As Told By I Want Your Job

I Want Your Job, a Q&A series featuring young alumni in ‘cool’ jobs, debuted a year ago on November 20, 2013. In the last year, we’ve heard from matchmakers, doctors, band managers, FBI interns, data scientists and almost everything else you can imagine. Here are the secret and not-so-secret pieces of advice those alumni offer for landing your dream job.

1. Intern, intern, intern.

“Seek out as much practical experience as possible through summer internships, etc.,” Dave Lagow ’01, an athletic trainer with Orlando, Fla.’s professional soccer team says.

Jerry Casselano ’08, a vice president at a Washington, D.C.-area sports and entertainment marketing company agrees, saying, “Don’t be afraid of unpaid internships – embrace them. You won’t get anywhere without experience, so sometimes you have to suck it up and eat Ramen Noodles for a few months while you gain that experience.”

Many others also recommended interning as a good way to gain experience and to gauge your interest in your chosen field. See more I Want Your Job profiles here.

2. Become a strong writer.

Andy Cornwell ’01, who works at the Cleveland Functional Electrical Stimulation Center (a lab working to restore abilities in patients with nervous system damage), says “I think no matter what your profession… a solid grasp of the English language is very important. You have to be able to write and communicate effectively, it’s far and away the most important skill for any undergraduate to master.”

Ryan Sedmak ’13, a New York City-based film and TV producer, cites advice he received from journalist Anderson Cooper: “Be willing to work harder than anyone else and learn how to write.”

3. Be more than your resume.

Sedmak also emphasizes the importance of using different media to reach out to potential employers. “ If all you do when you want a position is send in your resume and wait, there’s a good chance your application will fall by the wayside. If you really want it, do everything you can to get it – find employee names and cold-call the company, message people on LinkedIn, track down email addresses and send emails – everything.”

“Don’t underestimate the power of a handwritten note,” David Plyler ’06, touring manager of the Zac Brown band adds. “It lets someone know you were paying attention and shows that you care enough to follow up. That goes a long way.”

4. Make the most of your college experience.

“Charleston is the most amazing place to live and learn so enjoy it,” Mary Alice Miller ‘12, editorial assistant at Vanity Fair, says. “Focus on ‘knowing thyself’ [the inscription on the arch at Porters Lodge reads ‘Know Thyself’] because if you have that at your core, you can get through the ups and downs, the successes and the failures.”

Emma Rudolph ’13, a San Francisco-based cookbook editor, agrees, adding “I can’t stress enough the importance of having different experiences while you’re in school, especially for students who aren’t sure of what they’d like to do after graduation.”

5. Don’t underestimate the informational interview.

Anna Grace Burnette ’13, a former FBI intern with the National Center for the Analysis for Violent Crime, recommends that “if you have any career in mind that takes a few years to attain, talk to as many people as possible who are in that field. I learned so much about the FBI and the BAU [Behavioral Analysis Unit] from the research I did before the internship.”

Miller also partially credits an informational interview with a Vanity Fair editor. She suggests that, “If a position is not available, ask for an informational interview. Ask the interviewer,  “What can I do in the meantime to become a more attractive candidate when a position opens up?” It’s the kind of thing you can’t really ask in an interview, so take advantage of it when you can!”

6. Meet your mentor.

Jessica Farrell ’08, an archivist for McDonald’s Corporation, wouldn’t be where she is now (Illinois, for the record) without her College of Charleston mentor. “I would also suggest finding a mentor – one of the most important catalysts for my success was getting advice and guidance from John White, who’s now Dean of libraries at the College. He was my mentor in Special Collections, and there’s no way I would have gotten as far as I have without working with him.”

Caroline Horres ’12, who works for a Washington D.C. risk-analysis company, credits encouragement and wisdom from her College mentor Mary Desjeans for much of her success. “The College has a lot of excellent professors who have incredible knowledge and who can also help guide you and motivate you to accomplish things you didn’t know you were capable of… I suggest that you find professors and a support network that will encourage you and also challenge you.”

7. Take advantage of your College of Charleston connections.

“Work hard so your professors see you’re learning and will offer opportunities when they come up,” Matt Mazzerell ’13, a data scientist working to increase the effectiveness of MRI machines and predict computer hard drive failure, says. “Explore the connections that your teachers have within the industry and let them know that you are also exploring the possibility of internships.”

8. Trust your instincts.

Robyn Swider ’10, a matchmaker for a company called Three Day Rule, advises, “If you want something you have to ask for it. On my resume there was nothing that made me seem especially qualified to become a matchmaker… but I had no reason to think I wouldn’t qualify. You just have to reach out, get in touch with people, follow up with them and don’t be afraid to be your biggest advocate.”

U.S. Navy dolphin trainer Megan Saylor ’11 also urges job seekers to pursue their dream job even when getting the job seems unlikely. “Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. No matter how small the job field, no matter how competitive or improbable the circumstances. If you want something bad enough, go for it! I did, and I certainly don’t regret it.”

9. Take risks. Lots of them.

Senior operations manager at David Yurman Thailand Lucy Lesniak ’10 proves that being flexible makes you a huge asset to your (potential) employer. Just after she graduated, Lesniak “decided on a Tuesday that I wanted to move to New York, packed my belongings on Wednesday and drove to the City on Thursday. In December last year, David Yurman asked if I would move to Thailand. When I said yes they gave me a month to pack up my life and move.”

Anna Meacham ’07, who runs the public relations department at clothing company J.McLaughlin, contends that embracing change is necessary in today’s job market. “I would advise for people to be open to change. The job market and media landscape have shifted dramatically since I moved to New York, so that really forces you to be open to new opportunities.”

10. Keep in touch.

Additionally, Meacham contends staying in contact with people you’ve worked with or friends in your field is a great way to learn about job opportunities. “I kept in touch with people at J.McLaughlin… so they thought of me when they decided to take their PR department in-house. I didn’t have a motive when I would reach out, but keeping in touch definitely kept me on their minds when they were hiring for this position.”