Career Advice for College Students, Fresh Grads

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HARTFORD — More than 120 interns at The Hartford learned they’ve already done the most important thing to get them a job after graduation — winning an internship.

Lindsey Pollak, who wrote Getting from College to Career, said the biggest change the Great Recession caused is to reduce the willingness of companies to train fresh grads.

“Potential is not enough, they want guarantees,” said Pollak, who was brought in from New York by the insurance giant to give an hour talk earlier this week.

She spent most of her speech explaining the nitty-gritty of the standby career advice of building a personal brand, networking and interviewing.

“If you don’t love this concept of personal branding, just think of it as your professional reputation,” she said.

She said it’s not about creating a persona, or trying to be a schmoozer when you’re an introvert. She said what’s really important is making a great first impression, and developing expertise, and making sure people know what that strength is.

She asked: “What are you known for?” Still, she acknowledged that a graduating senior can’t usually claim to be an expert in any work skill.

“You can’t always stand out by what you’ve done, but you can absolutely stand out by how much you know about what you want to do,” she said.

Reading voraciously helps with that, she said — newspapers’ business sections, companies’ websites and social media streams and trade publications.

When you read about the field you’re targeting, she said, it gives you natural fodder for small talk at networking events. And all that preparation will make you shine in an interview, she said.

One of the interns asked after the speech what they can do to avoid a career stall-out once they’re hired.

Pollak said always try to do a little bit more than is asked of you, but don’t forget to raise your profile, especially in a large organization.

“Speak up in meetings,” she said. “Pay attention to the game as much as you do to your job.”

Elvis Chidozie, a rising senior at Central Connecticut State University, has been interning at The Hartford, testing applications, as he’s studying to be a software developer.

Chidozie said before he began the internship, he wasn’t really sure about the insurance industry. “I love insurance right now. I love the complexities involved in the process.”

Chidozie said there was a lot to absorb from Pollak’s speech — he took notes — and he hopes to convince a U.S. employer to sponsor a work visa for him, as he’s from Nigeria.

Jazmyne Reid, a rising senior at Harvard from Oakland, Calif., is a product analyst intern. She had other options for an internship this summer, but felt this job would give her a wide view of a company.

Would she return to Hartford to work in insurance after graduation? “Never say never,” she said. “Like they say, it’s close to Boston and to New York City.”

Mark Gelinas, director of the department that recruits interns and entry-level hires, said The Hartford is trying to select an intern pool that yields more people they’d like to hire, and also, convince more of those graduates to accept offers.

He said that three years ago, about 35 percent of interns ended up coming back to work. Now it’s about 65 percent, and the goal is 70 to 80 percent, which would mean the company would need to offer jobs to about 90 percent of its former interns.

They see interns as the primary pipeline for entry-level jobs now, he said, where before, about half the entry-level hires had never been interns.

Taylor Knortz was hired at The Hartford in February after doing a summer internship in 2012 and getting extended part-time while she completed her master’s degree at Fordham University in public communication.

Knortz works in a group benefits marketing. She said she followed Pollak’s advice to take on more duties, and she said she thought eating lunch with employees, rather than interns, also helped her cause.

Pollak said building rapport, as Knortz did, with established employees, both during the internship and maintaining contact the next year in school is critical.

“You already feel like friends, so giving you a job feels like a natural progression.”

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