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What does TOC/BOC reveal about us?

For two days last week, Carnegie Mellon seemed like a better place. The student body looked a little sharper — engineers combed their hair, business majors dimpled their ties, and computer scientists traded their sweatpants for suit pants. There were also shiny toys to enjoy — sports cars parked outside of Merson Courtyard and novelty ice cubes that light up.

Say hello to the Technical and Business Opportunities Conferences (TOC/BOC).

This is the time of year that career-oriented Carnegie Mellon students love and that corporations adore. Name-brand investment banks, consumer goods companies, and software groups set up shop in the University Center and watch the long lines of bright-eyed undergraduates form in front of their tables.

However, the TOC/BOC hoopla has a downside. The competitive nature of the average Carnegie Mellon student rears its ugly head. Those bright eyes are sizing up the line. Once-familiar friends are now competitors for the sacred entry-level position at The Big Firm. Talking to recruiters from the no-name private companies is scoffed at — a waste of a perfectly good résumé.

The TOC/BOC and the seasonal ordeal associated with it also bring some important questions. Are we really ready to be the junior executives that we all dress up to be? We do have legitimately marketable skills in programming, finance, systems engineering, and communications, but we are still young and inexperienced. We might have the confident stride, firm handshake, and the leather portfolio, but walking the walk and talking the talk are very different.

Companies spend millions of dollars and countless man-hours promoting the prestige and familiarity of their brands in order to draw the most applicants and be able to pick only the best and the brightest young talent. Recruiters are either stern, there to intimidate, weed out the weak, and make prospective applicants want to work for them even more; or they’re saccharine to the point of condescension.

Trends in competition and one-upmanship really surge after the coveted bachelor’s degree is earned. The Academy of Management Learning and Education recently surveyed 5300 MBA students (arguably the most career-focused students) around the country and found that 56 percent admitted to having plagiarized, cheated, or otherwise compromised their academic integrity. This percentage is the highest of any other graduate discipline. If a majority of graduate students stoop to dishonesty in order to achieve, then the 2001 corporate debacles of Enron, WorldCom, and Tyco come as no surprise.

At the end of the day, your company’s stock price or fancy name should not determine your self-worth. Nor should the novelty or quality of free stuff sway the decision of which company to work for. We need to step back and remind ourselves that we are still students. Even graduating seniors do not know everything they need to be successful outside of school. We hope Carnegie Mellon students’ ambition and motivation never wane, but we also hope they remember that signing bonuses, expense accounts, and corporate jets are nice, but honesty, consideration, and integrity are far more valuable.