Life After High School: Opportunities for Work and Travel (Fall 2013)

One of our trustees recently suggested that we reach out to alumni for tips on networking, finding internships, work and travel opportunities.  We asked them to give Sturgis students some advice on things that have worked for them. Here are the responses:

Lauren Wygonski – Class of 2003

Agra- 2012

Lauren Wygonski stands in a series of hallways
that line the gate to the Taj Mahal in Agra, India.

Currently working as Policy Analyst and Program Manager of the USAID/Pakistan Energy Policy Program in both Washington DC and Islamabad, Pakistan.

Graduate: Johns Hopkins University – MS Applied Economics

Monterey Institute of International Studies – MA International Trade Policy

Undergraduate: Muhlenberg College – History and International Relations

Networking

  • Before you commit to a field, find a practitioner in your local area and set up an appointment with them. Over the years I have had many cups of coffee with now-mentors, great contacts, and just friends of friends who provided insight on careers and personal life matters.
  • Join organizations, many of which are free, in the field you are interested in. Often times these organizations are approached by companies in their field to post jobs and offer a ton of interesting events and networking activities. These are also helpful if you are new in town and don’t know many people. For example, a prominent group in Washington DC is the Young Professionals in Foreign Policy which places fresh graduates with practitioners from many fields who have an international focus. The organization has job boards, social events, discussion groups, and speakers from the highest level of politics.
  • Professionals are flattered when you reach out. Do not be nervous about inconveniencing somebody to have a quick phone chat or cup of coffee to discuss your career. I’ve been very surprised to see how willing people are to help with everything from putting you in contact with hiring directors to re-writing your resume on the spot. At the end of the day, your success reflects on them and they might need you in the future for something.
  • Keep an excel sheet to create a database of people you have come in contact with related to your career development. Write basic information such as their profession, when you met/spoke with them, and any questions or topics discussed. Review this database monthly to see if you should reach out again and maintain a networking relationship. It does not have to be phony; send emails about non-work items that reminded you of that person so you just stay fresh in their mind. The database simply helps with emails and remembering information if you are on a networking roll!

Finding Internships

  • Talk to your career center whether you are in a four year university or community college, they are excellent resources. It’s been years since I have graduated and I still hit up my career center for contacts and work opportunities.
  • When touring colleges, see what the college’s “best” program is or what the school is most noted for. You don’t have to lock into a degree your freshmen year but don’t look at schools that are off the radar in certain fields and have weak alumni connections in your desired field. This is important because your internship opportunities will increase depending on your school’s reputation and alumni availability to offer internships.
  • There are a host of websites that have internship listings available depending on the field you are interested in. When you find a company or field you are interested in, research it! Look at the company’s site, find who they work with, for, against and look at the staff if they have profiles available. Use your LinkedIn account to see if you have any connections to someone in the company. If not, a LinkedIn profile can be helpful to see what type of person they are looking for or more importantly if you like the company on a personal level.

Work Opportunities

  • Whether you want to be an engineer, human resources manager, accountant, or humanitarian, there is a job available in the federal, local, and state government. While many think you need a Political Science degree to work in the government, most agencies are looking for technical and administrative staff to move projects and people along. Local internships with government offices give a great sense of office life and start your networking and future referral database. Look at the usajobs.gov website which is the only portal for federal government positions and show the pay, duties, education, and location requirements for every post.
  • Don’t be afraid of short term assignments. I know many people who had 5+ internships and short contracts before landing their dream jobs. Short term assignments in today’s economy do not mean you are bouncing around but you are building your skills and tailoring your resume for the next gig.
  • Every job I have on my resume was the result of staying in contact with past employers and having a job tailored to me. I have received interviews from applications online but never received an offer. The jobs were tailored to bring me on staff because they enjoyed working with me before and found a place for me in the new company or position. You can go to a company and prove that you need to be there and work with them to create a position. Many online vacancies have already been awarded to the person who showed up and tailored the opening for their skills – the company has to post it for legal reasons sometimes.

Travel Opportunities

  • After school, my first job in California had me travelling locally because it was a regional organization with one office. My second job had me in West Africa by second week. Find a company with offices, contracts, clients, etc. either throughout the US or abroad if you are interested in travelling. I work for a contractor that implements programs for the U.S. Agency for International Development and moving to Pakistan at the end of the year. If you want to travel, there is always a way.
  • Show flexibility when working for a company. Be courteous and relaxed but engaging and your employers will notice. This is the type of person a company will feel comfortable representing their brand and in some cases the US in a foreign organization.
  • Get your passport and make sure you have at least 6 months available before expiration.
  • I recommend taking a semester abroad or working with Peace Corps, Ameri-corps, Teach for America, or the military if you are interested in international work in the government. The country will not matter if you are abroad, this work shows that are you able to work away from home and can speak another language sometimes.
  • On a flight over 10 hours, bring an eye mask, Chap Stick, warm socks, and headphones. Most planes for international flights have TV sets even in economy class that show movies not even released in the US theaters yet. Also, planes get cold and dry after any period of time.

Kelsey Krafton, Class of 2010

Kelsey Krafton

Kelsey Krafton

For students in the hard sciences, the NSF (National Science Foundation) posts lists of available summer internships (paid and unpaid) each year. The lists are arranged by subject of study and when you follow the links provided the internships will describe any prerequisites they might have.

Kelsey Krafton - research

Sample graph from Kelsey’s project presentation

I did two Astronomy internships with the Five College Consortium in Western Mass. They were both extremely important parts of my college education and taught me skills that I can use in other fields like Computer Science. If a student wants to go on to grad school, these internships are the key. I used the NSF site to apply to other internships but the ones they list are all national and very competitive. For Astronomy, acceptance rates are around 3% (worse than Harvard haha), but other disciplines could be more like 20%. I was able to use my skills from my first internship to get wait-listed the second time around at a couple others. Students should get a jump on these as soon as they can.

 

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