The Job Whisperers

It was senior year, and Amanda Lim ’16 was closing in on an accounting degree. She’d recently completed an internship with one of the nation’s Big 6 finance firms — an opportunity she’d worked long and hard for and one she thought would be the perfect springboard to a career. But she was troubled when the experience left her second-guessing her choice of profession.

“A lot of accounting and financial firms have the standard corporate vibe: cubicles and people heads down in their work,” said Lim, who thrives on teamwork and loves building relationships.

Accounting had seemed a practical choice, particularly since she’d thought about starting a business in the future. But it was dawning on her that the field didn’t quite suit her, and she worried the environment was more competitive than collaborative. She wondered if she should consider something different. But what? She’d already invested so much time into accounting.

Amanda Lim ’16 changed majors from accounting to marketing her senior year. Almost on a whim, Lim signed up for a marketing and communications “trek” with USF’s Career Services Center. She and 19 other students headed downtown for a day of behind-the-scenes tours at four Bay Area marketing and PR firms, where they met managers and top-level recruiters, and got a feel for life in the marketing industry.

One of the companies was DWA, an international marketing firm that builds campaigns for tech companies like Toshiba and Lenovo. As Lim walked through the airy, bullpen-style office across from San Francisco’s Pier 19, she heard upbeat music playing and saw employees bonding over a game of pool.

In a small group meeting, Lim heard USF alumni who’d been hired by DWA talk about their experiences in the company’s entry-level job training program. Trainees — recruited from USF as part of an ongoing partnership — rotated through different marketing positions, worked on several teams, and received mentorship from a director.

“I knew right then, this is where I wanted to be,” she said.

Looking online after the trek, Lim learned that if she loaded up on marketing classes in her final semester, she could graduate with a marketing degree. It was an easy decision.

Explore careers from here

Alex Hochman, senior director of USF’s Priscilla A. Scotlan Career Services Center, knows that like Lim, many students struggle to figure out where they want to land after graduation. And he knows how valuable it can be for them to explore different companies and careers — to go beyond brochures and websites and actually meet and talk to people in the field. That’s why the career center dreamed up the idea for treks two years ago. Luckily for USFers, the Bay Area has hundreds of companies willing to open their doors.

“Whoever decided to plop this university here 160 years ago couldn’t have known at the time how much fun they’d be making it for a career services director in 2017,” said Hochman, whose team of counselors guides thousands of students into the workforce. “We’re in the middle of everything that most college students want.” 

The career center offers students tours of some of the area’s most sought-after employers, from video game maker PlayStation to public radio and television broadcaster KQED to biotech firm Gilead. With several treks a year to choose from, students can register for tours in the fields of finance, nonprofits, media, and more. The tours give USFers a chance to meet employers, explore industries, and, in cases like Lim’s, find new pursuits.

Treks aren’t the only opportunities the career center offers. The center brings big-name employers like Apple and the FBI to campus to connect with select groups of students pursuing degrees related to each firm’s field. And job-seeking students and alumni can pop into the center for interviewing tips, LinkedIn profile hints, resume reviews, and cover letter advice. The center also manages a LinkedIn networking group for Dons in all stages of their careers.

Cross Playstation off the bucket list

Slots for treks can be competitive. More than 60 students applied for a recent one focused on the video game industry. After reviewing students’ essays and resumes, Hochman’s team accepted 30. 

On a cool San Francisco afternoon in February, 15 of those students ventured 45 minutes south to the headquarters of a company many had obsessed over since they were old enough to play “Crash Bandicoot”: PlayStation. The other 15 hopped on a bus to downtown San Francisco to check out Ubisoft, the video game developer behind the hit adventure franchise Assassin’s Creed.

At PlayStation, a recruiter led the group through the company’s gleaming 450,000-square-foot office complex, where engineers were hard at work on products and services that entertain millions of people worldwide.

“The first console I ever owned was a PlayStation,” said freshman computer science major Dhiveshan Chetty ’20. “Visiting PlayStation is definitely something I can cross off the bucket list.”

After the tour, students chatted with young employees who got their starts working in programming, video production, market research, and human resources as part of PlayStation University — the company’s summer internship program. Hiring managers shared tips on what they look for in interns.

“We’re looking at resumes in the thousands,” the recruiter told students. “We want to see that thing that makes you bubble up to the top.”

It was a crash course for Chetty and the others on how to apply for internships and jobs: target your application materials to the position you want, research the company and show that you’re familiar with it, and differentiate yourself by participating in projects outside your regular classwork.

“You make yourself stand out by the things you do when nobody is watching,” the recruiter said. “The things you do on the weekends and evenings.”

Chetty, who had his eye on a programming internship, paid close attention.

“I learned a lot about how I should apply for internships at PlayStation and other companies in the future,” he said.

USF’s biggest career event is the center’s annual job fair, which draws 75 employers and hundreds of students. It’s a tried-and-true method for students and employers to exchange information and scope out the market.

Even better is the career center’s “Meet The ... ”series, which includes titles like Meet the Venture Capitalists and Meet the Companies Who Care. Unlike a large-scale job fair, a “Meet the ... ” recruiting event is tailored to a handful of employers and students, allowing job seekers to shine.

“This is our secret weapon for getting Pixar, Salesforce, Apple, and Twitter to campus,” Hochman said. “We tell employers there will only be nine other companies in the room, not 80. And we promise them less than 100 students — which, believe it or not, they like because it means less work and better results for them.”

The students are chosen based on the employer’s ideal candidate: computer science students recommended by faculty, for example, or politics majors with at least two internships.

“Students love it. They sit with employers at round tables getting to know them,” Hochman says.

The career center also brings employers and professionals to campus for what Associate Director of Employer Relations Julia Hing calls “indirect recruiting events.”

At a February panel called Meet the Founders, the founders of an exercise app, a food truck chain, and a company that picks up and stores your possessions with help from its app shared their entrepreneurial success stories with students — and then students got to chat with the founders one-on-one and ask questions.

For alumni too

The career center’s services aren’t limited to current students, either. For a year after graduation, alumni get free face-to-face or video streaming appointments to discuss their careers. And all alumni are welcome to a complimentary appointment once a year.

Alex HochmanWhen Tam Nguyen ’12 returned to the Bay Area from Spain after spending a few months abroad, she stopped by the center for tips and a mock interview with Hochman to prepare for a real one at cloud-based software giant Salesforce. She landed the paralegal job, and later, when friends asked her to refer them to the company, she sent them to the career center’s website for tips on preparing their resumes and cover letters.

A few years later, when applying for a similar position at Google, Nguyen reached out to the center for advice on how to perform an online video interview.

“Alex did a Google Hangout with me. He gave me tips on how to set up my backdrop so that it looked professional,” she said.

She followed his advice to avoid conducting the interview in her bedroom — an awkward spot for a professional conversation and a common mistake. And she livened up the white wall behind where she planned to sit for the interview by hanging a painting.

Another resource for alumni, students, faculty, and staff is Dons Helping Dons, a LinkedIn networking group managed by the career center that has about 4,000 members. Members can post job listings and reach out to Dons who work in their industries or live nearby.

For alumni interested in mentoring students, there’s the Office of Alumni Engagement’s Alumni Mentor Program. Regional alumni groups and reunions are also good for reconnecting.

“We want Dons to take advantage of all the services the university has to offer,” Hochman said. “We’re 100,000 alumni strong. That’s 100,000 opportunities for new connections and new possibilities.”

Persistence pays off

The vast Dons network came in handy for Lim, the accounting major who changed her focus to marketing. After her trek to DWA, she reached out to some of the alumni she’d met. She also got in touch with managers and employees she’d met at the other three marketing firms.

“I kept my connections with them and had coffee and lunch with five of them,” she said. “With another three, I maintained an email chain.”

That spring Lim joined the student marketing club and applied for a marketing internship. As graduation neared and the time came to hunt for jobs, she returned to the career center to polish her resume and bulletproof her cover letters. She also did a series of videotaped interviews with Hochman’s staff to prepare for the real thing.

“I was stuttering so much I couldn’t even answer the questions,” she recalled. “It was embarrassing.”

But the stuttering subsided and the practice paid off. She ended up with three job offers — including one at DWA, where she’d developed a relationship with a media director. Now she’s a social media advertising analyst for the agency, building Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn campaigns for clients like Cisco.

“I’m so grateful to the career center for setting up the trek. Being able to actually go to these companies and have the platform to chat with people is what helped me find who I am,” she said. “The trek was the turning point for me and the reason I’m at DWA today.”