Hacking the Career Search Process for Students
By: Jacob Wilkowsky (Q19)
October introduces a new chapter for students re-settling into College Park. Presented with a proverbial clean slate, the list of individual goals for Fall Semester 2016 is surely piling up. Aspirations may include a robust social life, stellar academic performance, and personal best athletic achievements. However, the objective for QUEST undergrads is often the same—to secure full-time employment.
The career search process is different for everyone. Students face an infinite set of opportunities depending on their seniority (e.g. Junior, Senior), background (e.g. major, experiences), intended industry (e.g. financial services, healthcare), and desired functional role (e.g. researcher, entrepreneur). The variety of opportunities is often mind-boggling and can leave one struggling to identify a clear path. Resumes, cover letters, applications, career fairs, cold calls, and interviews can inject anxiety into an otherwise amazing time.
I’ll be forthright. I received a B in BMGT367: Career Search Strategies in Business four years ago. I’m no career coach. However, after successfully acquiring a job as a Big 4 auditor and just recently joining FTI Consulting’s Forensic and Litigation Consulting Practice in New York, I have a certain baseline level of confidence in my ability to articulate experiences that could be useful for undergrads. More importantly, I know a pretty impressive group of alumni a year or two out of college willing to provide their insight as well. I hope, by sharing the insights of alumni not too far removed from where you stand today, I leave you feeling more empowered than overwhelmed in your career search process.
Q: As a sophomore how clear was your vision of your first one/two years out of college? How close to reality did that vision turn out?
Max Cooper [Q19, Civil Engineering, Unilever—Management Trainee]
About as clear as mud and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. I didn’t even know if I wanted to pursue a career within my civil engineering major or something completely different, let alone the typical categories like large vs. small organizations, public vs. private sector, or strategy vs. operations. Luckily, QUEST taught me the benefit of iterative design. I applied this trial and error approach to narrowing down my career interests and gaining access to the opportunities that inspired me most.
By no means did I do it alone. The mentoring program and QUEST-specific electives, like scoping (BMGT/ENES 491), were essential to honing in on my final career path. Ultimately, I pursued supply chain rotational development programs, relying heavily on QUEST corporate partner events to get my foot in the door. After scoping out a 490H project with Unilever and then directly working on that project, I set my sights on the firm for full-time employment due to my interest in their ambitious mission, positive culture, and emphasis on talent development. Since then I have co-oped there, joined their leadership program and am now entering my second rotation, continually having my expectations exceeded with each opportunity.
Following three internships and a co-op at four different companies across many industries, my career vision continued to evolve as I focused in on my true passions with each work experience, as I still do today.
Q: What decisive action/decision did you make/take as a junior that most positively impacted your career?
Praneet Puppala (Q21, Computer Science/Finance, APT—Software Engineer)
Something I did junior year that turned out to be very rewarding was actively explore companies outside those present at career fairs. I searched for UMD alumni at interesting companies around the country, cold called them and tried to not leave any stone unturned. As with most cold calls, I wasn’t expecting many positive responses, but the alumni were very helpful and most of them were willing to at least hop on a call for a quick chat. This, in turn, led to learning about many new exciting opportunities and led to at least a few interviews and a few new contacts!
Alex Wilson (Q22, Finance, Point72—Associate Analyst)
Networking is the most important thing I did my junior year. As college students, we think we can get an idea of our career interests from reading or talking to professors or peers, but those are all secondary sources. I would find people on LinkedIn whose roles I was interested in, contact them and then have conversations about their career. That enabled me to know exactly what I wanted to do for my junior summer internship and for my full-time job afterwards. The information from career fairs and recruiters is more marketing material than anything. Being aggressive and taking control of your career search process is vital to being happy with your career path well after you’ve left college.
Q: What was the career search process like for you your senior year?
Cat Ashley (Q19, Chemical Engineering, Gore—Process Engineer)
My career search entailed ‘putting my eggs in multiple baskets’, as one can derive from the idiom. During my undergrad summers, I completed internships in research-oriented and industrial fields to determine where my interests were post-graduation. I decided to pursue a job rather than continue my studies in graduate school because I enjoyed the engaging, hands-on, application driven nature of working in industry. While my internship experience at W.L. Gore set me up for a full-time job offer, I also submitted applications and attended career fairs/workshops for multiple other companies. This gave me practice interacting with industry representatives, polishing my resume, presenting myself as a viable candidate, and learn more about what the industries are working on. I applied to all sorts of job postings in consulting, engineering, research, project management, etc. in order to see what came back. Following through with the interview process and offer negotiations gave me valuable experience in weighing career options, gaining communication skills (through interviews, emails, phone conversations with reps), and thinking consciously about what the next formative years of my life would entail. As an engineer, I also contemplated the pros and cons of working in consulting or industry, as others had shared that it may be challenging to go back to engineering after working as in consulting for many years. At the end of it all, I received a few serious job offers, and my interests in technical problem-solving combined with my existing network led to me accepting the offer at W.L. Gore. It’s been a little over two years since I started my career here, and it’s been a transformative, challenging, and empowering two years for sure.
Danny (Q19, Computer Science, Booze Allen Hamilton – Senior Consultant)
It was pretty crazy, honestly. I:
- Interviewed at ~5 companies
- Had to turn down the offer I got from my internship
- Was turned down by 3 of them
- Wound up going to Dante, which was a connection I made because I was in QUEST. I met the HR manager at a student leaders dinner where I was representing QUEST the year before and when I applied, she remembered me and the process was the easiest.
Q: What was the most difficult moment of your career search as an undergrad?
Max Cooper– Undoubtedly deciding to take a semester off from school in favor of a co-op with Unilever. At the time, I was very concerned about delaying graduation, altering my course plans, and missing out on a semester with my friends. Not to mention this was a 6 month commitment to a supply chain field that I had never even studied.
When I looked at the larger picture, I realized the immense benefit of having 6 months (which was extended to 9 months) of experience for a company I already knew I identified with through the 490H experience. In retrospect, the co-op reinforced my interest in the company, dynamically challenged me in ways that no class or internship ever had, and unlocked career opportunities that I could not have imagined possible otherwise.
Even if an opportunity remotely interests you during undergrad, I would recommend taking a leap of faith because tenaciously pursuing that interest can lead to discovering your passion like this experience did for me.
Praneet Puppala– Your final job search as an undergrad during your senior year can be daunting. It’s a big transition, and it sounds like such a monumental feat: signing an offer for your first full time job. It seems like you’re signing your life away and you have to go off of such little information, but at the same time, making sure you explore all of your options, do your research and don’t compromise on what you want will help ease some of the concerns and make it an exciting moment!
Cat Ashley– The most challenging part of my career search was determining where my time and energy was best spent (to help me get a job, keep up with school work, and stay). To manage my time, I treated the job application process like a 4-credit class that required my time, effort, and attention for success. I had some security from my internship that I would receive a full-time offer at W.L. Gore after graduation. While I could have simply accepted the offer and eliminated the need for further job searching, I wanted to explore my options and see what other industries, companies, and teams had to offer. With many viable options (and not knowing exactly what companies or job descriptions would pique my interest), I started submitting resumes and cover letters to a whole host of jobs. From that point, I began receiving emails, phone calls, and schedule requests to follow up and continue the process with over five offers at once. This started taking up more of my time than I anticipated and was distracting me from my goal of finding a job that was right for my interests and skills. After this first round and feeling slightly overwhelmed, I learned to be more selective and thorough in applications rather than overly broad and all-encompassing. This also helped me formulate and communicate my interests, skills, and career needs in a more clear and concise manner.
Danny Laurence– The hardest moment was turning down my internship offer. I had to do it pretty early on in the process, which made it extra hard (turning down a sure thing for a hypothetical). It was an okay offer, but I wanted to see what was out there, and also I wasn’t sold on the company I interned with.
Alex Wilson– The most difficult moment of my career search process was during my sophomore year. For my field of interest, there were no great internship opportunities that were a) available to sophomores b) available to UMD students or c) paid. So it was tough to watch peers take paid internships with large companies and have the patience to intern at firms where the perks were non-existent but the learning opportunity had greater alignment with my career path. That deferral ended up working out well for me so it was worth it.
In the answers of alumni above you may find undertones reflective of your current emotional state. Hopefully you feel more confident hearing from those on the other side of the journey to full-time employment. While these answers are from a 500 foot view, I want to also hit the “X’s and O’s,” the techniques sure to help you improve your chances of gainful employment in a desired position.
There are a few key steps you can take in your career search process, which I enumerated below:
- Get Organized
Create an Excel workbook, buy a binder, or use the backside of a napkin. You need some way to track all the companies, deadlines, and contacts out there. By staying organized, you can pursue many more leads.
- Your Resume: It Will Never Be Good Enough
“Make sure your resume is in tip top shape” is probably the most generic advice given to undergrads. However, it’s still true. You can schedule an appointment with the UMD Career Center or attend one of the many employer sponsored workshops.
Pro-tip: Find that one friend in the business fraternity who spent 100 hours on his/her resume as part of pledging. Ask them to help you out.
- Build Your Network, Build it Early
In your organizer you should make a list of companies you’re interested in working for and identify positions you’re qualified for. Search LinkedIn, the QUEST Directory, talk to family, and search company websites for individuals you think could be a resource. Send as many emails as possible asking to set up an informational interview and attach your resume. Be ready to be rejected, but make sure to utilize your organizer and know exactly where you are with each contact. Respond quickly when responded to and invest the time (including researching the company and position) to convince these individuals that you’re the awesome QUEST student I know you are. It can take a long time to build trust, so start early!
Pro-tip: I know a QUEST student who sent over 1,000 emails when pursuing a job in finance. He calculated a response rate of 1% after the fact. He now works at Goldman Sachs, so it worked out. Take rejection with class and try not to harass alumni if they aren’t responsive—they’re busy.
Hopefully this article helped quell some of your nerves surrounding the career search process. Your future is uncertain, but that shouldn’t ruin the amazing experience of an undergraduate education. By taking steps to refine your resume, expand your network, and organize your career search process you’ll be a more confident candidate and therefore more likely to find a great job. A big thanks to Max, Praneet, Cat, and Danny for sharing their insights!