March 24, 2010
It’s job-hunting time for graduating seniors across the country, and AmherstCollege seniors are no exception.
Since she arrived on campus in last January to head the Career Center, Allyson Moore and her staff have been helping students uncover career, internship, graduate school and fellowship opportunities.
Doing so against formidable economic headwinds is a challenge that Moore has embraced with enthusiasm. With extensive experience helping M.B.A. students and alumni at New York University’s Stern School of Business and then Yale University’s School of Management find their dream jobs, Moore is bringing her previous experiences – and connections – to Amherst, where, she says, students have refreshingly different notions about work and career than the M.B.A. students she used to advise.
Moore recently sat down with Director of Public Affairs Peter Rooney to discuss all things career-related, including job prospects for this year’s graduating seniors, the power of the Amherst Alumni Network and the enduring value of a liberal arts education from AmherstCollege. Listen to portions of their conversation as well:
How has the Great Recession has been affecting the choices that students were making last year, and are making this year?
I think the greatest impact on students last year was that they were bombarded with a lot of negativity in the media. Many students threw up their hands and said, “There’s nothing out there, so I’m not even going to bother to search.” So we struggled mightily last semester with countering all the negative information. That’s not to say we had 10 jobs for every student, but there were opportunities.
Are you seeing any signs that things may be rebounding a bit?
Financial services have definitely rebounded. Morgan Stanley came back this year, Goldman Sachs did on-campus interviews for internships and connected with us for seniors at a number of different regional fairs, and I had a great meeting with some JPMorgan [Chase] alumni recently. We continue to have a strong relationship with Fidelity.
I also noticed at the end of last semester that we had more paralegal opportunities than we typically have. I think that’s because it’s significantly less expensive for a law firm to hire an AmherstCollege graduate as a paralegal than it is to hire a first-year associate out of law school.
Over the years there’s been a lot of discussion about the value of a liberal arts education. From your perspective, do employers truly appreciate the value of a liberal arts degree?
I think some employers do, and in particular those that you might consider employers of choice do—those who have been recruiting our students for many years and have highly structured programs. The vast majority of those employers realize they just want to hire someone who has the intellectual capacity to learn what the organization wants to teach them.
What our graduates possess are fundamental, transferable skills that can be applied in many different contexts and across virtually every single industry. Problem-solving, analytical skills, communication skills – these are the skills our students by and large excel in.
How would you characterize the reputation of the typical Amherst College graduate in the minds of not only employers but graduate schools as well?
I think that Amherst graduates are viewed as incredibly intelligent and well-rounded. Employers who have been employing our students for many years sing their praises. Fidelity has a huge percentage of its workplace that comes from Amherst, its most successful core school.
Similarly, our students do incredibly well applying to graduate schools. Not only do we have a great reputation, but our students are meeting the expectations of whatever environment they’re joining. If they weren’t, then these employers and schools wouldn’t be hiring and admitting so many of our students.
What’s the rough proportion of students going on to graduate school? Are you seeing that decision-making process being impacted by the recession at all?
As an office we tend to say that 20 percent or fewer of our students decide to immediately go on to pursue an advanced degree upon graduation. Once you’re about five years out, that number jumps to 80 to 85 percent. The number who went to grad school in 2009, based on our data, is about 17 percent.
We heard a lot in the media about how more and more students were going to grad school because they couldn’t find jobs. I think we do a fair job here of advising students against that, because it’s a very expensive proposition. If you’re not committed and unsure graduate school is what you want to do, I wouldn’t recommend necessarily that you do so.
What about those students who are interested in careers in nonprofit organizations or are interested in teaching? What trends are you seeing in that space?
I think our students are similar to the broader Millennial generation, in that they firmly believe in the socially redeeming value of work. A sizable percentage of our students are interested in the nonprofit and public sectors. In fact, the education sector continues to attract the largest percentage of our graduates. In 2008 it was 29 percent, and in 2009 it was 27 percent. We also enjoyed wonderful student and employer turnout for our Not-for-Profit Career Fair this semester.
The student-alumni networking opportunities seem to be helped the recently revamped online Alumni Directory and Career Network (https://www.amherst.edu/amherstprofile/search). Are we ahead of other schools in using the Web to foster networking opportunities between students and alumni?
No student leaves this office without hearing about our online Amherst alumni directory. Students can use it for the most obvious reasons, which would be career exploration and industry research. But it’s also a wonderful resource for students looking to study or work abroad, or for students to connect with alumni who have attended the graduate schools they’re considering.
It’s an incredible tool, and I think it’s significantly more robust than [alumni databases at] many other undergraduate schools.
I’ve noticed the system also allows students to sort alumni by majors and see what sort of career paths might be possible for different majors.
We love it for that purpose, because students become so focused on the major. They say, “I have this Black Studies degree. What can I do with this major? Who’s going to hire me?” The beauty is that while a major is very important when in school, it becomes less so when you move into the fulltime workforce. What’s most important are the relevant skills and the excellence you have in those relevant skills. We love the database for that reason, because we can say “Look: you can do anything.”
We’re in the middle of the spring semester. What should a graduating senior or a student looking for an internship be working on right now?
There are still plenty of opportunities for seniors to secure now, even though most of the larger firms did their interviewing in the fall. Similarly, for some of the underclass students seeking internships, the larger firms that have been in this game a long time are at the tail end of their recruiting process.
That said, there are whole host of other sectors that are just ramping up now. It’s important for all students to start applying. Also, they should reach out to alumni working in those fields or at specific employers. They need to build relationships with alumni who will serve as internal allies and champions so they can get the interview. That’s the goal. Once students secure the interview, they can sell themselves and close the deal.
Why is the alumni network so important for students?
Amherst as an institution has done an incredible job in terms of providing young people with access to an exemplary education. Many of those students are first-generation students, transfer students and underrepresented students. These populations sometimes think, “I don’t have any connections. How am I going to build relationships and gain alliances?”
That’s the beauty of the Amherst alumni directory. Every Amherst student has a ready-made network — contacts he or she can tap and leverage to support whatever his or her aspiration is – an internship, job, graduate school or national fellowship – whatever the case may be.
What is the philosophy of the Career Center?
As an office our philosophy is not to steer students in one direction or other. Our philosophy is to help students identify what they’re most interested in doing, because we firmly believe that if you’re interested in what you’re doing, you’ll be 10 times more successful. Once we help them identify that interest, then we enable them to achieve that aspiration.