After a lifetime in school, college seniors facing the prospect of a first job can find the experience very unsettling.
“Finding a job is difficult and in my experience one of the most important steps toward success comes from constructing a network of people willing to help. Allegheny alumni always seem ready to assist,” said Eric Pallant, Christine Scott Nelson ’73 Endowed Chair in Environmental Science & Sustainability.
Pallant requires students in his Senior Comprehensive Project group to reach out to Allegheny alumni, particularly those with environmental science degrees, for career advice. “One of the salient features of Allegheny students is their overwhelming friendliness and willingness to help,” he said. “Not surprisingly, Allegheny alumni are just the same after graduation. Moreover, alumni remember what it was like to transition from college to a job. When an anxious student finally makes contact with an alum, a new friendship is almost always in the offing.
“I’ve asked seniors to contact alumni as part of their comping process for as long as I can remember,” Pallant added. “One advantage of having taught at Allegheny as long as I have is that I am in touch with alumni doing all kinds of environmental goodness all over the world. I love matching successful alumni with students who in just a few short years I will be calling upon to do the same for a new crop of seniors.”
Jim Fitch II, Allegheny’s director of career education, said he tells students and recent graduates that 80 to 85 percent of people find jobs today through some form of personal contact. To that end, Career Education has identified 253 of the 1,375 employers who post jobs at Allegheny College as alumni connected, he said.
“As part of the application process for jobs with those organizations, we encourage students to reach out to the alumni to learn about their experiences with the businesses and to ask for advice and suggestions about how to best tailor their application materials,” said Fitch. “We’ve tried to make it very easy for our students who use Handshake to find and identify companies with whom we are connected through our alumni by tagging employers as ‘AC Connected’ when we approve their requests to post jobs, internships and events at Allegheny College. As it happens, we have an alumna who works in the clean-energy industry whose employer just hosted a virtual hiring event. She reached out to us and invited us to promote the event on campus. This type of promotion is only successful through partnerships with faculty.”
Through Handshake and LinkedIn, Allegheny Career Education has been able to connect students with more than 1,000 alumni who majored in environmental science and sustainability, Fitch said. “Connecting with the students allows us to learn about their interests and the specific skills that they would like to exercise in the workplace. This helps us better identify alumni who may be most helpful to them,” he added.
Margo Beck, a senior from McLean, Virginia, is an environmental science major and global health studies minor. “Over the past few years, I have contacted numerous alumni. I have either spoken to or been in email correspondence with them,” said Beck. “I am currently working on contacting a few more alumni to get additional advice. In general, nearly everyone has reassured me that it is OK to not know exactly what I want to do in the future. They have helped me recognize that there is no guaranteed straight path to a career, and that is completely normal. A few alumni have provided me information about various internships and programs available through their employer. I am currently speaking with an alumna and she is helping me find organizations that I could apply to. She also said that she will help me learn how to network.”
Beck said she has found the advice from alumni to be helpful. “Last year when I spoke with alumni, my goal was to hopefully land an internship. While none of the connections resulted in an internship, the communications were still helpful because they eased my mind. Up until this point, I have been extremely worried about not knowing exactly what I want to do post graduation. Thankfully, the advice from various alumni helped me realize that it is perfectly normal not to have a precise career trajectory in mind at this stage of my education.
“My biggest struggle has been not knowing what career I want,” Beck said. “My tentative plans are to apply to AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps so I can get some rewarding experience under my belt and hopefully figure out what my true passion is. My goal is to work for a few years and then potentially go to graduate school once I know exactly what my interests are.”
Lindsay Blum, a senior from Asheville, North Carolina, said her career goal is to be a farmer “and that isn’t necessarily something I can jump right into after I graduate. I’ve thought of maybe opening a farm-to-table restaurant to bring good food to people, so my next steps are to work on some farms or maybe find some restaurants that do something similar.”
Blum, who is an environmental studies major and French minor, has contacted a couple of alumni with agricultural experience, including a 2020 graduate who is working on a farm in Maine. “I wanted to know how she found that job and any resources she recommended. She gave me some great advice and now I know where to look for some potential farming internships,” Blum said.
She also contacted a 2006 graduate who owns a farm in Bend, Washington, and hopes there might be an opportunity at that facility in 2021. “Any advice is helpful,” said Blum, “especially from Allegheny graduates. It is important to hear from people who have experienced some of the same things I will.”
Claire Collier, a senior from Seabrook, Texas, said she is anxious about finding a job after graduation. She has been in touch with alumni about their work at PULSE Pittsburgh and in Pennsylvania’s state park system. “As of now, my career goals are to find a full-time job that is in the field of my major so that I can build my skills and experience,” said Collier, who is an environmental science major and a geology minor.