Scholars trips can give students their big break — over spring break

14 March 2018

“We all have to network. It is not a choice.”

Real talk begins early and often with Lee Caraher ’86. Dressed in their business casual best, a group of 30 or so Carleton students are in the Weitz Center to practice handshakes and dissect the finer points of full name introductions during a Professionalism in the Workplace tutorial hosted by the Career Center.

If these Carls expected to dip a toe in the networking waters on this mid-February night, Caraher spices up the gathering by tossing them in the deep end. She doesn’t pull punches when it comes to professional outreach: You have to make connections and put yourself out there.

“The vast majority of job opportunities come from people you know,” says Caraher, the guest of honor as CEO of Double Forte, her own public relations and content marketing firm in San Francisco. She continues to put Carls through the paces, advising them to practice introductions and small talk with three strangers in the room.

“This is stuff we talk about in my office all the time,” Caraher says. “You’re already ahead of so many of your peers.”

[[id=”1692731″ width=”1000″]]


The Career Center organizes events like Caraher’s demonstration to prepare students for life beyond Carleton—which (whether they realize it or not) actually begins as undergrads at Carleton. Its annual Spring Break Scholars trips—a labor intensive set of site visits highlighting two specific career tracks—are designed to address gaps in knowledge and access by steering students to valuable resources, most notably, Carleton alumni.

As part of the month-long Scholars build up, participants work with Career Center staff on crafting a résumé and LinkedIn profile, honing an elevator pitch, writing outreach emails, and researching career fields. This year’s Scholars trips are centered on public policy in Washington, D.C. and sustainability in the Twin Cities. Past ventures have emphasized careers in technology, communications, business, medicine, entrepreneurship, and nonprofit work.

“Our goal is to create meaningful opportunities for students to practice their networking and professional skills and become more confident,” says Sarah Wolfe, program director for alumni and parent engagement. “However, it’s really up to each student to make the most of what’s in front of them.”

A computer science major from India, Ritvik Kar ’19 came to the Career Center for the first time as a sophomore. His initial visit was “literally me writing basic information on a piece of paper,” the beginnings of a polished résumé. Kar attended last year’s Scholars trip to learn more about technology careers in the Bay Area.

“It was beyond amazing. More than any of us on the trip expected,” Kar says. “I didn’t realize how many Carleton alums were in tech and how interested they were in helping us. They were so open to talking and very honest about what works, what doesn’t.”

While visiting Bay Area tech companies, Kar also learned about product management—“It was the first time I heard about a career and immediately said, ‘I am certain that this is what I want to do.” Even better, he initiated a brief conversation about his interests with Mark Hall ’85 at Vevo, one of the hosts.

“I applied for an internship at Vevo in engineering, and I didn’t get it. But a little bit later, someone there reached out and said, ‘Mark mentioned that you were interested in product management. We don’t have an internship for that, but we could. Want to talk?’” Kar says.

“It was exactly the thing I was looking for. And Mark was the orchestrator.”

Because of his Vevo internship last summer, Kar gained valuable product management experience, which helped him land a coveted spot at LinkedIn this summer. When Hall left Vevo for Bandcamp recently, he even reached out to Kar to let him know about the job change—another meaningful gesture that made Kar feel like “Mark was invested in me.”

[[id=”1692741″ width=”1000″]]


Call it networking, call it whatever you want—Hall doesn’t get hung up on the terminology. He simply gets excited to meet young people who are “intentionally running towards an adventure or opportunity, who’ve done their homework and are reaching out because they figure I can help them.”

“Ritvik made an extra effort to seek me out at the end of our (Scholars) session, to say that a place like Vevo was exactly the kind of opportunity he was seeking. That combination struck me—and stuck with me,” says Hall, now head of product and strategy at Bandcamp.

“Two of the Carleton students also wrote handwritten thank you notes at the end of summer, Ritvik being one of them. Those small courtesies matter. It’s a sign people care, and makes one more motivated to help in the future.”

“Small courtesies,” like a handshake or greeting, fall into the category of what Caraher calls “things that you think would be basic, but actually aren’t if you’ve never been told.” That’s where the Career Center—and alumni allies like Caraher and Hall—come in. They’ve been there. They know what matters when students are just starting out.

“I’ve learned so much from the Career Center, things I never would have even thought about before,” Kar says. “I also got to see how much alumni care about Carleton. I understand the tangible effects of their generosity. It’s really made a huge difference to me and my career path.”

GETTING SCHOLARLY: What have Carls gained from being part of Career Center Scholars trips during spring break? See additional perspectives from Veronica Child ’18 and Nick Caputo ’19.