As a College alumna, class of ’95, I have the unique perspective of someone who utilized the services of the Career Center 17 years ago. Here I am now, an assistant director in the Career Center, and I have a new perspective that greatly informs the outlook I had then. Seventeen years ago, like those of you who will be graduating in June, I was told I had to leave the purple bubble to explore this unknown called a career. I had been incubating for four years, and then I was suddenly expelled, cold and confused, into the world to figure out what the next best step was.
At the time, I wasn’t thinking of it as the “next best step,” but as this life-defining, purpose-driven, all-fulfilling career I had to find as soon as I stepped off the West College Lawn. I had to get it right on the first try because my choice would identify me for the rest of my natural life! Oh, what nonsense. I eventually went on to law school and practiced as an attorney for about 10 years before returning to the College. What I know now that I wish I had known then is that a “career” is a search for your bliss, temporal and frustrating though that may be at times. Your career is whatever that thing is that you end up doing that simply moves you, until something else comes along that moves you even more.
Wherever you are on the scale – first-year, sophomore, junior or senior – I bet I can empathize with the feeling you have had, or are having, that even with a first-rate education, you feel utterly unprepared when it comes to this thing called a career. When I tossed my cap in the air along with my peers on graduation day, I was casting wide the doubts about what exactly I needed to do – and more importantly, what I should have been doing even as a first-year. My confession: I had ventured into the career office perhaps once during my four years.
Why is that? I suspect it’s the same reason many of you have for not coming in to meet with one of your experienced counselors now. I had always muddled along, in part because the excellence of the Williams education was unassailable – so much touted even then in the U.S News and World Report. But a first class education is not enough. Students at the College are smart about a great many things, but on the issue of how to find that summer job or the first job after college, the playing field is leveled to include even Amherst (gasp!).
Some of my unwillingness to utilize the resources of the Career Center was because of the perception that the Career Center catered only to those interested in financial opportunities or to those interested in going on to medical school. Additionally, 17 years ago, we still looked for jobs in these artifacts called binders, filled with job descriptions typed on these materials we stick in printers nowadays when we want to review something the old fashioned way or we are feeling a bit nostalgic.
What I can say now, after taking some time to settle into my new role, is that this is a new Career Center invested in providing access to the tools that our students need to be prepared to embark on genuine career exploration. I think our skills and assessment workshops are really something spectacular and speak to the diversity of your many interests, as well as the myriad of personal considerations that make you who you are. I have enjoyed working with your peers, and I look forward to meeting you as well.
Michelle Shaw ’95 is the assistant director and specialist for public service, environment and law at the Career Center.