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Alumnae/i Advise in a Tough Job Market

In a tough job market where the value of a liberal arts education has come under increasing scrutiny, it’s important to remember where one can turn for help and reassurance.

For Vassar students who took advantage of it, the Career Development Office’s (CDO) first annual Senior Week, which conveniently packaged many services already offered by the office into a concentrated time period, provided a welcome antidote to pre-graduation angst. Over the course of the week, several programs presented topics relevant to post-graduate life—in events as varied as “Landed the Interview … Now What?” and “Uncovering the Hidden Job Market” and “Planning Now for Grad School Later.”

AAVC board member Tara Pyle ’06 advises students on careers in marketing.

Lee Zalben ’95 delivered a keynote address titled “Connecting the Dots,” which provided nearly 80 students with crucial information about using the alumnae/i network and how to harness their liberal arts degree as a marketing tool. As an added bonus, Zalben offered a complimentary jar of his world-famous Peanut Butter & Co. peanut butter to every student who brought a résumé to the lecture.

While some were programs the CDO had offered in the past, there were new initiatives the office was eager to showcase. Of particular interest to students was the Career Networking and Mentoring Reception held on Saturday, March 1.

For a while now, Geraldine “Gerry” Laybourne ’69, board president of the Alumnae and Alumni of Vassar College (AAVC), had wanted to create an event where alumnae/i would have the opportunity to engage with students seeking career advice. As Laybourne stated in her opening address, she herself had benefited from mentoring by Bernice Coe ’43, who opened the door for Laybourne at the then-fledgling cable network Nickelodeon—a stepping stone that eventually led to Laybourne’s rise as president of Nickelodeon and co-founder of Oxygen Media. She says the experience with Coe left her with “the powerful idea that mentoring is something that benefits us—it had benefited me from the beginning of time. Once someone helps you like that, you can’t help but pay it forward.”

Entrepreneur Kenneth Miles ’07, an AAVC trustee, makes it a priority to mentor the next generation.

With this inspiration as a starting point, the wheels were set in motion and the search for interested alumnae/i began. According to Stacy Bingham, director of the CDO and assistant dean of studies, this was a less than difficult feat as so many alumnae/i had already shown an interest in helping. The end of Senior Week dovetailed nicely with Vassar’s board weekend, which brought both AAVC board members and Vassar trustees to campus. Seniors and other interested students asked questions of the graduates and sought advice, visiting “stations” based on the industries in which the participating alumnae/i have made careers.  Alumnae/i participants ranged from marketing and communications professionals to financiers and entrepreneurs.

The student attendees were humbled and grateful for the enthusiastic responses from the graduates. “The Vassar network is stronger and more helpful than I would have thought,” Giovanni Zaccheo ’14 says. “I was pleasantly surprised by how forthcoming all of the alums have been.”

As AAVC board member Tara Pyle ’06 notes, “Vassar is great because it’s always a ‘warm’ ask. People are usually happy to help. Take advantage of this!”

Pyle adds, “Alums don’t just want to help students to do a favor. We also want to help you because the strength of our career network drives the long-term value of our degrees.”

Understanding that such networking events are stressful and sometimes novel situations for students, the CDO held its Networking Preparation Workshop the day before. During the forum, students practiced their “elevator pitches” and learned conversational etiquette. The preparation seemed to help at that Saturday’s networking event, when the Aula was abuzz with smooth-flowing conversation.

Retired executive Maryellen Cattani Herringer ’65 talks about opportunities in law.

Following the networking forum, AAVC board member A.J. Matsuura ’80, founder and CEO of the private equity firm EFM Capital Partners, shared a story that reinforced the notion that such networking pays off. In attendance at the event was Manning Wu ’14, who had reached out to Matsuura a few months earlier, seeking advice on applying for a job at a major bank. At that time, Matsuura wasn’t sure how useful his guidance had been, but that Saturday, Wu excitedly shared some good news with him: His advice had helped tremendously. She had gotten the job!

“She’ll be making more money than I am in a few years!” Matsuura jokes.

As Bingham puts it, “I really, truly believe that Vassar alumnae/i have the potential to be our very best career resource. In whatever way we can, we encourage students to take advantage of those alumnae/i connections and instill in them that sense of Vassar community—the notion that we are all here to help each other.”

—Tzvetelina Garneva ’15 

Photos, from top: Crowd shot by Elizabeth Randolph; other images by Imrul Islam ’17

Posted by Office of Communications Thursday, April 3, 2014