Interview by Howie Rhee '04, with contributions by Vivian Chung. Added August 18th, 2015
I’m a senior at Duke studying Political Science.
Tell us about your work experience and previous summers at Duke.
For most of the past year I worked as a research assistant for one of my professors and before that I worked as an elementary school tutor. Last summer I received a grant to conduct Political Science research on the US Senate and the summer before I studied abroad in Paris.
What did your recruiting process look like? How many people did you reach out to?
My recruiting process ended up being largely an enormous set of informational interviews, one of which eventually led to a connection to the jobs I worked for the summer. I compiled a list of more than 200 people to talk to, reached out to around 100 of them, and had about 85 informational interviews.
How did you come up with a list of companies/positions to target?
I decided I wanted to see how an organization was run and structured, so I set my sights on an executive assistantship. My interest was far more in the position than the sector, and so the executive assistantship I eventually got, working for a philanthropic foundation, was by no means the field or organization I initially targeted, but ended up being a fantastic fit.
Talk about how you thought about location (city) as it related to recruiting. Did you know where you wanted to end up or were you exploring?
Location is very important to me in terms of my career, but I was so interested in the opportunity to have an executive assistantship, and knew that even one offer would be hard to come by, that I was willing to put aside location as a top priority for the position. That being said, DC was on my list of places I wanted to end up, although not at the top, and so when I got the position in DC, I was absolutely fine with the location and really enjoyed the time I spent there.
How did you end up getting the job?
The path was by no means straightforward, but here is the direct path of connections that connected me to the jobs I had for the summer. Bill Wright-Swadel, the director of the undergraduate career center connected me to Inga Peterson, the associate Vice President of Alumni Affairs, who connected me Shep Moyle, a Board of Trustees member, who connected me to Reid Lewis, the head of DukeGen, who connected me and forwarded my resume and cover letter to a group of DC CEOs, which my current boss’s husband saw, passed it on to her, and she gave me a phone call and asked me if I wanted a job. She then connected me to the two other positions I also ended up working for the summer.
Where did you end up working?
I worked (and am still working) part-time as an intern assistant to the executive director of a philanthropic foundation in DC called the Bernstein Family Foundation. I also worked part-time for 5 weeks as a development intern for Environmental Working Group, and part-time for 5 weeks as an intern for another philanthropic foundation called the S&R Foundation, and a social entrepreneurial incubator the foundation runs called the Halcyon Incubator.
In the job search process what was the most helpful advice/support you got?
The best piece of advice I got was from Shep Moyle. He said with every informational conversation you have, you should walk away with at least one more person to talk to next in your search. I made a point afterwards of getting at least 3 people from every conversation I had, and wouldn’t have gotten the jobs if I hadn’t.
The most helpful support I got was from Reid Lewis. He scheduled weekly phone calls with me for about a month, helped edit my resume and cover letter, and then forwarded them to a group of CEOs in DC and added me to the DukeGen Linked-In group so I could post them there as well. I went from no job offers in 3 months to 3 executive assistantship offers in a week, 2 from the DC CEO group and 1 from DukeGen, and ultimately had the option of choosing between 3 great offers in exactly the position I was looking for.
Anything else you'd like to share with Duke students that are doing their own job search?
Talk to everyone. If your odds of getting a job are 1%, then talk to 100 people so that the odds even out.
I found that the best determinant for how helpful someone will be in your job search is how willing they are to connect you to other people in line with your interests.
By far the most useful conversations I had were the ones where the person I talked to gave me a list of people to talk to next, gave me each person’s contact information, and even on a couple of occasions provided me warm introductions. Anyone who doesn’t give you at least one lead to go off of, particularly after you ask directly for one, probably doesn’t understand the power of individual connections well enough to be of all that much use to you in your search.