OCC, MCC formulate strategies for job-searching seniors

As seniors begin considering their futures after Williams, the Office of Career Counseling (OCC) and other College resources are helping students to take stock of their options and initiate the planning process for post-graduate life. Last weekend, the Multi-Cultural Center (MCC) hosted a Career Mentor Weekend that brought alumni back to campus for three days for a number of events to advise and network with current students. The OCC is also assisting students embarking on career searches through alumni networking and other services.
The MCC program, “Celebrating Those Who Came Before (Alumni of Color in the ’40s-’70s),” included keynote speakers, films, presentations, a dinner with faculty, students and staff and a networking lunch for students and alumni.
According to Paula Tabor, associate director of Alumni Relations, the weekend was an opportunity for alumni of color to meet current students and talk about careers and the social issues that often surround and influence them. Topics at the event included women of color, global issues surrounding race and politics and the current political atmosphere in the United States.
Tabor noted that one of the weekend’s important goals was for students to establish valuable networking relationships with alumni. “If a student here needs to reach out and can’t really find someone on campus, the hope is that they took away a name or two they can talk to,” Tabor said. She also said it was important for older and younger alumni to meet one another. “We have to take on a lot of responsibility ourselves,” Tabor said. “I think that’s the main takeaway point.”
Although Tabor said she thinks that the weekend helped forge bonds between younger and older alumni, she added that she would have liked to see more student presence at the events. “On their own, with a little help from alumni, [students] can do what they need to do to have a successful experience at the College,” she said.
The weekend’s emphasis on the value of the College’s alumni networking system complements the OCC’s central role in helping students find career opportunities. As upperclassmen face uncertainty in today’s fragile economy, resources such as alumni are especially valuable, said John Noble, director of the OCC. He explained that the OCC has teamed up with the Alumni Office and launched a career network that includes 25,000 alumni, which, according to Noble, stands as one of the largest alumni networks in the country.
Noble, who previously worked at Harvard University, said that the University used a similar alumni networking program that was set up on a volunteer basis, while the College includes all graduates in the network. According to Noble, it is unique for a small school to have such a flourishing network. “When I talk to students, I say, ‘This is really your competitive advantage,’” he said.
Noble has sensed general concern and anxiety among students during their job searches. “Seniors are concerned that they don’t have enough options,” he said. “This is a challenging year, probably even more challenging than last year. Companies have gone through crisis mode and are now more conservative about hiring.”
According to statistics provided by the OCC, the frequency of counseling sessions attended by seniors has increased consistently by more than a hundred sessions each year for the past five years. Graduating seniors participated in 432 counseling sessions in 2004-05, 625 in 2005-06, 764 in 2006-07, 987 in 2007-08 and 1223 this past academic year.
Noble explained that because certain industries like finance have suffered more than others, there are fewer students thinking about going into financial services and fewer finance company representatives on campus hosting information sessions.
Paul Fraulo ’10, an economics and astrophysics major, still plans to go into finance or consulting, despite the cut-backs. He said that he has attended around seven information sessions this year, seeing some companies’ presentations more than once. “The information sessions are helpful if you don’t really know what the industry is all about,” said Fraulo. “But the sessions are especially helpful for networking and face-time that increase your chances of getting an interview.”
Miju Han ’10 is a political economy major who spent her summer working at a think-tank in Washington, D.C. “It’s definitely intimidating to hear about the cutthroat competition,” said Han in reference to the economy. “I think the bottom line is I want to have health insurance next year and I want to have rent money and money to buy groceries,” she continued. “As long as I get a job in something, I will be content.” Han said she is now applying for consulting jobs and that the OCC has been valuable in offering panel discussions on topics like interviewing and networking.
Yet not all students currently on the job hunt are pursuing work in business or public policy. “I’ve always loved to write,” said Tarik Fayad ’10, an English major. Fayad, who is interested in editing, worked for Marvel Comics last summer and will do so again during Winter Study this year. He said that his parents encouraged him instead to pursue a more traditionally secure path, such as medicine, in order to obtain more stable and high-paying employment. “It’s going to make it much harder, with more competition, to find a job,” Fayad said.
Noble works with students interested in teaching and education, as well as those who are undecided regarding career paths. He said he likes to talk to students one-on-one about their career plans, and specifically to those students who remain uncertain about their future plans. He also tries to reach students more generally through group sessions and the OCC Web site.
In Psychology of the Workplace, a Winter Study class, Noble recruits 25-30 alumni to be mentors to students interested in career fields that are not usually represented in OCC information sessions. According to Noble, recruits represent advertising agencies, film companies, magazine or book publishing companies, theater, education, architecture and even NBC sports. Last year, 29 students enrolled in the class. “Connecting even for a month with someone will give you a really good dose of exposure to that field, and invaluable insight to the industry itself and what it takes to join that club,” said Noble.
For students who still have more than a year before graduation, the OCC offers the Alumni Sponsored Internship Program. Built on an alumni-provided endowment, the program awards nearly 100 students $3200 to finance an eight-week summer internship. The OCC also helps students find internships that they can then fund through the program.
To help connect students with jobs and internships the OCC makes use of extensive online resources. The College is a member of the University Career Action Network (UCAN), which combines internship listings from 20 highly selective colleges and universities. The College’s own, private branch of UCAN is called Route 2 and allows students to maintain a personal profile and receive information about internships and career opportunities.
The OCC also hosts “1st Jobs for Seniors,” a newer page that features web resources focused on providing seniors with short-term post-graduation opportunities, such as Peace Corps and Teach for America. According to Noble, 80 percent of Williams alumni have an advanced degree and 75 percent earn this degree within five years of graduating. “This translates to mean that the first job you get here will probably not be your last,” he explained.
Noble said that applying for jobs is significantly different from applying to colleges. “Students are used to applying for things, not finding things,” he said. “When you’re job hunting, you can have a 4.0 GPA and five internships on your resume, and you can apply for fifteen jobs, but you may not hear back from any of them.”
Noble believes networking is of utmost importance, especially in hard economic times like these. “You need that network of people who are looking out for you,” he said. Although students may be concerned about their transition into the “real world,” Noble believes that “there’s confidence that they’re at Williams and Williams is a good place to be coming from. I’m not worried that they won’t find jobs; it’s just a matter of when,” he said.