Current Swat students and alumni sat down together on Friday in Sci 101 to discuss the ins and outs of life after Swarthmore, including graduate school, internships, and first jobs. The panel consisted of nine Swat alums, from graduating classes ranging from 1974 to 1999, who came to share their experiences and guidance with current students. Many career fields were represented by the alumni panel, including medicine, law, technology, business, non-profits, and the arts, each of whom had different advice for students hoping to pursue careers in their areas.
There was a wide variance of answers to every question, as the alumni panel varied in age, gender, major, career field, and personal interest. Every member had a slightly different contribution to each question, which ranged from what sort of attitude is preferred in an interview at a startup as opposed to a corporation, to how to dress appropriately during the summer. The questions seemed to be concentrated in three areas:
The difference between Swarthmore and "the Outside World"Many of the students' questions focused on the challenge of finding the right tone and voice in an organization, especially after being given such intellectual and vocal freedom at Swat. The students wanted to know, essentially, how to be yourself. The panel's consensus: the best approach is to listen and learn. In a new organization, observe how it is structured, what is the model for decision-making, and how opinions are voiced, before taking action. You can still be an individual and have your voice heard, but you must first 'learn their language.' The panel agreed this advice is field-specific and the environment will certainly vary from job to job. They encouraged the audience to be open to new experiences and give new environments a try before moving on. And of course, if a student engages with a variety organizations and is still not comfortable, they can follow the example of Deborah How '89, Demetrios Karis '74 and Walter Luh '99, three alums who started their own ventures.
NetworkingThe panel encouraged Swarthmore students to embrace networking as an enjoyable means to an end. Connecting with helpful people in the field should not be a chore. Network with those you enjoy talking to; don't force the issue. One alum prompted the students to think of networking as research, a familiar and comfortable activity for all college students. It may be extensive, but in the end it builds you a much more stable foundation while job searching or starting out in a field.
In their parting notes, the alumni stressed the importance of maintaining a professional appearance while interacting with employers. They asked students to make sure they had readable, comprehensive resumes with no spelling mistakes and to always include an effective, informative cover letter, which many of the alumni said can make or break their decision to hire an employee. There was also particular emphasis on the importance of preparing for an interview, just as students prepare for a presentation for class. Not only does it show initiative and interest in the position, it is also a matter of respect to the employer. The panel also included practical advice for students venturing into the workplace: don't be late, don't come to work with wet hair, dress appropriately, and of course, clean up your Facebook profiles before applying to jobs. Easy fix!
The alumni were open and honest about their experiences, which naturally included challenges and learning situations as well as successes. Much of their advice was based on their time at Swarthmore and what they learned in school. Several panel members agreed that the skills they gained at Swat, especially ease of communication, time management, analytical thinking, and a strong sense of motivation, helped them very much in the professional world.
After the Q & A, the students and panel enjoyed snacks and talked about future plans, asked individual questions, and exchanged contact information. Email addresses of the alumni panelists can be found here. Visit the Career Services website for more tips, Alumni Career Profiles, and upcoming events!