The Buff & Blue Parachute
Helping students navigate that often winding path to a first job
By Jennifer Kostka '04
So, what do you want to be when you grow up?
At one point or another, we've probably all been asked this question. For some, the answer is, and always has been, easy: A doctor. A lawyer. An actor. For others, however, the answer isn't so simple. There are countless possibilities, and not all people can pinpoint their passions by the time they reach the beginning -- or even the end -- of their college careers. But whether one's path is clearly mapped or slightly more uncertain, it's good to have connections and a little guidance along the way.
Enter the Hamilton College community, which exists both on the Hill and off. These students, faculty and staff, as well as thousands of alumni and the parents of students past and present, are all linked together by a small liberal arts institution in the heart of Upstate New York. Nevertheless, the group is widespread geographically and involved in myriad careers and pursuits. As such, this "network" can provide valuable resources for Hamilton's undergraduates and young alumni preparing to take their first steps toward a career. By offering internship and job opportunities, or simple and sound career advice, the more established members of the Hamilton community help facilitate the younger members' transition from college into the "real world."
In many cases, the networking process begins when students make their way to the Maurice Horowitch Career Center for the first time. There, the students meet one-on-one with career counselors who help them determine their skills and interests, and whether these would be a good fit for any career goals they have established for themselves.
"One of the best resources the Career Center offers is a strong senior staff who knows the business of career development inside and out," says Kino Ruth, director of the Career Center. "Our counselors work very closely with students, stressing the development process and getting them ready to contact alumni on their own."
Once the students have completed a self-assessment designed to ascertain their strengths and interests, and once they have targeted one or two potential career fields, the counselors provide students with access to ACEP -- the Alumni Career Exploration Program. In a nutshell, ACEP is a database of information for approximately 2,800 alumni who have volunteered to speak with students about careers, offer advice about how to begin and advance, and suggest ways that students can research and prepare for specific jobs. It is not a database of jobs, and the career counselors (who are the only ones with access to this system) stress this point to the students.
Each student receives contact information for five to 10 alumni who are working in his or her field of interest or target geographic area. It is then the student's responsibility to contact the alumni and set up "informational interviews." The student should come away from these conversations with information and advice and with experience in the essentials of business communication and etiquette. Subsequently, if all goes well, the alumni may remember the student and pass along his or her name the next time they know of a job or internship opening in their companies. Ruth believes that this "classical career development" model is important and effective because it puts the onus on the students to take the initiative. "You've got to get out there," Ruth says. "In the real world, no one's going to just hand you a job. And that's a life lesson."
One student who took this lesson to heart and who has made full use of the Career Center is Yin Tian '07. A career center was admittedly not on Tian's list of requirements when she was researching colleges from her high school in China, but when she arrived at Hamilton, she decided to attend a Career Center information session. Tian feels that this session, combined with close work with the Career Center staff, is one of the most crucial steps a student can take in starting serious career exploration.
After educating herself about the world of finance, Tian set up informational interviews with more than 20 alumni during her first year at Hamilton, and this whirlwind of networking ultimately resulted in two internships that summer -- one with Dewey Thom '84 at the Stanford Group and one with Susan Skerritt K'77 at Treasury Strategies, Inc., both in Manhattan. During her sophomore year, Tian spoke with more than 10 additional alumni and landed an internship at ING Investment Management with the help of Arthur Kalita '71. And if that wasn't enough, she just accepted an offer for an internship this summer in the investment banking division of Goldman Sachs, one of the most competitive internships in the field of finance.
"We have a very supportive alumni community," says Tian, who met with David Winer '05 and Anthony Saracco '91 of Goldman Sachs for last-minute coaching the day before her final interview. "No matter how busy our alumni are, they always try to make time for students. During our conversations, they are sincere and frank. They share their day-to-day lives, what they like and hate about their jobs, and what successes and mistakes they have encountered. Those are first-hand experiences that you will never get from books. And you can tell that they really want the best for us."
Tian admits that networking with alumni is hard work, but she is adamant that it is worth the effort. "Obviously, you don't just walk in the first time you meet someone and ask for a job. It doesn't work like that," she explains. "But you do establish these great relationships with the alumni, and then things tend to fall into place naturally when you need an internship for the summer."
But what are these internships like? Are they simply a few months of copying, filing and shipping? Or are they more substantial?
Skerritt explains that interns at Treasury Strategies help keep the office running smoothly by performing a variety of administrative support tasks and assisting on any number of higher-priority projects. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, they also take on independent research projects that combine their personal interests with the work done at the company. The interns work on these projects when they're not involved with other tasks, so the projects deepen the students' knowledge about a particular topic at the same time they teach students to manage their time and work independently.
For Tian, this meant focusing on present and future trends in treasury management in China. She chose this topic because some of Treasury Strategies' potential clients are multinational corporations with a vested interest in the evolving nature of finance, banking and treasury management in China. Tian reports that Skerritt was truly her mentor during this process, providing a wealth of Web sites and feedback so that she could compare and contrast the rules and regulations in China and the U.S. She even let Tian borrow one of her own textbooks that she used for her work on her M.B.A. Ultimately, after weeks of research and collaboration, Tian's project culminated in a presentation in Chicago (where the firm is based) for Treasury Strategies partners and executives.
"Through these experiences, I'm learning that my abilities and my interests are really a good fit for this field," the math and economics major says. "In fact, I actually surprised myself at one of the meetings I sat in on in Chicago. I didn't expect to say anything, but I'm a pretty quantitative person, and I found that I was understanding a lot of what they were saying, so I ended up asking some questions and making some suggestions. I don't know if they took my suggestions, but I was surprised that I had the confidence to make them."
Skerritt has been hiring interns from Hamilton for the past five or six years, both as part of the New York City Program and on an individual basis during the summer. (Rafael Arias '02 and Farrah Lakhani '05 have also completed internships at Treasury Strategies. And Erin Altman '06, who interned with Treasury as part of the New York program, returned as a full-time consultant in January.) Skerritt continues to advertise these opportunities to Hamilton students because she feels that a liberal arts education produces students who are particularly suitable for internships and careers in business and consulting.
According to Skerritt, it is helpful if potential interns have a basic interest in and aptitude for financial analysis, but it is really the ability to think and learn quickly, as well as a gift for clear, effective communication, that makes for the best interns. "I can't stress enough the importance of a liberal arts education in the long run, particularly in the business world," Skerritt says. "Business is ultimately the ability to communicate person-to-person. It is this trait that separates the leaders from the non-leaders."
Donald Schneider '79 and Richard Bernstein '80, both at Merrill Lynch, also praise the skill sets that Hamilton students bring to their internships. "The well-rounded liberal arts education makes Hamilton students great thinkers," Bernstein says, "which is very important as one's career progresses." Schneider adds that Hamilton students are well-suited for internships at Merrill Lynch because "they have a combination of good analytical skills and good writing skills and are generally very motivated and inquisitive."
Bernstein notes that he has been offering internship opportunities to Hamilton students for years based on his own trials and tribulations after graduation. He had no idea what it meant to work in a fast-paced office environment when he graduated, and he believes that, despite their skills, many current Hamilton students tend to lack "real world" experience unless they actively seek internship opportunities. And although Bernstein finds Hamilton students to be great thinkers, their lack of specialization can spell tougher times in many entry-level positions.
For the past couple of years, Bernstein and Schneider, as well as Ed Moriarty '82, have hosted Hamilton interns in conjunction with the New York City Program. They try to host at least one intern each year, but their ability to do so is dependent on the needs of their departments and the skill sets of the students. (Internships at Merrill Lynch tend to be very independent and hands-on, so interns must come to them with strong quantitative and computer skills, and, ideally, some background in economics or accounting.) Most recently, Merrill Lynch hosted Svet Derderyan '06, Syed Jawaid '05 and Fahmid Kabir '07. Quang Nguyen '07 is interning there this spring.
But Bernstein and Schneider's connection to Hamilton does not stop at offers of internships. They also impart words of wisdom about the world of finance. Last spring they hosted an information session called "Hamilton on the Street," during which they spoke with some 30 Hamilton students about what it means to work on Wall Street. Schneider points out that it can be very competitive to get into an analyst program at Wall Street firms, and students really must have internship experience after their junior year in order to have a good chance at full-time employment after graduation.
"The Hamilton on the Street program was designed to educate students about job opportunities on Wall Street and what they need to do in order to be competitive candidates for these jobs," Bernstein says. "Too many students want to work on Wall Street, but have no idea what the various jobs are. I often try to dissuade people from coming to Wall Street if money is their only motivator."
Indeed, information and internship experiences can be just as beneficial when they help students figure out what they don't want to do. Brian Gelber '76 observes that, in some cases, student interns seem a bit unfocused when they begin their two-month internships in futures trading at the Gelber Group in Chicago. And after a two-week course on markets, some trading experience on market simulators and about four weeks of actual trading (making or losing up to $3,000), they realize that perhaps trading is not for them.
Gelber believes that this is fine. "Hamilton students are smart and shrewd, and we try to play on that," he says. "They're adaptive and can learn, which can make up for an initial lack of intensity. But our internships are truly a try-out for a job; they're not for fun. And Hamilton students are good at recognizing if a career in trading is not for them -- which helps the right people get into the right jobs." Of course some interns at the Gelber Group do work out; David Kelland '05, Adam Erickson '05 and Tae Chung '05 are former interns who now work there as full-time traders.
Lest it seem like the only strong alumni-student connections are in the field of finance, it should be noted that John Hadity '83 has been offering internships in film production for the last 20 years or so. True, Hadity's specialty is finance-oriented (he recently left his position as executive vice president of production finance at Miramax, where he had worked for 12 years, to begin his own company for film and TV finance), but he notes that students who work with him tend to leave their internships with a very detailed idea of how movies are made -- an idea that is not limited solely to the dollars and cents of film production.
Hadity's interns are responsible for keeping and updating the "production books" associated with movies currently in production. Each book, he says, is like the Bible for that particular film -- in it, one can find a thorough, detailed record of everything that has happened during the making of that movie. "Essentially our interns learn how movies are made by looking at and summarizing the work of 250 people on a daily basis," he says.
Naturally Hadity doesn't expect all of his interns to parlay their interest in filmmaking into a career in production finance like he did. In fact, he admits that even he wasn't completely sure what he wanted to do when he graduated -- he only knew that he wanted to work in the film industry. Part of his goal in hosting student interns is to explain how he got into the business, the road he took, and the positive and negative experiences he had along the way. He also spends a lot of time helping students learn what to expect during the interview process.
"There are lots of opportunities available in the industry, and career paths can change even after you are in the business," he says. "I like to help students get their foot in the door and then let them find their own way from there." Hadity adds that he was also more than willing to pass along students' names to colleagues in other departments at Miramax if students had a very specific idea of what they wanted to do.
Even farther removed from the world of finance is Bruce Dobkin '69, professor of neurology at UCLA's Geffen School of Medicine and editor-in-chief of quarterly journal Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair. Each summer Dobkin pays $3,000 out of his own pocket to fund a 10-week, paid internship at UCLA specifically for a qualified Hamilton student. Among his former interns are Elizabeth Warner '02, Alex Venizelos '03, Heather Shapiro '05 and Jessica Wagoner '06.
Although Dobkin specializes in neural rehabilitation and research, he can call upon a network of more than 230 neuroscientists at UCLA if a student's interests differ from his own. This was the case for Wagoner, who studied post-stroke neurogenesis with Dobkin's colleague Tom Carmichael. Wagoner and her fellow graduate and undergraduate researchers stained the brain tissue in mice, induced stroke and studied how cells reacted and formed afterward. Wagoner summarized her summer research in a poster presentation once she was back on the Hill, and the research done by Carmichael's group will likely be part of a paper published sometime in the future.
Dobkin's primary goal is to help students become part of a larger neuroscience community. He hopes that they will use basic laboratory experiences to better understand the bigger picture of how science is conducted and the rewards and difficulties that scientists encounter.
Wagoner seems to have achieved this goal. When asked about the best part of her internship experience, she replies, "Getting out there and doing it -- getting a feel for what it's like to be a researcher and then asking myself, 'Do I want to go on, get a Ph.D., and do more research, or would I rather work more clinically with patients?'" In the end, Wagoner thinks that research as a profession is not the choice for her, but she maintains that her internship was a great experience all the same, especially because it is helping inform her senior thesis research.
Dobkin also believes that each Hamilton student benefits not only from the hands-on experiences and the diversity he or she experiences at UCLA, but also from becoming a functioning, contributing "piece of the puzzle."
"I enjoy watching the changes that come over people as they become knowledgeable about medicine and its science," Dobkin explains, adding that the combination of working with Hamilton students and watching his 23-year-old twin daughters wrestle with the possibilities and confusion in their paths reminds him that an unusual experience or mentor can alter the direction people take in life. "Watching my daughters evolve, and now seeing a few Hamilton students take on new endeavors, is a pleasure," he says, "and [it] reassures me that the future will include bold and committed folks."
Dobkin is not the only alumnus who cited his children as motivators for reaching out to Hamilton students. When Eric Best '70, then a managing director at Morgan Stanley, received an e-mail from Amanda Field '03 out of the blue one day, he initially hesitated to respond. Best notes that he's very busy and might not ordinarily respond to an unsolicited e-mail, but the combination of Field's focused, well-written letter, her Hamilton connection and the fact that Best had a daughter in her 20s, led him to invite Field to his office for a meeting. The rest, as they say, is history. Field's in-person demeanor impressed Best enough that he recommended her to colleagues who had openings in their divisions, and Field now works as an analyst recruiter for Morgan Stanley's Fixed Income Division.
Field, who used the Hamilton directory to contact alumni, says that the alumni she contacted were very helpful and generous with their time. In turn, she has been in contact with many Hamilton students since she started working at Morgan Stanley. "One of the best aspects of Hamilton is the strong alumni network," she explains, "and I hope to help students the same way I was helped."
Yin Tian feels the same. "Now that I'm a junior, I try to give advice to underclassmen," she says. "I heard this from an upperclassman once: Hamilton is like a club. We take care of each other...and I'm proud to be a part of that. It's how Hamilton is becoming more and more famous, and how we are creating a reputation for ourselves in New York City, on Capitol Hill and all over. This is a culture that I inherited from other Hamilton students, and it's a way of thinking that I'm going to take with me for the rest of my life."
The Career Center hosts numerous alumni and parents each year who visit the Hill to share career advice with students. Here's a sampling of events that have taken place or are scheduled for 2005-06:
- Careers in Law with Jeswald Salacuse '60
- Actuarial Science Colloquium with the Math Department with Stoyko Nikolov '96 and Jian Jing Lin '04
- Careers in Sports and Sports Marketing formerly with Neal Pilson '60 from CBS Sports
- Career Luncheons including Careers in Private School Teaching with Maria Reade '86; Careers in Advertising and Marketing with Jan Zwiren P'06 from Edelman Worldwide; Careers in Counseling and Social Work with Danielle LaGrange Plumley '90, Sam Rubenzahl '92, Kristen Holderle Davidson '00 and Daphne Papadopoulos '03; New England Center for Children with Kim Wysocki Keogh '90; Bard College Master of Arts in Teaching Program with Ann Gourlay-Gabler '71
- Careers in Local Government and Legal Consulting with Dan Connolly '85 from Giuliani Partners
- Achieving Financial Success in the Arts with Kate Faison Spencer '79 from FUSE Art Business Initiative
- Hedge Fund Industry with the Economics Department with Erinch Ozada '81 from Archery Capital
- Information Sessions including Amanda Geib '91 from General Electric Co.; John Durland '04 from Morgan Stanley; Environmental Conservation Careers with Frances Dunwell '74 from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation; Teach for America with Doreet Preiss '04; Opportunities in the Peace Corps with Anthony Ng '05; Consulting for Sales and Marketing with William Harris '04 from MarketBridge; Real Estate Securitization with Katie Sarris '04 from Credit Suisse
- International Public Health Presentation and Luncheon with Nichole Bowman Glover '93
- Some alumni have even met with students remotely via teleconference and videoconference. Examples include Careers in Advertising: The Creative Side with Jon Cashen '76 from Leo Burnett, and Careers in Advertising: Account Management with Katy Milmoe '99 from EUROSCG