Pitfalls lurk in student business study groups
By Kwaak Je-yup
During the bygone authoritarian era, university student associations were often equated with violent rebellions. These days, however, they take heat for conformity.
Many student organizations specialize in finance-, business- or management-related subjects, hosting group studies, seminars, and lectures as well as taking on real business projects at paid request of “corporate partners,” reporting back to them with solutions.
A mere mention of their names arouses conflicted emotions from the student body, especially non-members, though those involved say accusations are much ado about nothing.
Since their first appearance more than a decade ago, the clubs’ harsh, “too professional,” selection standards and outside monetary contributions, large or small, have drawn criticisms.
Most contempt is, however, reserved for the oft-caricatured “sell-outs” who supposedly put job prospects and connections over learning.
“We are career-oriented,” said a chief of a management study group at Yonsei University, declining to be named. “Getting help with jobs is a key benefit.”
Resemblance to corporate model
Gossips about rejected candidates’ nervous breakdowns are well-known on campus ― some students presume a simple lack of experience in these clubs would ruin their chances at highly-competitive career opportunities, causing severe insecurities among the young minds.
The usual selection process closely resembles the corporate model, with a first filtration round through resumes and personal statement then case studies and one-on-one interviews where candidates can expect harsh grilling sessions.
There are suspicious eyes watching the 1 to 5 million won fees paid by corporate “clients” to these mock management consultancies.
Non-member lookers-on complain that the exclusive clubs form “special” bonds with banks, management consultancies and chaebols, and grab a disproportionately large amount of coveted job or internship offers from them, often getting deals not publicized at large.
Those on the inside, however, downplay the criticism ― saying the problems resulting from exclusivity are side-effects than cruel intentions. Some also claimed to have discussions in the groups about these issues, to address the concerns.
“Our 15-to-16 annual membership reflects the logic of having a compact team that stays fully committed and active for the entire year,” said Kim Hakwan, president of Management Consulting Student Association (MCSA), Seoul National University (SNU).
Furthermore, he said the lack of focus on careers surprised him when he joined.
“Probably a lot of people try to join similar organizations expecting shoo-in internship opportunities or professional networks, but anyone who’s been with us know that we stay true to our mission: learning through working on real (management consulting) projects.”
“We use our interview process to sort out the real member materials from those students only interested in jobs and networking,” said Kim Minchang, president of Lens, a management society with some forty members at Sogang University. “We also work for a new company every semester to keep our academic independence.”
Some organizations are also evolving to make its knowledge base available to a greater public. For instance, MCSA operates a public blog about its projects and plans alumni/ae lectures open to any SNU students.
This does not alleviate the envy inspired by the tangible career-related benefits. All interviewees agreed that alumni members play a pivotal mentor role, staying closely involved in career coaching and even the selection process. “Through them we had mock interviews and gained tips for job search; they took good care of us,” said Ahn Youngwook, former MCSA member and now Associate at Boston Consulting Group. “But we sacrificed, too, committing our summer for the projects and let go of internship opportunities.”
Some students admitted the pressure exerted from corporate partners. “Certain companies did try to have long-standing relationships,” said Kim Gyeong-sik, student at Sungkyunkwan University, once involved in OVAL, a multinational business contest. “We didn’t want to be tied down, becoming [a company’s] R&D center.”
How much these partners take or discard these groups’ studies is up for debate; so is the survival of their pure intentions in the center of the ever-increasing job market competition.
“The biggest problem is that there are newer groups on campus that are specifically geared towards landing jobs,” said Kim Nak-seung, who was involved in the Korea University Management Consulting Club and now working at Deloitte Anjin, LLC. “It’s degenerating into an employment machine.”