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Work it: Essential tops for networking at BC and beyond

 

This summer, Ryan Michelle Western ’15 will start a full-time job as a recruiter for the IT staffing agency Insight Global—the outcome of a career search she began as a freshman when she met a recruiter from the company at Boston College’s Career Fair. But landing a job in Insight Global’s Boston office six months before graduation involved more than a single serendipitous meeting, Western says. Indeed, the communication major credits a whole network of mentors for helping her go from “having no idea what to do with my life,” as she puts it, to confidently launching her career.

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Over the course of her college career, Western worked to build a job search network that reached “all over.” Professors in the Communication Department, employers at her four internships, Boston College Career Center counselor Dan Jalbert, faculty she met while working as an on-campus fitness trainer, Boston College career and internship fair contacts, and her parents all provided different kinds of support.

“My dad’s the one who said, ‘Couldn’t hurt to check out the career fair,’” Western says.

Developing a diverse community of contacts can provide an edge in today’s competitive entry-level job market, says Associate Vice President for Student Affairs, Career Services Joseph Du Pont. As students connect to job leads, they also practice essential job-search skills such as articulating their goals and summing up their experience. With that in mind, the Career Center has connected with University offices and departments to collaborate in helping students build networks. The objective “is to create an environment where a wide variety of people are making career-readiness a priority for students,” Du Pont explains.

Networking, Du Pont adds, is no longer confined to junior and senior years. These essential tips aim to help students build their networks from the start of their college careers:

1. Start early—but put first things first. Freshman students’ main priority, Du Pont says, should be acclimating to academic life. They can keep their networking simple and focus on getting to know a resident advisor and faculty member; becoming active in student government, clubs, and organizations; or finding a part-time job.

Du Pont emphasizes that it’s more important for first-year students to spend time assessing what interests and motivates them. That way, when they’re ready to make professional contacts, “they feel like they’re on the right path,” he says. To help lay this groundwork, the Career Center offers a variety of career-aptitude and personality tests, group workshops, and one-on-one counseling, and events such as “Life After Newton”—a new, student-led panel discussion for freshmen about the importance of exploring their interests and passions.

2. Find faculty mentors. Developing close relationships with faculty and academic advisors often helps students line up internships, summer jobs, research positions, leadership opportunities, and, ultimately, full-time employment. For example, Western says that the Communication Department’s director of undergraduate studies, Christine Caswell McCarron, sent out “at least 10 e-mails a week” alerting students to internship openings—including one at Wellesley Information Services, Inc., an IT marketing and publishing company where Western interned last fall.

Yvonne Shih ’15 reports that her Connell School of Nursing faculty mentors helped her apply successfully for an advanced study grant, a fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital for nursing students from diverse backgrounds, and several national scholarships and awards. Now the president of the Massachusetts Student Nurses’ Association, Shih says that she “would not have accomplished as much in four years without connections to faculty.”

One of Shih’s mentors, Associate Professor Judith Shindul-Rothschild, who teaches the Transitions to Professional Nursing course to seniors, notes that “eventually, everybody needs a recommendation letter from faculty.” She advises students at the Connell School to build relationships with not only academic faculty but also clinical faculty, who work at sought-after hospitals such as Massachusetts General and Boston Children’s. Their “insider” recommendations, she says, often carry more weight when it comes to hiring nurses.

Donald Lau ’15, a finance and economics major in the Carroll School of Management, got to know faculty at “Professors and Pastries,” an Academic Advising Center program that brings faculty, students, and guests from the professional world together. For Lau, chatting over cookies and coffee at Fulton Hall on Wednesday afternoons “became a really easy way to do some casual networking.”

3. Connect with alumni. The Boston College Alumni Association offers several long-standing programs that connect alumni and students interested in networking.

During this past year, BC Connections, a 17-year-old mentoring program run by the Alumni Association’s Council for Women of Boston College, paired more than 150 third-year women with alumnae mentors from across the country. Feedback from participants through the years suggests that many of the relationships the program fosters “last long after graduation,” says Executive Director of Alumni Relations Joanne Goggins. Another favorite among alumni and students is “Networking Nights,” a collaboration with the Career Center that brings students together with alumni working in such popular fields as the arts, computer science, education, healthcare, and marketing.  

A remarkably easy and efficient way for students to network with alumni is online. EagleLink is a subscriber-only database that lists hundreds of internship and job openings, both local and national, posted by alumni and others interested in recruiting BC students. In January of this year, the Career Center and the Alumni Association expanded their e-networking resources with the “Career Community,” a private LinkedIn forum that allows students to ask alumni career-related questions. (As of early May, 7,700 Boston College students and graduates had signed up to participate.) Du Pont reports that alumni have already fielded student questions about preparing for Skype interviews, studying abroad, finding internships, and making the most of college breaks.  

Akshata Bailkeri ’17, a finance major with a French minor, logged on to the forum to ask how studying abroad might affect her junior-year internship prospects. Within a few days, she received 34 responses. “The advice was really reassuring and helped me make my decision,” says Bailkeri, who will attend Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, in the fall and the Copenhagen Business School in Denmark next spring.

4. Make the most of breaks. While many students take advantage of semester-long internships and summer jobs to develop professional contacts, Du Pont encourages undergraduates not to overlook opportunities to network over winter and spring breaks.

One way to do so is through the Career Center’s Externship Program, in which undergraduates “shadow” alumni and other professionals at their workplaces for a day. According to Dan Jalbert, assistant director of internships and experiential learning at the Career Center, the program placed 245 students with 102 hosts at such sites as PricewaterhouseCoopers, Teach for America, ESPN, Leominster District Court, and Biogen Idec this January.   

Lucas Allen '16, an international studies major, spent a day with Liz Delaney '00, a program director in the Boston office of the national environmental advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund. Allen attended informational sessions with Delaney and her colleagues and sat in on a conference call. “I learned so much in one day,” says Allen, who now plans to apply for a summer internship at the nonprofit.

Through the Career Center’s “Job Treks” program, groups of students travel with faculty members during breaks to meet alumni and employers in other parts of the country. Over this year’s winter session, 25 students visited alumni in media and communications positions at Nielsen, the NBA, and Madison Square Garden, among other sites in New York City. Additionally, 21 students traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet National Security Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan ’97 and take a private tour of the White House’s pressroom and West Wing.

5. Be proactive. Above all, faculty, students, and staff agree, it’s up to students “to put themselves out there,” says Shindul-Rothschild. Networking in person is especially important, they say, whether at a Career Fair, the Internship Fair, or professional association meetings and conferences. “When you meet people face to face, you really build that connection,” says Bailkeri. “People are more likely to remember you.”

Yet students are quick to add that networking also takes practice. Lau got over his initial nervousness about approaching potential contacts by imagining himself as a Boston College alumnus: If a student asked him to chat about his field for 15 minutes, how would he respond? “I realized that I’d definitely say yes,” he says.

Lau will soon have the chance to switch roles in his own career: in February, he was hired by John Macek III ’08 as an analyst at Framingham-based healthcare data and analytics company Definitive Healthcare—a position that he found on EagleLink.

—Alicia Potter