Students troubled by lack of OCC support in job search

Marc Bender is the director of recruitment and training at First New York Securities (FNYS), a proprietary trading firm. Though the firm employs fewer than 200 people, it has a historically high rate of recruitment from the Williams community: 14 Ephs currently work at the firm.

When Bender came to campus earlier this fall, he had every expectation that, like most years, he’d find capable Williams students to hire. However, he got a different sense this year, later calling his trip uneventful.

“This year, with the tough economy, I was the only proprietary trading firm that was hiring,” said Bender. “It’s a shame that I’ve already filled all of my spots, but, for the first time, [we] hired no Williams students. There were some great candidates, but they came to the interviews without even knowing what our firm does.”

Gargoyle Society, a campus organization dedicated to “the advancement of Williams in every branch of College life and work,” has taken on the task of evaluating the Office of Career Counseling (OCC) and will, in the coming weeks, present recommendations for making the OCC more adapted to the needs of the Williams student body.

The report, researched by Shenil Saya ’02 and Mike Nazarian ’02, will primarily focus on two improvements: expanding the OCC staff and creating a more formal graduate school application process.

According to Saya, the OCC simply does not have the staffing to adequately meet the needs of the student body, particularly the senior class.

“There’s no way that they can give the personal attention that they should be giving with such a small number of advisors,” he said.

Fatma Kassamali, director of career counseling, acknowledges that career counseling has gotten less personal in recent years. Electronic job search engines such as monsterTRAK allow applicants to easily discover firms looking to hire, especially in investment banking and consulting.

“[MonsterTRAK] is excellent as an organizational tool,” said Kassamali. “But we really lose a lot of personal contact with the students. We have more personal interaction with students who aren’t using monsterTRAK.”

Kassamali also acknowledges that there is an unfortunate perception that all OCC promotes is investment banking and consulting. In fact, one of OCC’s strengths, according to Kassamali, is its ability to find opportunities in the non-profit sector. She pointed, for example, to a program being held on Mar. 2 focusing on government service, international affairs and public policy.

“You really need to have good contacts in these fields,” said Kassamali. “We try to bring a lot of alums back so that current students can network with them.”

Saya and the Gargoyles, however, found merit in Bender’s criticism of student preparation for interviews. Both Bender and Kassamali blamed fall recruiting, a recent change from spring recruiting, for giving students too much to handle in the fall.

“The professors at Williams are just as rigorous during the fall of senior year as they are any other semester, which I’m not sure is true at other schools,” said Bender. “It’s not fair to the students to make them choose between their academics and preparing for an interview.” Bender indicated that in the future he will try to recruit in the spring.

According to Kassamali, the move towards fall recruiting began in the 1980s and the pressure to switch finally overwhelmed the College a few years back. With firms like First New York Securities springing up, there became enormous competition between firms to get graduates. As a result, firms were accepting applicants earlier and earlier in their senior years.

“It’s a real dilemma,” said Saya. “You’d like to do recruiting in the spring, but if you wait that long, all the firms will have hired from other schools. There needs to be a better interview training process so students are prepared. A lot of the stuff that you need to know going into an interview isn’t rocket science, but it still needs to be heard.”

Not all students look for jobs immediately upon graduating from Williams, however, and the second half of the Gargoyle report will focus on the need for better graduate school counseling.

“We counsel seniors who want to go to professional schools,” said Kassamali. “When it comes to academic graduate school, however, that’s really up to the individual departments.”

Many students would like to see a more formal structure to the graduate school application process. Gargoyle is planning on presenting a plan for how the OCC could become more involved in the process and help both students and academic departments. “We are going to recommend the hiring of coordinators to work with the academic departments and students interested in applying to grad school,” said Nazarian. “We believe that will create more structure in the grad school process.”

Nazarian believes that it is important, however, that the academic department remain the primary contact for students, as faculty members have greater knowledge of how graduate programs in their fields work.

The third major track that a student can take after graduation is pursuing a fellowship. This extremely competitive process is also outside the realm of the OCC – Peter Grudin, assistant dean of the College, is an interested student’s primary contact.“There needs to be a better fellowship program,” said Saya. “Right now, it all comes from Dean Grudin. There are really a lot of fellowships available that people either don’t know about or get discouraged from applying for.”

Jamin Morrison ’02 was recently awarded a Henry Luce Fellowship to work in a Japanese architectural firm and has found his experience with the fellowships to be an enormously positive one. “[Applying for fellowships] can be harsh, to be sure, simply because one is in stiff competition with extremely well-qualified candidates, so any holes are magnified simply because the goal is perfection,” said Morrison. “Dean Grudin is incredibly helpful with the whole process – from finding information, to applying, to dealing with interviews. There is a great support network.”

The final, often overlooked, service offered by the OCC is a fairly comprehensive summer internship program. For students with an interest in a certain field, the OCC will get in contact with an alumnus and allow the student to shadow that alumus in his or her field for a summer. The OCC also has an endowed program that pays students who intern in a non-profit field.

Though Kassamali was enthusiastic about the OCC’s internship programs, Morrison did not have a positive experience finding a summer internship. “Some of the staff members were not very helpful, often missing spelling errors in resumes and not being able to offer any help with application essays.”