Though I’m only two weeks into the school year, I can say without a doubt that senior year is a TOTALLY different experience. I remember as a junior being warned that this fall would feel strange, that I would have “one foot in college, and one already out the door” – while I spent all summer hoping this wouldn’t be true (I’m in major denial that this is my last year…), I’ve been surprised by the degree to which my time so far has been defined by tasks like finding a job and figuring out my senior thesis. During shopping week, I spent as much (if not more) time at the Office of Career Services or at employer information sessions as I did actually in class; this weekend, my “to-do” list includes more “real-world” items than it does school-related ones. It’s definitely a strange mindset to be in, but one that most seniors end up sharing at one point during their final year at Harvard.
Why am I looking for jobs in September, you might ask? Why bother thinking about such things nine months before I’m slated to graduate, and a full year before I would want to be starting work? Those are both excellent questions, and I’m still a little shocked that this whole process starts up so early. Seniors go through “recruiting” during their fall semester, which is exactly what it sounds like: employers (particularly those from tech, media, consulting, and finance) come to campus looking to hire a whole batch of students at the same time. Jobs in the public sector (government) and non-profit, as well as those in start-ups, generally tend to hire in the spring. The disconnect between industries and hiring cycles definitely makes the job search harder for seniors, especially those who would ideally like to compare options in sectors that hire at different times of year (government and consulting, for example). Add the pressures of a weak economy to this equation, and you wind up with hundreds of seniors anxiously looking for opportunities and hoping to get the whole job search process over with before spring semester; as a result, a little more than half of the class at least tries to recruit during the fall.
There are a few main components of the “job search,” but the most time consuming of these is the suite of information sessions, “coffee chats,” and career fairs that come to campus every fall to recruit seniors. Information sessions are run by a single company and offer a chance to hear about a firm and meet some employees; career fairs are usually put on by Harvard and feature a few dozen companies all under one roof; and “coffee chats” are hosted by individual companies and offer a space for individual conversations with employees at cafes in Harvard Square. Each of these, unsurprisingly, has its own “vibe” – some are stressful because of the number of people in the room, others because you’re having a 1-on-1 conversation. All offer an opportunity, though, to hear a bit more about the company you’re interested in and get a sense for the people and culture that define the place. All told, I’ve probably been attending 10-12 of these events per week since I got to school; this translates to a LOT of business casual attire.
In addition to the informational events, Harvard’s Office of Career Services offers a bunch of workshops and office hours for seniors partaking in the job hunt this fall (in addition to a huge range of other offerings, as well!). Some of the most helpful resources include drop-in hours (some of which are only available for seniors), during which time you can get advice on writing cover letters and resumes; and “mock interview marathons,” where students get to practice interviewing with OCS employees and Harvard alum and get feedback on their performance. As someone interested in applying for consulting jobs, these types of offerings are incredibly helpful – many of the firms I’m looking at will read hundreds of resumes and conduct hundreds of interviews, which means that every little bit of advice and feedback is incredibly helpful for this process.
After a couple of weeks of preparation and networking, the actual application process for a lot of companies starts this week, and interviews will begin about two weeks from now. I had a big personal milestone on Friday: applying for my first job! I submitted the first part of my Teach for America application on Friday evening, and am looking forward to hearing back about next steps.
Outside of the job search, senior year has gotten off to a really fun (if not hectic!) start. This weekend, I got to celebrate two of my friends’ birthdays on Friday night (we were all in the same freshman entryway!), and then spent Saturday hanging out with the seniors from Dunster House. I also got a chance to go see the Nostalgics, a soul/funk band featuring 12 undergrads – I have a few good friends that play for them, and they are a really fun group to listen to, so I always love getting a chance to hear them play live. The event was the “Vinyl Club,” a school-wide event sponsored by the Harvard radio station, WHRB.
And a shout-out to my fellow blogger, Reid, who rocked it last night as one of the singers for the Nostalgics!