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Last May more than 1.6 million students graduated with bachelor's degrees from colleges and universities across the country. While the overall unemployment rate is more than 9 percent nationally, for people under 25 years old, it was 20 percent in April - the highest level since the U.S. Department of Labor began tracking the data in 1984.
Given such statistics, it's obvious that getting a first job can be a challenge for recent graduates. But there are ways to improve the odds - at Gettysburg College, for example, by getting involved early with programs offered by the Center for Career Development (CCD).
Traditionally, CCD has been known as the place for students to go for help with creating a resume, networking, or setting up interviews. But times have changed, and today CCD offers much more. In addition to the usual resume help, it wants to get students involved in connecting with alumni and parents through internships, externships, career exploration trips, job shadowing, networking dinners, and more.
According to a 2010 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), graduates who took part in an internship program are more likely to have received a job offer than their peers who didn't. "The survey also found that more than 50 percent of NACE's employer members indicated that they tend to hire their own interns more often, and look for evidence of internship and other career-related experience on resumes," said Kathy Williams, director of CCD. "It's imperative that we focus on the development of more experiential opportunities for our students so that they may be better positioned to enter this highly competitive, recovering job market."
And that is where the readers of this article come in. We've profiled some students, alumni, and parents who are coming together through all types of career experiences. But it doesn't stop there. CCD is hoping even more students will get involved with their programs. They're also hoping that alumni and parents reading this article will feel inspired to contact them to offer their time to students.
Externship with AT&T
Jack Duffy '79 is the kind of person that CCD is looking for. The vice president for business sales operations at AT&T, he hosted Gettysburg College students for a week-long externship experience with his company.
What is an externship? Externships allow students to gain an insider's view into a career field, observe on-the-job activities, and participate in hands-on learning experiences in the workplace. Shorter than an internship, an externship is an intensive job shadowing experience typically lasting one week.
This was the second year Duffy has offered an externship, and he is convinced the program works. "I think it's important that alumni bring students into their workplace," Duffy said. "It gives students a real sense of what specific jobs might be like. I've got great passion for this. I do a lot of mentoring and career planning seminars for large groups of people within AT&T, so this is a natural fit."
One of the first students Duffy met is someone he still keeps in contact with. Last year Jennifer Spindler '10 had a one-day job shadowing experience with Duffy, and within one month of her job shadowing AT&T was prepared to offer her a position in their high potential management entry program. "She decided to spend a year in Chile teaching English instead," Duffy said. "But she's doing a smart thing and keeping in touch with me. When I find people that I know will fit here, I tell them, ‘Contact me in the future.'"
This past summer Zachary Culver '11, majoring in economics and minoring in political science, and Sara Vanasse '13, majoring in music, completed an externship with Duffy and hope they left him with a similar impression. "I had no idea it would be as intense as it was and I would be exposed to as much as I was," Vanasse said. "I thought it would be, ‘Go visit the office and follow Jack around.' But it wasn't like that at all."
During their five-day stay with Duffy, Culver and Vanasse experienced nearly everything that makes up AT&T-including a personal tour of the Global Network Operations Center (GNOC) with the director, something most employees rarely see up-close. The GNOC is the backbone of AT&T's entire infrastructure. From one of the 140 LCD monitors that nearly wrap around the low-lit, temperature-controlled, two-story room, GNOC operators monitor data traveling on the network around the world. Anything from political riots in Italy to New Year's Eve in Times Square to national and global natural disasters can disrupt service for users. The operators in this room work similarly as air traffic controllers at an airport, keeping the network up and running without interruptions.
The students also experienced business as usual at AT&T, participating in a two-day leadership program for high-ranking sales associates. Culver and Vanasse were surprised to learn that they wouldn't be quiet observers in the back of the room, but rather mixed in with employees to discuss business initiatives and innovations for the coming years.
"They wanted to know what an outsider would say about AT&T and how can they keep up with the latest generation. It was cool to hear them talk about creativity in the work place, especially in a corporate setting," Vanasse said. "It was great to listen to key players at AT&T talk about their business philosophies," Culver said.
Culver and Vanasse also spent an afternoon at an AT&T store at a nearby mall, shadowing sales and customer service representatives on the "front lines." And they attended a meeting with executives from teen-clothing icon Aeropostale, learning more about business-to-business sales, which account for nearly half of AT&T's $130 billion business.
By week's end it was clear that Culver and Vanasse had left a positive impression with Duffy. And during their externship wrap-up, he left them with so much knowledge and career advice that Culver said Duffy should publish a book. "I don't think students need to be a management major to succeed in business, but some basic knowledge or experience is helpful," Duffy said.
"At the end of the day, it is how you present yourself. I'm looking for demonstrated leadership," Duffy said. "In this job market, we receive 25-fold the number of resumes for every job. That's why you need to differentiate yourself."
For Culver and Vanasse, they are convinced that the externship was the perfect amount of time to get a sense of what a career in business might look like. "I could absolutely see myself working at a large company," Culver said. "There are so many different positions and roles you can end up in over the course of your career."
At the end Duffy threw out a challenge to his fellow alums. "All of you reading this magazine need to contact the Center for Career Development to get involved," he said. "I may start picking up the phone and calling my friends to push for their participation. We are at the point in our careers where we need to spend some time reinvesting in the College."
LinkedIn at Gettysburg
The College's professional networking group has more than 2,200 registered users, and young alumni are finding ways to use the group and make connections through social media, including LinkedIn.
For example, the networking group helped Jack Kern '09 land a job with Epic Advertising in New York.
"I joined the group and saw a job listing posted by Sara Fry '07," Kern said. "The position was at Epic Advertising. I reached out to her by email on a Friday and we planned to speak the next Monday. When I called, it sounded as if the position had already been filled, and I hung up feeling dejection for the 183rd time this year.
"But Sara called me back two hours later, and said her supervisor would love to meet me. She asked if I could come for an interview the next morning. I agreed and began to research the company straight away. The next day I met with Sara and three others at the company and was offered the job only one week after I had inquired about it through the Gettysburg College LinkedIn group."
Students, alumni, faculty, staff, and parents are invited to join the network for discussions like this as well as mentoring and career connections. Gettysburg's extensive career network is easy to access through LinkedIn, the business-oriented networking website.
Become a member of the Gettysburg College Professional Network on LinkedIn through your own LinkedIn profile. Or join by creating a profile at www.linkedin.com.