Amped efforts bridge college and careers
- By Thomas James Weaver
The comforts of Thanksgiving dinner: turkey, yams, pumpkin pie. For a college senior there is often something else on the table not so comforting. Mom, Dad, Grandma, Uncle Ted’s question: “So, what’s next for you after graduation?”
Anticipating that seat-squirmer traditionally results in a surge of visits to the UVM Career Center in November, says Pamela K. Gardner G’85 ’02, the center’s director. But while an initial visit during autumn of senior year is certainly preferable to spring semester finals week, the ideal transition to the working world begins long before—even as soon as when undergrads first set foot on campus. That idea is nothing new. But fresh initiatives, and greater investment in staff and programs are swiftly transforming how aggressively that message is communicated to UVM students and the help they receive in putting it into action. The enhancements implement a study and recommendations spearheaded by Honors College Dean Abu Rizvi at the direction of President Tom Sullivan.
Getting a first-year student to think about life after graduation when he has just barely lugged the mini-fridge to the fourth floor of Converse Hall, that’s challenge number one. And, Gardner notes, it’s in direct conflict with an awful lot of what society has told them. “They get all of these messages about how it’s important to enjoy your college years, they are the happiest of your life and you’ll never be that carefree again,” Gardner says. “So many college students don’t get involved in their career development because to them it is the single most representative piece of adulthood that they’ve come up against, and they just want to be young for a while longer.”
One way to begin helping students overcome this fear is to make career questions and issues less weighty, Gardner says. The Career+Experience Hub, which opened last semester in the Davis Student Center, is a highly visible way that has happened. Located at the north end of the sub-Main Street passage into the Davis Center, where thousands of students pass by daily, the Hub brings together the many and rapidly expanding ways UVM students can gain experiential learning. Staff are on hand and informal events focus on internships, service learning classes, work-study jobs, and other opportunities. The space is brightly colored, no appointments necessary, and hosts events like a pizza night with a circle of alumni talking about tech careers. Nothing to fear—it looks a lot more like the college world than that scary working world.
The Hub will serve as both reminder and facilitator as students chart and monitor their preparation for life after college through a “Four-Year Plan for Career Success” that the university is striving to put in every student’s pocket. The plan offers a list of strategies and tangible steps that help students begin to figure out what they want to study, where they want to go with their degrees, and how to get there. “The hub is the perfect companion to the career success plan,” Gardner says. “The plan makes clear to students what they should be doing in each semester. The Hub will give them the ‘how.’”
That “how,” says alumnus Seth Moeller ’89, who has a long career in human resources leadership, can look a lot like the activities that have enriched the student experience for years. It’s a point that Moeller stresses when he volunteers to speak with UVM classes or on alumni panels. “Get busy with the things that build a story for yourself. Oh, by the way, they’re the most fun,” he says. “I can tell you about my time on the student senate or as an orientation leader. Those were the fun things; those were the exciting things; and they were what started to allow me to define myself to potential employers.”
While intellectual exploration and growth for their own sake is and always will be a part of college life, UVM is also seeking to better integrate reflection and action on “what’s next?” with students’ academic pursuits. Orientation leaders or Career Center staff promoting the Career Success Plan is one thing, it’s another to have a faculty mentor keeping it front and center.
J. Dickinson, professor of anthropology and director of UVM’s Center for Teaching and Learning, has been a stalwart advocate of such initiatives and pioneered an innovative online course that has spawned others. After attending a Career Center workshop for faculty and brainstorming with the center’s associate director, Mary Beth Barritt, Dickinson debuted “Anthropology at Work,” a one-credit winter session course in 2006. It was quickly a hit—usually at capacity, sometimes offered in two sections, and even drew majors from other disciplines.
“The students who were most excited about the class felt that it offered them an opportunity to think about their own career path, to think about internships, to go to Career Center, to write a résumé,” says Dickinson, “to do things they’d never thought of or done before. It was like a gentle on-ramp, not a push. It broke the ice and gave them confidence.”
Given the impact of Dickinson’s class and the popularity of a six-credit summer course called “Business Savvy,” which provides career advice to liberal arts majors, staff in Continuing and Distance Education knew there was student demand for courses that connected the dots between academia and the world of work. In January, the unit offered twenty-two courses similar to Dickinson’s across a wide variety of disciplines.
From faculty on board in the career-focused courses to residential life staff talking up the Career Success Plan with first-year students to alumni advising job-searching seniors via LinkedIn, an “it takes a village” strategy is central to building a stronger bridge between UVM and life after college. “The big idea here is that the institution has gone from thinking that career development is something that the Career Center does to being something that the institution does,” Gardner says. “We’re mobilizing the entire campus in pursuit of students being prepared to transition successfully to the next step.”
Seth Moeller ’89
Seth Moeller is not the first, or likely the last, college grad to leave school with no plan beyond pointing his Jeep toward the Rockies. Aspen, skiing, and busing dishes was followed by a year in Tokyo, where he traveled with his then-girlfriend and taught English, before Moeller really started to think about what he wanted to do professionally.
“Back in the day, there was a mistaken approach that was afforded me that was ‘let’s talk about who you are and see if we can’t figure out where you’ll go.’ I was twenty-two. There wasn’t much to talk about,” Moeller says. The answer for him and, he suggests, for many of today’s young grads is what he terms “getting busy.” He says, “I needed to learn by do. My time in Tokyo forced me to get busy with the do and experiment with presenting myself, as well as experiment with work that I had never had before. Thirty years later, I’m still affected by what I learned.”
Those thirty years later, Moeller is president of KGA, a Framingham, Massachusetts based firm that sells a variety of human resource-related services. In the course of his career in the field, which began at New England Medical Center (now Tufts Hospital), Moeller estimates he’s been involved in more than three hundred job hires. Multiply that by candidates considered for each job—well, that’s a lot of interviews he’s been in on.
Moeller brings that personal experience and professional expertise to current students through participating in UVM classes and events, as well as contributing financial support to Career Center initiatives. He stresses the critical importance of students “beginning to build their stories” with activities beyond their academic work and developing the ability to communicate that initiative in a job interview. “Can you present yourself as someone who is genuinely and sincerely champing at the bit to get busy and to learn?” he says. “The humility that you present about your learning and your eagerness to learn—that’s what sells.”
Michelle Leung ’13
If there’s a lesson in Michelle Leung’s fledgling experience in the working world, it’s this: Step into the path of opportunities, yes, but also take that next step, which sometimes takes some nerve, to truly connect.
Last spring, Leung was like many college seniors, walking that difficult line of starting up a job search while bringing her college years to a close. A work-study job at UVM Career Services and her membership in TOWERR, UVM’s women’s honorary society, got her involved with planning a Women in Leadership panel that brought professionals to campus to speak about their work.
Joy McCune, senior vice president for global human resources at Boston-based State Street Bank, led the panel. Leung, a business admin major/Chinese minor at UVM, was focused on the human resources field in her career plans and made it a point to connect with McCune after the discussion.
Though Leung acknowledges it was a bit “nerve-wracking” to step up and introduce herself to a woman at the top of her field, that leap proved worth it. A down-to-earth conversation led to a phone call, led to a visit to State Street and meetings with McCune and other employees, led to a job two weeks after graduation.
Since last June, she has been employed as a contract recruiting coordinator, working out of State Street’s offices in the John Hancock Building in Boston. Her days are focused on multiple aspects of the hiring and recruiting process, so she’s continually aware of the challenges of a job search as she works with others in the process.
With her own senior year a fresh memory, Leung offers this advice for current students: “I’d definitely say, don’t give up, keep persisting. As a senior, it’s very stressful with papers, exams, and also finding a job and planning for your future. But keep your head up, be proactive, meet new people, make those connections. Honestly, I did not think that meeting Joy would land me a job, but here I am.”
Mateus Teixiera ’12
This summer, after an aggressive job search with a couple of near misses along the way, Mateus Teixeira landed a position that seems a good fit. Granted, a “good fit” for a mathematics-English-physics triple major with a blooming interest in art history and architectural design could mean many things. Since August, Teixeira has worked as a digital production assistant with publisher W.W. Norton in New York City.
Fresh from the front lines of the employment search, Teixeira warns that a perky cover letter, tidy one-page resume, and good manners aren’t going to cut it these days. Though he admits the word “network” makes him wince, Teixeira learned about job leads from mentors, friends, and fellow grads. He did his homework on potential employers and those in charge of hiring, making sure he knew both what they sought and what he had to offer. “Master the skill to define yourself as if you were a word cloud,” he says.
As Teixeira looks back on his path to Norton, he credits key aspects of his growth to a series of faculty—Lisa Schnell and Major Jackson in English, physics professor Joanna Rankin, and Fleming Museum director Janie Cohen. “By far, the most valuable resources I had were my professors and my own fearlessness/assertiveness. I would encourage other students to be the same way,” Teixeira says. “I never believed in the magical line separating students from faculty, so I did all I could to breach it.”
A post-graduation internship with Cohen at the Fleming in which Teixeira took on impressive curatorial assistant responsibilities proved to be an important coda to his UVM years. He loved the work, and the background helped him finish as a finalist in hiring searches at two top NYC art galleries. “But the most important thing to come out of the experience,” Teixeira says, “was the lesson that one must be directly involved, obsessed, and, yes, a little shameless, in order to catalyze potential opportunities into real experiences.”
Max Hollman ’13
Max Hollman confesses that seeking a job in the entertainment management industry right out of college required fighting back a certain sense of intimidation. He was at an impressionable age, after all, when the characters on the television program Entourage were swaggering around Hollywood. But a senior year “what’s next?” conversation with Honors College Dean Abu Rizvi focused the economics major’s long-held interest in the entertainment/media industries. And after the dean spoke with colleagues at the university foundation and alumni relations, Hollman soon had a list of potential contacts in the field.
Joe Cohen ’87, a top agent with Creative Artists Agency, one of the world’s top firms, agreed to an informational interview on the phone and the young grad’s trepidation quickly fell away. “He was the nicest guy ever,” Hollman says. Cohen and others encouraged him that if this was the business he really wanted to be in, Hollman needed to move to Los Angeles to build his connections and be at the ready for any opportunity that might arise. Cohen offered to pass his résumé along to human resources at CAA.
Hollman took the leap, loading up his car and driving across the country to make Los Angeles his home. Within a week he had a job interview with Creative Artists, and not long after that a position as an agent’s assistant. It’s a step up from the traditional mailroom entry-level position and an ideal place to begin to learn the industry, Hollman says.
“It’s true in any industry, but in entertainment, in particular, everything rides on relationships,” he says. “Not in an elitist way—that you have to ‘know someone’ to get in. It’s more about having someone vouch for you. It’s a matter of being able to convey to anyone who will listen that this is what you want to do, this is what you’re passionate about. And having anyone who is in a position of power say, ‘I met with this kid and he seems passionate. I think he’d be great here.’ That goes a long way.”
Hilary Hickingbotham ’14
Having a solid job lined up in January when graduation isn’t until May is about as good as it gets for a college senior. Hilary Hickingbotham, a mechanical engineering major from Palo Alto, California, is in that happy situation thanks to proving herself in an internship with UTC Aerospace in Vergennes, Vermont.
Her organizational and time management skills are being tested these days as she juggles her UVM course load with two full days a week as a paid intern with UTC. Hickingbotham says she loves the absorbing role of a manufacturing engineer on the production floor. “It’s fast-paced. You’re fighting a lot of different little fires in terms of problems,” she says. “You’re never doing the same thing every single day, and it’s never boring.”
Hickingbotham initially connected with UTC (at that time Goodrich) at a Career Center job fair during her sophomore year. She applied for an internship, didn’t get it, but tried again the next year, and last summer began making the drive down Route 7 to UTC’s Vermont headquarters, where they manufacture components for airplanes, helicopters, and military systems. Hickingbotham says she made it a point to not only focus on the technical aspects of the job but also seek help finding her way in the working world. “I really tried to get a lay of the land—talking to a bunch of people, asking them what they look for in hiring, what’s important.” She adds about landing an offer for a real job: “I think it was a combination of showing them my dedication to it and just working really hard.”
Trying something new for four years was among the attractions that drew Hickingbotham across the country for college. She says UVM was the right school for her—the professors, the people, and the place. And with that job lined up, she’ll be staying a little longer. “I really like it in Vermont, and I feel at home,” she says. “I’m happy to get the opportunity to spend some more time here.”
David Manago ’13
From the interview process to the culture of his work unit to the offices in the heart of college-town-hip Ann Arbor, Michigan, the word “amazing” pops up frequently as David Manago discusses his job at Google. His only quibble—it would be nice to have a good ski mountain closer.
Google’s Ann Arbor hub is headquarters for some four hundred employees. Manago is part of the small business division, handling duties that involve helping businesses maximize marketing opportunities via Google.
You might not expect to find an environmental studies major/business minor at Google less than a year after his graduation, but Manago says the office halls are full of political science and English majors, a variety of academic backgrounds. In addition to his studies, Manago’s college résumé included being an active member of Boulder Society, serving as an Eco-Rep, work-study in the Office of Sustainability, participating in business case competitions. “I was definitely involved in a lot of different things that Google really values,” he says.
Intrigued by a friend’s work in the tech industry, Manago focused his search in that direction, but a blitz of job applications didn’t yield much until a chain of UVM alumni connections helped to break the ice. Manago had a beer one evening with his close friend Jay Taylor ’10, who had just completed a nationwide road trip in which he’d met with fellow past presidents of the UVM Student Government
Association. (Documented in Taylor’s summer 2013 VQ feature.) Bill Tickner ’02, a longtime employee at Google, was among those Taylor had met, and he offered to connect him with Manago. Tickner was generous with his time and advice, providing some coaching on interviewing with Google. Not long after, Manago had a job offer.
“I think that really helped put me over the top,” Manago says. “I hit the jackpot; I’m so grateful.” And he isn’t wasting time paying that forward. The ’13 grad has already put some ’14 UVM friends in touch with Google as the Ann Arbor hub continues to grow.
Allie Schwartz ’11
Count Allie Schwartz among the believers in the power of LinkedIn. Granted, it’s not a big surprise that as a LinkedIn employee working in corporate sales out of the company’s Empire State Building offices, the young alumna might feel that way. But her belief in the social/professional networking website begins with the fact that LinkedIn helped Schwartz land her LinkedIn job in the first place.
A native of New York City who majored in community entrepreneurship at UVM, Schwartz returned to the city after graduation. She sought out informational interviews and grew the professional network she’d begun to establish as a student. It wasn’t long until she landed her first post-college job, with a small digital branding agency. About the time she was starting to think about her next step, Schwartz received an InMail message from a LinkedIn manager who had found her via a LinkedIn search for potential candidates with appropriate experience. A couple of interviews later, she was hired.
On a return visit to her alma mater last fall, Schwartz helped current students understand how best to leverage the ways LinkedIn is revolutionizing the job search process. One key objective is to avoid falling victim to what Schwartz calls the “résumé abyss.” Steering clear of it can be aided by building a network of people who know you, your experience, and your potential. More than avoiding the abyss, one of them might be the person who helps bump your résumé to the top of an HR recruiter’s pile.
Schwartz suggests reversing the process on LinkedIn. Search as if you are the recruiter. Search for the company where you’d like to be and then research the people along the ladder who might be able to help you and see if there are connections. “Don’t be afraid to reach out to people,” she says. “Always act. The worst thing that can happen is that someone says no.”
Building professional connections among alumni and current students via LinkedIn (see sidebar) is among the university’s enhanced career services efforts.
To help both new grads and alumni well established in their careers to better network professionally, UVM is harnessing the power of LinkedIn. Join the effort by adding your name to the University of Vermont Career Connection and the UVM Alumni Association groups.
The Career Connection group brings together alumni with a parti-cular interest in boosting UVM career success, offering advice to students and young alums. The Alumni Association group is primarily for alumni who want to stay connected to UVM. Career Center staff encourage alums to join both groups and also check out the UVM institutional page on LinkedIn.
Lisa Torchiano, alumni programs coordinator at the Career Center, also suggests exploring LinkedIn’s new “Find Alumni” tool (in the toolbar under “Network”). “LinkedIn only allows you to reach out to other alums who you are in a shared group with or are connected to you as a first, second, or third connection. So in order to maximize the “Find Alumni” tool for outreach, users must be members of alumni groups,” she notes.
This story originally appeared in Vermont Quarterly magazine.