How I Got My First Job by Haley Peterson '11
November 4, 2011
I visited the Career Center for the first time towards the end of sophomore year and met with one of the counselors, who helped me realize the importance of getting career related experience during college. It turns out that this was key! Even though my first internship was not very intense or prestigious, it was immeasurably helpful to build upon and it helped me secure my second internship and eventually a full-time job.
The summer before junior year I worked for the Vermont Council on World Affairs, a very small non-profit organization in Vermont that works to build international relationships at a grassroots level. Since the organization was so small-scale, I was able to get a lot of hands-on experience; I organized home-stays, wrote press releases and itineraries for international visitors programs, and staffed major events. Getting this experience early on was a crucial stepping stone on my way to securing a job after graduation.
During the spring of my junior year, I chose a study abroad program in Kenya with an internship component, which was a huge boost in terms of gaining added work experience and helping me get another internship the following summer. I used the winter vacation before my leaving for Kenya to apply for summer internships in the conservation field. Emphasizing my passion for the outdoors, my long term goal to practice environmental law, and my plan to focus my studies in Kenya on conservation, I applied to every conservation-related organization in Vermont that I could find, even if they were not advertising openings or internships. In this process I secured a summer internship with the Conservation Law Foundation, another small organization. I had significant one-on-one time every day with the attorneys I was working for and helped them with case filings, research, and reports on several contemporary environmental issues in New England. By the time I began applying for jobs my senior year, I had three internships under my belt in addition to work experience including teaching violin and working as a guide at the wilderness canoe trip.
I am still hoping to pursue environmental law, but I decided that a year or two of work experience after graduation would be incredibly valuable to me. I looked to Capitol Hill not because I want to be a politician, but because of the countless opportunities, connections, and exposure that are afforded to any staffer working in a congressional office. I applied to work for my congressman, Representative Peter Welch. Over winter break of my senior year, neither the district office nor the D.C. office were advertising job openings, but I sent both offices a cover letter and my resume and expressed interest in meeting with someone to talk more about their work for the congressman. I heard back from the state director and interviewed at the district office in Vermont. It turned out to be an informational interview since they did not have any job openings in Vermont, but the state director offered to get in touch with Representative Welch’s chief of staff in the D.C. I followed up with the chief of staff and set up a time for an informational interview in the D.C. office while I was there for Hamilton’s Capitol Consortium interviews with a couple of other agencies. During my interview, the chief of staff offered me a paid internship for the summer. I accepted it on the spot to get my foot in the door. A few months later, I got a call from him saying that the office now had a full time job opening and asking if I would like to interview for it. I accepted right away and interviewed over March break. A week later, I got the job.
Applying before there was a job posting was a major advantage and getting in touch early made a big difference. By the time I interviewed for an actual full-time position with Representative Welch, it was my second time in his D.C. office and my third time meeting with his staff, whereas candidates I was competing against were more than likely on their first interview. My best advice to Hamilton students would be to not avoid internships that seem too small or not prestigious enough, to send letters to organizations even if they are not advertising openings, and to do everything as early as possible. Never over-think or over-edit an application so much that you don’t get it in early! Finally, especially when you are applying for your first job, accept that it will probably not be your dream job; find a balance between flexibility and open-mindedness in the jobs you apply for, and make sure that you will be happy in what you decide to do.