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Alum advice for seniors on how to “improve your odds”

April 20, 2012
By Serena Newmark ‘04

Carleton seniors, you are making mistakes.

During the past few years, it has been a great joy of mine to work with a number of students from Carleton and a few other elite colleges.  Like many alumni, I have been emailed and approached by Carleton students looking for career and/or grad school advice.  The Engagement Wanted emails sent out by the Career Center allow student advice seekers to contact alumni even more efficiently.  I, like so many others, am always more than happy to offer any assistance that could be useful.  It breaks my heart to say it, but dear fellow Carls, I see some of the same mistakes made over and over again.  I see them from Carleton students and from students at other wonderful colleges and universities.  I made many of them myself.  Now, I am just one person with one opinion, but I ask you to consider my advice.  Along with the rest of the alumni, I only want you find the greatest success and happiness.

1. Do not put anything from high school on your resume.

Take absolutely everything from high school off your resume unless it translated to an important scholarship in college, for example, a National Merit Scholarship.  I can’t tell you the number of resumes I’ve seen resumes that have SAT and ACT scores on them, parts people had in high school plays, etc. Those things are unprofessional.

2.  If there is a discrepancy between your education / experience and what you want to do with your life, you need to address it.

If you are a chemistry major and you want to go into fashion merchandising – great, good for you.  But you need to explain, and figure out for yourself, what work experience you are going to get (or have already gotten) and/or what additional classes you are going to take (or have already taken) to make up for your lack of a degree in fashion merchandising.  It will be to your advantage to explain all these things to possible employers and people you are asking for advice.

3.  If you ask someone for job advice, you need to return his or her emails or calls in under 24 hours.

I once had a good friend who had to staff a wonderful entry-level position at the well-regarded institution where she works.  I knew two young people who would be qualified.  One was a young woman who was a senior at Carleton, the other was a young man who was a student at the (much easier to get into) local public city university.  The woman from Carleton took twelve days to get back to me, while the young man from the local city university consistently responded to my emails within two hours.  It was an easy decision to pass his resume along instead of her resume.  Yes, I love the arb, Schiller, and Sayles too – but nostalgia only goes so far.  The young man got the job and is now enjoying a wonderful opportunity at a famous company and making good money. 
Even if you are not interested in what an alum has to tell you, you need to take five minutes to email, “Thank you for thinking of me, but I have decided to pursue other avenues at this time.”   It’s awkward, but it’s better not to burn bridges.

4.  Do not act like you want a job so that you can “goof off” or “find yourself” before starting your real career.

If you are an employer, would you rather hire somebody who says, “I want to give trail tours in a national park for a year before applying to medical school” or somebody who says, “I want to give trail tours in a national park because I have always been interested in working with people, science, and nature.”  It would be a no-brainer.  Which one of those applicants sounds like he or she would take the job more seriously?  Banish the term “gap year” from any conversation with a
possible future employer.  You’re not being dishonest.  Employers understand that first jobs out of college are often only kept for a year or two.  They know that young people go back to school.  You are better off if you just act like you want the job because it sounds like a good job, not because you want a yearlong pit stop before you get back to what you really wanted to do all along.

5.  Do not ask for an internship if you are no longer a student.

If you are no longer a student, you need to be looking for a job, not an internship.  I have never worked at an institution that would even consider a non-student for an internship.  You can always volunteer at a school, museum, etc., but you are going to rub a lot of people the wrong way by asking for an internship.  Finding an internship after you are no longer a student is really not entirely realistic, and you should consider the internship option closed after you graduate.

6. When you send out an Engagement Wanted ad, you can’t expect the alumni to find your dream for you.

I often see Engagement Wanted ads where students say they are interested in a wide variety of possible professions.  If you are interested in Consulting, Publishing, Organic Winery Managament, and Architecture - how are alumni supposed to help you?  You don’t have to commit to a profession for the rest of your life, but being specific will be helpful in getting you a high number of helpful responses.

Best of luck!
serenanewmark@gmail.com

Submitted by
Serena Newmark ‘04

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