OCC grapples with lack of diverse recruiting options

The Office of Career Counseling (OCC) has had an increasingly difficult time attracting companies to recruit students at the College due to the recent economic downturn. Although the current economic climate is not ideal for job hunting, Fatma Kassamali, OCC director, is confident that every responsible senior graduating from Williams will be able to secure a job.

“We used to have over 100 organizations coming to recruit in various areas,” Kassamali said. “This was 2000, up to 2001. And then we saw the downfall.”

According to the OCC’s online calendar, only 36 companies will be recruiting on campus this year.

This is a trend, obviously, that has affected more than just the College. Bill Snyder, Employment Manager at the St. Louis based A.G. Edwards and Sons, explained that the floundering economy has “really slowed on-campus recruiting significantly” on the national level.

Even as companies do less recruiting, many are still trying to maintain relationships with schools at which they have recruited in the past. Francine Melody, Communications Coordinator at Ford Motor Company, said that Ford would not be recruiting this year at any school at which it did not have an established relationship.

Kassamali, however, said that this maintaining of relationships may not be directly beneficial to Williams students. Although many companies continue to recruit here, they are offering far fewer jobs.

As it becomes more difficult to get companies to recruit on campus, the OCC has been creative with other approaches. “We have done a lot of research this summer to try to find other programs. . ., programs that used to come in the eighties and students would not go after,” Kassamali said. “For example, Campbell’s Soup has a training program. General Mills has a training program.”

Although neither Campbell’s nor General Mills will be recruiting on campus this year, the OCC staff has compiled two binders full of information on how and when to send resumes to these and many other companies.

As the sputtering technology economy has slowed growth significantly in the software market, very few software companies are recruiting at the College this year. This has resulted in a general dearth of science-related companies coming to the school, as almost no engineering, chemical or bio-technological firms have traditionally recruited on campus.

Kassamali added, however, that a lack of interest in science among the students may also be responsible for the low number of scientific companies that recruit here.

“We used to have Procter & Gamble, we used to have IBM, we used to have steel companies, we used to have engineering companies coming to recruit,” Kassamali said. “But in the 1980s, two-year programs cropped up in consulting and investment banking. And students started looking at those organizations and disregarded other organizations. They came, and nobody would go with them. Companies said, ‘Forget it. We don’t want you anymore.’”

Also complicating the matter is that most Williams students who go into science professionally tend to go to graduate school first, Kassamali said.

Other graduate school applications have risen significantly as students try to delay entering the workforce and avoid the shrinking job market. “Right now we are overwhelmed by law school [applications],” Kassamali said.

Economic factors, however, are not entirely responsible for the current trouble OCC has in getting companies to recruit at Williams.

According to the Tom Crispell, a spokesman for the Central Intelligence Agency, in 1998 – the peak of the economic boom – the CIA established a list of 66 schools at which they would recruit. Williams is not on this list.

Although Crispell said that the College’s size and liberal-arts focus was not a problem for the CIA, the list of schools at which the CIA does recruit is comprised primarily of larger universities.

Kassamali said that last year she “went so much after the CIA” because of burgeoning student interest, but the CIA refused her request to recruit at the College. Crispell said that since the Agency has received 140,000 applications since the Sept. 11 attacks, which could explain why the CIA has not felt a need to do more than modest on-campus recruiting.

Although the CIA has refused to recruit at the College, Sergeant Wallace of the U.S. Army’s Pittsfield recruiting station said that though the Army does not currently recruit at Williams, it would be pleased to do so. “All they have to do is call us, and we would be delighted to send somebody,” he said.

Kassamali did indicate that several years ago the Army declined to come because of the College’s insistence that it have an open meeting with students to clarify and defend its don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy regarding homosexuality.

“Whatever organization that is the law of the land can come. . . but we put something in our confirmation form saying, if your policy differs from ours, which is that we are open to all sexual orientations, you must hold an open meeting with the students,” she said.

To what extent the size of the College is a turn-off to potential employers is unclear. According to Melody, although Ford does not recruit at Williams, it “would never be off the radar because of its size.” She added that Ford “recruits all kinds of degrees [from all] kinds of institutions.”

Kassamali, however, believes that the College’s small size has turned away at least some companies.

“Why would an engineering company come to recruit at Williams when they can go to other engineering schools and get a larger variety of students?” she said.

Kassamali believes that in the current economic climate, it is more important than ever for students to be proactive in the search for jobs.

“Students have got to do their homework,” she said. “They come here, we talk to them, they get counseling. But just one-time counseling is not enough.”

While the bulk of the burden is on students, Kassamali conceded that her office could also make some changes. Specifically, she said that the internship program could be much better funded than it currently is. In order to enter fields such as television or radio, it is almost always necessary to complete an unpaid internship.

“The only way to get into these particular fields is through these internships,” she said. “A lot of our students cannot afford to do these kinds of unpaid internships. . .. It would be nice if we had money [to fund internships].”

Kassamali believes that on the whole, her office is extremely successful.

She cited numbers from two to three years ago that indicated slightly over 60 percent of the graduating class going directly into the workforce, with another 20 percent going directly to graduate school.

She said that more recent numbers were unavailable due to “technical problems” that inhibited OCC’s ability to collect statistics, but she said that she believed recent numbers compare extremely favorably to those of our peer schools.

In the end, Kassamali believes that Williams students still have a strong advantage over students at other schools.

“Students are really excellent in thinking, and analytical abilities, and leadership,” she said.

“These are very important skills that not many students from other universities have.”

“Students coming from Williams College will get jobs, no matter what. But jobs don’t come on a silver platter.”