It's tempting, on some days incredibly so, to get sucked into the mindset of prestige and compensation (and compensation as a proxy for prestige, a double whammy) as being the end all be all of a job search. It becomes a reflex that needs to be defended against to think that companies that pay less are less worthwhile to work for. We've heard the rumors and press that places like KKR, Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, etc pay boat loads of money but it's hard to verify especially since a lot of compensation is tied up in bonus.
Frankly I think I'm doing a pretty good job of holding fast against the herd mentality and the culture that permeates recruiting. I'm not looking for an investment banking job and I'm avoiding compensation as a first pass opportunity filter. Yes, I will think about per-hour compensation in a rough ball park for an industry, but it's a distant second to interests, culture, opportunities, and geographic location.
I'm seriously considering starting my own business and have a few projects simmering on the back burner.
What's really enabled me, as a highly risk-averse person who demands financial security to put aside the MBA chatter about salary-plus-bonus and career tracks is that I am financially secure and will be throughout my time in business school and beyond. I have six figures in assets right now. I'll graduate (knock on wood) debt free and very much in the black. I have created my own safety net and I don't need a company to give it to me.
Another student lamented over lunch last week that he found humor in the idea that our business school opens up so many doors for us with the vast alumni network, brand name, entrepreneurship programs and alliances with non-profits, but that he really can't take advantage of the vast majority of it because of the student loan burden he'll graduate with. He's shooting for a job with one of the big three consulting firms.
This recruiting season I've felt incredibly fortunate and I'm desperately trying to tune out the noise of the "right" path and hold on to the feeling. I truly can do anything for my summer, after graduation and beyond. I have made myself secure, with a reasonably deep safety net, my SO holds similar values, and I can trust myself to maintain that going forward. What I really need to do is let go and follow my interests to something I'm excited about; I'm not naive enough to think that money will automatically follow but I should trust myself that I can make it work economically. I'm truly free to make whatever choices I'd like.
In setting the goal of being debt-free money was never the true point, but instead a stepping stone to avoiding the classic MBA career trap. Now that I've done the leg work and, barring major upset, the foundation of my flexibility has been well laid, I need to make sure I take full advantage of my own hard work. I'll be disappointed with myself if I pick a job just because it's prestigious or has the highest rate of bonuses because I can do better.