Comm Week panel addresses post-graduation job search struggles

by Katie Prisco-Buxbaum / Beacon Staff • April 5, 2012

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Alumni talk about post-graduate experience
Alumni talk about post-graduate experience

After 14 months of unemployment in her hometown of Lancaster, Penn., Emerson alumna Heidi Smucker said she decided to take her job search elsewhere, moving to New York City without a plan or much money.

Smucker, who graduated in December 2010, said she had started applying for jobs in January, and despite several interviews and constant travelling between Washington D.C. and New York City, nothing ever came of them, leaving her jobless and frustrated. 

The broadcast journalism major said she believes Emerson falls short of preparing students for the job search process.

“I was in a dream world where I thought I was going to get a job right away and love it,” said Smucker, who currently works for VP+C Partners, a marketing communication agency. “I wasn’t prepared for 14 months of frustration.” 

Similarly, alumna Giovanna Vitale said the accounts she heard as an undergraduate of alumni having success in their field were inspiring and exciting, but created what she coins as the “Emerson syndrome.” 

“Emerson really strokes your ego and makes you feel special and like you will do great things,” said Vitale, who graduated in 2009 with a degree in marketing communication. “You go into the workplace thinking ‘I’ll be the exception.’”

Smucker also referred to the “Emerson syndrome” phenomena and said students at Emerson are bright and know how to network and interview, but expect to get hired just because they went to a good school with a lot of connections.

Frank-Vitale said she was expected to know how to make schedules and multi-task when working for her first job at Burness Communications, a public relation agency for non-profit companies in health policy.

“I was at my dream job, getting paid well, and when I was at work I just kept thinking, ‘Is this it?’” said Vitale, referring to her beginning tasks such as being expected to take notes at meetings. 

Vitale said that although she feels Emerson prepared her for finding a job after graduation, the college did not train her for entry-level jobs where employers don’t care where you went to school or what you accomplished there. 

“In class, when you make a creative advertisement or campaign plan or a video for a hypothetical client, that is not real world experience for now,” said Vitale, who currently works for Fenton, a public interest public relations firm. “Those are not things that a 21-year-old must do at work.”

The struggles of Smucker and Vitale after leaving Emerson were topics discussed at the alumni panel Predictable and Unpredictable Journeys Tuesday. 

One of the featured events for Communications Week, the panel drew about 20 students to the Multipurpose Room. 

Richard West, chair of the communication studies department, organized the post-graduate, pre-professional focused discussion. 

“I would much rather the reality of [alumni] dealing with everyday stresses of the job talking to students about the everyday stresses than a teacher who never had that job,” said West. “We want to get these people that are in the trenches everyday.”

West said that these feelings are what students at any school have about their first job, and the frustration is not specific to Emerson graduates.

“Every school has this syndrome: this impatience, this anxiety, this frustration [graduates have] relating to their first job” said West. “Emerson students often say this is what I want and that is not always what they are going to get. We must do a thorough job discussing that.”

West said that he wants students to learn to package the Emerson brand curriculum and explain how it prepared them for the industry to prospective employers.

“Reality is what students expressed that they want, as well as what the department thinks we should prepare them with,” said Sandy Gonzalez, the communication studies department’s administrative assistant. 

Alumni speakers, whom West said were selected due to the diverse nature of their careers within the field of communication, included Chelsey Platt, ’09, Beatrice Lanzi, ’91, John Sutich, ’97 — who earned their master’s degrees at Emerson — as well as undergraduate alumni Ana Gabbidon, ’09 and William T.G. Litant, ’73. Their careers included public service position, communications directors, and development consultants.

Freshman broadcast journalism major Yiping Yang attended the discussion, and said she found it to be a helpful way to learn about networking. 

“I think about job hunting in the future and I want to talk to alumni about what to do next and what internships are offered,” said Yang. “It is a good way to network with whom we will be connected with in the future.”

Colby Jackson, a sophomore communication studies major, hosted the event.

“I think one of Emerson’s strengths is the strength of alumni,” said Jackson. “We should take advantage of it even more than it is. [The job market] shouldn’t be sugarcoated.” 

Students’ questions to the alumni included how to effectively network and how to stand out as student interns or entry-level employees in the office. 

 “Emerson students want to hear about what is happening out there,’” said West. “They want to hear about life outside Boylston and Tremont, listening to people who are doing what they want to do.”