I didn’t have a job when I walked across the stage at my college graduation. At parties that night, I told my friends, “I have three choices. I can go into industry and actually use my chemistry degree. I can get a job at a university and continue working in student housing. Or I can buy a motorcycle and head towards the Panama Canal. That would at least use my Spanish minor.” I wound up taking option number two and spent four years working in higher education, a few years in retail, and landed at a large, public relations firm.
I’m not the only person who wound up doing something different than she studied. Elissa Kagan, Director of the Young Leadership Division of the Jewish United Fund in Chicago, studied Elementary Education in college. As a teaching student, she was headed into the non-profit world, but she heard of an open position at the JUF and applied.
When asked if she would be willing to switch to a for-profit world, she said, “Sure, I would consider working a for-profit job, but it would have to be pretty amazing for me to leave my current field.”
Diane Weil agreed that it would take a lot to get her to move out of the non-profit world. As a medical technologist with a Masters in Public Health, she finds that the non-profit world of public health is rewarding and at St. Francis Hospital in Evanston, Illinois, they are all working toward the same goal. “I plan to stay in health care, and would only consider working at a for-profit if it provided services for those without easy access to health care.”
Diane continues, “Through the years, I’ve had colleagues who left health care and went into industry, doing microbial quality control. Many came back, because the companies they worked for resented having to have a microbiology lab, treated them with disrespect and didn’t give them necessary resources to do their job well. At least in a hospital, everyone has the same goal.”
An MD in the Midwest, Jessica echoed Diane’s sentiments, “I could not do my job if my prescribing and ordering patterns were dictated by my boss. Some medical for-profits give physician bonuses based on “saving money” by not ordering tests or for seeing truckloads of patients (likely at the expense of spending time with the patients); my current employer gives bonuses based on corporation-wide patient satisfaction ratings.”
Plenty of people enjoy choosing a career at for-profit companies. Sara Rubin works in the Online Advocacy department at Edelman Public Relations in DC. Before coming to Edelman, Sara worked on behalf of non-profits. She said, “The greatest lesson I learned is that non-profits can benefit tremendously from the success of corporations and vice versa. This was, unfortunately, not something I learned on the job, but in books and studies when I started to lose hope.”
While most of the people I interviewed took the path their college advisor helped them plan, Dave Sutlin in Chicago jumped the track. He has found himself at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, but “I studied industrial engineering in college but graduated during the tech boom of the 90’s and immediately went into IT where there was great demand at the time. I’ve mostly worked as a consultant but decided I wanted to work directly for a large firm and that’s how I ended up at the Merc.”
When you are considering which path to take, profit or non-profit, just know that how the job makes you feel might be more important than the tax status of the company. Sara commented, “Judaism instills a strong sense of community and I feel that whether I’m working for profitable or non-profitable organizations we are all participating in the community by crafting messages that make news or organizing individuals to rally around a cause.”
Originally published in 2007 on Shebrew.com