A producer with The Today Show; a laser communications system developer for the Navy, a makeup artist with Abercrombie & Fitch, Nautica, and Ralph Lauren; features manager for The Nate Berkus Show; advertising director for Macy’s, lobbyist on Capitol Hill with IBM. These are just a few examples of high-profile careers that young Lafayette alumni have started very soon after receiving their diplomas.
PayScale.com has ranked Lafayette fourth in salary potential among 250 liberal arts institutions and 23rd overall among over 2,000 colleges and universities nationwide.
According to PayScale’s 2010-11 College Salary Report, Lafayette graduates enjoy a median pay of $54,800 after two years of experience. Not bad for a recent graduate, but how exactly do Lafayette grads find themselves in fast-paced, exciting careers right from the start? The answers are big dreams and careful preparation through the College’s rigorous academic program, leadership opportunities, and career guidance services.
Many people told Amanda Niederauer ’08, an American studies and art graduate, that she was crazy to go after a job at world-renowned auction house Sotheby’s in New York City. Sotheby’s doesn’t advertise open positions publicly, and Niederauer had no inside connections, but that wasn’t about to stop her. As a compliance assistant, she serves as a liaison between the compliance department and the specialist art departments, dealing with the movement of works of art around the globe, endangered species law, auction rules, and internal company policies – no small task given Sotheby’s presence in the U.S., Europe, Middle East, and Asia.
At Lafayette, Niederauer spent a semester in London, where she had the opportunity to work for the Royal Academy of Arts, which confirmed her passion was in the art world. Niederauer worked with the Office of Career Services throughout her time at Lafayette, a decision that paid off in her interviews with Sotheby’s.
“Thanks to the help of career services, I was able to explain what skills I gained from each experience on my résumé, and I made sure to explain how each of those skills would contribute to a position at Sotheby’s,” she says. “My experiences at Lafayette helped me learn exactly what I wanted coming out of school, so by the time my networking paid off and I was interviewing, I was incredibly invested in the outcome.”
Lafayette gives students like Niederauer an advantage through its unique Gateway program, which allows participants to begin working one on one with a career counselor in their first year on campus. The hallmark of the program is networking events and hundreds of alumni- and parent-hosted internship and externship experiences each year.
Also, it doesn’t matter if a student hits campus focused on a career path or completely undecided; career counselors help every step of the way of preparing for life after College Hill.
“Students work with the same counselor throughout their four years, so that person gets to know them very well,” explains Linda Arra ’74, director of career services. “The career counselor is really a complement to the academic adviser. The Gateway program is prescriptive, but with a lot of flexibility because students come in at different levels of readiness. We make adjustments in helping them find their way. The key components are alumni connections and how generous they are with their time and the one-on-one counseling.”
With more than 250 student groups and organizations on campus, opportunities to get involved and be a leader abound at Lafayette, which makes students that much more well-rounded when seeking a first job.
“Students who graduate with a very rich backpack of skills are in a different position when they go to look for that first job,” says Arra. “The students with rich experiences will be considered for more substantive positions and will be offered more money. Employers want graduates who can talk about skills that apply to real-world experiences.”
Having that backpack full of skills came in handy for Jeff Silvan ’07, who landed a job as a consultant with IBM’s Global Business Services after graduation. His skill range and high-level work recently got him promoted to senior consultant. He works with the utility industry on smart metering, which allows electric companies to read and communicate remotely with electric meters.
He says although the equations and engineering theories he learned as a mechanical engineering major don’t really come into play, the skill set he learned as an engineer gives him a leg up. Challenging academics and hands-on learning helped Silvan stand out from the crowd.
“What I learned is how to deal with challenges and solve them effectively, which has been invaluable during my time at IBM,” explains Silvan. “At Lafayette, I’d often deal with challenges during the Formula SAE race car senior design project. While the challenges I face now are quite different, the processes to develop solutions remain the same. My professors always placed an emphasis on quality work and attention to detail. My bosses know they can hand me an assignment and I’ll produce something top quality the first time.”
Like Silvan, Megan Zaroda ’07 credits intangible skills with giving her the courage to forge her own academic and career path. She designed her own majors of political communication and East Asian studies, and 19 days after graduation was on a plane to China to head a publication division for an American nonprofit affiliated with China’s major international publishing house.
Now back in the U.S., she is an assistant account executive for Weber Shandwick, one of the world’s largest public relations firms, based in New York City. She works on global strategic media and secures speaking opportunities for Fortune 500 senior executives. Her clients include a major defense contractor, giving her the chance to steer the company’s platform and mold its media image.
“It’s a job that requires thinking outside the box and the confidence to work with high-level people, both skills Lafayette helped foster,” she says. “Lafayette equipped me with the tools I needed to blaze my own trail. It started with creating two of my own majors and being one of the first to study abroad in Hong Kong. That initiative and confidence propelled me to move to Beijing after I graduated. Elements from textbooks certainly factored into all my jobs so far, but it’s the intangibles – critical thinking, gumption, global preparedness – that really resonate when you move from the classroom to the cube.”
Preparation for the global marketplace was built in to the undergraduate experience of Gabriel Valentin ’02, a native of France. Already studying abroad just by being at Lafayette, Valentin stepped outside his comfort zone again by spending a semester in Spain. All of that international experience was essential for Valentin, senior brand manager at Colgate-Palmolive, based in Paris. Valentin is in charge of the Colgate toothpaste brand, responsible for marketing the product in Lebanon, Jordan, and French overseas territories.
Undecided about a major at the time, he appreciated the fact that the College would help guide him toward a career. As an international student, Valentin found it was important to be flexible in balancing academic pursuits with adapting to a new culture and overcoming the language barrier.
“Lafayette helped me gain international exposure and opened my mind,” says Valentin. “The College offered me a varied and comprehensive choice of classes within my majors – economics & business and Spanish – and prepared me to solve business problems. I still use concepts I learned, from a course on music business as a freshman to a course on industrial organization later on.”