“I went through college focused on international law and did a bunch of internships. I had crises of faith about what I believed in … I didn’t have answers and was worried I would close doors if I accepted a full-time job in a field that wasn’t for me,” Senior Manager of Community Growth at Venture for America Laila Selim said, voicing a very familiar concern. As seniors look to graduation and beyond, they find themselves looking in that place, so frequently discussed in tones of distaste that it makes this paragraph almost bitter to mention it, the job market. Seniors will ostensibly have to take that first step into the real world (read: not a cloistered college campus) and, as they say, first impressions are the most important.
Well, maybe that depends on the direction of the path you end up on. “You never actually close doors. That’s the cool thing about how careers have changed in our lifetime as opposed to our parents,” said Selim, a senior member of the staff Venture for America, an NYC-based startup channeling talented recent college graduates into startup companies in emerging American cities. “You can’t end up stuck. It isn’t a real thing. You can pursue whatever is interesting to you and that will change naturally and so will you.”
A senior reading this is probably now saying, “Okay, but how do I even get a job in the first f***ing place?” Or maybe, “I majored in Greek and Roman Studies but I don’t want to do the job that might naturally lead to.” So now you are faced with finding a job you are conventionally unqualified for. This is okay, though. As you can probably believe, you are not the first or the last. So, when there are bunches of people with a problem in a free market economy, someone figures out a solution and then sells it.
What does that look like? It looks something like ProSky, a company that matches candidates with companies through an innovative online protocol. Companies have the option to shop for new hires by looking at curated lists of ProSky members, giving the applicants team challenges and monitoring their processes, attitudes, work styles and contributions. CEO of ProSky Crystal Huang explained, “How most people hire is an old school method. Usually when they are comparing resumes they are attracted to better schools and better GPAs, so it comes down to how well you did in high school and your college grades”
Instead of relying on faulty, limited information, ProSky offers classes that run from two to five weeks that are visible to hiring managers of companies. According to the ProSky website, “The classes give them a lot more knowledge about the people they are hiring, about their characteristics, about who that person really is.” The strategy is to reduce risk on both sides of the process by reducing information barriers. Applicants get to learn about the position while companies get to see the applicants at work.
ProSky offers courses directly related to job-place skills, and teaches exactly what a Vassar graduate needs to be prepared for their new position. Huang explained, “There are not quality training programs out there, so we created our own.” Another great thing about the lessons? You don’t have to travel. “Everything is done online, including the projects and challenges. This levels the playing field for students with all levels of income and accessibility,” said Huang. “The online courses have a completion rate of 94 percent. We don’t teach theory, we teach how to use programs and software. This teaches people more about their own industries and you immediately get to practice what you learned.”
The company does not reject applicants, and has a hire rate of 76 percent. “If it’s their first project they are doing, and they don’t have the experience, or if they were hanging back on the project, that’s when they won’t get hired,” said Huang. What does get you hired? If two people apply for a job as an interpreter, one knows Russian, Chinese and Arabic and the other has a PhD in linguistics, the guy with the PhD in linguistics is going to get the job because he is not qualified at all. It’s the difference between hard skills and soft skills that can oftentime make the difference, and there are plenty of opportunities to learn a hard skill after you graduate. Take the San Antonio-based startup company Codeup, a coding bootcamp, for example. As a young company, Codeup churns through almost 100 graduates a year with a hire rate of 96 percent.
Maybe you just graduated college with a degree in basket weaving and don’t even understand how to open a new Word document, maybe Codeup is not for you. However, you don’t need any experience in programming to start with Codeup. All you have to be is interested, said Codeup’s Director of Operations Dylan McNally.
“Probably around 80 percent of our applicants have gone online and dabbled a little bit with coding. Almost everyone has had some exposure to the field and that’s what sparks their interest,” he said. While only 56 percent of Codeup’s students have earned bachelors degrees, companies know that it is not a slip of paper that qualifies its new programmers. Instead, said McNally, “We give graduates professionalism, competency and a sense of being able to mesh with a company culture.”
In a world where post-grad connection programs abounds, from general business at ProSky to software specific programming at Codeup, there also exist more competitive and challenging programs to pursue. Venture for America (VFA) takes recent college graduates and connects them with promising startup companies in emerging American cities such as Detroit or New Orleans.
The program has been a huge success both for its fellows (the recent college graduates) and its partner companies, which often have difficulty attracting talent to less glamorous locations. “After four years, 26 percent of graduates have started their own companies, 60 percent or more stay at the companies they were originally placed at. The remaining 25 percent ends up moving to other startups, while some move to larger companies. Only four people have gone on to graduate school,” said Selim.
While VFA does a lot for its fellows, Selim said, “The biggest hurdle we cover is taking away this scary first-job first-moment element. We are sending you out in cohorts and you will have a community that you can lean on at your first job, issues side.”
In order to get into the program, Selim said, “Tactically I think that I would get as much experience before you graduate in as many different environments as possible.
As for the actual hiring process, these companies are looking for students who will contribute their own knowledge. “You should also know why are you interested in the VFA mission. What is it about VFA that appeals to you? Why us? Be able to articulate that.”
Venture for America, Codeup and ProSky are only three of a vast network of companies geared towards educating and employing the next generation of Americans. For Vassar graduates, opportunity abounds with creativity and initiative being the only limits. The one clear message that came from these companies may have been geared more towards underclassmen. If you are interested in getting a good job after college, get as much experience in as many different roles as you can before you graduate. It is never too early to start.