Christine J. Chao '86

At the Real World networking events earlier this month, I had the opportunity to speak with quite a few seniors. As usual, I was so impressed with how bright, poised, articulate, capable and fun the lot I chatted with was.

Not surprisingly, the state of the economy and lack of job offers being made was a prominent topic of discussion. One thing that struck me was the number of students who were inclined to take one job over another simply because of the salary differential. While I fully recognize that these are difficult economic times and that you have bills and maybe loans, I implore you NOT to accept one job over another solely for the money. What appears to be a lot of money now will likely not be a meaningful amount to you in the future. What’s essential now is gaining a solid bedrock of experience and finding your way and feeding your passions. Your sole criteria should be gaining experience and determining what affords you the best opportunities. Your experiences now will shape your thinking and your business acumen later in life.

A very good friend of mine (also a Colgate grad) is a case in point. He was a mathematical economics major while at Colgate and in his senior year, one of his economics professors suggested that he look into working for the Federal Reserve, which is the governmental agency that, among other things, sets interest rates and shapes economic policy. Although he had some interest in doing so, he opted to work for a large company. There is of course nothing wrong with this decision in and of itself; the issue is that he took this corporate job primarily because it paid nearly twice as much as the Federal Reserve starting salary. In retrospect, that money was a pittance to the experience he could have gained, and he readily admits that decision was arguably his biggest professional regret.

Another fact to keep in mind is that the United States Department of Labor reports that today’s workers will have an average of ten jobs by the time she or he turns 40. I knew that the days of lifelong employment were gone, but I found this statistic astounding. You are meant to explore what’s available out there. It seems difficult to believe, but at 21 and 22, there is very little that you can do that is irreparable. At the risk of sounding like a cliché, all your experiences help mold you into the person you are meant to be. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of trying as many things as possible and finding/following your passions. It will never be easier than now to take some calculated risks.

Lastly, I urge you all to take advantage of the tremendous Colgate network at your disposal; Colgate alumni so much want to help you! Look up alumni and contact them. Ask them the tough questions, have them put you in touch with people and follow up with them. But be realistic in your expectations. Alumni can speak with you and assist you to network, but they may not always be in a position to offer you a job (as much as they may want to)! The networking relationships you form can be kept for a lifetime. Remember — the optimal time to build relationships is when you don’t need them.

My husband Jos Shaver (also a Colgate grad!) and I experienced firsthand the benefits of the amazing Colgate network. Jos and I both went to Colgate and Columbia (Jos went to the Business School, and I went to the Law School). Both of us at separate points in our careers tapped into each of the Colgate and Columbia networks. Our experiences have shown that the Colgate network was much more helpful, and that the Colgate alumni were substantially more apt to go out of their way to help a fellow Colgate graduate.

Maybe it is because there aren’t so many of us Colgate grads, because we have more of a shared experience with the Colgate grads or maybe because Colgate alums had a more enjoyable college experience, who knows? But the Colgate graduates are special. While everyone’s Colgate experience is different, there is a lot to be said for that quintessential Colgate experience we have all shared and which binds us all together. Leverage the Colgate network and remember that you will be returning the favor soon enough!