Fail Better with Melanie Berkowitz

Olin alumna applied for more than 40 jobs before finding the right one

After 10 months of searching, Melanie Berkowitz found the perfect job.

It takes more than hard work to get a job, said Mark Smith, associate vice chancellor and dean of career services at Washington University in St. Louis.

It also takes luck.

“Even in this strong economy, you need to catch a break,” Smith said. “I’ve seen students come in here just really beaten down. But they have to remember, it’s a numbers game.”

A year ago, Melanie Berkowitz was one of those students. Berkowitz graduated in 2018 with a degree in business administration from Olin Business School. Like many of her Olin peers, she started applying for jobs in finance and consulting in September of her senior year. She did everything her career advisers told her — develop connections through LinkedIn, network with alumni, participate in mock interviews — and still she never received an offer.

“A lot of work goes into the interviewing process, from booking travel to drafting tailored cover letters to researching everything you can about a company,” said Berkowitz, who applied for 40 to 50 jobs. “My friends were getting offers, but I wasn’t. I thought it had to be me.”

Berkowitz decided in the spring to take a break and enjoy the rest of her senior year. After graduation, she applied for a job in digital marketing at Rise Interactive in Chicago. In her research, she found a Washington University alumna who worked at the company. She reached out, and that person connected her to another alum involved in the hiring process. She got the job in July and loves it.

Mark Smith on networking

Where can students find contacts?

LinkedIn, friends and family and your classmates’ friends and family members are all good sources. The Career Center also can connect students to our vast alumni network. The goal is to get an informational interview.

Then what?

You’re not asking for a job; you’re asking for advice. Ask about their work, if they have other contacts and if they have advice on your resume and cover letter, which is a nice way to sell yourself. And then ask, “Do you ever hire entry level? What should I be doing?” And then see if you can get the name of the hiring manager. Email that person and copy your contact. That will get you to the top of the pile when a job is open.

What’s in it for the contact?

People are nice. They remember how hard it was to get that first job and they want to help. They also are lazy. When a job opens, they don’t want to screen dozens of resumes. So if they meet you and then a month or two later, they’ve got a job, they think, “HR is going to make us post this job, but what about the WashU student I met a couple of months ago? She seemed good.”

And that’s how it’s done, Smith said. With graduation just a few weeks away, the Career Center is seeing an uptick of students seeking advice.

“It’s never too early or too late to come to the Career Center,” Smith said. “We can be a check on what you are doing — does your resume look right, does your cover letter look right, is your approach right, are there skills you can build through volunteering or additional training?”

But more importantly, career advisers can teach students how to network and connect them to generations of alumni who are eager to help.

“People think that applying for a job is all about filling out applications, but the most effective way to get a job is to increase connections,” Smith said. “That’s where our alums come into place. The more networking you do today, the better your chances are for getting a job tomorrow.”   

According to the Career Center outcome data, the vast majority of the Class of 2018 report being happy with their current jobs. When asked to rate, on a five-point scale, their enthusiasm for their post-grad opportunities, 44 percent of 2018 undergraduate alumni reported an outcome of “better than expected —  very happy”; 29 percent reported that they landed a “dream opportunity”; and 23 percent reported an outcome of “What I expected — I’m happy.” Overall, 74 percent of the Class of 2018  is working while 23 percent is pursuing further education.

Count Berkowitz in the “dream opportunity” category. Currently she is working on search engine optimization for Rise’s diverse client base.

“The jobs I was looking at in September all had pieces of what I wanted, but digital marketing is exactly what I was looking for,” Berkowitz said. “My journey was long, but it took me exactly where I want to be.”

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