Alumni Column: Leveraging the Network

Elizabeth Orbe Fischer

It was spring of my senior year and, much to my chagrin, the department administrator interrupted my political science class to announce that my limo was waiting at the bottom of the hill.  This was 1982, when those of us who were not going straight to graduate school were desperately hunting for a job. We were also in the depths of a recession with unemployment spiking. Like today, we jockeyed for on-campus interview spots using a lottery system and the lucky students were invited to headquarters, mainly in New York City, for full day interviews. 

What likely made the difference for me in landing that important first job was a connection with a Colgate alumna. I am convinced that a fellow classmate and friend who graduated a year earlier, Sandy Jackson, put in a good word for me at what was then Peat Marwick (now KPMG). Jackson went on to become a partner at KPMG.

Fast forward 34 years. In addition to my short stint in accounting, I worked at CIBC (a Canadian Bank) and now have been at Goldman Sachs for 18 years. I have mentored and advised scores of Colgate students and we have formed an active network of Colgate alumni here at Goldman Sachs, having funded a Colgate endowed scholarship.

There is no doubt that many students find the prospect of evaluating and selecting a field of work overwhelming, especially because Colgate values the liberal arts experience. This underscores the importance of tapping into the highly engaged Colgate network to perform much needed job research.

Generally, Colgate alumni will be receptive to an email requesting a short phone call to discuss their job experiences. Do not be too pushy and ask for a job. Is the alumnus very senior at the company? Then potentially request that he or she refer you to a work colleague with whom you can speak. Frequently, it is chatting with someone only a few years out of college that can make the difference, since his or her experience is more relevant.  As your spring break approaches, consider using this as an opportunity to make time for  30-minute in-person meetings or the chance to grab coffee with alumni. Why not try to put together a full day of meetings?

I recently installed the Colgate Alumni app on my phone and was paging through the list of my 673 classmates. Here is what is shocking: after 34 years I remember directly or indirectly most of my classmates. This comes from someone who can not recall the title of the book I finished last week!

What makes Colgate unique is the quality of the students it attracts — high energy, grounded, engaged, enthusiastic, well-rounded. These are qualities that will serve you well in the work force. Combine that with a remote campus and the result is a tight knit community where you will make friends for life.  I still celebrate life’s milestones (and some skiing, hiking, abundant eating and a few drinks) with my close college friends. The strong pull of Colgate is still present many years later.

In short, leverage the Colgate alumni network, whether it is a classmate who graduated two years ago or someone who has been working for decades. You will be pleasantly surprised at how the Colgate community can help you evaluate your next steps. Then, in the not too distant future, a Colgate senior may be contacting you for advice. 

Remember, if you do not ask, the answer is always no.