While touring the country to visit friends in high places may not seem like work, it became a summer job for Hallie Davison ’07, an alumnus who profiles other alumni. Davison has spent the last year working on “How’d You Get There?” (howdyougetthere.williams.edu) a project in partnership with the Office of Career Counseling and Alumni Relations in which she traveled across America to interview successful graduates of the College about their careers. “It’s about how you find happiness in your career and how that fits into a liberal arts education,” explained Davison. “I act as a researcher, interviewer and photographer.”
Although basic alumni information can be accessed online through the Alumni Relations network, Davison wanted to dig deeper and obtain personal, detailed narratives for her blog and website. “It seemed like profiles on the alumni network were not really colorful enough. I was info-hungry and wanted to know more,” she said. “I wanted to know how they got where they are today – what that lucky draw they got was.”
Over the past year, Davison has spoken with approximately 30 alumni in 30 states. While their occupations range from architects to chefs to professors to financial consultants, they all have something in common: job satisfaction. “I want to show what success and happiness look like. These people definitely have different levels of financial success, but they’re all happy,” she said. While searching for alumni to interview, Davison e-mailed potential participants and explained the project. “Everyone who said yes to the interview was saying yes to my question of ‘Are you happy in doing what you do?’ So everyone I talked to was really enthusiastic,” Davison said.
Sometimes subjects’ stories were even more engaging than she predicted. “I enjoy writing and photos and travel, so I thought it would be most interesting to talk to people in those fields,” said Davison, a former art major. “But I’m interested in them all. I interviewed one guy from Houston who is the head of commodities at Citibank. I have no background in finance at all, but he was just such an incredible, interesting, thoughtful person. It caught me by surprise.”
To cover traveling expenses, Davison received funding from the Office of Career Counseling and Alumni Relations network. “We tried to keep expenses low. I relied on hospitality of friends along the way and ate a lot of sandwiches,” she said, laughing.
In designing the project, Davison worked with Alumni Relations Director Brooks Foehl and Office of Career Counseling Director John Noble. The team began by identifying potential subjects to profile. “We wanted range in everything we did,” Davison explained. The three began by mapping out 14 basic career paths, such as education, finance, government services and nonprofits, and contacted alumni from each of those disciplines. Geographical diversity was also an important factor. “We didn’t just want people from Boston and New York,” Davison said.
The team found the names of potential subjects by surveying the online alumni database and through personal referrals. “Coming up with people to profile took lot of brainstorming,” Davison explained. “But in the end, the hardest part was not being able to profile so many interesting people.”
Davison was inspired to launch “How’d You Get There?” by her own struggle to attain job satisfaction. “I was really unhappy in the job that I was in,” said Davison, who was working at a branding agency for a marketing consulting firm. “We were working on product innovation for things like Quaker cereal bars and Gillette razor blades. I was just frustrated. I didn’t have a lot of time to meet with people, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do.”
“I wanted to contribute to the community,” said Davison, who hopes “How’d You Get There?” will help others who are struggling to find a fulfilling career. “For younger people like myself, I hope that they can use the project as a source of inspiration and also as a resource. I want people to know that there [are] amazing alumni out there who can help.” Davison also hopes that the project will help older alumni connect with fellow Ephs. “I feel like we’re all living vicariously thorough one another,” she said. “It’s this collective identity we have. It’s like, I look at all these cool people I went to school with.”
Davison, a Texas native, is currently working as a writer and editor in New York. “I can confidently say now that I really love my job. I feel like I’ve found a good fit for me,” she said.
Interested Ephs will be able to access the “How’d You Get There?” website as soon as Davison finishes editing and posting her interview transcripts. “I would say we’re about 99 percent done with the project,” she said. The website will be sponsored by Alumni Relations and the Office of Career Counseling and will feature in-depth profiles of all the subjects interviewed.
Fortunately for Davison, talking with satisfied alumni from all walks of life has been a positive process of self-discovery. “It’s like dating,” she laughed. “The more you meet with other people, the more you learn about yourself.”