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Why Stanford Students Turn Down $150,000 Entry-Level Salaries

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Startups and tech companies will sometimes offer Stanford students as much as $500,000 in compensation right out of school.

Which is insane, by the way. 

What do Stanford students care about?

  • They want to make an impact. Jessica Taylor chose to work at nonprofit MIRI instead of Google. “They only have like three full-time researchers and I feel like I might be able to do more good because it is not really crowded at all,” She says.
  • They want to do good. Taylor says the “primary goal in my career is to do the most good for the world.”
  • They want a mission. Myles Keating, a Stanford junior, says companies that are "going after a business opportunity because it'll make a lot of money,” are not that appealing. It’s better for them to say: "We really care about this problem and we want to make the world a better place by solving it."
  • They want to learn and grow. Stanford graduate student John Yang-Sammataro is running his own company. He says the only way he would join another firm is if it could “prove” to him that "for the next two years, you will learn and grow and be more prepared than if you did this thing on your own."
  • They want to work with interesting people. "You can talk about the grand vision all the time, but if the day to day is miserable then that's not going to matter,” says Keating. They key is the people you work with. "You have to trust them, you have to hopefully enjoy them and their company."
  • They want freedom. Ben Zheng, a graduate student who is going full-time at Facebook this summer, says he picked that company because when he interned there, he was "given freedom in terms of what kinds of things to work on."
  • They want to be nurtured. Vinamrata Singal, who will intern at Google this summer, says she is going there because there is a strong culture of mentorship there — a "nurturing environment."
  • They don’t want to be coddled. "I want to feel like I'm valued, but never that I'm being coddled," says Myles Keating. He wants to work somewhere that has high expectations of him.
  • They want to be allowed to take initiative. Keating wants a job where he can get his primary job done well and early, and be able to say: "All right, that was fun. Now I have a little extra time — what am I personally interested in?"
  • They want to work on interesting problems. Stanford senior Rafael Cosman interned at Palantir but decided he did not want to work there because "most of the people there are not actually working on interesting problems." "You need to fix the UI of something. It's not really what you want to do, but you got to do it." Cosman is going to work at a nonprofit after school instead.

It's somewhat reminiscent of January 2000. And then March came along....

No, this is more like 1998, before all those companies started going public.

There are actually very few IPOs in the last year. Surprisingly few. 

True. I was just referring to the salary/HR aspect. Things tend to swing back and forth from being an employee's market to being an employer's market. Before the March 2000 crash when things were flying, kids out of college were expecting to walk into a company with a VP title, a wad of cash and maybe even a lease on a Porsche.

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