By Mimi DelGizzi
Nineteen Friedman students convened in Washington D.C. over spring break to attend the sixth annual Friedman DC alumni networking trip. Led and organized by Brigid Durant, director of Alumni Relations, Sean Devendorf, director of Annual Giving, and Lori Ioannone, associate director of Student Affairs, the annual trip brings current students together with Friedman alumni to take a closer look at work opportunities in the fields of nutrition, public health, and food policy. Thirty-two alumni offered advice, career tips, and perspectives on how they’ve used their degrees from Friedman to get where they are today.
The trip spanned two days, and students spoke with alumni working at a multitude of organizations including the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Water Watch, Environmental Working Group, Cargill, Global Food and Nutrition, USAID, National Institutes of Health, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics among others. Armed with a list of pre-meditated questions from the students that included such inquiries as “How much should I expect to earn in my first post-graduate job?” to “Looking back, which classes were most valuable to you at Friedman?” the alums offered much career and school advice. Some of the most salient follow:
1. Set up informational interviews.
Almost every alum agreed: the informational interview is a great way to begin creating and expanding professional networks. It offers a way to explore what possible career choices are like day-to-day, and if nothing else, is great preparation for (real) job interviews.
2. Enroll in those data classes.
Qualitative data analysis skills are imperative in many policy and agriculture positions. Many alumni cited classes that strengthen these skills as the most important ones they enrolled in as Friedman students.
3. Know how to negotiate.
Negotiating well is a skill that comes in handy a lot: negotiating salary, dealing with political pushback as a result of your work, communicating with coworkers who may not see eye-to-eye with you. Many alumni suggested enrolling in one of the negotiations classes offered through Fletcher or the Urban and Environmental Planning program.
4. Knowing a language can get you far(ther).
Chris Hillbruner, a 2007 grad currently serving as a decision analyst at FEWS NET, offered this insight. When hiring new employees, he looks for foreign language ability. This is especially helpful in international work, and he cited French as being one of the most useful languages students can pursue.
5. If you want to work overseas, make sure you make that known.
Many companies employ local people to work in their international offices rather than American expats. For this reason, it is imperative that job seekers who want to travel and work internationally make this intention clear and look for organizations that will send Americans overseas to work..
6. Use your networks.
People want to help current students and recent graduates. Many of the alumni who presented mentioned that they connected with other alumni after graduation and landed jobs through those connections.
7. Ask good questions.
Sarah Borron, a 2007 alumna currently working at Food and Water Watch, offered this tip: don’t be afraid to ask good questions and talk to powerful people. “Get comfortable speaking up,” she says. This helps job seekers get over any public speaking fears they may have and also puts them face-to-face with people who might be able to offer invaluable advice about future career paths.
8. If you want to work in social media, be on social media.
Julie MacCartee, a 2011 Friedman alumna who works for the QED Group on USAID projects made it clear that “if you don’t have a Twitter [account] or a LinkedIn profile, you’re probably not very interested in knowledge-management”—an up-and-coming term that comprises strategies and practices to help identify and disseminate different insights and experiences. Talking the “I-can-totally-run-this-organization’s-social-media-campaign” talk isn’t enough. You’ve gotta walk the walk.
9. Care about the mission.
One thing stood out among the alumni: they are dedicated to the work they are doing, truly believing in their companies’ and organizations’ missions.. If you don’t love the mission of the company or organization, you’re probably in the wrong place. Alumna Erin Hennessy, a 1999 and 2003 grad, realized this while working for Stonyfield Farm. “While I felt like I was doing important work, at the end of the day, my job was to sell more yogurt, and I just didn’t care if people bought more yogurt or not.”
Applying for a job in the government can be a tedious process. The application site, www.usajobs.gov, is the place to look and apply for government jobs. In order to get through initial screening processes, though, your resume may be read first by a computer that scans your credentials for key words. “Be literal,” says Betsy Rakola, a 2010 grad working for USDA. “Applying for a government job is unlike applying for other jobs. Take out all the creative stuff from your resume and instead regurgitate the words written in the job description to get through that initial screening. If your resume’s key words don’t match up to the job description’s, it might never be seen by an interviewer.”
11. Want to work in Africa? You might need some “Africa experience” first.
Kali Erickson, an alum who graduated in 2000, experienced this first-hand. The company she was working for at the time thought she’d be perfect for a project in Africa…almost. She had already worked for the Childhood Survival Project for many years in Guatemala and had shown that she was a hard-worker and able to get things done. “I didn’t have that ‘Africa experience’ though,” she said. “I’d never been to Africa, and the organization didn’t feel comfortable sending me there.”
12. Write well.
The ability to communicate effectively and impeccably is a characteristic that alumni cited as key to being successful in a career. Nina Schlossman, 1986 Friedman alumna and founder of Global Food and Nutrition echoed the comments of many who spoke: “Good communication skills are the most important skills to possess,”
The Friedman DC networking trips are held in the spring semester and are open to all students, whether interested in a summer internship or a job after graduations. Students interested in attending a trip next year can contact Brigid Durant at firstname.lastname@example.org next fall. An informational meeting will also be held during the first semester so students can learn more and sign up to participate.
Michelina (Mimi) DelGizzi is a dual degree MS/MPH student. She also teaches children about food and gardening through the Quincy School Garden Project, discusses nutrition topics with older adults through the Somerville Council on Aging, and serves as the internal social chair for Friedman Student Council.